By Dexter Duncan

It’s safe to say that most large enterprises jumped on the virtualisation bandwagon years ago.   Many small to medium companies have also taken advantage of virtualisation, but suprisingly, there are still those with physical servers who have not changed them for a variety of reasons.   The most common reasons for keeping physical servers in a small to mid-size business are:

1) “it ain’t broke” so no reason to change*, or

2) Our (legacy) application only works on <insert an ancient operating system>.


Firstly, it is worthwhile giving a simple definition of virtualization.     Virtualization is software (a.k.a. hypervisor or virtual machine) allowing you to run multiple operating systems on one physical machine, thereby allowing multiple servers to “virtually” exist on a single physical device.   Virtualization is the foundation of cloud based data centres around the world.

Other than future proofing your servers for possible move to the cloud, here are three reasons to virtualise:

1) Virtualization saves your legacy systems while lowering risk.**

Many businesses have legacy applications.    Banks, Insurance, Manufacturing and other industries are notorious for spending squillions developing custom applications that are too expensive to replace.     We IT folks see it all the time.      As an example, one of our clients still uses an application based on SCO UNIX last seen more than 30 years ago.    Legacy systems are often complex, integral to the operation of the business and sometimes provide competitive advantage.    There is a good argument to keep “as is” until support costs escalate or new functionality is required.    Many find it is often cheaper to keep a stable legacy system rather than embark on an expensive replacement.

If you are in this category, it is often safer to virtualise your legacy server onto a later physical system while taking full “snap shot” and historical back-ups to offset the risk of your ancient system going belly up.

2) Virtualization Reduces Costs – Maximise efficiency of Physical Server, Use less power and take up less space

The most obvious financial reason for virtualisation is cost savings.    This is due to the upfront cost of buying less physical servers and some ongoing savings.        Dividing a physical server to run multiple work-loads, while consuming less power and using a smaller footprint (less rental space) is brilliant.    As servers now have a huge amount of CPU power, virtualisation allows you to isolate CPU, memory and other resources so that your investment is fully utilised.

3) Virtualization gives you Flexibility in Storage and Recovery solutions.  

Add virtualization plus a smart (incremental) back-up solution and you significantly reduce risk to your business.  Since virtualization takes an image of the whole server, including data and environmental settings, moving the server or restarting after a failure becomes almost as easy as pressing “play” on a YouTube video.   Virtualization gives you flexibilities of moving to other servers (on-premise or cloud) quickly while also giving you peace of mind that the impact of a hardware failure is minimized.    This flexibilty is what makes virtualisation a key stepping stone to cloud computing, which means you have the option of selecting the most efficient home for each application (either on-premise, public clould or hybrid solution).

For more information on back-ups, see article The Small Cost of insuring your data – modern back-ups.

Windows Server 2003 at end of life in 2015.

Virtualisation is likely a key technology in helping business make a transition from Windows Server 2003.   With one of the most popular server operating systems from Microsoft (Windows Server 2003) now on extended support and scheduled to end support in 2015, there are likely many businesses who need to look at their options.     If you have complex legacy applications that rely on Windows Server 2003, you might keep “as is” as mentioned above.     More than likely, your existing server running Windows 2003 is out of warranty, is a power hog, does not support virtualization and has very limited cpu/memory capacity.    Upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2 or 2012 R2 should be discussed with your IT provider.

For more information about what Empower IT Solutions can offer with virtualisation, click here.


References and Notes:

1) *”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” works for many small businesses until unplanned disaster such as hardware failure or virus infection occurs.    We advise small to medium businesses on solutions that reduces risk of disasters based on the potential loss.    In most cases, the combination of an efficient back-up system, monitoring and regular maintenance of servers and software is sufficient to minimize cost of major disaster.

2) **This article assumes you have already done the numbers and decided that maintaining and servicing YOUR legacy system is cheaper than cost of replacing it.  Virtualisation gives you the option of keeping the legacy system while continuing to look for the right ROI.

3) This article was inspired based on reading “MSP’s Guide to Virtualizing Servers“,  from Redmond Channel Partner magazine, March 2014, written by Scott Bekker.


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