How Server Virtualization Works: A Beginner’s Guide

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A Beginner’s Guide to Server Virtualization, Hyper-Converged Clusters, and Containers

Do you ever feel like your tech company probably isn’t as efficient or ecological as it could be?

According to the NDRC, 30 percent of your servers are unnecessary and probably only use a fifth of each server’s capacity. Fortunately, there’s a new trend in the world of network technology to help you maximize your resources and minimize your cost. Here at Be Structured, we’ve mastered this method – server virtualization, hyper-converged server clusters, and containers.

Maybe you’ve heard about server virtualization and you’re looking for a place to start. In this article, we’re going to give you a rundown of the types of virtualization and why it’s safer, faster, and cleaner.

What is Server Virtualization?

Virtualization is a way of dividing your server and network resources for multiple applications. Rather than dedicating individual servers with separate hardware to every project, you can organize them across one unit. The benefits are innumerable. By making your information both securely and widely accessible, you save resources, protect your data, and open up more options for your workflow.

In the tech industry, we call having too many servers “server sprawl.”  Yes, you can have too many. In many data centers, there are thousands of dedicated CPUs creating heat and running up a check. By reducing the number of computers you’re using to how many you actually need, you save the environment and your wallet.

What Else Can Virtualization and Hyper-Converged Clusters Do?

Outside its sheer efficiency and cost-effectiveness, virtualization and hyper-converged clusters is an eco-minded approach that can prevent catastrophe by being more highly-available.

Let’s say you’re about to drop a really important project. You’ve dedicated four servers to testing and fine-tuning this thing. You’re praying the ROI will be worth it because you’re spending top dollar to keep these servers running.

Stop. A virtualized server already fixes this problem. You can divide up the servers you already have and allocate them towards testing. (Using an inexpensive, reliable server helps too.) As we were saying, this project is important to you. The release date is in three days, and… Boom. Your servers crash and all data is collectively lost. Your business is no more.

With server virtualization and hyper-converged clusters, each server runs independently so a failure of one does not lead to the failure of the whole. Storage, CPU, and Memory resources are shares across all applications and virtual machines. As long as you have one more server than you need to run your whole environment you can lose an entire server and keep operating (this is call N + 1 redundancy). If you have two extras you could then lose two hosts (this is N + 2 redundancy).

Also, you’ll have a bunch of snapshots and data backups, so you can always restore what you’ve lost.

What are the Types of Virtualization?

In the talk of virtualization, we refer to a “host” and a “guest.” The host provides the hardware and computing resources for the guest to run. Though they share their stuff, they live separated.

There are three ways virtualization happens. In each, we’re going to imagine virtualization like the states of matter.

The first way is virtual machine (VM) virtualization. The VM is much like a liquid; it takes the shape of whatever it’s in. So even if the host is running on Windows, any Mac or Linux guest can join the party. VMs use a hypervisor to mediate the host’s operating system with the guest. It’s essentially a layer that translates communications between the two.

The second virtualization method is para-virtualization. This is like a gas, formless and free. Each of your servers will run independently, but they’re aware of each other and function cohesively. Unlike VMs that will mold to whatever they’re in, para-virtualized systems need modification. To get a gas to do what you want it to do inside a container, you may need to change the container. Para-virtualization does this on its own. This technology is relatively new. It is extremely powerful, but it’s still in the development process.

The third and final type of virtualization is OS-level virtualization, which is like a solid. It will only work if the host and guest are running the same operating system. This method is most effective if your systems are consistent. For example, if you have an entirely Windows-based company, OS-level is the way to go because it’s the fastest. The nuances of each method are complex; your mileage may vary. Based on your financial and technical needs, which one you pick will be crucial. This is also called containerization and the most common application of this is called Docker.

How to Virtualize a Server

The first thing you need to ask yourself is if you have the right hardware for the job. What is it that you need to accomplish? Do you have an estimate of how much data you’re going to be processing? Compare that to the resources you currently have and think about how they ought to split up. How will you organize your servers? You need a good host, so a strong CPU will be necessary. A six-core processor will allow way more servers than you think.

You also need the appropriate amount of RAM and storage. That means picking the right drive for your network attached storage device. NVMe drives are the fastest available today. SSD is the next best. When it comes to spinning disk they tend to be cheaper for bulky storage; SAS drives are notable for their speed and effectiveness, although SATA drives will work as long as they have as much room as you need.

If you need better hardware than what you’ve got, you’ll need to do data migration. This is where all your storage moves from one set of hardware to another. From there, you’ll need to pick from your three options of virtualization. If you’re working with para-virtualization, you’ll need to choose the best hypervisor. Some run directly on the hardware, whereas others function at an OS level.

Once you’ve virtualized your server, you’ll need to make sure you have a team ready to diagnose and treat it when it gets sick. Things go wrong, so hiring IT maintenance to take care of these issues for you is the best practice.

Wrapping It Up

Whether your needs are small-, mid-, or large-scale, server virtualization can provide huge benefits for your business. It’s faster, it takes up less space, and it’s in line with modern environmental standards.

And it saves you money.

Still lost about which option you should pick, or curious about something else? We’ve established ourselves as the most dependable and affordable IT company in Los Angeles. No matter your need, we can help.

Let’s get in touch so we can discuss a plan that works for you.