Partner View

Building a Virtual Practice

As Redmond's virtualization solutions mature, there's still time for partners to get into the virtualization game on the ground floor.

"Virtualization" may be one of the hottest words in the information technology industry these days, but it's not exactly a new concept. The term -- meaning different things at different times -- has actually been around since the '60s. Today, it commonly refers to platform virtualization, in which the operating system and the hardware are abstracted.

With hardware fast outpacing software in today's networks, virtualization is poised to become the next big thing. Beyond just virtualizing the server, the technology now applies to presentation, application and desktop virtualization as well.

Redmond's Virtual Arsenal
As you may know, Microsoft offers virtualization capability in Windows Server 2008. Integrated right into the OS, Hyper-V is the new Windows hypervisor. This technology moves the virtualization layer directly against the hardware. Windows Server 2008 also allows for server-core deployments, offering a minimalist deployment where only essential server functionality, including the ability for the hypervisor role, is utilized. This improves availability, with fewer patches and less service required. Hyper-V allows for virtualization of both 32- and 64-bit architectures, with large memory support, integrated cluster support and live backup.

Microsoft has extended the virtualization platform to include presentation virtualization through Windows Terminal Services, application virtualization through the use of Microsoft Application Virtualization (formerly known as SoftGrid) and desktop virtualization through the use of Microsoft Virtual PC. The platform extends out to management tools, including System Center Virtual Machine Manager, offering centralized management of a virtual infrastructure even across virtualization technologies.

Potential Service Offerings
Businesses can consider a variety of implementation options. Data-center server consolidation and disaster-recovery clustering are two common choices.

In a data-center consolidation, workloads are often brought together from multiple physical machines onto fewer physical machines, improving hardware utilization while reducing server management and electrical costs. This capability has been a fundamental driving force behind the virtualization of servers.

Consolidation also enables new disaster-recovery options. Both physical hosts and virtual machine clustering can be utilized, ensuring business continuity. Workloads are decoupled from hardware, allowing for rapid provisioning that's dynamically scaled, designed and deployed quickly and easily. Machines become files, instantly portable, manageable and recoverable.

As a result, solutions providers can offer their customers a completely new collection of potential services offerings, such as:

  • Hot and cold spares. Virtualized hardware and servers allow for the easy preparation of both hot and cold spares, ready for the moment that disaster might strike. What once was a complex and tedious recovery process is now a matter of a simple file restoration and deployment on a virtualized layer.
  • Hardware replacements without rebuilds. Often, servers "age out" due to hardware issues rather than OS age. With virtualization, a physical server can be easily migrated into a virtual environment with applications intact and moved to new physical hardware with the existing proven deployment configuration.
  • Ongoing disaster-recovery service solutions. Services providers can look beyond simple project engagements to offer service solutions. At Evolve, we offer a backup and disaster-recovery solution that enables a complete server image to be restored at a moment's notice into a virtualized environment, putting a customer back in business quickly and efficiently.

With new licensing benefits in Windows Server 2008, virtualization often offers a cost-effective and flexible solution. In our practice, we ask on every deployment whether this solution can be virtualized and whether it makes sense to do so. In today's service landscape, partners who aren't at least considering virtualization in the same vein run the risk of being left behind.

About the Author

Dave Sobel is CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Gold Certified Partner and consulting firm specializing in IT solutions for small businesses. For more information, visit www.evolvetech.com.