You Have Too Many Servers and Here’s How to Consolidate: A Simplified Guide to Virtual Machines

August 2nd, 2017 by admin

The phrase “virtual machines” makes some people turn their brain off and stop paying attention. It may seem like an incredibly “techy” term and way too complicated of an idea to understand, but the truth is that virtual machines have the possibility of saving you up to 80% on your next server project. So here’s the simplified-anyone-can-understand analogy – it all comes down to over-full houses and apartment buildings.

Life before VM’s

It used to be that servers needed to be separate physical boxes. One box (or server) would be dedicated to file share, another box would have your Exchange email server, and on a third box you’d have your Active Directory server that controls usernames and passwords. As server hardware got more and more powerful, keeping all of those servers as separate, physical computers just didn’t make sense. For example, Active Directory servers didn’t really need 16GB of ram and a fast processor, they can get by just fine with 4GB of ram and a mediocre processor. To make more efficient use of the server hardware, there are two main options.

Option One – The Over-Full House

The first option is to install multiple roles on one server. For example, you’d combine your Active Directory, file share, an SQL server and numerous other roles onto one physical server. This reduces the number of physical servers needed (you only have one server instead of 3+) and makes better use of high-powered hardware. The main problem with this approach is that Windows tends to get unreliable and complicated when so many roles are all installed into the same copy of Windows. It’s like having 10+ people living in the same 3 bedroom house (and on a .1 acre lot to boot). It can work…but it gets messy. Take reboots for example. If one role is having an issue and needs to be restarted, you will have to reboot every role located on the same physical server. More of your employees are affected, downtime goes up significantly, and the whole situation turns into a mess. In essence, the more roles you pack into the same installation of windows, the more hassles you’ll have and the more you’ll see your IT guy (and not in the “I’m bringing a box of chocolates” good way).

Option Two – The Apartment Building

The second approach is to use multiple virtual machines (VMs) on one powerful physical server. Virtual machines are individual installations of Windows that all share common hardware, the physical server. Each virtual machine gets its own copy of Windows and only runs one role. There’s one VM for a file share, one VM for the Exchange server, one VM for the Active Directory server, etc. This option is more like an apartment building. Each role gets its own apartment and when one apartment has issues (like running out of hard drive space or needing to be rebooted), the rest of the tenants aren’t affected. The only time all of the apartments are affected is if the physical server needs to be rebooted (this would be like having to replace the breaker box for the apartment). This second approach not only reduces the amount of hardware needed (you still only have one server instead of 3+), but also allows Windows to run more effectively because each VM only has to manage one function. This is the option that many companies have moved to as VM technology has improved significantly over the past 3-6 years.

Life with VM’s

Life with virtual machines is a life that saves you money and keeps support simple. You may have to cough up a couple dollars for extra versions of Windows software but the following benefits are worth the cost 100 times over:
  • You are still saving bank on hardware by having multiple roles on one physical server.
  • Your servers will be more reliable because reboots and maintenance are way easier to perform. You can reboot one individual virtual machine without having to mess with all the others. This keeps your uptime up, employees happy, and your technology healthy.
  • Virtual Machines allow for way faster disaster recovery times via replication. A simple recovery could take 1-5 minutes instead of 5-48 hours if you are using a server without virtual machines. Let’s just say VM’s makes a BIG difference. 

Posted in: Tech Tips