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Over the last year or so, “virtualisation”, and especially “server virtualisation” was one of the computing features that received widespread attention. Although much of the excitement has died down, it is still expected to transform and optimise the typical server environment. However, what are the pros and cons? And could it be useful in the region?

Traditionally, a server is designed and dedicated to execute a single function or application, such as webhosting, emailing, or file storage, and caters to the needs of multiple users, usually on a network. It generally comprises the hardware infrastructure, upon which an Operating System and then a single application programme are installed

Although each application might require its own server, additional servers would be installed as more users needed to access the resource. As result, an organisation’s servers could occupy entire rooms as the network size increased.

Inevitably, the consumption costs of running server environments, particularly with regard to electricity and cooling, are considerable. Additionally, there is always a preoccupation that the data centres continually need to be expanded to satisfy increasing demand. Hence, although essential, server networks tend to have high capital and operating expenses.

Moreover, the average utilisation of a server’s capacity is in the region of 5 to 10%, meaning that between 90 to 95% of its processing capability is not being used. This again highlights the fact that single application servers are not particularly efficient, and even more so when the financial implications are considered.

Through server virtualisation, a number of different applications can be placed on the same server, but they are isolated from and run independently of each other. There are many methods through which server virtualisation can be implemented. The most basic uses a Virtual Machine Manager, sometimes called a Hypervisor, to manage the software that is subsequently installed and the virtual machines that will be establishedPros and Cons

Without a doubt, virtualisation has transformed server environments. In addition to multiplying the number of distinct applications and Operating Systems that can be run on the same server, it offers a number of other benefits.

  • Increased RoI. Through virtualisation up to 10 applications can be combined on a single server, hence it increases return on investment, and the capital outlay can usually be recovered within a number of months.
  • Speedy deployment. Unlike conventional systems that require new servers to be continually purchased and configured, with a virtualised server new applications can be deployed in minutes, as opposed to days or weeks.
  • Simplified purchasing. The hypervisor is becoming a standard feature in servers, which effectively eliminates possible compatibility issues, and the expense associated with purchasing additional pieces of equipment.
  • Cost effectiveness. Implementing virtualisation is a relatively cheaper option than establishing a single server environment.
  • Promotes Green Computing. When virtualisation is implemented, the number of servers required can decrease significantly. This in turn can substantially reduce the size of the office space or the data centre needed to house those machines, along with electricity and cooling costs.

On the other hand there are drawbacks and challenges associated with server virtualisation that should be considered. A few of them are outlined below.

  • Increased complexity. Implementing virtualisation increases the complexity of the server environment, especially as it relates to configuring and managing those systems to reduce the risks associated with installing more than one application on a server.
  • Requires ongoing technical support. Since virtualised servers can run a variety of applications, the consequences are potentially more severe should even one of them go offline or if hardware difficulties are experienced. Hence ongoing maintenance and support should be readily available to mitigate such occurrences.
  • Additional investments. Wide scale implementation of virtualisation is a relatively new, so specialised tools might be required.
  • Performance issues. Not all applications are suitable for a virtualised environment. For example, applications that consume a lot of computing resources and requires frequent disk memory access should not be placed on a virtual server, since those resources are supposed to be shared by a number of applications.

Potentials

Notwithstanding the challenges, server virtualisation should still be considered for networks in the Caribbean. Large organisations that already have servers installed but need to upgrade or expand their networks could profit from implementing this capability. However, server virtualisation could be especially beneficial to institutions that are setting up server-based networks for the first time. Examples include smaller to medium-sized organisations, as well as the majority of government ministries, departments and associated governmental agencies across the region.

Many important organisations in the region still operate without server networks, which means that they are likely to experience difficulty controlling and managing access to their information, some of which might be confidential. Their data is frequently stored on individual PCs, and in personal email accounts that employees solely control.

In the current paradigm, information is a highly valued currency which, similar to a bank, requires effective systems to protect and control it. A driving factor for implementing server virtualisation in the region will most likely be its cost-effectiveness when compared with other options, and its ability to concentrate a number of services/applications in a limited area.  Additionally, such works could also foster opportunities for local IT businesses and specialists to design, install, configure, and maintain those networks, thus increasing the overall value of that industry in the Caribbean.

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