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Efficiency drives virtualisation demand

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In the face of South Africa's energy crisis, and the threatening worldwide
electricity shortage, more companies in this country, like many companies
abroad, are expected to migrate from physical to virtual environments as a
way to reduce power consumption.

So says Herman van Heerden, managing director at Starship Systems, a
specialist technology company which has positioned itself as an expert in
the provision, implementation, maintenance and support of virtualisation
technologies to small, medium and large businesses in South Africa.
"Virtualisation, a method of running multiple independent systems on a
single physical resource, represents the opportunity for businesses to slash
the amount of power needed to run their IT by up to 60% – according to
Gartner's predictions.
"Virtual environments also promote improved hardware expenditure through
improved CPU utilisation. That's because dedicated server systems usually
only utilise a low percentage of the server CPU. So, instead of having a
number of servers each running on average 60% CPU, which is wasteful of CPU
cycles and electricity, more virtual servers can be added to fewer physical
machines to optimise CPU usage and facilitate better expenditure of hardware
and electricity.
"And, there are other cost-cutting benefits of going virtual," says van
Heerden.
"For one, companies can maximise their investment in hardware because
virtualisation technologies allow them to optimise their physical resources
to their fullest potential by increasing the number of logical systems a
single physical resource hosts. This cuts hardware acquisition and
maintenance costs, which translates into significant savings for companies.
"The capital expense of introducing new servers in a virtual ecosystem is
much lower because CPU and RAM resources are pooled and additional servers,
performing on par with the rest, can be created on an existing machine,
without the full requisition process for new hardware. Companies can also
invest in more low-grade, low-cost hardware instead of having limited
high-cost equipment so there again is the potential to save money on
hardware."
He lists the achievement of higher server density without the housekeeping
headaches as another major plus of virtualisation.
"New virtual servers can be created to host and run new solutions instead of
a provider installing their own glorified PC to do it. This puts an end to
server rooms crammed full with numerous, unbranded servers running mission
critical systems, that were actually orphaned long ago.
"Virtual machines can also be used to consolidate a number of physical
servers into fewer servers, which in turn host virtual machines. So in
essence, companies can achieve higher server density without having to find
the physical space needed to accommodate new servers."
Van Heerden describes the almost uninterrupted up-time and super-fast
disaster recovery that virtual machine technology provides as mind-blowing.
"Virtual front-end machines can be implemented as 'hot standby'
environments. This changes the classical 'backup-and-restore' philosophy, by
providing real-time backups.
"If a front-end virtual server happens to fail, the other server(s) can pick
up the load and resume their work in a matter of minutes.
"In the past, only larger corporations had the capital to build redundancies
into their IT infrastructure. With virtualisation, even a five- man SME can
ensure 99.99% up-time," he says.
So the argument for virtualisation is clearly there, and if suggestions that
the majority of IT environments will be virtual within the next five years,
where does South Africa stand?
"Well," says van Heerden, "South Africa is not lagging too far behind other
countries when it comes to virtualisation and there appears to be a keen
interest in these technologies among local businesses.
"The technologies are easy enough and they are not reliant on bandwidth,
which is poor in South Africa, so it is easy for us to stay on par with the
rest of the world.
"But as always, there are the early adopters of technologies and then there
are those who choose to take the 'wait and see approach'. Virtualisation is
still a relatively new concept that requires a new way of working all of a
sudden. People generally don't react well to change and there may still be
some resistance from systems administrators to adopt virtualisation
technologies.
"However, we see this just as a settling in period. Virtualisation is the
future of server and storage technology and, will eventually become
standard. Just as CDs were 'the future' of cassette tapes two decades ago
and, just as Blu-ray is set to replace DVDs in the not too distant future.
"The threatening worldwide electricity shortage and global pressure on
everyone to find more eco-friendly, energy-efficient ways of working will
certainly push more companies in this country to convert to virtual
environments in the next couple of years," predicts van Heerden.
He concludes by saying that while SA readies itself for virtualisation,
along with the rest of the world, the skills to implement and support
virtual environments remain in relatively short supply. But, this too will
change as adoption of virtual technologies gain momentum.
"South Africa is gearing up and within the next year or two, virtual machine
technicians and professionals will be ranked in the same class as system and
network managers are now."