The Pros And Cons Of Virtualization For SMBs

Does virtualization really make sense for small businesses? Some experts doubt it, but I'm reluctant to offer any simple answers to this question.

Matthew McKenzie, Contributor

December 30, 2009

3 Min Read

Does virtualization really make sense for small businesses? Some experts doubt it, but I'm reluctant to offer any simple answers to this question.Earlier this month, bMighty Big Kahuna Fredric Paul took notice when a pair of big-name vendors debated this issue. VMware says that its research finds SMBs turning to virtualization to cure a variety of IT ills -- and according to one VMware manager, the smallest companies are actually among the most eager to adopt the technology.

According to Dell exec Erik Dithmer, however, virtualization will often cost a small business more than it is worth to implement. BusinessWeek columnist Gene Marks thinks Dithmer is right on the money: In many cases [Dithmer] doesn't recommend virtualization at all. "If you've got five servers running at even 30%-45% capacity, but they're running smoothly, then you'll only wind up spending a bunch of money to save a little money, if any at all," he says. That's called honesty. Most of the 27 million small business owners in this country have little need for virtualization. Dithmer gets that most of us have fewer than five or six servers in our companies. He understands that most of us are not running high-growth, high-storage-type applications. Fred's take on this question is that size does matter when it comes to SMB virtualization, although he acknowledges that there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. I agree that a more nuanced approach makes sense here for several reasons.

First, consider the impact that virtualization can have on a smaller firm's future technology requirements. Sooner or later, the vast majority of those 27 million small business owners will have to think about upgrading their server hardware. Many of them will also have to plan for growth, which means adding additional server capacity to handle new applications.

Also consider the role that virtualization can play in giving SMBs an economical, highly functional disaster recovery solution. Critics are correct to point out that virtualization is a ticking time bomb when it leaves a small business stuck with a single, potentially disastrous, point of hardware failure. On the other hand, any competent virtualization project will always include appropriate redundancy measures -- including hardware redundancy.

Don't Miss: NEW! Virtualization How-To Center

Finally, don't assume that your SMB will have to whip out its checkbook to get acquainted with virtualization technology. A number of highly functional commercial and open-source solutions are available at little or no cost; while these may lack advanced functionality and management tools, they still provide a solid foundation upon which any company can begin working with virtualization technology -- at no risk and on its own terms.

And perhaps that is the most important message any SMB should take away from this debate. Unlike some IT products, virtualization technology invites low-cost, hands-on experimentation. If you handle IT duties for a small business, then my advice is to dive right in. Pick a product, educate yourself, and get your hands dirty.

You might be surprised at what virtualization can do for your company today. And you are almost sure to realize what it can do for you in the future.

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