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Evaluating Virtualization Solutions
The most common enterprise virtualization solutions are Xen- Server, VMware ESXi and Microsoft’s Hyper-V, which is a component of its Windows Server 2008 R2. Each deserves a good evaluation by system builders to determine which will work best for partners and customers:
XenServer: Citrix provides XenServer as both freeware or with licensing fees of $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000 that provide additional functions and services, including high availability, memory optimization, host power management, role-based administration, lifecycle management and site recovery.
On virtualization-capable processors, XenServer is no more than a 20-minute installation -- including the server software and the XenCenter desktop management console. It provides a nice gateway to enterprise virtualization from both a functionality and investment standpoint for the end user, while giving system builders and solution providers nice options as well (including features of Citrix’s channel program).
For smaller businesses, XenServer keeps costs down, although managing the complexity while scaling up or scaling out (say to a virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI) when a business’ needs change, could be a challenge if not road-mapped out properly between the system builder, the VAR and the customer.
VMware ESXi: VMware is the big daddy in the enterprise virtualization world for good reason -- it’s been not just a market share leader but a mindshare leader as well. In the CRN Test Center lab, we’ve been paying close attention to ESXi (formerly “ESXi Single Server” or “Free ESXi”). While other enterprise versions of VMware’s hypervisor technology work well, we think that for most custom system builders VMware ESXi should be a good, initial point of focus for most solutions in which they’ll be integrating virtualization into the box. One key reason is the solid, stable virtualization that can be delivered when installed on even low-end server hardware. (In the CRN Test Center Lab, it’s been a snap to install, deploy and manage on low-end tower servers running Intel dual-core Xeon CPUs.)
VMware’s upgrade path is a solid one, its overall product line is robust, and its channel support is mature. For technical as well as practical reasons, many system builders will want to consider VMware as their first option for integrating virtual server solutions with industry-standard hardware.
Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V: This offers perhaps the least muss and fuss for many system builders. We’ve liked Hyper-V since we had our first preview of the technology a couple of years ago; Microsoft has designed software that truly puts a lot of power into the hands of everyone in the value chain. For small and midsize businesses, we like the fact that Hyper-V takes out their two biggest detriments to IT: cost and complexity.
On the higher end, the CRN Test Center has been able to push the limits of single-server virtualization using a server with Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V, built with two CPUs from Intel’s Xeon 5500 Series and 24 GB of memory (as noted earlier). On the lower end, we found it fascinating that we could enable virtualization in a Core i5-based server and activate the Hyper-V role in a server with 8 GB of RAM.
System builders can play an integral role in not just designing and building virtualization-based solutions, but also in working with VAR s to make sure best practices are used in their deployment.
For example, while server consolidation was seen a decade ago as IT’s answer to server sprawl, virtualization creates the potential for a “virtual sprawl” that can become just as inefficient, ineffective and unmanageable as physical sprawl.
Especially for small or midsize businesses, which may be tempted to create virtual appliances and virtual servers for any number of solutions, from e-mail servers to collaboration to security, the risks run deep. A panoply of virtual servers and virtual environments -- regardless of how inexpensive they are to deploy -- can create problems ranging from security holes to performance bottlenecks to licensing issues. At least with physical servers in physical data centers, there was a limit to how much IT could be deployed.
The antidote: Simple asset management -- even with free solutions, like those offered by Spiceworks—can be preinstalled and deployed with ease. System builders who install or pre-install virtualization solutions will want to consider offering at least a basic or standard version of IT management software as well, or at least make it part of the dialog with VAR s and their customers.
The CRN Test Center likes Spiceworks in Windows environments, particularly because it is easy to set up, is a powerful asset inventorying and management tool, and it is free. Its ability to recognize, track and provide insight into virtual servers as well as physical devices is solid. This means system builders, their channel partners and customers can maintain out-of-the-box insight into their virtual inventory, potential security holes and performance bottlenecks.
The bottom line: System builders have all the tools at the ready to compete tooth-and-nail with large hosting companies that are pulling business into the cloud. They can use industry-standard components, an array of software-based virtualization solutions and management tools to compete on performance, availability, flexibility and price.
From one disruptive period in the history of the industry to another, system builders and VAR s have succeeded and even outflanked better-funded Tier 1 vendors with their ability to work quickly, adapt and customize solutions. Virtualization and questions over cloud computing offer another such opportunity, and one that we believe will put both the custom systems channel and value-added reseller channel in the driver’s seat now and in the coming months and quarters.
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