While virtualization technologies are selling like hotcakes in the enterprise market, small to midsize businesses have been slower to jump on the bandwagon.
In fact, server virtualization deployments among smaller businesses last year lagged behind enterprise deployments by about half, according to market research firm Forrester Research.
So, what gives? Are SMBs too small to reap the benefits of virtualization, or do they stand to benefit just as much as enterprises? Just how small is too small to go virtual?
The answer, say VARs, depends on what business challenges smaller businesses are looking to solve. For example, the number of minimum servers required to realize benefits from server virtualization depends on whether a business is looking to improve its ability to recover from disaster or to save money from increased utilization -- both of which are top drivers for server virtualization.
"The typical clients implementing server virtualization as a cost and efficiency saver have six or more servers, [while] clients who are implementing server virtualization as a disaster recovery tool might be moving from an environment with only a couple of servers," says James Tenner, president and CEO of Broadleaf Services, a small, Burlington, Mass.-based provider of data storage, business continuity and disaster recovery services.
"It depends really on what the customer is trying to accomplish," agrees Mike Schmidt, consolidation and virtualization practice manager for Logicalis, an IT solution provider in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "There may not be tremendous cost savings in virtualizing three servers down to one server, so probably you wouldn't be focusing on cost there ... as you would be providing a more resilient, recoverable environment. With three servers, it's not really going to be about money ... but we have done as few as 10 with a good financial return."
The sweet spot for server virtualization projects is in the 50- to 150-server range, Schmidt says. Even for larger projects that involve several thousand servers, the solution provider prefers to tackle only 50 to 150 servers at a time because it's more manageable.
With storage virtualization, which is still trailing behind server virtualization in market adoption, it's harder to quantify what defines an opportunity as too small.
"Storage virtualization to me is about utilization. What it really enables customers to do is eliminate wasted storage, or white space as it's referred, in building a storage environment. It's really not a matter of how much, it's how much is being wasted and what is the cost of that waste and what should I have," says Schmidt.
For Broadleaf Services, a typical storage virtualization client has between four to eight servers and upward of 500 GB of data, says Tenner.
However, he adds, "customers typically see both efficiency and data protection benefits of storage virtualization regardless of the number of servers they are moving from. Clients enjoy getting rid of the islands of storage and like the features often available in virtualized storage solutions."
Analysts caution that some smaller storage environments might be better suited for consolidation than virtualization.
"A storage environment smaller than 25 to 50 TB might be a better candidate for consolidation than for virtualization," says Andrew Reichman, an analyst with Forrester, in Cambridge, Mass. "But sheer volume of storage misses aspects of the decision. A 25 TB environment with demanding performance and availability requirements that might prevent [a customer] from doing consolidation to a single array could make them a good candidate for virtualization instead."
While some SMBs may be prime candidates for virtualization, some fears are holding them back from adopting the technology as quickly as bigger companies.
"What I think would be holding back SMBs might be a feeling that I might not get as much as a return as I want. And probably it's just that they don't have the resources to deploy to the tasks," Schmidt says.
That opens doors for VARs to provide those resources and to sell services in areas, such as assessment, design and implementation, he adds.
VARs say they are also seeing other signs that may draw more SMBs to storage virtualization.
"We are seeing more and more storage virtualization solutions that are affordable for smaller businesses. As this trend continues, we believe more SMBs will adopt virtualization," Tenner says.