The Virtualization Interview with Craig Dober
Hanson Data Center

Virtualization is a trend in cloud computing that many businesses are considering or making the move to. In this month’s publication, we sit down with Hanson Systems Engineer Craig Dober to pick his brain about virtualization, what it means for business, as well as what Hanson Information Systems is doing.

Hanson Headlines: Hi Craig. Thanks for sitting down to talk with us today. What is virtualization?

Craig Dober: My pleasure. The simplest explanation is that you can take a number of smaller, or outdated servers and combine them onto one host machine.  Each individual virtual machine appears to be an entire physical server for all practical purposes but is not tied to any physical hardware.  This allows for lower costs since many small servers cost much more than one big server.

HH: How is virtualization an effective tool for business?

CD: From Hanson's point of view, it allows us to charge much less for a dedicated server that doesn't need many resources.  It also means we can move the virtual dedicated servers to new hardware, usually with zero downtime from the customer's point of view.   There are much more robust backup solutions for virtual machines as well.  We can backup the entire Virtual Dedicated Server and spin up a completely new copy, either on the same host or another host.  This really simplifies and speeds up disaster recovery.

From a business/office perspective, an office with 2-10 existing servers/desktops with various services running on them can virtualize those servers onto one large physical machine, reducing power costs, space considerations, noise, and considerably simplifying administration of the hardware, as one server is easier to keep up to date than ten.  We have many customers with ancient equipment still in use because "it does that one thing that it needs to, but no one really knows how to set up a new one".  Virtualization can free them from the frightening certainty of hardware failure by converting the existing server into a virtual machine on new hardware.

HH: What are some of the pros and cons of virtualization?

CD: I think I have gone over some of the pros already, with power, space, administration of hardware all being reduced, and with the excellent backup opportunities virtualization presents.  Replication is also impacted.  You can replicate a number of servers to cold-standby virtual machines that can spin up when their master servers crash.  You can do a many-to-one replication set up and have the comfort of all your equipment being replicated without the sticker shock of many-to-many hardware cost.

There are definitely some cons to virtualization, though, the main one being a single point of failure. With all your core servers on one piece of hardware, you need to stay diligent on that server's maintenance and ensure that the host [machine] gets replaced before its end of service life nears.  Also, the up-front cost of buying a much larger server to replace an existing server farm can be a deterrent. Often, the purchasing of these servers is staggered to keep the depreciation benefits for tax or other considerations, so instead of putting all the cost in one purchase, smaller hardware purchases can be made in different years.  Sometimes a server is doing so much that it can use as much processor, memory, and/or disk space it can get; in these cases, virtualization is not recommended since there is a considerable overhead in resources for virtualizing a server.

HH: How does virtualization differ from a physical machine?

CD: I think I can best describe this by an example: let's say you have a website. If it is a small website with only reasonable traffic and no e-commerce or compliance necessary, you would probably be best served by Shared Web Hosting. Our shared web hosting packages are incredibly affordable. In this model, your databases and web files will share the same physical hardware as other sites.

If instead you have a high volume site, need a more secure web space or want a package where you can add additional websites to without any future cost, need for third-party installed software, or some other special needs that cannot be met with a shared web space, you might then find the need for a dedicated server.  With a dedicated server, you have full console access, just like your desktop.  For Linux that would be SSH access, or you could install any Linux GUI like Gnome or another of your choosing.  With a Microsoft Windows dedicated server, you would get access with a Remote Desktop Client or a VNC server. 

You can install any software you like, give access to anyone you want, and add additional websites as you like with no further fees associated.  You could even use it to watch YouTube videos if you want.  We generally won't access these servers unless specifically requested to by the client; agreements for updates and maintenance can be customized based on how much "hands on" the client wants to be.

A dedicated server can be physical or virtual.  A physical dedicated server is a physical machine in our data center, and a virtual dedicated is a virtual machine on a bigger better server in our data center.  As to which a customer would rather lease, physical or virtual, I would say its really just a case of resources.  If the resource usage is high enough, a physical machine is probably the best option, but for most applications virtualization is going to be the most cost-effective solution.

HH: What is Hanson doing regarding virtualization?

CD: Hanson was an early adopter of VMWare.  Much of our core internal servers are virtualized and we have moved many clients over the past 10 years into virtualized environments.  We have experience with Hyper-V and XenServer but have found VMWare to be more robust in the enterprise.   We offer support for existing virtualization, can migrate a client to a virtualized environment, or move them to Hanson's local cloud services solutions like hosted exchange. 

HH: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Craig.

CD: My pleasure.

Details on Hanson's Virtualization Services can be found here. You can also contact Hanson directly at 1-888-245-8468 or to speak with a specialist about Virtualization today. 


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