By Matt McPhail, Global Director of Systems Engineering

Virtualisation as a technology has been around for some time but has only become prevalent in the small and medium business community over the past few years.

Small to medium sized businesses (SMB's) of all sizes are rapidly adopting this technology and achieving significant benefits in a number of areas. However as we move through 2011, many businesses still do not understand the value of virtualisation or the benefits it supplies. In the uncertain UK economic climate, SMBs need more than ever to find business tools and technologies to help them work smarter and crucially, spend more time on developing innovative ideas or driving growth. Embracing and unleashing the technology of virtualisation is the first step to helping a business function more efficiently and smartly.

Virtualisation is a buzz word steamrolling across the IT landscape but many small businesses do not actually know what it is. Virtualisation is defined as the ability to abstract physical resources into separate logical (or virtual) units. Originally coined and invented by IBM in the 1960’s the term has come to generalise a number of types of virtualisation, including storage, network, application and servers. It allows one server to act as many and instead of keeping your important applications on separate servers it is just kept on one. Thus if one application fails, the other applications are not affected as virtualisation allows you to run as many applications on the same server. Adopting virtualisation can benefit a business greatly but understanding what it is and how it can benefit your organisation is fundamental.

Businesses are swiftly taking on virtualisation and achieving benefits from it including reduced operating costs, greater productivity and increased efficiency.

However, when choosing a storage virtualisation strategy, businesses need to understand that this demands a fundamental business change and that they have to prepare accordingly. SMBs need to consider the impact of implementing a storage virtualisation strategy, including how the change will benefit the business, employees and workload.

One of the biggest benefits of virtualisation is how it improves IT effectiveness for businesses. Along with reducing routine IT administration tasks, improving data protection and application availability, virtualisation also responds to business growth and company needs. All of these benefits will significantly enrich productivity as it allows the organisation to focus more on its core responsibilities rather than having to deal with recurring IT maintenance. A recent survey carried out by virtualisation specialists - VMware, found that 72% of SMBs chose virtualisation solutions to increase IT efficiency and reduce costs. The study also demonstrated that over half (54%) of SMBs do not virtualise because of a lack of budget. SMBs need to understand that investing in a virtualisation strategy will pay off in the long run. Virtualisation enables SMBs to reduce the cost of downtime – in terms of productivity, lost sales or damaged reputation. All in all virtualisation can be seen as an important insurance policy.

Along with IT effectiveness, the flexibility of virtualisation allows company growth and continuity. With the current economic climate it is important for SMBs to reduce costs as much as they can. It is evident that small organisations do not have the IT budgets equivalent that of larger enterprises, so by virtualising, SMBs can reap the benefits and cut back on costs. As an organisation grows, their virtualisation strategy can grow with it, having the ability to respond to changing business needs.

Virtualisation is one of the most interesting and potentially valuable technologies for businesses today. It can be classed as one of the biggest factors in supporting SMBs economic survival, and using a virtualisation strategy can help SMBs to be more productive and efficient, allowing more time to focus on growing their business.