By Nigel Green, Enterprise Product Manager, Dell

With advances in technology come new possibilities and processes that can help businesses of any size navigate the increasingly complicated maze of IT choice. One which is increasingly viewed as a valid option for businesses is virtualisation. When implemented properly it can allow a business to run multiple applications and operating systems independently on a single server. This means that it is possible to treat a group of servers as a single pool of computing resources.

So what could virtualisation offer your growing business? Undoubtedly it helps speed development cycles and the deployment of new resources. What’s more, virtualisation can help small businesses reduce the cost of IT growth. This reduction in overhead and management costs is a primary benefit and the main reason many businesses look at virtualisation as a possible option in streamlining processes. The cost benefits also extend to power-saving, cooling and data centre real estate. Virtualisation also allows businesses to keep in-line with market changes, allowing them to stay ahead of the competition as they are able to speed up their development cycles enabling their business to deploy new resources faster.

Choosing the right technology is extremely important for any small business. Server virtualisation is extremely attractive to businesses keen on choosing technology with the right processing power and performance. Server virtualisation will be right for your business if you want to achieve the following:

- Reduce unnecessary hardware and maintenance costs

- Change and scale the infrastructure to support your business needs

- Reduce the risks of IT ages and data loss, and implement affordable business continuity strategies

- Make better use of IT resources by reducing the time spent of routine IT administrative tasks

- Grow in your existing space

With any implementation of new technology there can be some barriers to small businesses which mostly include lack of budget, uncertainty over the business benefits, and the lack of IT skills. Virtualisation can only be achieved through careful deployment and, if the businesses are unprepared, it could mean a company falls prey to server sprawl. This happens when a business does not create a tightly managed virtualisation strategy resulting in increased costs as numerous support machines are bought when they are not needed.

Four steps for successful Server Virtualisation Implementation to consider are:

- Work with the right partner. There is an ever-increasing array of vendors and partners in the IT space. Success in virtualisation will depend on your ability to use IT in the best way for your business needs. Expertise from the right partner is instrumental in answering your questions, helping you to save time, guiding you towards the right choices, and in giving you access to best practices to ensure that you get the most from your investment every day.

- Research your options. Look for the right solution for your business including those that provide cross-platform systems management for both the virtual and physical machines and ones that provide easy to- use tools for gathering statistics and applying dynamic policies to better allocate physical resources. It is also important to support the integration of virtualisation with legacy management tools and to create more flexibility in your IT infrastructure.

- Set expectations correctly. Know what you want from virtualisation before you deploy. Are you looking primarily for cost benefits or do you need to create disaster recovery mechanisms? Be conscious of the areas of your business that you are looking to virtualise - the management information system, email system, file storage - and understand what the benefits and pitfalls of the virtualisation process will be in each case.

- Agree on operational and financial goals. Your best virtualisation strategy depends on your goals and on the demands of your specific environment. Virtualisation will require a number of operational and financial changes and you should be prepared for the investment that will be required and for the changes in the business that will result.

Virtualisation is receiving a lot of attention from businesses of all sizes and a successful implementation of virtualisation is largely down to how it is managed. Creating a carefully designed rollout schedule will help the business stay on track of the changes that will be taking place and therefore minimise disruption whilst virtualisation is being carried out.