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Virtualisation in the smaller business

Are things really any different to the big boys?

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Lab Many of your comments on some of the virtualisation articles we have written to date have suggested that smaller organisations have different challenges and priorities when it comes to virtualisation. Here we report back on what we have been told so far and ask you for your insights.

The majority of vendors assume that small businesses are significantly different from large enterprises in every respect. However, various studies that we have carried out with the help of readers of The Register over the last few months show that this assumption is not correct in many respects. When it comes to attitudes, drivers and deployment patterns for virtualisation solutions, our research results highlight some areas with very similar findings for organisations of differing sizes and others where results differ markedly.

When we look at the adoption of virtualisation solutions in x86 Server environments, there are very similar trends to be seen between small businesses and their larger mid-market and enterprise brethren. But there are certainly some differences. It is clear that virtualisation is driving adoption and server estate architectural activity to a greater level in larger organisations compared with small business.

Part of this is may be due to the fact that, particularly given the level of maturity that virtualisation has reached, there are larger acquisition and operational cost benefits achievable in organisations with many more servers. It should also be recognised that vendors have focused on the enterprise sector in the early market and the nature and pricing of solutions has, until recently, reflected this.

In addition, when the need arises to move beyond basic server virtualisation capabilities, there may be a requirement to invest in specialist skills, which smaller organisations are more reluctant to do. It will be interesting to note how quickly Microsoft’s entry in the virtualisation market may alter the picture, with its more mainstream approach and commercial model.

The case for virtualisation as a driver for changing server infrastructure architecture ranks as a factor in only half as many small businesses as in large enterprises, a result that is mimicked across the range of drivers. There is, however, one very important exception: the “growth in data to be served” is a major concern for over 50 percent of small businesses, almost as high as that in mid-sized organisations and large enterprises. In all three categories of organisation scale, data growth is amongst the top three drivers causing changes in server deployments.

Does this reflect things in your server estate as virtualisation gains ground? Please let us have your feedback in the comments section below. When we move on to look at the area of storage virtualisation there are very distinct differences to be seen in the adoption of such solutions in small organisations compared to big-business. The rate of adoption of storage virtualisation has been consistently slower than server virtualisation.

A survey we ran on The Register a couple of years ago told us that whilst storage virtualisation was then deployed to some degree in around a third of larger enterprises and by only slightly fewer mid-market sized companies, the figure for small business was much lower. At that time, storage virtualisation had made its way into only around 10 to 15 per cent of organisations with fewer than 250 employees. Whilst the number is growing all the time, anecdotal evidence points to a similar disparity of adoption numbers now.

Why should this be so? Well, apart from the factors mentioned above for server virtualisation adoption trends, it is fair to say that in small businesses IT support is usually delivered by IT generalists who have to manage all aspects of systems procurement and operations. Such generalists are likely to have had little exposure to the more sophisticated storage solutions - such as ‘thin provisioning’ of pooled storage - many of which have only recently become affordable to small operations.

It is to be expected that the broader deployment of 'virtualisation solutions', along with the continuing steep rates of growth in data volumes being generated, will lead to a steady adoption of storage virtualisation solutions in small businesses. This is especially true as they start to be offered as managed services. Equally, the development of management tools that simplify the overall complex nature of storage operations may now begin to further encourage adoption in ever smaller organisations.

We would like to know if storage virtualisation is taking off in your business, and if it is, what is driving things along? Equally, if it is not gaining ground in your systems, what is holding things back?

As a final point, I will not cover the area of desktop virtualisation here, as just getting the definitions of what we mean takes time. This is an area to which we will return in depth later in these lab workshops. The only thing I will say is that adoption of the wide array of desktop virtualisation offerings now available on the market, like those for storage virtualisation, appear not to have yet enjoyed significant penetration in the small business arena.

It will be especially interesting to note how this changes as vendors attempt to better educate everyone on what solutions fit which business challenges. Equally, we will be following what happens as both desktop refresh projects kick in, and managed service providers seek to enter this market. We will continue to watch with interest. ®

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