MT Expert - IT - What virtualisation really means to SMEs

It's not just large firms that can capitalise on cost savings thanks to virtualisation, says this week's expert.

by Ross Walker
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2011

The technology world has become so awash with buzzwords over the last decade that the average employee may often be left wondering what the lingo actually means to them. Virtualisation is one such term – but it needn’t be. Put simply, it is the creation of a virtual, rather than actual, version of something. Software, rather than hardware.

Over the past 10 years, office IT systems have massively changed, shifting towards virtualisation – big clunky servers have got smaller as information starts to become saved in 'the cloud'.

Consequently, we now have the ability to access company information on the move, as it is no longer restricted within the company’s four walls. This has made organisations more flexible as staff can get on with their work remotely - snow, broken down cars and other disruptions notwithstanding.

The stats on what virtualisation has become and how it will continue to change our businesses are dizzying. According to Gartner, more than 80% of businesses now have a virtualisation program or project and IT departments can help save their bosses 20 to 50% with virtualisation projects, through increased productivity, flexibility and reduced operating expenditure.

These cost savings aren’t just limited to global enterprises, which is good news for smaller organisations. One of the best aspects of virtualisation is that it acts as 'multiple machines', enabling small businesses to benefit from the huge economies of scale that previously would have been impossible.

So if you are a small business with limited IT resources, but you want to make huge savings, where do you start? Here are some top tips:

· Ensure alignment between IT and management
It is important to show that you can address management concerns such as security and availability. Show that their concerns, while important, can be successfully overcome by making use of existing best practices and robust solutions that keep valuable information and critical applications protected and highly available.

· Don’t operate in a silo when it comes to cloud computing
Virtualisation and cloud initiatives are most successful when implemented as mainstream IT initiatives. Because they involve all aspects of IT (servers, storage, network, applications, etc.) they can fail when managed as siloed "special projects."  Rather, treat cloud as an IT-wide initiative with all departments included in planning and implementation.

· Modernise your existing infrastructure
Before you’re ready to implement hybrid or private cloud, make sure you are using your existing infrastructure to achieve the same efficiencies and then modernising it as needed. Convert your static servers, storage and networking into a virtualised pool of resources.

· Set realistic expectations and track your results
Remember that despite the current hype, cloud is a new and still maturing market. Do your homework to set expectations that are realistic, then follow up and track results to identify ways to improve project efficiency going forward.

· Monitor the network
One of the key advantages of virtualisation is network monitoring. With the ability to centrally manage your system, you can simplify the monitoring of it. Look out for a solution that offers automated control assessment functions, flexible policy-based controls, consolidation of log monitoring and aggregation of events, and adheres to VMware hardening guidelines, and automated system response.

· Keep security at front of mind
Managing each machine and mobile device can be time consuming and complex. Use a central management tool for security practices and policies in place that are system-wide, so you will be able to maximise the protection of your business data. This doesn’t mean that you can forget encryption, endpoint security and two-factor authentication though! Cybercriminals aren’t sizest – they will go where the data is, regardless of your business size.

Ross Walker, head of SMB, Symantec

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