Back in January of 2017, I wrote a blog post called “The Benefits and Magic of Virtualization for your Organization’s Computer Network.” Over five years have gone by, and since then, a lot has changed. We’ve been through a pandemic that pushed a lot of people into a 100% virtual world.
It’s time to bring you up to speed on what has changed, what hasn’t changed and what’s new and exciting in the world of virtualization.
What Has Stayed the Same
Let’s start with what hasn’t changed. Physical computers are still required to host virtual servers (if you’re in an on-premises environment). You can still execute high availability with two or more servers and shared storage space while saving a ton of money on electricity and other physical infrastructure costs by having Hyper-V hosts.
A real-world example includes a client we recently acquired that has a server room with over 10 physical servers. Because of this, they have an excessive number of battery backup units, lots of switching for the servers, air conditioning, physical hardware failures and so on; all of which go along with having a physical setup.
But think about what would happen if we took all their servers, virtualized them and moved them into just TWO physical hosts. That means the battery backup units will last substantially longer, there will be a lower percentage of physical failures (statistically speaking), less switching and air conditioning would be required, and so on. This client would certainly benefit from a virtual environment. Does this sound like your organization?
What Has Changed (Sort Of… New to This Topic But Not New to the Industry)
I want to highlight Azure, Microsoft’s cloud offering. All the previous discussions and articles were more geared towards an on-premises setup, but the cloud has a lot of benefits (see my previous article on the cloud). Let’s take a moment to use the same situation above and move it into Azure.
We can set up all those servers in Azure where you will have 24/7 access regardless of power outages, the internet being down or if another health crisis were to arise, all your users could connect to the cloud and continue working.
For those critical workloads that must remain up, you can configure “availability sets” where you have your virtual servers available in multiple zones. In the event of a physical host failure at the data center or some type of regional outage, your availability set will automatically adjust to keep that virtual machine up and running (available) for service.
On to the topic of “scale sets.” Let’s say you have a web server and it’s humming along just fine. But maybe you have a sale and it generates a lot of traffic which causes the web server to become slow or even crash. This is where scale sets come into play.
With scale sets, you can set performance limits so when the web server becomes overwhelmed, another server comes online and splits the load (there are a lot of technical configurations behind the scenes, but this is the gist).
It doesn’t stop with just one extra server. You can have them scale up to 1,000 virtual machines (VMs)! Ever wonder how companies like Amazon, Google and other big players keep their sites up and running? Take availability sets and scale sets and put them together. While no infrastructure is infallible, the redundancy (keeping data in multiple places to keep it from being lost or unavailable) and availability is phenomenal.
Of course, the more complex, the higher the cost. That’s not to say that moving to the cloud is cheaper. It depends on what you currently have in place, how much you pay and what you want to have in the cloud. It’s possible to save money by going to Azure, but it could be a little more expensive. It’s a balancing act of convenience of uptime versus cost.
Those are just a few examples of how virtualization, both on-premises and in the cloud, can help keep your environment up, redundant and available!
How Do I Connect?
You may be wondering, “how does the office connect to our previous on-prem servers to the cloud?” There are two ways to accomplish this. One way is a site-to-site VPN tunnel where your firewall connects to Azure via a VPN tunnel. If you aren’t running database-intensive loads or moving large files to and from the cloud to a local workstation, this solution will be fine.
For larger offices that may be running database-intensive loads and large files, the best option is an “express route.” This is an additional service offered by most internet service providers where you can have a direct connection to the Azure datacenter without the need for a VPN. It’s almost like you’re using the internet to plug in a 100-mile-long data cable directly to the datacenter. Other options include point-to-site VPN connections, where individual users connect directly to Azure to access services.
Are There Any Other Options Besides Microsoft?
I’ve been referencing the native Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization option in the examples above, but you should know that there are other options out there like VMWare, Red Hat, Citrix, VirtualBox and more. I’ve been talking about Microsoft’s cloud offering, Azure, but you also have AWS, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud and more.
If you’re not so keen on keeping all your data in the cloud but want to have a little more control of the infrastructure with the benefits of power redundancy, A/C redundancy, internet redundancy, etc., you could always move your physical infrastructure to a local data center (like DataBridge or TierPoint) where you can rent a cage and put your servers in their data center.
You still manage and maintain your equipment, but you get other infrastructure redundancies offered by the provider for a fee.
What If I Want An On-Prem Environment and the Availability Of the Cloud?
In some situations, a hybrid environment might be the way to go. Here’s a real-world example: we have a client that has an on-prem infrastructure, but the power and/or internet goes out frequently. When that happens, work comes to a stop!
This client works with very large files and the cost of an express route was outside their budget. So, we proposed a hybrid configuration where they would have an on-prem server, a site-to-site VPN to Azure and then another Azure server that had data synced between the two. In the event of a power failure or internet outage, employees could go home and VPN into the Azure environment to continue working until services were restored at the office.
What About All Cloud, All the Time?
Let’s talk about VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). I wrote a previous article on Microsoft Windows 365 which is a virtual desktop in the cloud. This is mostly for smaller or individual clients, but Azure also offers larger options (and even scalability/availability sets) for virtual desktop environments. Users can use any computer, regardless of specs, and connect to their virtual desktop in the cloud. This is a good way to get every bit of value out of aging equipment you already have but keep up with today’s need for more power.
Some offices even opt for “dummy terminals” where a small box simply provides a connection to monitors, keyboard, mouse and ethernet. That inexpensive box connects to the remote environment and like magic, you’re at your virtual desktop.
Since it’s in the cloud, you can have your other servers and systems communicate within your cloud tenant. This means moving big files between locations is a breeze since most connections have a 50 gig link between the virtual servers. This same conceptual setup can also be accomplished using Remote Desktop Services in the cloud as well.
The cloud is ever changing. New types of cloud products are being offered every day. New developments have been virtual environments that focus on graphic intensive users, which weren’t possible until recently. New servers that can “burst” in terms of performance are now available, so you don’t have to pay for an expensive server all the time, just for the burst when it happens. Lots of options are coming to market every day which makes the cloud and virtualization a flexible option for you, your users and your customers.
Our Technology Solutions Group includes a team of cyber security experts. We’re happy to meet with you for a free cyber security assessment of your organization’s IT infrastructure. Or, you can contact us online or call 410.685.5512 with any questions.