Most SMEs face a similar IT situation to Karl Westermann GmbH & Co. KG in Denkendorf (Germany) – a heterogeneous infrastructure requiring cost-intensive service and support. But Westermann took the initiative, and decided to modernize and virtualize its IT infrastructure with support from the Filderstadtbased Steinbeis Transfer Center object-IT.
“Our existing IT infrastructure wasn’t quite being pushed to its limits, but to expand a system, you have to know when to start laying the right foundations,“ reflects Frank Westermann, owner of the 60-strong company which focuses on contract business. The aim of the business overhaul at Karl Westermann? To improve reliability, fault tolerances, management processes and support, but also to reduce operational costs and optimize system resource utilization. “Not forgetting that virtualization makes it possible to reduce overall IT costs by up to 60 per cent“, adds Peter Schupp, managing director at object-IT, partner in the project.
Westermann’s existing IT infrastructure spanned a variety of servers of various ages, running a range of operating systems and an wide array of applications – from mail servers and DATEV to highly specialized software. The problems this lead to were all too familiar: different applications frequently run on different operating systems, and not all software is necessarily up to date. Software updates can have detrimental effects on other applications running on the same computer: for example, updating one application can cause others to become inoperable. What’s more, it’s almost impossible to predict or test the impact of an update, as companies rarely run standalone test servers. Additionally, software and hardware cycles are often intrinsically linked, so whenever companies replace an old server (ie. the physical hardware), the software on the new server must be reconfigured. More often than not, this means calling in the software supplier.
One solution to this problem is virtualization. Setting up a separate virtual machine for almost every application allows individual systems to be split. This also makes it possible to run lots of small applications separately on larger machines. Virtualization also separates hardware and software cycles – hardware is consolidated onto a few failsafe servers. So even if an error does occur during operation or after an update, restoring the system or recovering data is straightforward. The idea is based on the old IT adage: one application, one machine. Thanks to virtualization, it’s now much easier to put this principle into practice – and much less resource-intensive.
Another benefit of virtualization: improved business processes and workflows, allowing firms to make much better use of resources. For example, most people check their e-mails first thing in the morning when they start their PC. This places a significant burden on e-mail servers. Later in the day, things calm down – systems typically only run at 15 to 20 per cent capacity. This applies to other services, too. With virtualization, firms can separate software from hardware resources – the load is distributed “dynamically” within the server, or across several servers. This allows companies to use their servers more flexibly and rapidly, making better use of capacity and using less of their IT budget.
Virtualization is likely to have a major impact on the server market. Already an emerging trend for a couple of years, it is on course to dominate the infrastructure market by 2012/13 at the latest.