The State of Virtualization in SMBs

Paul Mah

While the value proposition for virtualization in larger enterprises or data centers is clear and can be easily argued, the same is not necessarily true for small and medium businesses. In an earlier blog, I played the devil's advocate to suggest that not all small and medium businesses will actually benefit from virtualization.


I think it is a good time to take a step back to examine the state of virtualization in SMBs. I have some ideas as to where SMBs stand where virtualization is concerned, which I outline below.


SMBs Fully Aware of Virtualization

Dave Sobel, the CEO of Evolve Technologies shared his insights in a lengthy article titled "A Virtual Door Opens for SMBs," posted on Redmond Channel Partner Online over the weekend. Evolve Technologies is a Microsoft Certified Partner while Sobel is also the author of a book on virtualization for SMB consultants.


Sobel narrated how he met with several user groups in the United Kingdom at the beginning of 2009 and another in Philadelphia toward the end of the year. The changes were marked; from most hearing about virtualization for the first time at the beginning of the year, more than half the participants say that they were already "doing virtualization" at the end of 2009.


Small and medium businesses are now aware of virtualization's inherent benefits, with many organizations actively implementing it. So what kind of deployments are SMBs using? According to Sobel, "The one we find is most interesting to customers is moving their backup images off-site with the ability to virtualize into a remote location."


As noted in the past, switching to virtualization and storing the backup images at a remote site works as an easy-to-implement and robust disaster-recovery method. You can read more on this topic by checking out our SMB guide to business continuity and disaster recovery here.


Virtualization Technologies

There is no doubt that the entrenched leader in virtualization is VMware, by virtue of the sheer breadth and sophistication of its product offerings, as well as its years of experience. Though late to the market, Microsoft has managed to put out some compelling products, too. From a slow start, this has progressed to the free Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2, which has begun to make swift inroads with SMBs that prefer to stick with products from a familiar vendor.


With the free trump card already played in the form of the ESXi hypervisor, little wonder that VMware is working hard to attract SMBs by pairing it with its new VMware Go service to help ease deployment headaches. Other virtualization platforms such as Xen and KVM continue to attract users, of course, though VMware and Microsoft are without doubt the largest players where SMBs are concerned.


Effectiveness of Virtualization Consolidation

Unfortunately, I have yet to come across any surveys that examined the virtualization consolidation ratios for SMBs. Generally though, I would assume that most small and medium businesses would use virtualization on a much smaller scale, given the lower-end machines that they would likely acquire. This was a situation that Sobel was able to confirm -- at least for smaller companies.


Sobel says, "For the S in SMB, you don't see the 16-to-1 and 20-to-1 consolidation that they talk about in the enterprise. But you are seeing the 3-to-2 and 4-to-2."


Of course, I am able to present only a rough snapshot of virtualization in SMBs here. Based on anecdotal observations and news reports of what SMBs are doing in this area, it is clear that continuing to exhort the basic merits of virtualization has reached a point of diminishing returns. Moving ahead, I would say that it is now more important to focus on better management tools and ways to increase virtualization consolidations for SMBs.

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