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Virtualizing small business customers with vSphere Hypervisor

Upgrading SMB customers to a virtualized server using vSphere Hypervisor can improve performance and stability, but there are some limitations.

The vSphere Hypervisor is the same engine behind a lot of enterprise virtualization but with some licensing restrictions. These restrictions often don't affect small businesses that only need to run a few servers. So how do you know if vSphere Hypervisor is the right choice for your customers?

Getting an enterprise-class virtualization platform for free is very attractive to small business customers, and VMware has been giving away their vSphere Hypervisor (ESXi) for a few years. These customers are often using Microsoft's Small Business Server as the core of their IT, with one or two other Windows servers as firewalls, database servers or remote desktop servers. To keep costs down, the Windows servers are run on desktop PCs or very low-end servers with little hardware redundancy. With vSphere Hypervisor, these Windows servers will be consolidated down to a single physical server, which allows a better class of server to be bought, providing these businesses with improved performance, storage and uptime.

What are the restrictions on vSphere Hypervsior?

Central management. The free edition of vSphere Hypervisor cannot be managed through vCenter Server, so no vMotion, no vSphere HA and no vSphere DRS. Of course, small business customers only have a single ESXi server, so this doesn't hurt. As another consequence, there is no requirement for shared storage, which would be required to enable these features.

More on vSphere Hypervisor

Upgrading to ESXi 5: VMware's latest hypervisor architecture

When you need, and don't need, vCenter Server

VMware vSphere 5 licensing demystified

Maximum 32 GB of VM RAM. The free edition of vSphere Hypervisor doesn't allow more than 32 GB of RAM to be allocated to the virtual machines (VMs). But again, small businesses only need a small number of VMs so this is no problem. SMBs with 12 GB or 16 GB of RAM and a couple of supporting servers with 2 GB to 8 GB can still fit under the 32 GB limit.

No virtualization-aware backup. Making backups of VMs by copying the files is a great advantage of encapsulating servers into VMs. With vSphere Hypervisor you will need to design for in-VM backups. Remember to also manually back up the VM configuration files, because if a disaster occurs, you need to be able to recreate the right configuration of a VM before restoring.

When vSphere Hypervisor is a good fit for customers

With vSphere Hypervisor, customers get a single, good quality server to host all of their IT, which provides more reliability and uptime than a collection of lower cost PCs.

The vSphere Hypervisor is also your path to helping customers move to larger scale. When the restrictions of the vSphere Hypervisor free license start to be limiting, the upgrade to the vSphere Essentials and Essentials Plus kits is simple. These advanced versions of the vSphere Hypervisor product include more RAM, backup features and vCenter Server management options. As the servers are already virtualized on vSphere Hypervisor, they can be migrated to shared storage to benefit from vSphere HA and multiple ESXi servers.

Winning SMB loyalty with vSphere Hypervisor

By moving a customer to vSphere Hypervisor solution, providers are able to deploy better technology than the customer's budget might otherwise have allowed. Customers are also more likely to sign up for ongoing support for an innovative solution than one that is generic, and this support contract is the recurring revenue that keeps solution providers afloat. Virtualization is also an impediment to the local mom-and-pop computer stores taking over your customers, because these shops have little experience and compete only on price.

About the author
Alastair Cooke is a freelance trainer, consultant and blogger specializing in server and desktop virtualization. Known in Australia and New Zealand for the APAC virtualization podcast and regional community events, Cooke was awarded VMware's vExpert status for his 2010 efforts. Follow him on Twitter @DemitasseNZ.

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