Modern computers and servers are so powerful that many businesses tend to only use only a small percentage of their full capabilities.
For instance, if a server is only being used to store files and share internet access then much of its processing power is going to waste.
In recent years, more companies have started using virtualisation to help harness some of that untapped power. So, what is virtualisation and why should it matter to your business?
Virtualisation: many servers, one box
Virtualisation involves sharing computing resources so your business can get more bang for its buck. This clever technology allows one physical server to function as several servers.
That's why they're called virtual servers: although they behave like individual servers, they all run on the same piece of hardware.
For example, instead of running your each of your in-house applications (email server, accounting system, CRM system etc) on its own physical server, you can ‘virtualise' one big server and run the whole lot on that.
Doing so means you only have one physical server to maintain. Virtualisation is also handy when different applications can't run together under the same operating system. For example, perhaps your accounting software runs on Windows but your website requires Linux.
Power when you need it
These days, you can take advantage of virtualisation without actually owning any hardware yourself. Instead, you rent your virtual servers from another company, often a web hosting or cloud computing firm.
In this situation, you'll never see the physical server on which your virtual servers run. It sits safely in a data centre where it may be shared by other businesses too.
The beauty of this approach is that the resources needed to run your applications can be spread across a number of virtual servers, which are all shared between companies.
This means that there's lots of computing power on tap should you need it - yet you don't have to invest in expensive hardware yourself.
To spread the load, many virtualisation services split computing power between customers in different time zones, so there's always enough spare capacity to go round.
Is sharing servers safe?
One of the first questions businesses have about sharing servers in this way is: ‘Are our applications and data safe if we're sharing with other companies?'
Usually, the answer is yes, as long as you are dealing with a reputable provider. If they are a European firm and covered by EU data protection laws then that gives you extra reassurance. In general, you should ask the same questions of your provider as you would of any other cloud computing company.
Virtualisation is all about sharing the cost of computing resources. If more businesses can share a single resource, that resource becomes cheaper for each individual business. And that's why virtualisation should matter to you.
This is a guest post from John Paterson, CEO of Really Simple Systems