Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

Summary: You'll need to keep some physical systems around for those workloads that can't go virtual. And, be sure to keep a horse and buggy around when that whole automobile thing doesn't work out too.

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TOPICS: Servers, Hardware
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Oops! Did you get rid of ALL your physical systems so that you could convert every workload in your data center to a virtual one? Yeah, you might want to rethink that one and go grab a few physicals just to tide you over until virtualization takes a bigger technological leap. Yes, I am a virtualization advocate. Yes, I am a cloud advocate. Yes, I am a virtualization writer. Yes, I work with virtual machines and hosts on a daily basis. And, yes, I'm a realist. Some would go so far to say that I'm a pessimist.

I'm not pessimistic about virtualization, the cloud or server consolidation. But, I am pessimistic about your company's ability to wean itself off of physical systems.

I hear and read too many complaints about virtualization performance, legacy systems and blah, blah, blah--so much so that I'm saying, OK, maybe you should just keep some of your damn physical systems on hand to make yourself feel better. Because as everyone knows, or should know, there are just some workloads that can't be virtualized. I know you have one that absolutely can't be virtualized because it's different or special in some unique way that just wouldn't lend itself to virtualization.

Uh, OK. Whatever.

VMware begs to disagree on that point and they would be the one to know. But, hey, your non-technical executives and project managers know more than the people who brought server virtualization to the Data Center.

So, please--pretty please, don't throw away your physical servers just yet, just in case you have some workload that can't be virtualized.

That legacy application that should have been updated eight years ago or that Windows NT 4.0 system that you just can't take away must remain physical. It's OK, I've heard it all before. You're absolved of any wrongdoing or mismanagement. After all, I don't have to pay your bills. Or listen to the moans and groans of keeping that old garbage alive. And, it's a critical piece of garbage that your business depends on. Good job on that. You deserve a promotion for your proactive work, your acute business insight and your ability to keep that mission-critical up and running no matter what the cost.

And, you had better be glad you don't work for me.

My best advice, other than keeping those physical systems around, is to engage VMware, Citrix, the Open Virtualization Alliance or Fred the Virtualizer down the street to give you some direction in bringing your application up to date and migrating it to virtual architecture before it flops so hard that even Dr. Oz can't revive it.

So, talk back and tell me, are you still keeping physical systems around for those workloads that you just can't virtualize? I'd also love to know if you've engaged one of the companies that can help you move that workload to a virtual environment and the outcome.

Topics: Servers, Hardware

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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57 comments
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  • Save us from consultants on a crusade.

    The fact that you get all in a lather because some company doesn't want to virtualize says more about you than it does them.
    fr_gough
    • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

      @fr_gough

      It's more of a tizzie or hissy fit than a full-blown lather.
      khess
      • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

        @khess

        More puerile than that, I think it was just a bitching session because he missed out on a contract.
        OffsideInVancouver
    • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

      @fr_gough I was thinking the same thing. I felt like I was talking to my 17 year old daughter having a hissy fit as I read this. But you know I'm sure he's an expert on ALL systems in ALL enterprises and knows exactly that everything can be vitalized.

      - Tell you what we are using (beta testing) Citrix Receiver to bring in our legacy apps that cannot be moved the cloud and to use office, becasue Google docs does not quite cut it yet. That slow response (inside the company) is a fignament of our imagination and we can ignore it...
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

      @fr_gough

      Where does Idaho rank? We have been living in Montana for the past 5 years and I am not supri<a href=http://www.hipersexshop.com.br>sexy shop</a>to find it #3 on the "worst" list. Considering a<a href=http://www.sensualsexshop.com.br>sexshop</a>move to Idaho to escapthe high cost of living a low income in MT. There may not be a sales tax here but they get you if you own property!
      filhomarques
    • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

      @fr_gough

      Where does Idaho rank? We have been living in Montana for the past 5 years and I am not supri<a href=http://www.hipersexshop.com.br>sexy shop</a>to find it #3 on the "worst" list. Considering a<a href=http://www.sensualsexshop.com.br>sexshop</a>move to Idaho to escapthe high cost of living a low income in MT. There may not be a sales tax here but they get you if you own property!
      filhomarques
  • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

    I keep one physical server and that is my router with my phone system and kvm-based (libvirt) virtual machines. As for performance? No problem with hardware virtualization. But since I have an AMD 880G-based motherboard, if only my motherboard could support IOMMU, so that I can use my physical TV tuner in my MythTV-based VM as a backend server. My MythTV backend is not in use since I have trouble with my antenna getting signals from TV transmitters about 30 miles away, even with CM-4221HD, a replacement for CM-4221 that is overly bent (32304, across from Tallahassee Community College which I'm about to move away from).
    Grayson Peddie
  • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

    I've virtualized very little of my servers. Development and QA are done easily enough, but, in testing, VM latency kills our public web-hosting applications under peak load. I think it will be a couple of more years, before it will possible to fully virtualize our production environment. Even then, databases and other large memory applications should probably stay on physical hardware. Honestly, I don't see the point of virtualizing fully busy systems. It doesn't save anything because you have to have the redundancy to ensure your applications stay up in the event of a hardware failures. I expect that a CPU core count continues to grow it will make more sense, but in the mean time, I plan to deliver top performance through the use of physical servers.
    ncted
    • &quot;VM latency?&quot;

      @ncted
      I don't understand how you could have VM latency. In EVERY case, at my place of work, a virtual server is faster and more responsive, even when virtualized on top of its own original hardware.

      Unless... You may be trying to use that garbage from MS. Try VMware, even the free version, and you can't help but be impressed.

      For disaster recovery, we individually image each VM with Acronis each night. If something bad happens, we can use VMware Converter to directly convert the Acronis backup image into a running and fully-functional VMware virtual machine. I can't imagine ever wanting to run a dedicated, OS-on-metal, server ever again. I even use the same combination on my home (hobby) server (PC), which is a cheap 3-core AMD, and it's running 5 game-server VMs a full capacity most nights.

      Virtualization is the ONLY way, in my opinion. The only ones who would probably disagree are the ones trying to sell you more low-end hardware.
      Bit-Smacker
      • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

        @BitSmacker
        "a virtual server is faster and more responsive"
        Pull the other one...
        sabroad
      • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

        @BitSmacker

        I'm guessing that you work for VMWare as your post sounds like a copy and pasted VMWare website testimonial. Seriously.

        I've tried a few virtual machine packages and always have seen some small amount of latency. And I've tried both Windows and Linux as hosts for those packages.
        PollyProteus
  • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

    The use of virtual machine software, that you've described as "virtualization," is not the correct approach to solve many IT problems. That is a major part of the reason that companies have not moved everything into a virtual machine.

    I have trouble with the premise of this whole post. :)

    Dan K
    dkusnetzky
  • Exececutives vs VMware...

    "VMware begs to disagree on that point and they would be the one to know. But, hey, your non-technical executives and project managers know more than the people who brought server virtualization to the Data Center."<br><br>While obviously there is no argument on the technical side with your statement, it is a little one sided...<br><br>VMware's main motivation is to sell virtualization solutions... so they have a strong financial motivation to take an optimistic view... <br><br>A potential client company's execs (and really all of it's employees) job is to protect the company, so it's their duty to look at risks and worst case scenarios... <br><br>The Execs would not be doing their jobs if they took salesmen (VMware) at their word on the product they are trying to sell, when it comes to mission critical functionalities for the organization.
    wzrobin
  • Virtualization requires more hardware, not less

    Sure, there are applications that require sub millisecond transaction speeds. Our shop floor systems run Real Time Operating Systems and their supporting applications that generate literally millions of transactions in a short amount of time.

    Not too fond of virtualizing Active Directory Domain Controllers either, but that is a risk perception issue than a hard limit. I like my domain controllers to always be the first applications up and running after a system-wide shutdown.

    Many SQL loads for decision support systems virtualize just fine. Low volume OLTP as well.

    As long as you invest the money on good VM hosts (i.e. triple digit RAM and multi-proc, multi-core) you can virtualize quite a bit. There are workloads that can't, sure. But without a good investment in VM hosts, and VM software everything comes crashing down.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Virtualized DCs

      @facebook@...
      I was hesistant as well, but we did both of ours a couple of years ago (I used one physical and one virtual for a while to test) and it's been running great. We keep a decent extra capacity of resources, and every once in awhile I manually move the DC to a server that has a few less VMs than the others.

      It's scary at first, but you'll find it works pretty flawlessly on a properly set up VM environment, which it sounds like you have a good understanding of.
      crazydanr@...
  • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

    It should be the Pareto Principle with 80% virtual and 20% physical. The physical machines should be running those applications that are fully utilizing the hardware, that have some proprietary hardware dependence, etc. Definitely have DR done via virtualization. In any case, the application should be analyzed for candidacy for virtualization no matter what.
    justthinking
    • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

      @justthinking

      That's a pretty good plan, actually.
      khess
  • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

    @OffsideInVancouver

    I didn't miss out on anything.
    khess
  • RE: Don't Throw Away Your Physical Servers Just Yet

    Asking VMware if everything should be virtualized is like asking the fox if the door to the henhouse should be left open...
    GrumpyOldMan
  • updating the old app...

    In most cases that's not an option that's in my hands. I have customers that I suggest should update their critical apps, and who agree with me, but the vendor selling the app won't get off the dime.

    Today I'm dealing with an app that "requires" XP. I have begged the vendor to please make this native to win 7 AND port a client to Linux.

    All we get are the occasional "updates" that are little more than shoving buttons around on the screen, probably to make the appearance of change. In reality it just angers the poor end users. (who btw tell me some functionality has actually been lost)

    I have to deal with more than one application that from all observation must have spontaneously assembled itself and emerged from a stone wall.

    I deal with one vendor that shunts you to an answering machine every call. The ONLY calls they return are when you tell them you need to buy another license. And the call back is almost immediate, so you know someone is sitting there screening it.

    btw the app here will not run properly on vista in compatibility mode, but does run satisfactorily on win 7 in XP mode. Thank God.
    pgit