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Small business virtualization grows in mature market

Virtualization isn't only for large enterprises anymore. New technology at cheaper prices has made SMB virtualization practical, while increased competition has made it necessary.

Lowered costs and heightened competition are driving the adoption of small business virtualization, and even in the cloud era, the future of this market remains strong.

Enterprises have enjoyed virtualization for some time. The technology enabled a level of flexibility, control and cost savings that these large businesses hadn't encountered before. Despite the long-term savings, the upfront costs of infrastructure prevented some small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) from taking full advantage. That is changing, however.

In 2014, the number of virtualized servers in SMBs grew from 58% to 60%. In the following year, it jumped from 60% to 70%, according to research from Techaisle in its "The State of US SMB Virtualization Channel."

Falling technology costs and an increasingly competitive market are the primary motivators for this trend.

Virtualization on a budget

Large hosts and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) services still come with staggering price tags. SMBs can save money by installing other services, such as lower cost storage tiers and virtualization platforms, with a minimal loss of features and functionality.

SMBs don't generally have the room for full-blown storage racks, but because of increases in both spinning disk and solid-state drive capacity, they don't need to. It's possible to get hundreds of terabytes in a 2U rackmount form factor that can connect over iSCSI rather than the more expensive Fibre Channel.

SMBs can also evaluate technologies like vSAN that use local storage rather than dedicated shared storage, in addition to using a smaller external storage footprint. These new technologies push the key benefits of large-scale virtualization into the range of those who want small business virtualization.

More power for less money

Servers continue to increase in performance as CPU cores and memory capacity get larger. Meanwhile, CPU and memory have also come down in cost. SMBs won't have the same cost savings as they might with primary storage, but even small savings can become significant over time.

Although server component density has increased, the traditional server form factor remains the same, meaning that small business virtualization can get more power and flexibility for the same size. For those with limited space, new microservers pack a lot of horsepower and storage into even smaller form factors.

Integration challenges

Many SMBs have limited IT staff, but virtualization on a budget is still virtualization, and complexities persist even in smaller deployments.

Hardware architecture has become more accessible, but software is still expensive. And the primary challenge to small business virtualization is the integration of hardware and software.

Many SMBs have limited IT staff, but virtualization on a budget is still virtualization, and complexities persist even in smaller deployments. Large companies have trained staff to install and maintain these infrastructures, but SMBs must often rely on consultants for these services, and those costs can add up quickly.

SMBs, virtualization and the cloud

SMBs don't have the same needs as large enterprises when it comes to automation and containers, but they still have to remain competitive, and virtualization helps them accomplish that. SMBs can take advantage of their delayed adoption and learn from the successes and mistakes of larger enterprises in a mature virtualization market.

Rather than virtualizing email, for instance, they can confidently move that to the cloud and focus on internal applications that can't migrate as easily. Beyond that, iSCSI has improved enough that more expensive Fibre isn't necessary, and large shared storage has given way to HCI and vSAN services.

The enterprise blazed a trail and paid a high price for the newest technology. As the dust settles, small business virtualization adopters can evaluate a range of mature options that are often at lower costs.

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