Server virtualisation has, without doubt, taken the IT industry by storm. It provides a cost-effective way to dramatically reduce downtime, increase flexibility, and use hardware much more efficiently.

However, small and medium businesses often find it hard to evaluate whether virtualisation is an appropriate fit and, if it is, how to adopt it with a small IT staff and limited funding. It's easier for larger companies with more developed IT staffs to figure out, but it can still be a challenge.

Whether you're big or small, this six-stage virtual case study explores the key considerations and deployment approaches you should examine when virtualising your servers. Each part covers a key stage of the virtualisation process, using the fictional Fergenschmeir to lay out the issues, potential mistakes, and realistic results any company should be aware of -- but that you're not likely to see in a typical white paper or case study.

So follow along with Eric Brown, Fergenschmeir's new infrastructure manager, his boss Brad Richter, upper management, and Eric's IT team to find out what did and didn't work for Fergenschmeir as the company virtualised its server environment.

Stage 1: Determining the rationale

The idea of implementing production server virtualisation came to Fergenschmeir from several directions. In May 2007, infrastructure manager Eric Brown had just hired Mike Beyer, an eager new summer intern. One of the first questions out of Mike’s mouth was, “So how much of your server infrastructure is virtual?” The answer, of course, was none. Although the software development team had been using a smattering of EMC VMware Workstation and Server to aid their development process, they hadn’t previously considered bringing it into production. But an innocent question from an intern made Eric give it more serious thought. So he did some research.

Eric started by talking to his team. He asked about the problems they’d had, and whether virtualisation could be a solution. There were obvious wins to be had, such as the portability of virtual guest servers. Additionally, they would no longer be dependent on specific hardware, and they would be able to consolidate servers and reduce IT overhead.

The actual business motivation came a month later. The server running Fergenschmeir’s unsupported, yet business-critical, CRM application crashed hard. Nobody knew how to reinstall the application, so it took four days of downtime to get the application brought back up. Although the downtime was largely due to the original software developer being defunct, this fiasco was a serious black mark on the IT department as a whole and a terrible start for Eric’s budding career at Fergenschmeir.