Posted by: Eric Siebert
Eric Siebert, Virtualization, Virtualization strategies
Organizations that have virtualized their environments often virtualize only a portion of their servers, leaving some servers running on standalone physical hardware. Is a 100% virtualized environment possible? Certainly it is, because almost all workloads can be virtualized, but there are some arguments against completely virtualizing your environment.
I recently wrote about an experience I had with a complete data center power failure. The problems resulted from all the DNS servers being virtualized and until the host servers and storage-area network were online no DNS was available, which made it difficult for anything in the environment to function properly. Having a DNS server and Active Directory domain controller running on a physical server would have been a great benefit in that situation.
Additionally, many organizations are leery of having too many servers virtualized because they want to avoid the risk of a single host outage causing many virtual machines to go down at once. This risk can be partially offset by some of the high availability features that are available in many of the virtualization products. In addition, if a virtual environment relies on a single shared storage device and that device has a major failure, it can take down all the virtual machines that reside on that storage. This risk can also be partially offset by having a well architected SAN environment with multiple switches and host bus adapters so multiple paths to the SAN are available.
Another reason that you may not want to virtualize your whole environment is that many software vendors do not fully support running their applications on virtual machines and subsequently may require you to reproduce a problem on a physical system. Because of this it is a good idea to have a few physical servers running applications that may be effected by these policies. For example, if you have multiple Oracle, SQL or Active Directory servers, consider leaving one or two of them on physical hardware.
Finally, you may consider leaving a few physical servers for applications that have non-virtualization friendly licensing and hardware requirements that can be difficult to virtualize (licensing dongles, fax boards, etc.) or for servers that have extremely high I/O requirements.
So is a 100% virtualized environment possible? Yes it is, but is it advisable? In most cases it is not recommended. The cost savings that are typically seen by implementing virtualization will increase the more an environment is virtualized but you may want to stop at around 90% and leave a few physical server for the reasons that were previously mentioned.