Virtual Servers vs. Physical Servers: Which Is Best For Your Business?
Organizations need secure, reliable, and high-performance processing and storage solutions for their applications and data. A recent survey of Chief Information Officer (CIO) priorities indicated the following topics are key areas of focus for many IT programs:
- Recovery and Business Continuity
- Cloud Communications
- Cost Management
In today’s business world, IT management is tasked with finding cost-effective data processing and storage solutions that balance their organization’s need for risk mitigation, varied treatment of data types, and in many cases, regulatory compliance with the realities of living in a post-pandemic world. This balance requires a new look, or a second thought, to the question of virtual vs. physical servers.
It isn’t a simple choice for many organizations due to complex business requirements and the pros and cons of each option. In this blog post, you’ll learn the benefits and risks of physical servers, data centers, and virtual environments. We’ll also discuss the11 factors to help you choose what’s best for your business.
Jump to a section:
- Pros and Cons of Physical Servers
- Pros and Cons of Virtual Servers
- Are Virtual Servers or Physical Servers Right for My Business?
Virtual Servers vs. Physical Servers
Because the coronavirus pandemic closed many office buildings, special attention has focused on the utility of using a data center and virtual servers as opposed to hosting physical hardware in the office. With access limited and fearing exposure to the virus, accessing server resources remotely over the network can mitigate risk. Using a data center further mitigates risk as those facilities rise to the level of critical infrastructure, and access is protected even during the pandemic.
Past decisions ongoing physical servers over virtual are now being weighed in the reality of a new remote-workforce world. On the other hand, past decisions to move servers to the cloud, either in colocation environments or virtual servers, are now becoming a smart decision - at least for most companies.
The reality remains that there is still a use case for physical servers even in today's world. To make the right decision, let's start by weighing the pros and cons.
The Pros and Cons of Physical Servers
Physical servers are powerful computers generally owned, managed, and maintained by your company’s staff.
Pros of Physical Servers:
- Your IT team has full access to your dedicated server resources 24/7/365, which can be advantageous for high-demand or business-critical operations.
- The server may be located onsite or in a conveniently-located colocation facility, depending on your needs.
- Your IT staff can fully customize and configure the server to your specifications and business requirements.
Cons of Physical Servers:
- Relatively high cost of server purchase, maintenance, and in the case of hardware failure, replacement.
- Your IT staff will be responsible for setup, configuration, and maintenance.
- You may need to hire a contractor or vendor for help if you have difficulty with configuration or repairs.
- You cannot scale storage in small increments once you reach the maximum workload since you purchased and own the hardware.
- Requires physical or colocation space.
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Servers
A virtual server is a virtual machine that mimics a physical server’s functionality. Virtualization typically occurs in the cloud or on servers that are owned, maintained, and located offsite. Hiring a hosting vendor who offers secure cloud services is the most common way organizations switch to virtualization.
Pros of Virtual Servers:
- Fewer upfront costs since you are not required to purchase hardware.
- Potential for lower lifetime costs on configuration and maintenance.
- Access to expert assistance on setup, configuration, maintenance, and software licenses.
- Reduced need for in-house IT talent.
- Potential to consolidate servers and increase workload efficiency.
- Reduced environmental footprint due to shared workloads.
Cons of Virtual Servers:
- Potential for higher recurring monthly costs, as opposed to higher upfront investment.
- Possible issues with application compatibility, which are best discussed with a knowledgeable vendor.
- Not all vendors are amenable to scaling your agreement up or down in small increments, which largely depends on vendor policies and service level agreements (SLAs).
- You are no longer independently controlling of your physical server and the applications running on them.
Significant upfront costs
Fewer upfront costs
Requires physical or colocation space
Does not require physical space
Maintained by your in-house IT team
Reduces need for in-house IT talent
Cannot scale storage without purchasing new hardware
Can consolidate servers for increased efficiency
Ongoing maintenance but no recurring costs
Recurring monthly costs
Fully customizable solution
Less independent control over solution
Are Virtual Servers or Physical Servers Right for My Business?
As the world quickly moves faster toward cloud-lifting all applications and data into the cloud, larger enterprises are leading the way. Enterprises are virtualizing at twice the rate of small businesses.
In the wake of the worldwide pandemic, remote work and telecommuting have skyrocketed the number of businesses using storage virtualization and application virtualization.
Here are some of the factors that should be considered before making the final decision:
A primary benefit of virtualization is cost savings. Case studies indicate that companies can save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by going virtual. While you will pay virtualization costs every month, you can save on:
- Human labor/talent
Virtualization also offers businesses the ability to scale up and down in relatively small increments. With virtualization, you are released from the cost of needing to commission or decommission servers.
In terms of using a colocation server, power consumption continues to get more efficient with newer servers. This enables customers to save money as power is typically the highest cost in a colocation environment.
Regardless of your choice, fully understanding your business requirements is critical. The right virtualization vendor can guide you through the process of understanding which data, applications, and processes are most critical to your company’s operations and health.
Certain applications may require more dedicated server resources due to a diminished tolerance for risk in performance. In other cases, when it comes to rarely used assets, you may be fine to sacrifice performance and speed for cost savings.
Regardless of which route you go, understanding your performance needs is crucial to having the best experience with a dedicated equipment or a virtualization vendor.
Direct connections to cloud services have made utilizing cloud services such as AWS and Azure easier. Getting GigE and 10 GigE circuits using Atlantech Online Cloud Connect or similar services makes it more functional than relying on connections over the public Internet.
3. Business Continuity
Since virtualization servers are located offsite, you have an immediate advantage in disaster recovery. In many cases, vendors with appropriate risk-mitigation planning can significantly improve your business continuity planning. Consider your company’s ability to tolerate asset loss or periods of data unavailability when making a decision.
4. Risk Mitigation
Risk mitigation ultimately depends on the configuration of your dedicated or virtual servers. Failure can be devastating if your entire company's workload is balanced on a single piece of equipment located in-house or in a vendor's virtual environment.
In many cases, companies can significantly mitigate risk by switching to virtualization vendors that offer appropriate safeguards against hardware failure and backups both on and offsite.
5. Information Security
The security of your physical or virtual servers depends largely on configuration, staff knowledge, and environment. Like risk mitigation, these factors can vary significantly depending on a business’s unique requirements and internal resources. For many organizations with minimal budget or hardware, switching to virtualization can offer significant gains in security protection.
6. Space and Environmental Control
Many organizations' data assets are increasing rapidly, presenting space-related challenges for IT teams. If you are running out of room to store and maintain temperature control over your servers appropriately, it's likely time to consider the colocation of physical servers or virtualization. Maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity can become more challenging as your data assets increase.
7. Staff Knowledge
Does your staff have the knowledge and capacity to appropriately manage server acquisition, maintenance, configuration, and security? Perhaps more importantly, are they aware of best practices for increasing efficiency and realizing cost savings? Switching to virtualization can free your IT team from dealing with data storage and server management, allowing them to focus on other priorities and opportunities for cost savings.
8. Projected Growth in Workload
When you’re virtual, adding more storage or processing power can be as simple as a conversation with your vendor. In most cases, it’s significantly easier to scale your servers up or down with virtualization since you’re not responsible for physical server acquisition, setup, configuration, and testing.
If your business’s data assets or application needs are growing rapidly, you could significantly save time and resources by switching to virtualization immediately.
9. Migration Plans
Many organizations choose to migrate their workloads to virtualization slowly over time. If this is your intent, communicate with your vendor about their existing migration tools and discuss application compatibility.
Don’t let fear of complex migration stand in the way of your decision to go primarily virtual. Most businesses find that migration to virtualization is much easier than they think, even when performed slowly over time.
10. Data Type
Certain workloads aren’t mission-critical and may not need to be deployed virtually. You may have certain data assets that do not contain payment, health, or other types of information that are subject to regulatory requirements. In these cases, using a basic physical server that you already own could be the right choice.
In a case study at Westminster College, the IT team decided to use physical servers to store camera footage while moving most of their overall workload to virtualization. They decided this because while camera footage is important, it's not mission-critical. The Westminster team felt they could absorb the responsibility and risk of storing this data on-premises using a current basic server.
11. Compliance Needs
It's important to carefully assess your ability to keep compliance in-house if you must adhere to HIPAA, PCI, Sarbanes-Oxley, or other regulatory requirements. Both physical and virtual servers must meet all standards set forth by law. Typically, compliance is verified and measured by independent auditors.
If you are considering virtualization, ask for a copy of a potential vendor’s most recent report on compliance (ROC) from an audit.
Virtual vs. Physical: Which is Best For You?
Depending on your use case, the right answer may be using virtual and physical servers in a colocation data center.
Virtual server hosting has matured, and we see more hybrid approaches where web-facing servers may be virtual and back end, data crunching servers reside in a colo data center, resulting in a hybrid environment.
For more information about choosing the right data center for your business, check out our free resources, 10 Questions To Ask Before You buy Data Center Services For Your Business. You can also explore Atlantech’s data center page to see if our solution is right for your business.