The price of computer hardware has fallen enormously in recent years, meaning you can now buy powerful computers and servers at a relatively low cost.

As most business computers are used for relatively straightforward tasks, like email and word processing, it’s created a situation where even the cheapest computers may well have far more power than you’ll ever actually need.

The effect is even more noticeable with server equipment. It’s not at all uncommon for a company to spend £1,000 or more on a server, but only to use it to 10% – 20% capacity.

Use your spare computing power

The upshot of this is that there could be a lot of spare computing power knocking around in your company. At the very least, that seems wasteful. But if you’re about to buy another server, it seems ridiculous.

Virtualisation is one way to use this spare computing power. It allows you to take one physical computer, then split its resources (memory, disk space, processor power, etc) into several ‘virtual machines’.

Each virtual machine behaves just like an individual computer. You can install a separate copy of Microsoft Windows (or another operating system of your choice), then use it however you like.

What’s virtualisation for?

Obviously, each virtual machine has less computing power to call on because it has to share resources with other virtual machines. But that only matters if you’re trying to run really demanding software. There are plenty of situations where virtualisation can be useful. For example:

  • Using one server to do the job of several. Your business may not need a server for email, a server for its CRM system and a server for all its files. Just use virtualisation to create three virtual machines from one powerful server
  • Replacing your desktop computers with thin clients. Thin client computers are little more than a keyboard and mouse which you connect to your company’s computer network. Your staff use them as normal, but all the software runs on virtual machines back at a central server
  • Running software meant for different operating systems. You can use virtualisation to run Windows programs on your Mac, or to try Linux on your Windows computer. Using a virtual machine means you don’t have to ditch your current set up just to try something different.

The most obvious benefit of virtualisation is the cost saving. You can often do a lot more with a single piece of equipment – and it’s not just the cost of buying the kit. One server uses less electricity than several, too.

With less hardware in your business, virtualisation can also make it easier to manage and maintain your equipment. If you need another machine, it’s certainly quicker to create a virtual machine than to buy a new piece of hardware.

Getting started with virtualisation

There are many ways to tackle virtualisation, but all of them involve running some special software on your computer or server. This gives you the ability to create virtual machines. Common virtualisation software is provided by companies like VMWare and Citrix – although it can be tricky to get started with if you’re not technically minded.

Still, if you fancy giving virtualisation a go on your own computer, check out this good guide over on the Lifehacker website. Trying it for yourself is a good way to get familiar with the concept, as it can be a tricky one to grasp.

However, to really see whether virtualisation can help your business, it’s probably best to chat to an expert.