Today’s IT leaders have to balance the often-competing demands of delivering greater flexibility, availability and responsiveness to change, with the need to manage costs.

To that end, trends such as virtualisation and implementing a successful virtualisation strategy are becoming more prevalent within businesses, especially that of the small and medium size business (SMB) community. However, building a successful virtualisation strategy depends on making the right decisions on storage architecture at an early stage.

The industry buzz around virtualisation is intensifying as more businesses become aware of the benefits it provides. More and more, virtualisation is becoming the cornerstone of every enterprise’s favourite money saving initiative, with industry experts reporting that 70% of IT departments are pursuing a virtualisation strategy.

There are three basic categories of virtualisation which includes storage, network and sever virtualisation. The latter is by far the most common technology today and is being deployed by businesses the world over. Server virtualisation is defined as partitioning one physical server into several virtual servers or machines.

Each virtual server can interact independently with each other and run different operating systems and multiple applications as though it were a separate physical resource. Thus if one operating system fails, then the other applications are not affected as the servers are in effect running individually.

Businesses are swiftly taking on virtualisation and achieving benefits from it including reduced operating costs, greater productivity and increased efficiency. However, when choosing a storage virtualisation strategy, businesses need to understand that this demands a fundamental business change and that they have to prepare accordingly.

Recent research identified that 72% of SMBs choose a virtualisation solution to increase IT efficiency and reduce costs whilst over half (54%) of SMBs do not virtualise because of a lack of budget . SMBs need to understand that investing in a virtualisation strategy will pay off in the long run. One of the short term benefits of this technology is the need for less servers and deployment of networking.

Business will see a decrease in the use of power, time and resources spent on maintenance. Alternatively longer term benefits will include savings in money and more innovation and agility from resources within the business. Staff will be able to work remotely, while travelling overseas and in the end more efficiently.

IT managers can focus on IT business tasks rather than maintenance which are ideal in the brutal economic climate. All in all virtualisation can be seen as an important short and long term enhancement of business operations.

A lot of the time IT managers can focus too much on server choices rather than putting in place the underlying storage architecture that is essential to success. It is important to get storage right before embarking on server virtualisation or risk nullifying the potential benefits.

Storage infrastructure and virtualised servers are often developed separately which means that there is usually a problem matching the virtualised server with the correct storage it needs. Storage growth is also an issue to consider with growing SMBs.

However, clustered storage by nature is flexible and distributed, which adds important benefits when initiating virtualisation. Combining clustered storage with virtualisation servers will reap benefits in the long run, as you don’t have to ‘rip and replace’ storage but just add nodes as your organisation grows.

Deploying such a technology doesn’t come without risks and IT managers should be careful when moving into a virtualised environment. Rolling out such a strategy needs administrators and CIOs need to carefully research their strategic direction and technology decisions as well as doing a cost analysis and cost judgement.

SMBs in particular need to understand that this strategy is for the long term and much planning is needed for the change of environment. Enlisting the right expert support – whether for system design, integration or both – is also crucial as they will be able to educate the business on the correct execution.

Reading case studies, and even better, conducting site visits, involving businesses similar to your own will increase understanding of what is needed. Case studies are a good resource as it will describe the rollout, upfront costs and infrastructure involved with implementing a virtualisation process.

Virtualisation can help IT departments spend less time on routine administrative tasks, enabling them to be more responsive to business needs and innovation. With the precarious stability of the economy SMBs need more than ever to find business tools and technologies to help them work smarter and crucially.

Virtualisation is potentially one of the most valuable tools available to SMBs, helping them to achieve greater efficiency and driving growth within their business.