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The Pros and Cons of Database Virtualization


Businesses have been steadily increasing the virtualization of desktop applications, servers, and storage, so it should be no surprise that database virtualization offers some undeniable advantages. In addition to less physical hardware, savings in energy, and simplifying the management of databases, virtualization proves particularly well for very resource hungry applications, such as CRM or ERP systems.

What are the Benefits?

  • Live migration: Virtual databases can be migrated from one physical server to another without interrupting operation.
  • Flexible and cost effective: Dynamic and automated deployment of new system instances and resources when needed.
  • Agile database development: Using different virtual machines (VM’s) with different database systems or versions enable the development or testing as part of the trial-and-error principle of agile software development. Different system stands can be adjusted, changed or deleted without much trouble, without the risk of impairing “finished” databases under certain circumstances.
  • Improved availability: By separating the VM’s from each other, the overall system can continue to run smoothly without sacrificing performance when problems occur with one VM.

Despite these advantages, if the application did not execute proper planning, it can also lead to significant issues.

Consider These Things When Implementing Database Virtualization

  • Hardware: Databases generally require a lot of resources, whether in a real or virtualized system. Virtualized database systems based on Microsoft SQL Server, as well Oracle and others, need sufficient processing power. If this is not provided by the VM, it may cause significant performance degradation.
  • Licenses: In some cases, such as in older Oracle databases, it is not possible to transfer the previous database licenses 1:1 to a virtualized system since the charges refer to the “potential” performance of the system and now what it actually uses.  Therefore, it is important before a transition to size the environment and consider how many instances and processors to use, in order to make comparison between the cost of a physically existing database server or its virtual counterparts.
  • Expertise: Databases, by nature are complex, and that fact does not change virtualization.  The new technology comes with an additional layer which adds complexity for database administrators (DBA’s). If there is no differentiation between virtualization administrators and DBA’s, then the employee has to gain profound knowledge of database virtualization in addition to their normal “know-how.”
  • Accountability: Many database administrators have no real access to the depths of the virtualization layer, as IT administrators manage this. When issues with a virtual database occur, either by an anomaly in the VM or virtual system, it often results in long delays in resolving the problem

What Now?

Virtualization is certainly not the “answer” to managing the ever-increasing volume of data. In some cases, the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may apply here.  But if you find yourself on the investing end of virtualization, you should consider aspects like organizational system and performance requirements, up-front investment costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and necessary internal resources.  Integrating a solid plan early on will make managing your virtual environment much easier to manage and scale.

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