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When Does It Make Sense to Choose Virtualization for SharePoint Server Infrastructure?

In a video tutorial titled Architecting the farm in SharePoint 2013 – part 2, Michael Noel makes a case for virtualization as a serious option for providing hardware infrastructure to support SharePoint Server 2013. But what are the pros and cons, from a business perspective on virtualization?

Business Case for Using Virtualized SharePoint 2013 Servers

The real benefit of including some proportion of virtualized servers in a business plan for implementing SharePoint Server 2013, SQL Server, Windows Server, etc. is the flexibility this approach provides from a cost management perspective.

Implementing virtual servers prior to launch is the most sensible approach for communities of SharePoint users. Why invest in server hardware, and licenses before ascertaining whether or not SharePoint Server 2013 presents the best possible solution to the unique requirement for your community? Virtualization is even a better option than renting, or leasing physical machines. Virtual servers can be acquired and dispensed with via a few clicks of a mouse. There is neither a need to physically install any equipment, nor is there any need to take the equipment down following a proof of concept phase.

It also makes sense to implement virtual servers where resource demands fluctuate; for example, for a partner extranet characterized by substantial turnover, or during either a platform migration or a physical relocation of offices.

Why Not to Use Virtualized Servers, from a Business Case Perspective

A visit to Azure lead me to calculate a likely annual cost for virtual Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for SharePoint Server 2013, of $3,216.00 for a Large (A3) Compute Instance with 4 Virtual Cores and 7 GBs of RAM. This cost may make sense for larger communities of SharePoint users standardized on HP’s Blade Servers, or directly comparable hardware. But Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) comfortable with Xenon Powered servers like Dell’s PowerEdge line, can actually purchase hardware at about 60% of the annual cost of the Azure A3 Compute Instance.

Another reason for SMBs to consider on premises server architecture is the opportunity of implementing “private cloud” virtualization services like VMWare’s vSphere on one’s own hardware.

Virtualization is an option worth careful consideration. Within the parameters I’ve briefly laid out in this post, communities of SharePoint users should carefully consider the pluses and minuses, from a business case perspective, of deciding to follow this route before rushing to a conclusion.

Ira Michael Blonder

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