What is Virtualization?
Virtualization, in it’s simplest form, is the process of creating a software-based (or virtual) representation of something physical.
The term Virtualization is often used in regards to business technology, referring to the process of virtualizing (creating a software-based version) physical business applications, servers, storage, and networks.
For example, if your organization needed a file server, email server, and CRM server, you would traditionally have to set up and maintain three different servers. In this example, if you were to virtualize (create software versions of) the file, email and CRM servers, you could run all three of them on one physical server.
The same process can apply to business phone systems. Because of their hardware-heavy nature, virtualization is especially useful when it comes to phone systems, particularly if a virtualized environment already exists for other applications.
Who is Virtualization For?
Large, enterprise organizations have used virtualized environments for some time. As technology has evolved, Virtualization software from Microsoft(r), VMware(r), and others, has become more economical, less technically challenging, and more full-featured. As a result, virtualization is now possible for businesses of all sizes.
In fact, one report states that more than 76% of organizations are taking advantage of virtualization.
Between advances in communication technologies and the emerging market of virtualization, phone systems are steadily moving away from the hardware-centric designs of the past. Modern, feature-rich phone systems, referred to as Unified Communications (UC) solutions, are now, more than ever, excellent candidates to run in a virtualized environment.
When servers and business applications are virtualized, organizations save money, space, and IT resources, all while maximizing ROI from IT investments.
How Does Virtualization Work?
For decades, IT infrastructures were made up of individual servers that powered one application per server. This used to be the only option, but it’s no longer sufficient. Technical requirements for modern businesses - even in the SMB space - require tremendous amounts of resources, not only in terms of equipment but also IT personnel.
For example, many businesses today commonly require individual servers for:
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Files and Documents
- Phone system
- Network communications
- And potentially many more
Without the option for virtualization, this could present a significant burden on businesses. The applications, and the servers to run them, could easily take up an entire office or require a dedicated data closet. It would also require having an in-house IT staff to maintain the servers. No longer is this the only option.
Virtualization solves this problem by eliminating the need for multiple servers. What used to take 4 or more physical servers can now be done successfully on one virtualized server. The burden is further lessened by reducing the amount of IT resources and expenses required.
Needless to say virtualization has proven extremely useful to businesses and organizations of practically all sizes. One of the most beneficial ways businesses have taken advantage of virtualization is by virtualizing their phone system.Here are five reasons why virtualization is relevant to all businesses, large or small.
Benefits of Virtualizing your Business Phone System
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As mentioned with traditional IT infrastructures in general, a conventional phone system, or a legacy PBX, typically included expensive, proprietary hardware for each ‘application’ of the business phone system.
For example, there might have been a single dedicated server for call control, a separate voicemail system, a third for auto-attendants, a fourth for a call center application, a fifth for call center reporting, and a sixth for music on hold. Even with 6 servers, the functionality is equivalent to that of a very basic phone system features. On top of limited features, the cost for specialized appliances adds up quickly, and because traditional phone systems are usually proprietary, there are no options to ‘shop around’ or to get a better deal.
With virtualization, however, it’s possible to either re-use existing virtualization hardware or to purchase a single (non proprietary) new server. That server runs the virtualization platform and virtual instances of each application listed above (call control, voicemail, auto-attendants, etc.). Be establishing a virtualized environment, your organization now only needs a single server, saving significant costs on hardware alone.
Traditionally, phone system manufacturers would create servers or appliances that had limitations. For example, if a business required a voicemail system, it would need to look at each model’s specifications to determine which one to purchase. A voicemail system that allowed for 4 concurrent messages to be played or recorded simultaneously, with up to 25 mailboxes total, might be a completely different solution than one that supported 8 concurrent messages and 100 mailboxes.
Furthermore, if the company grew, generally it was up to the organization to migrate from the old voicemail system to the new- essentially wasting the older appliance.
With a virtualized PBX, the solution scales with the organization. If additional resources are needed, it’s as simple as updating a configuration. Virtualization gives organizations the ability to grow or shrink their business applications, as needed.
Flexibility and Simplicity
By consolidating the amount of server hardware required and limiting vendor-specific hardware, virtualization enables businesses to focus on managing one underlying solution (the virtualization platform) instead of multiple. . This tremendously reduces the amount of specialized certifications required of IT staff, and even the amount of in-house resources.. It also minimizes other complexities that are often occur when inter-connecting multiple solutions together.
Going back to a previous example: If a voicemail system is needed, but the organization’s legacy phone system did not include one, then an add-on solution might have to be purchased from another manufacturer. Not only are there two separate solutions to manage (a phone system and a voicemail system), but there is nowo more hardware to maintain. and there are complexities in terms of interoperability (the two systems having to work together) Once the systems are finally configured and working properly - there is often a hesitancy to do regular maintenance and support updates , for fear that one solution might break the other.
Here is where the consolidation of technologies using virtualization shows off its value, yet again.
With virtualization, even if systems are different, IT administrators can simply focus on configuring the software (virtualized) solution instead of having to worry about deploying multiple hardware solutions.This makes business technologies more flexible and easier to manage.
With less hardware to manage and maintain, overall energy consumption decreases dramatically. For example, a small business that is not taking advantage of virtualization may have 3 physical servers and networking hardware, as well as a phone system, voicemail system, and perhaps even a reporting server. That means, at a minimum, there are nine devices all drawing power (many inefficiently at that). The equipment also requires physical storage space that is easily accessible and that has proper temperature control in order to ensure the proper estimated lifespan and expected return on investment of the equipment.
Virtualization, on the other hand, could reduce the number of devices in this scenario to as low as two - a piece of network equipment and a virtualized server. Not only would the server run more efficiently, but it would also take up far less space, require less heating and cooling, and possibly decrease overall energy consumption by as much as 50 - 70%.
Improved Uptime and Disaster Recovery
Real-time communication has never been more critical than in today’s always-connected world. Traditional phone systems often needed expensive add-on cards, multiple locations worth of backup equipment, and a healthy dose of stored hardware in order to be prepared for an outage or disaster recovery scenario.
Virtualization solves many of those hardware issues simply by removing the need for vendor-specific hardware.
Additional virtualization features, such as high-availability, live-migration, storage-migration, and advanced levels for backup, all combine to make a virtualized phone system more reliable than ever before.
One study even found that by virtualizing infrastructures, some businesses saw a decrease in overall systems downtime of up to *36%.
With virtualization, a phone system that used to take up half a room no longer needs to take up much space at all to survive an outage and provide 99.999% uptime (also known as “five-nines” uptime).
What’s the difference between Virtualization and a Virtual PBX?
There’s no shortage of buzzwords in the technology sector, and many times, those buzzwords are very similar but have slightly different meanings, as is the case with with ‘Virtual PBX’ and a ‘virtualized PBX.’. Before defining each term, take a look at these related terms, which are often considered synonymous:
- Phone system
- PBX (Private Branch eXchange)
- Unified Communication (UC) solution
- telephony platform
The reason there are multiple terms to describe a phone system is some vendors like to differentiate between basic phone systems (with limited capabilities and features) and the more complex phone systems. For example, a Unified Communications solution typically includes all available features and functions, while a PBX might only include basic calling capabilities.Regardless, both of them are still technically considered “phone systems”.
While looking into phone systems, the next challenging terminology is defined by where the phone system is going to reside.
If the phone system resides at a company’s physical location, such as datacenter, server room, or simply on a desk in the IT department, that is considered an on-premise (or on-site) phone system. If there are multiple sites or perhaps there is a shared data-center offsite, this is still considered an on-premise deployment.
Phone systems that are maintained by a third party, such as a manufacturer, UC vendor, or a managed service provider (MSP) are often called Hosted or Cloud phone systems.
A Virtual PBX is generally considered the same as a cloud-based phone system, that is maintained by a third-party vendor. With most of these virtual or cloud-based solutions, the only hardware at a company’s location will be handsets (also referred to as end-points, or IP phones). It is called a “virtual” phone system mainly because there is e nothing physical to maintain, other than the phones.
Many times, with a hosted or virtual PBX, even more complex tasks, such as setting up an auto-attendant or a call queue, are handled by the third-party, as well.
A Virtualized Phone System (with an “-ized” at the end, as opposed to just a “virtual PBX”), is the type of phone system solution that resides in a virtualized environment (sharing space on a server along with other business-critical applications). Typically, a company’s in-house IT department manages and maintains the virtualized phone system.