What are the benefits of a virtualized data center?

A virtualized data center refers to a data center where the servers, storage, networks, and other infrastructure components are virtualized and delivered as a service. Virtualization allows enterprises to pool and share data center resources among applications and users. This provides many benefits compared to traditional physical data centers, including increased efficiency, flexibility, and scalability. Some key benefits of a virtualized data center include:

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Increased utilization and efficiency

In a traditional data center, server utilization rates are often very low, commonly between 5-15%. This means that organizations are wasting 85-95% of their server capacity. Virtualization allows multiple virtual servers to run on a single physical server, driving utilization rates upwards of 60-80%. By improving utilization, virtualized environments reduce data center hardware, maintenance, power, and cooling costs.

Faster provisioning and deployment

Provisioning new servers and storage in a traditional data center can take weeks or months due to procurement cycles and deployment processes. With virtualization, new virtual resources can be spun up in minutes without having to purchase, install or configure new hardware. This agility enables IT to respond faster to changing business demands.

Improved availability and disaster recovery

Virtualization provides built-in high availability features like live migration and failover clustering. This allows virtual machines to move seamlessly between physical servers without downtime in the event of planned maintenance or unplanned outages. Organizations can also implement comprehensive disaster recovery strategies across zones, data centers, and public clouds.

Better scalability

In a static physical environment, adding resources requires purchasing, installing and configuring new servers. With virtualization, resources can scale up and down dynamically based on application demands. Scaling out simply requires provisioning new virtual machines and apps. This elasticity enables organizations to right-size resources and align IT costs with business needs.

Simplified IT operations

Virtualization provides centralized management, automation and orchestration tools for IT operations. Server, storage and networking functions can be managed holistically from a single pane of glass. This reduces manual tasks and allows IT teams to implement infrastructure as code principles for consistency and efficiency. Resources can also be reallocated among business units and projects on the fly.

Enhanced security

Virtualization offers strong segmentation and isolation between virtual machines. This helps limit security breaches and lateral movement compared to traditional multi-tenant physical servers. Virtual networks can implement micro-segmentation policies to restrict traffic between application tiers. Data is also better secured since it can be encrypted, isolated and easily replicated.

Challenges with traditional physical data centers

Before virtualization, most enterprise data centers consisted of physical servers, storage, networking and infrastructure siloed across disparate technology stacks. This traditional approach led to a number of operational challenges and inefficiencies:

Low utilization rates

Servers in physical data centers often consumed huge amounts of floor space, power and cooling while sitting mostly idle. Utilization rates ranged from 5-15% since applications could not share resources. Organizations had to overprovision infrastructure to maintain availability during occasional peak loads.

Lengthy procurement and deployment cycles

Scaling infrastructure capacity in a physical data center required budgeting, procurement, installation and configuration of new hardware. This lengthy process often spanned multiple quarters and delayed deployments.

Limited agility and scalability

Adding data center capacity was constrained by available physical space, power and cooling. Scaling compute and storage up and down was also not dynamic – new racks and disk arrays took time, effort and disruption to deploy. This made it difficult to align IT costs with changing business needs.

Complex cabling and management

Physical servers, storage and network devices were connected via complex cabling schemes. Changes and troubleshooting required manual intervention which was error-prone. Disparate devices were managed independently using different interfaces and tools.

Inability to automate processes

Most infrastructure management in traditional data centers involved repetitive manual processes. This made tasks like provisioning, patching, monitoring and DR drills time consuming, inconsistent and susceptible to human error.

Weak business continuity

Legacy data protection and DR solutions were often bolted on as an afterthought. RTOs and RPOs were measured in hours and days. Recovering from outages required manual failover and rebuilding at a secondary site which was slow and prone to errors.

How virtualization addresses traditional data center challenges

Virtualized data centers solve many of the pain points associated with traditional physical data centers:

Increases utilization with virtual machines

By abstracting compute, storage and network resources into software-based virtual machines (VMs), organizations can consolidate applications and workloads onto shared infrastructure. Multiple VMs can execute on the same physical server driving utilization up to 80% or more.

Automates management with software

Management of the virtual infrastructure is delivered through a software management layer rather than physical devices. This enables automation of tasks like provisioning, snapshotting, replication, patching, monitoring and more.

Speeds deployment with templates

Virtual machines can be quickly spun up from pre-configured templates and images. This accelerates deployment times from weeks or months down to just minutes.

Enables scalability on demand

Virtual resources like CPU, memory, storage and network can scale up or down dynamically and non-disruptively based on workload demands. This elasticity streamlines aligning IT costs with business needs.

Simplifies operations with unified management

Virtualized compute, storage and networking is managed holistically through a centralized platform. This provides unified visibility, monitoring, automation and orchestration across the infrastructure stack.

Improves availability with live migration

Live migration allows VMs to move from one physical host to another while running without interruption. This maintains application uptime during planned maintenance.

Enables business continuity and DR

Easy VM mobility also makes it simple to implement comprehensive DR strategies. VMs can be replicated in real time to secondary sites or public clouds to reduce RTOs and RPOs.

Technical components of a virtualized data center

A fully virtualized data center is more than just server virtualization. It utilizes virtualization, abstraction and software-defined technologies across compute, storage, networking and management:

Server Virtualization

Servers are virtualized using hypervisors like VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer and open source solutions such as KVM. The hypervisor abstracts physical server resources into isolated VMs.

Storage Virtualization

Software-defined storage virtualizes pools of storage hardware into logical storage volumes accessible over virtual networks. This streamlines data protection, tiering and pooling.

Network Virtualization

Software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization decouple network capabilities from physical devices. This enables programmatic control over virtual networks.

Automation and Management

Management platforms like vRealize Operations provide automated orchestration, performance monitoring and analytics across virtualized infrastructure.

Cloud Management Platforms

Cloud management platforms like VMware vCloud Director centralize provisioning, operations, governance of virtualized resources deployed on private or public clouds.

Benefits and use cases of virtualized data centers

Virtualized data centers present many benefits for enterprise IT environments and business use cases:

Development and Test Environments

Virtual labs provide self-service access to on-demand dev/test environments. Environments can serve trial purposes or provide sandboxing for higher risk activities.

Development Operations (DevOps)

Automation and orchestration streamline provisioning infrastructure needed to support Agile and continuous deployment initiatives.

Data center migration and consolidation

Virtualization provides an effective pathway for consolidating and migrating workloads from legacy data centers onto shared infrastructures.

Business continuity and disaster recovery

VM mobility facilitates affordable replication, failover and recovery across sites and clouds. Policies can be aligned to application requirements.

Infrastructure cost optimization

Metering and chargeback provide visibility into utilization and costs. Resources can be right-sized and aligned to business demand.

Desktop and application virtualization

Desktops, apps, data and settings are centralized and delivered as a managed service to any endpoint over the network.

Hybrid cloud and multi-cloud

A consistent operating model across private and public clouds. Workloads can move freely between environments while maintaining governance, security and compliance.

Steps for migrating to a virtualized data center

Here is an overview of best practices for planning and executing a data center virtualization project:

Build a business case

Define project goals, outcomes, costs and metrics like ROI. Tie initiatives to business drivers like new products, cost reduction, consolidation, agility etc.

Assess workloads

Inventory infrastructure and workload characteristics. Assess application performance, utilization, interdependencies, networking and storage needs.

Start with non-critical workloads

Pilot virtualization with test/dev, non-production workloads first. Learn processes and build expertise before tackling mission critical systems.

Design the virtual architecture

Determine server consolidation ratios, storage, network and access architectures. Ensure adequate redundancy, performance and scalability.

Train IT staff

Educate teams on virtualization best practices encompassing storage, networking, availability, monitoring, automation and security.

Plan the migration

Define timelines, owners and processes. Schedule downtimes and freeze periods. Develop back out plans as a precaution.

Migrate workloads

Use tools to migrate physical servers and data sources into the new virtual environment. Retire legacy hardware once migrated.


Right size VMs. Balance workloads. Tune and benchmark infrastructure. Automate management processes. Monitor performance.

Choosing virtualization platforms and tools

Here are top virtualization platforms, tools and solutions to consider:

VMware vSphere

The market leading server virtualization platform. Provides an enterprise-class hypervisor, management capabilities and ecosystem of tools.

Microsoft Hyper-V

A capable Type 1 hypervisor native to Windows Server. Integrates management with System Center and Azure public cloud.

Citrix XenServer

Open source server virtualization powered by the Xen Project hypervisor. Can be managed by Citrix’s XenCenter.

Nutanix Acropolis

An advanced web-scale virtualization solution that integrates compute, storage, and virtualization. Includes AHV hypervisor.

Red Hat Virtualization

Open source virtualization powered by KVM and Linux. Combines RHV-M management with OpenStack integration.

VMware vSAN

A leading software-defined storage platform that pools and replicates flash hardware into a shared data store. Integrates tightly with vSphere.

VMware NSX

Network virtualization and micro-segmentation solution to virtualize networking and boost security across VMs.

VMware vRealize

Management, automation and orchestration platform for policy-based management of virtual infrastructure.

Cisco ACI

Radically simplifies management and security with centralized, intent-based policies across physical and virtual networks.

HPE OneView

Automates delivery of compute, storage and networking resources across both traditional infrastructure and hybrid cloud.


In summary, virtualizing your data center infrastructure brings significant benefits around efficiency, agility, resiliency and operational simplicity. By implementing solutions like hyper-converged infrastructure and network virtualization, organizations can reap the full advantages of the software-defined data center. Migrating legacy applications and infrastructure does require careful planning and execution. However, when done properly, virtualization enables IT to become a far more nimble and cost-optimized service provider to the business. With the right platforms, roadmap and governance, enterprises can lay a flexible foundation to support cloud initiatives and future digital transformation.