The Tech Debate You May Have Forgotten

What are the top tech arguments that get under your collar? Network World may have pointed to Apple IOS vs. Google Android, or iPad vs. Surface RT, but for many IT folk, virtual vs. physical appliances has to be debate number one.

Being from a company who offers both, I figure heck, I can afford to play devil’s advocate and argue the benefits of both sides.

Go Virtual!

Virtual appliances are the future. They’re less expensive, easier to acquire, faster to deploy, and infinitely more agile than their physical counterparts. Here’s why:

Data center requirements are evolving. The growing adoption of virtualization, dynamic workloads, and shrinking physical real estate in today’s data centers all contribute to the shift from legacy, custom hardware-based appliances to virtual software.  Couple this shift with the declining costs of off-the-shelf servers and it’s easy to see why enterprises would be interested in utilizing virtual appliances.

As I’ve pointed out in a previous article, virtual appliances are generally less expensive than physical ones. They leverage unused CPU cycles already resident within the organization, avoiding additional capital outlay for new hardware. Overall, choosing virtual appliances over physical ones can reduce infrastructure costs by as much as 70 percent without sacrificing on performance.

The acquisition of virtual appliances is also much faster. Virtual appliances can be downloaded at any time from sites such as our Virtual Marketplace, and deployed in under an hour. Hardware appliances need to be shipped from the vendor, cleared through customs (in an international location), and then delivered on site. During that time, components can be broken, items can be lost, and often IT personnel must be on site to handle the install. In short, total acquisition time for a physical appliance can take weeks.

From a functionality standpoint, virtual and physical appliances can be managed in similar ways, but virtual appliances have the added benefit of being mobile. This means you gain inexpensive redundancy by automatically failing over from one virtual machine to another within the same data center. Mobility also means you can deploy a virtual appliance at one site and then move it to another site just by dragging an icon on the screen. Just try that with hardware.

Virtual appliances also let you choose what hardware and level redundancy you’ll put into the server. Hardware appliances can’t do that.

Ultimately, virtual appliances are in line with current thinking about IT infrastructure. Increasingly, CIOs realize the operational savings of creating fixed compute, storage, and network layers where the only “moving parts” are software. Costs are reduced, maintenance is minimized, and agility is maximized. Virtual appliances play into that strategy perfectly.

Let’s Get Physical

Rumors of the death of physical appliances are greatly exaggerated. Physical appliances continue to fulfill a vital, albeit shrinking, role within IT. At the very high-end, physical appliances continue to be the platform of choice for performance. New installations will find physical appliances to be easier to deploy and more reliable than off the shelf servers.

While, in theory, off the shelf servers might be able to compete at the very highest end in performance, the reality is that for hardware at the network core, hardware appliances still have an edge. Achieving peak throughput with a virtual appliance may require tweaking server configurations, which can be too challenging for the average IT pro. In addition, the amount of dedicated RAM and CPUs required for very high end virtual appliances may obviate the cost benefits of virtualization.

But that upper threshold is changing. A year ago, a 1 Gbps virtual WAN optimization solution was thought to be impossible. Silver Peak’s VRX-8 disproved that theory.

Hardware appliances also allow vendors to deliver a tested end-to-end solution that is guaranteed to work as promised.  Physical appliances go through rigorous hardware and software Quality Assurance (QA) testing, and are covered under a maintenance contract with a single vendor.  If something goes wrong, you know exactly whose “neck to choke”.

And while virtual appliances may be easy to deploy, that assumes you already have the necessary hardware resources in place, and a comfort level with virtualization technology.  Some organizations still lack the necessary resources or expertise to run virtual appliances.

Bottom Line

We always like simple solutions, so it would be nice if virtual appliances were the perfect solution all of the time. The reality is that there continues to be a need for physical appliances, particularly in data centers where there’s a premium placed on peak  performance.  It’s why Silver Peak continues to deliver both virtual and physical appliances — both are necessary today to address the gamut of challenges facing all enterprises.

Image credit: flybird163 (123RF Stock Photo)