It is almost a tradition that new technologies initially are adopted by large enterprises, companies with greater resources, funding and capacity available to them; while small and mid-szed enterprises (SMEs) look on and learn from their experiences. This benefits SMEs as they learn from any mistakes the enterprise might make, and wait until they have laid down the ‘perfect’ precedent.

The enterprise leads the way

Recently, enterprise size businesses have begun implementing virtualisation technologies to consolidate their servers, manage their networks and applications more effectively and reduce their carbon footprint. These companies are starting to reap the benefits of such a move including reductions in server capital expenditure, lower server management costs, increased IT agility and the opportunity to present a strong ‘green’ message.

Why then shouldn’t these benefits also be available to the countless SMEs in the market? Well, it seems that the virtualisation buzz is beginning to excite this market as well. Emerging solutions, based on open source virtualisation technologies, are opening doors by removing existing barriers of entry: cost and complexity.

The good news also brings some bad, as enterprise experience is also showing the unpredicted consequences of virtualisation.

One of the more pressing effects, due to the complex architecture of virtualised environments, is an increased susceptibility to planned and unplanned downtime. SMEs must take heed of such experiences so that they are aware of the potential risks as well as the benefits of virtualisation. By understanding them and introducing solutions in the right way, these companies can protect their critical applications, preventing costly downtime and failures, while still being able to virtualise their environments.

According to Gartner’s Tom Bittman, there is “clearly a pent-up demand for virtualisation with better management, availability & DR.”

Here are five steps to a protected virtualised environment:

1. Assess the need for a virtualised environment

While lessons can be learnt from enterprise adoption, smaller businesses still need to assess their individual requirements for the technology. Before implementing a new technology, any business, no matter of sized, has to assess whether new technology is viable and whether it is really necessary at a particular point in time.

Equally, a business needs to assess its current infrastructure and decide if a new solution actually is required to meet the needs, and how it will impact future technology implementations.

2. The implications of a new implementation

Reasons for adopting virtualisation should not be simply because it’s a trend – and so an unnecessary cost - but rather because it will truly benefit the business.

While any new technology implementation sets out to benefit the business in some way, it is important to understand any associated risk, and whether this could ultimately negate any benefits reaped. If there is no clear benefit, what is the point of installing a solution that will not do the job it is meant to?

3. Selecting the right technology

When considering virtualisation technologies, businesses are likely to immediately think of a couple of well-known providers.

These providers have been working with large enterprises to implement virtualisation systems; yet newer players in the market are offering solid alternatives at a more affordable level. Some are based on open source technology and offer system availability software to boot which may suit a smaller business better. SMEs need to find a solution that matches its needs, that has all the necessary support and, most of all, is reliable.

4. Afford to spend the time

As any IT manager knows, implementing a new system requires dedicated resources, budget and time. More complex systems will take longer to implement, need re-engineering, incur more – and often unforeseen – costs, and require specialist staff or training to manage the system.

Other implementations can be more streamlined and be relied upon to run themselves. It is important therefore to assess whether the solution deserve the time, resources and cost spent on implementation versus the actual benefit to the business. Understanding your own business requirements and researching the technical offerings can really impact the success of the project.

5. Assess levels of application availability and risk to business continuity

Most importantly companies need to be able to benefit from the virtualisation solution without sacrificing reliable protection for critical workloads. Application availability and business continuity are increasingly at the top of the technology agenda as they are essential for the performance and success of any business. Implementing a new system for managing a business environment can directly impact application availability.

SMEs should consider a solution that combines virtualisation technology with the high availability necessary to keep the business going through disruptions.

The technology adoption model will, on the whole, remain: the enterprise will be the first to the line, while SMEs sensibly watch and learn. As long as lessons are learnt, and with emerging technologies specifically catering to bring enterprise solutions to the mid-market and smaller businesses, SMEs can win – they just need to be a bit clever about it.

Nick Turnbull is the EMEA sales director at Marathon Technologies, a high availability company.