Virtualize Production Databases First

Now that I got your attention…. let’s talk about a couple if customer interviews where virtualizing production databases came up and the first step of their journey.

In the Customer Journey stages post, I covered how the majority of the customers we interviewed start their journey in the IT production stage where they virtualize test and dev servers and IT infrastructure applications like file, print, domain controllers and so on.

There are exceptions. The more interesting one is when some mid-size companies (say 1000 to 20,000 people)  start their journey virtualizing critical production databases. I personally talked to two of them and heard about others from our system engineers.

Why do they do that? Most customers virtualize production databases and business applications in what we call the Business Production phase. What made these other customers start from databases?

There are tons of material about how to best virtualize database on VMware. In this post I want to cover what I learned from a business perspective from these two aggressive customers.

Biggest Bang for the Buck

Both of the customers I talked to said that virtualizing databases would give them the best bang for the buck based on better management, better performance, better quality of service. DB License saving was also mentioned as a factor.

They both sold the project internally around, and I quote:

“Databases will run faster and will have better management and instantaneous failover capability”

“I wanted to give my customers (the business owners of these databases, that is)  more memory, more network and more CPU, VMware running on updated hardware allowed me to do that”

“I demonstrated and documented that performance was going to be better in the new virtualized environment”

They did not sold the value proposition of server consolidation, although it was definitely a factor.

So, how does a database run faster in a virtual environment? Well, most of these databases were running on relatively old and under-utilized machines. By upgrading them to a new modern server running VMware, these customers could allocate more resources to each database instance therefore achieving better performance.  Moreover, thanks to VMware HA and FT, they could provide their internal customers with better business continuity without deploying more complex clustering solutions from the database vendors.

Although consolidation was not the main driver, one of the two customers went from 200 physical servers down to 25. He said he was not too concerned with the consolidation ratio anyway as he wanted to keep some performance buffer in there just in case. The intent is to be more more aggressive at the next refresh cycle once he has more data about how the databases perform over time. This is definitely a best practice we heard form many customers in the Business Production stage.

Everything Else Will Be Easy

Both customers said that one of the reasons they chose production databases as the starting point of their journey was that by making them work they would get instant credibility for their team and for virtualization. This would make it easy to virtualize less mission critical workloads going forward and would take the FUD about virtualization off the table for ever.

It is not by chance that both customers have a >80% virtualization penetration and are working actively to get to 100%.


How did these customers jumped stage one (IT Production) and be successful?

As covered in the this previous post, the key drivers of successful virtualization journeys are Sponsorship, Confidence and Value. Both customers had the three elements taken care o:

Both technical leads where highly competent, credible and involved in the technical details.

They both formally trained their teams, and not just the server team but also network, storage and security. One of them did not trained the network guys initially and regretted it later and some of the network architecture had to be redesigned later in the process. This is too a best practice. Formally train the team on virtualization across multiple disciplines.

Both technical sponsor were very senior in the technical ranks and had a direct path to the CIO who was involved from the beginning and both formally reported the technical and business results achieved to the top.

Both customers skipped the IT production phase where the prevalent value proposition is cost savings from server consolidation and went directly to phase two. Interestingly, the value proposition that they used to sell the project internally and to track the business value delivered was around business continuity and quality of service. This is very consistent with other customers who got to stage 2 after going through IT production first. The difference is that these two customers moved much faster in their virtualization journey after establishing their credibility virtualizing mission critical databases in their first project.


I would not suggest to start the virtualization journey from production databases to most customers, but now I have seen it work for some.

Maybe we should create a swat team at VMware that goes around and does this full time. A way to accelerate the journey?


More information about virtualizing SQL Server here:

and Oracel DB here:

5 thoughts on “Virtualize Production Databases First

  1. Slight contradiction on granting more resources to a Vm and protecting it with FT.

    SQl is one of the few workload that benefits from multiple vCPU’s , I’d be supprise to see production SQL vm’s for a significant size not using it. However you can’t protect a multi vCPu MV with FT , so you can’t offer it “instantainious failover” – you are pretty much stuck with HA ( not to say that HA isn’t good , its very handy and can be used to provide a level of hardware redudncy you’d not get in the physical world )

  2. Pingback: The Virtualization Journey for ISVs « Virtualization journey

  3. Pingback: IT Production – Some Best Practices « Virtualization journey

  4. Pingback: Virtualizing Oracle Databases – Customer Best Practices « Virtualization Journey

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