Should I virtualize SQL Server? What benefits will I see?  What do I need to consider when making this decision?  These are some of the questions we are frequently asked as Virtualization continues to be a hot topic.  The short answer is yes – Microsoft Virtualization (Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V + Microsoft System Center) delivers significant benefits including reduced costs through server consolidation and power and space savings, improved server utilization, greater agility for responding to dynamic business needs, rapid server provisioning, reduced management complexity and reduced downtime during failover with Hyper-V Live Migration.  By choosing Microsoft Virtualization with SQL Server, customers benefit from a lower cost solution that is already part of Windows Server and an integrated end to end management solution for both physical and virtual environments.

Companies looking at virtualizing SQL Server should first consider the deployment scenario. In many cases we see data centers with a mix of physical and virtual instances.  Some scenarios that are ripe for virtualization include: consolidating underutilized servers, BI components such as Analysis Services and Reporting Services, managing high availability with Hyper-V Live Migration for hardware maintenance, remote site consolidation with Database Mirroring, and development and test environments.  Windows 2008 R2 and Hyper-V effectively exploit recent hardware virtualization advances by the processor vendors.  As a result, the performance overhead for virtualized workloads is reduced dramatically. That said, there are a set of workloads with a demanding set of requirements (high-volume transactional databases with thousands of concurrent users or high utilization scenarios like large data warehouse SQL Server instances supporting many Analysis Services cubes and Reporting Servers) that may not be good candidates for virtualization.” Whether you install on physical hardware or virtual machines, SQL Server, Windows Server and System Center will provide the right solution for your needs.

Companies using virtualization with SQL Server can take advantage of some of the licensing benefits of SQL Server Enterprise.  For example, you can create deploy an unlimited number of virtual machines on a server if all the physical processors are licensed for SQL Server Enterprise.  Also, with SQL Server Enterprise, you can increase the mobility of your deployments to better optimize existing investments, as SQL Server Enterprise enables you to re-assign licenses in a server farm as often as needed for load distribution and maintenance operations.  Finally, if you are using SQL Server Enterprise you will see additional benefits from reduced storage through Data and Backup Compression, as well as benefits from the highest levels of security, scalability and high availability.

At TechEd 2009, Microsoft announced SQL Server support for Guest Clustering on Hyper-V with SQL Server 2008, providing greater high availability support for Microsoft Virtualization.  As we prepare for upcoming product  releases, such as SQL Server R2, we will look for even more opportunities for SQL Server , Windows Server and System Center to take advantage of hardware advances and continue to enhance the virtualization experience.

For information on SQL Server including best practices with virtualization, visit the SQL Server Virtualization home page. For detailed information on SQL Server Virtualization Licensing, review the “Virtualization and License Mobility” section of the SQL Server Licensing Guide. For more information on Microsoft Virtualization, visit  Virtualizing Microsoft Server Applications.  Finally, to learn about Microsoft’s Consolidation efforts using Microsoft Virtualization, visit Green IT in Practice: SQL Server Consolidation in Microsoft IT.