2012 – The Year of SQL Virtualization

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen me say this a few times – 2012 will be the year of SQL virtualization, specifically SQL on vSphere.  I figured it was about time to back that up with some facts and some opinions on just why I am so adamant about that statement.

I spend a lot of time talking to organizations and helping them virtualize their mission critical applications.  In the last few years, many organizations have had success virtualizing Exchange 2010.  A big reason why is due to the architectural changes in Exchange that have reduced I/O requirements as well as introduced new availability features.  Combine that with the fact that Microsoft has relaxed their support policies around virtualizing Exchange and it is no surprise that many organizations have chosen to virtualize 100% of their Exchange 2010 environment.

I think that it is now Microsoft SQL that will be the next big mission critical applications that organizations will choose to virtualize.  I’ve already spoken with many large organizations myself this year alone who are interested in taking on large scale SQL virtualization and consolidation projects, and others which are looking to build SQL as a Service platforms as well.

Here are a few of the reasons why I think this is the year of SQL virtualization.

SQL 2012

With the release of SQL 2012, Microsoft has introduced new features that will make it much easier to virtualize SQL while still maintaining high availability.  Specifically, the new SQL 2012 AlwaysOn Availability Groups (AAGs) can provide nearly the same level of availability as a traditional SQL cluster without the strict requirements for virtualizing a traditional Windows Failover Cluster (MSCS).  AAGs can also have multiple passive copies (previously not possible with database mirroring), and the passive nodes can actually be used for read requests to offload processing from the active node.

So you get the availability of a cluster, along with multiple passive copies of the database, but you don’t have to go through the difficulties of virtualizing a cluster.  Despite the fact that Microsoft changed to a per-core licensing model for SQL 2012 I still see this as a big driver for organizations to move to virtualize their SQL 2012 environment.


Even with the move to per-core licensing in SQL 2012, organizations can still save a lot of money by virtualizing SQL.  That is because when organizations move to the per-core model and license SQL 2012 Enterprise Edition, they can virtualize an unlimited number of SQL 2012 (or lower) instances on those cores.  I’ve personally worked with a number of organizations that either use the older Server+CAL licensing model or have a large number of CPU licenses that they can move into the virtual infrastructure and see significant savings.

There’s a lot more to the licensing story that I won’t get into here, but you can read my previous post on the subject.

Underutilized SQL servers

VMware has a large collection of data on production servers from its Capacity Planner data warehouse.  This data shows that the vast majority of SQL servers are actually very underutilized and require very little CPU, memory, or disk I/O.  Many people assume that SQL is difficult to virtualize because of the heavy performance requirements, but VMware’s data (in addition to my own observations at many customers) has shown that not to be the case.

Combine under-utilized SQL servers with advantageous licensing if you heavily consolidate your SQL workloads, and it is no surprise that many organizations are eager to virtualize SQL.  There may be heavy hitting SQL servers in your environment and those can be virtualized too, but it is likely that many of them are actually pretty light.

VMware is getting serious about mission critical apps

Earlier this year, VMware released a new competency for their partners called the Virtualizing Business Critical Applications (VBCA) competency.  VMware partners can go to Partner Central and receive free training and education to help them be successful with virtualizing business critical applications like SQL and Exchange.  If you work for a VMware partner and have not yet seen the training and information available for the VBCA competency, log on to Partner Central and go check it out (after you finish reading this post, of course).

VMware clearly sees the value in helping their partners be successful with virtualizing mission critical applications like SQL.  With VMware helping their partners to deliver successful projects, it can only help drive adoption of virtualized SQL (and Exchange, etc.) even higher.

In Conclusion…

Combine all of those things together with the scalability of vSphere 5, and you have a recipe for SQL virtualization.  Many organizations have already started down this path and others are just starting, and I believe that this year will be the year that more organizations choose to virtualize SQL than before.  And I believe it’s about time….

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3 thoughts on “2012 – The Year of SQL Virtualization

  1. Wow… My old job must have been way ahead of its time…

    We were virtualizing SQL 2000 back in 2003/2004. At one point, I can remember about 150 virtualized SQL servers, or about 60% of the SQL environment…

    1. I guess you were ahead of your time!

      There have definitely been organizations that saw early on that they could be successful virtualizing SQL. Glad to see you were one of them.

      In my experience there are still many that have not gone down that path, and a lot of the reason has to do with supporting virtualized clusters. Some don’t want the hassle, some don’t understand how to properly do it, and others that think it’s not even possible to run a virtualized SQL cluster. Now many of these orgs are coming around to see that it can be done, and with the release of SQL 2012 and the AAG they’re looking forward to retiring their clusters in favor of that solution.

      2012 is shaping up to be a great year for SQL virtualization!

  2. I thought that every year was the year of desktop virtualization… Glad to see that somebody is claiming that 2012 is the year of something else 🙂

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