Virtualization is the practice of creating multiple computing environments from a single host machine or harnessing the collective power of numerous host machines. It’s been around for a while and is an invaluable tool that helps businesses increase their capabilities. We will unpack the basics of virtualization by stepping through an overview of how the physical tech works, how virtual devices are created, and how they are used in today’s growing online world.
Before we get started, however, there is one essential point to clarify. Virtualization is not cloud computing. While the difference may seem like semantics, there is quite a big difference. Virtualization uses software to simulate physical hardware. In contrast, cloud computing is the practice of using physical or virtual servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data. While both are focused on flexibility and scalability, they do so from two different vantage points. Let’s dive in.
We all know what a computer is. That bulky device under our desk, collecting dust and connected to a monitor. Or the laptop that gives us more portable access to the same capabilities. Even our tablets and smartphones are yet smaller versions of the same system.
They all have one thing in common, an operating system. Whether Linux or Windows or macOS or Android or some other flavor, the operating system is our interface. In addition to managing all of the machine’s hardware resources (processor, memory, storage, video, etc.), it also controls our digital environment’s aesthetic, layout, and use of the computer. Operating systems, therefore, are the foundation for the tools we run on our devices.
It’s a layered system. Applications are installed into the operating system, installed over top of the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), which is hard-coded into the hardware. Why is this important? Hang in there; we’re getting to it.
A server is essentially a more robust version of a computer. Unlike the computer, which is a gateway to your apps, a server is the gatekeeper of your data. It’s where most of your emails and files are stored, and it is responsible for protecting them against unauthorized access, viruses, cyber threats, and more.
Servers can also simultaneously replicate your data to more than one hard drive or another server to protect against hardware failures and other risk management concerns.
Virtual devices are simply a software simulation of the physical thing. For instance, a virtual desktop is an application on one computer that simulates another computer’s desktop environment. A virtual server is a software simulation of a server environment. But here’s the cool part. It’s a simulation, not necessarily a duplication, which means there may not be a physical version of the simulated environment. As in, you can access a virtual resource that only exists virtually.
Let’s take this one step further. Virtualization software, such as VMware, sits below the operating system layer and interconnects multiple physical devices to create a single ecosystem. This collective can then be redistributed to create many virtual environments (such as desktops and servers) all sharing the same underlying hardware.
One server can create multiple virtual servers or multiple virtual desktop environments or both scenarios simultaneously, depending on the capacity of its physical resources. As another example, five heavy-duty servers could be virtualized to provide the same, or better, capability as ten low-mid level servers or perhaps one hundred virtual desktops.
Two servers in one office or twenty servers in a data center can all be virtualized to combine their strengths while mitigating the risk of individual failure. Virtualization untethers you from a single physical server to provide multiple application and data services from that single server.
Most businesses need at least one server, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a physical asset. Email communications require server capabilities to run the software that sends and receives its data. File sharing with multiple people requires a central repository. Databases, security software, and collaborative productivity tools are all created for this type of environment. Even if a function is performed from the cloud, it’s done so on a server.
Data centers are special warehouses explicitly built to house hundreds, thousands, or even millions of physical servers. They have the most state-of-the-art cooling systems, physical security, cyber protections, and meticulous management of the miles of network cable connecting each asset to their redundant pathways of high-speed Internet.
Each server performs one or more specific functions for whichever business it is owned by or leased to. Also, many clusters of servers are combined to create virtual ecosystems with incredible computing power. These are then segmented into countless virtual environments for any number of customers.
You can scale this virtualization idea to one server or multiple data centers in numerous geographic locations worldwide. The sky’s the limit, and while this isn’t exactly where the term cloud computing came from, this virtualization practice makes the cloud possible.
Cloud computing is the practice of using a collective or network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data. Those servers are typically virtualized across many locations to ensure failure in one doesn’t jeopardize the overall intended function.
The cloud is a variety of services, usually provided through online platforms, that reside in a worldwide virtual ecosystem. Each company pays for the resources (internet bandwidth, processing power, storage space, computing memory, etc.) required to run their platform correctly.
Cloud services are typically provided through a subscription model where the end-user pays only for the services they need. Many services are offered through an online-only platform that requires access through a web browser. Other services may also provide a downloadable application for offline use, automatically syncing the data whenever the end-user is connected to the Internet.
An example of a cloud resource we can all relate to is DaaS (Desktop as a Service). It’s the ability to access a virtual desktop environment that exists only online. DaaS allows employees to work remotely from their personal computers and access company data through a secured virtual gateway. As with all solutions, there are numerous benefits and concerns to consider, which we’ll address in another article.
Now that we’ve unpacked the basics of virtualization, here are the highlights and key take-aways.
- Virtualization uses software to simulate physical hardware.
- Computers are the gateway to our apps.
- Servers are the gatekeepers of our data and applications.
- Virtual devices are software simulations of physical computing and server environments.
- Data Centers are massive warehouses that store a collective of servers and virtualized ecosystems.
- Cloud computing is a service that delivers shared resources.
- Desktop as a Service provides online access to a virtual desktop computing environment.
If you’d like to learn more about virtualization or how to virtualize some of your resources, schedule a free consultation. We would be happy to become your full-service IT resource.