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Virtualization and cloud computing

Virtualization and cloud computing have become two of the most transformative technologies of the 21st century. They have revolutionized the way we think about and use computing resources, making them more efficient, flexible, and cost-effective. But while they are related and complementary in many ways, they are also each distinct in still others. In this post we will explore the similarities, differences, and relationships between virtualization and cloud computing in the hopes of better understanding how each plays a role in today’s technology landscape.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a method of delivering computing resources over the internet. Pooling large groups of computing resources together, cloud computing then allows users to access and use those shared resources (servers, storage, software, etc.) remotely. This often eliminates the need for organizations to invest in and maintain their own physical computing infrastructure.

What is virtualization?

Virtualization is a technology that allows for the virtual partitioning, clustering, sharing, and/or manipulating of physical computing and storage resources. The purpose of virtualization is to either partition/share an individual physical resource to virtually present as multiple devices, or to cluster multiple physical resources together to virtually present as a single device. Virtualization enables the efficient use of computing resources along with the ability to easily run multiple operating systems and applications on a single piece of hardware.

Virtualization is made possible by a layer of software called a hypervisor, which sits between the physical hardware and the operating system. A hypervisor allows multiple operating systems to run on a single physical server by creating virtualized versions of the underlying hardware (such as virtual CPUs, memory, storage, etc.). This abstraction of the underlying hardware enables multiple operating systems to run independently on a single physical server, free of interference with each other.

What are the similarities between cloud computing and virtualization?

  • Both virtualization and cloud computing enable the sharing of resources. By abstracting the underlying hardware and presenting it as a virtualized environment, virtualization can allow multiple operating systems to run on a single physical server. Cloud computing, on the other hand, allows multiple users to share a pool of computing resources (servers, storage, and applications, etc) over the internet.
  • Both technologies have had transformative effects on the IT industry, creating greater efficiency, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness. While virtualization allows organizations to make better use of their existing hardware resources, cloud computing makes it possible to scale resources up or down in order to meet existing demand.

What are the difference between cloud computing and virtualization?

  • Virtualization is software that effectively makes computing environments independent of their physical infrastructure, while cloud computing is a model for delivering shared computing resources over the internet (typically in an on-demand fashion).
  • Virtualization is primarily employed to optimize the use of existing resources within an organization, while cloud computing is primarily employed to provision new resources to meet demand.
  • Virtualization is typically managed and maintained by the IT department of a given organization, while cloud computing services are most frequently provided by specialized, external vendors and are accessed over the internet.

How are cloud computing and virtualization related and/or complementary?

  • Virtualization is a core building block of cloud computing, allowing for multiple virtualized environments to exist independent of the physical servers in a given cloud and, as a result, enabling the sharing of those physical resources.
  • Cloud computing services such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS), are built on top of virtualized environments. These services make use of the benefits of virtualization to deliver computing services over the internet.
  • Virtualization is also often used to create private clouds, which are essentially internal cloud computing environments that are managed and maintained by an organization’s IT department.

Each of these two technologies largely exists to the direct benefit of the other. The ability to virtualize environments has given way to an ever increasing cloud computing industry that (according to a recent forester report) is expected to grow beyond $1 trillion by 2026. Without virtualization, cloud computing would certainly not have that same future. Similarly, without an expansive underlying cloud infrastructure our virtualization use-cases would be significantly limited.

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