What Is Virtualization in Cloud Computing?

Photo of Michał Wołowiec

Michał Wołowiec

Updated Jan 31, 2023 • 8 min read

In recent years there has been much talk about how to bring the benefits of cloud technology to businesses, and specifically around the virtues of virtualization.

But what is virtualization in cloud computing? Our latest article explores virtualization in depth, from different types to pros and cons and why, ultimately, virtualization is key to successful digital transformation.

Simply put, virtualization is the creation of a virtual version of something - like a server, storage device or desktop computer. Virtualization in cloud computing is applying this creation within a cloud infrastructure. It essentially allows you to share a physical instance of a resource among multiple parties, whether that’s employees on an infrastructure or customers in an application.

This blog will explore how and why you should implement virtualization in cloud computing.

What is the role of virtualization in cloud computing?

IBM defines virtualization as ‘using software to create an abstraction layer over the physical hardware. In doing so, it creates a virtual compute system, known as virtual machines (VMs). This allows organizations to run multiple operating systems, virtual computers, and applications on a single physical server — essentially partitioning it into multiple virtual servers’.

But what does this mean for cloud computing? Cloud virtualization allows cloud providers to organise servers, storage, and physical hardware or data center resources into virtual environments.

They can then provide these and numerous other services such as infrastructure, software applications, and platforms to businesses and customers.

Virtualization vs containerization

Containerization, along with virtualization, is the most common mechanism in cloud computing technology used to host applications in a computer system. With virtual machines as the fundamental unit of virtualization, containerization uses the concept of containers instead.

Containerization is considered to be a lightweight alternative to virtualization, which involves encasing an app in a ‘container’ with its own operating environment.

So instead of having to install an operating system (OS) for each virtual machine, containers instead employ the host machine OS.

Perhaps the best explanation of the differences between virtualization and containerization is that virtualization software allows you to run multiple OSs on the hardware of a single physical server, whereas containerization allows you to deploy numerous applications with the same operating system on a single virtual machine or server.

Virtualization is better for cloud computing use cases or projects with a much longer lifecycle, whereas the quick set-up time makes containers a better choice for tasks which take just a few hours.

What are the different types of virtualization?

Virtualization in cloud computing can be applied to numerous different scenarios and use cases. As such, there are different types of virtualization software which it’s useful to know the difference between before you begin applying it in your own business. Let’s take a look at the six main forms of virtualization.

Hardware virtualization

Hardware virtualization works on the idea that a single, independent unit of hardware is made up of multiple smaller hardware sections or servers, essentially adding diverse physical servers onto virtual servers that execute processes on a unique physical server.

The main advantage of hardware virtualization is the enhancement of processing power as a result of expanded deployment of hardware and robust application up-time.

Server virtualization

With server virtualization, businesses can use a single server to support multiple functions instead of maintaining multiple servers and their underlying hardware.

It's possible because each server resources act independently. As a result, running software on one server doesn’t affect the other server system.

The main benefit of server virtualization is that it enables users to centralize and redistribute shared computing resources in a more efficient manner, saving time, money and even energy.

Operating system virtualization

Operating system virtualization is an offshoot of server virtualization, using technology to tailor a standard OS out of multiple desktop operating systems so it can run multiple different applications, handled by multiple users, on a single computer at once.

The OS virtualization enables cloud users to test applications on different platforms and operating systems. This is helpful for app developers looking to test their features and functions for release on different platforms, such as iOS or Android, for example.

Storage virtualization

With storage virtualization, multiple physical storage devices can be combined to act as a single storage device gathered in the virtual environment, which can then be accessed from multiple locations.

This enables joint servers, devices, and applications to access and retrieve data and information from a centralized dashboard without needing to communicate with the storage location directly.

The main benefit of this is limited downtime, as well as load harmonising, optimized performance, speed and accuracy of information retrieval and display. In addition, storage virtualization also means data virtualization - robust back-ups of user data - crucial in the event of data breaches, loss of information, or disaster recovery.

Application virtualization

In cloud computing, software virtualization is able to isolate application layers to disengage them from the operating system through which the application is executed, using an encapsulated format which enables independence for the OS itself.

This means that application virtualization provides users with remote access to applications from different servers. The server in use collects all the necessary data and info from the application and runs on local workstations using the internet.

Network virtualization

Network virtualization involves several sub-networks constructed on the same physical network. These sub-networks may or may not have the accreditation to communicate with each other.

This improves reliability so disruption in one sub-network won’t affect another, as well as making identification and diagnosis of issues easier. It also provides better monitoring and recognition of data usage, enabling more secure scalability.

Virtualization is the key to digital transformation

So, now that we’ve seen the different types of virtualization in cloud computing, we can begin to investigate the benefits. Virtualization is, in many ways, the key to achieving successful digital transformation. Here the top 5 benefits of virtualization.

Lowering IT costs

Virtualized environments are more efficient, enabling a single physical server to transform into multiple virtual machines, which can have different operating systems and run different applications, all from a single physical location.

This consolidation is more cost effective from an IT point of view because it means you can spend less money on physical servers.

More resilience, less downtime

When an issue affects a physical server, it can sometimes take hours or days to fix. In virtualized environments, however, it’s easy to provision and deploy a clone of the affected virtual machine, which means you can recover your systems in a matter of minutes.

This reduces possible downtime and enhances the resiliency and continuity of your business.

Increased productivity and efficiency

With your IT teams freed from maintaining more physical hardware and infrastructure, they can focus on other high-value tasks. Less maintenance time means more efficient and therefore productive team.

Increased speed and agility

Virtualized environments allow your developers to spin up virtual machines without impacting existing production environments, because each machine is segmented. This is ideal for a Dev/Test approach.

For example, if a software update has been released, a developer can spin up a VM, instal and test the software and then pull it into their existing production environment, increasing the agility and speed of an application

More environmentally friendly

Reducing the number of physical servers you use and maintain means you can reduce your physical footprint, cut the amount of power you consume and ultimately reduce your organization’s carbon footprint. The money saved on energy expenses can also be reinvested elsewhere in the business.

Virtualize your business

We can see that there are several benefits to virtualization in cloud computing, and it is well known that cloud migration is becoming a central cog in successful digital transformations.

But there are also several types of virtualization, and it’s key to know the differences so you can reap the right benefits for your business, whether that’s lowering IT costs or increasing the speed and agility of your Dev/Test strategy.

Whichever route you choose, the benefits can help transform your business outcomes. If you’d like to learn more about virtualization in cloud computing or how to get started on your own cloud migration, get in touch with us.

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Michał Wołowiec

Michał works as a DevOps Engineer at Netguru.

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