Virtualization vs Cloud: Which is better for you?

Is virtualization the right choice for your organization? What about cloud services?

If you’re grappling for answers to these questions, you’re not alone. The terms “cloud” and “virtualization” are everywhere today, and they are similar in many aspects. However, they are not interchangeable words, and their difference is significant enough to impact your business.

Here is an overview of what each term means, and their differences.

What is Virtualization?

Simply put, virtualization is a software that creates a separation between the physical infrastructure and the applications that run on it. Essentially, it is a software layer that allows companies to consolidate all their servers into a single piece of hardware on which multiple applications run. In addition, virtualization makes it possible to run many applications requiring different operating systems on the same server.

Virtualization vs traditional architecture

The goal of virtualization is to make it easier to manage workloads and to make any software or application more scalable. The most common type of virtualization is the one that happens at the operating system level, which is nothing but running multiple operating systems on the same piece of hardware. Generally speaking, when a different operating system is placed on top of the primary OS, it’s called a virtual machine. However, it’s not just restricted to operating systems, as virtualization can be applied to different layers ,too, such as desktop, storage, network, server, and file system.

Some advantages that virtualization offers:

  • Ideal for any size: Businesses of all sizes can use virtualization.
  • Reduced physical redundancy: In a non-virtualized environment, you’ll have to use more servers that require higher power consumption. In turn, it leads to physical infrastructure redundancy. Virtualization can reduce the problems that come with this physical redundancy.
  • Decreased downtime: Virtualization reduces your downtime greatly, as changes can be made to servers without causing disruptions.
  • Privacy: Organizations can customize existing virtual infrastructure to meet their security requirements.

These advantages are critical for the operations of some companies, and for them virtualization may be the right choice.

What is Cloud Computing?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as a model for providing access to a shared pool of resources through an on-demand network, with the additional stipulation that this access should require only minimal effort or interaction. Put into simpler terms, cloud computing is a technology that enables storing and accessing of data and programs over the Internet or any other dedicated network instead of your local computer’s hard drive.

Cloud computing layout diagram

The following features are an essential part of cloud computing:

  • On-demand self-service: Any user should be able to set up computing capabilities such as network bandwidth and server space, and these capabilities should not require constant human intervention for its operations.
  • Network access: All capabilities should be available over the network, and should be accessible for both thick and thin client platforms including mobiles, laptops, and workstations.
  • Resource pooling: The existing resources of the organization, including its physical and virtual resources, should be pooled together to meet the different uses. They should be dynamically allocated and reallocated based on the demand.
  • Elasticity: The capabilities should be elastic enough to move it both upwards and downwards with an aim to make applications scalable, and at the same time, to give users the appearance of unlimited provisioning.
  • Measuring and monitoring: Systems should automatically control and optimize resources by leveraging predefined metering capabilities.
  • Pay-as-you-go: Cloud services should give users the option to pay only for the resources they use, and not for the entire service.

Which is better?

Virtualization is the foundation for cloud technology, but virtualization alone does not make a complete cloud. To put it differently, virtualization is a software that handles the hardware, and cloud computing is a service that comes from such handling. Virtualization can exist without the cloud, but cloud computing cannot function without virtualization — at least that’s how it is currently.

Though clouds are based on virtualization, they also include other things such as automated management, pay-as-you-go model, self-service capability, and elasticity — things that are not offered by virtualization.

That said, some services such as private cloud use both virtualization and cloud computing. In particular, many enterprise applications use both these technologies to create a private cloud infrastructure. For small businesses though, each technology is deployed separately to gain better benefits.

Sounds confusing? Well, let me clear it up.

The six features of cloud computing explained above are the key differentiators, as none of these six features are available in virtualization. Further, virtualization gives companies a dedicated environment that helps them maximize existing resources, gives greater flexibility with respect to installing and running applications and operating systems, and helps to better manage the company’s infrastructure. On the other hand, a public cloud provides on-demand service to any device, costs a lot less, and helps with scalability. However, the downside is that it is open to many users, and that could bring up some associated security risks.

From the above discussion, you may wonder which is better for your business? Should you choose virtualization or cloud computing?

The answer to this question depends largely on the specific needs and requirements of your organization. Some of the factors that determine your choice are:

  • Total cost of expenditure
  • Operational cost and expenses
  • Capital expenditure
  • Level of integration with existing systems
  • Availability of support and management resources
  • Scalability requirements
  • Security specifications
  • Future development

In general, if your business has less security concerns, works on the operational cost model, and has plans to outsource support and management, cloud is a better choice. On the other hand, businesses that are ready to invest, work on the capital-expenditure model, require greater control over operations, and have high security needs, should probably opt for virtualization. These are not hard-and-fast rules, rather they are a guide to determine which of the two is better for your organization.

In short, cloud service and virtualization are both viable options for an organization, though the exact choice depends on the needs and requirements of your business. Further, cloud and virtualization are not competing technologies, rather they complement each other. In fact, cloud computing is often seen as an evolution of virtualization, so there is always a possibility for you to use both these technologies now or in the future.

There are many examples of companies that virtualize their hardware but use cloud for agile development, scalability, and service delivery. It all depends on what your business needs at any given point in time, and there are no stringent rules when it comes to adoption of either or even both the technologies.

Photo credit: govmlab, informationq

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