Virtualization vs. Cloud Computing: What’s the Difference?

Virtualization and cloud computing are two terms that often seem interchangeable if you’re not familiar with how either work. Although the two technologies are similar, they are not the same thing, and the difference is significant enough to affect your business decisions. Here is a guide to help demystify the tech behind the jargon.

Virtualization is the fundamental technology that powers cloud computing. This software separates compute environments from physical infrastructures, so you can run multiple operating systems and applications simultaneously on the same machine. For example, if you do most of your work on a Mac but use select applications that are exclusive to PCs, you can run Windows on a virtual machine to get access to those applications without having to switch computers.

“Virtualization software … enables businesses to reduce IT costs while increasing the efficiency, utilization and flexibility of their existing computer hardware,” said Mike Adams, senior director of cloud platform product marketing at VMware.

Virtualization has many practical applications. For software developers, virtualization allows them to test out their applications on different environments without having to set up several different computers. If the application crashes on the virtual machine, they can simply close and restart the virtual machine to a previous state without causing damage to their computer.

One of the biggest benefits of virtualization is sever consolidation. Instead of maintaining multiple servers that each have a different function, server virtualization allows you to split the resources of a single server for multiple purposes. Often server resources are underutilized, resulting in businesses spending too much on server upkeep for a little output.

Virtualization is software that manipulates hardware, while cloud computing refers to a service that results from that manipulation. You can’t have cloud computing without virtualization.

“Virtualization is a foundational element of cloud computing and helps deliver on the value of cloud computing,” Adams said. “Cloud computing is the delivery of shared computing resources, software or data — as a service and on-demand through the internet.”

To best understand the advantages of virtualization, consider the difference between private and public clouds.

A private cloud, in its own virtualized environment, gives users the best of both worlds. It can give users more control and the flexibility of managing their own systems, while providing the consumption benefits of cloud computing, said John Livesay, vice president and chief sales officer of InfraNet.

“Private cloud computing means the client owns or leases the hardware and software that provides the consumption model,” Livesay said. “You pay for resources as you go, as you consume them, from a [vendor] that is providing such resources to multiple clients, often in a co-tenant scenario.”

On the other hand, a public cloud is an environment open to many users, built to serve multi-tenanted requirements, Philips said. “There are some risks associated here,” he added, such as having bad neighbors and potential latency in performance.

With virtualization, companies can maintain and secure their own “castle,” Philips said. This provides several benefits. First, you can maximize your resources by reducing the number of physical systems you need to acquire. It also allows you to get the most value out of your servers, since you can use multiple systems and applications on the same hardware. Finally, when you use virtualization, you can integrate costs like management, administration and all the attendant requirements of managing your own infrastructure into your IT budget.

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