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Virtualization versus Cloud – and when to use them

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Rick Delgado puts virtualisation and cloud computing in the ring, asking how best to determine which is the better option for your business.

It seems like businesses everywhere nowadays are turning to virtualisation and the cloud to decrease costs and increase company efficiency. They’re a pair of the latest buzzwords that every business leader seems intent on using, but the two are often used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, which would be incorrect. While similar to each other, virtualisation and cloud computing each offer distinct and separate advantages depending on how they’re used and what your business needs.

While similar to each other, virtualisation and cloud computing each offer distinct and separate advantages depending on how they’re used and what your business needs.

Virtualisation vs. the Cloud
To properly note each technology’s benefits, it’s important to describe how they differ from each other. In its basic form, virtualisation creates a virtual form of something. In the case of server virtualisation, it allows multiple servers to run on the same hardware, separating the virtual servers from the physical hardware and running multiple computing environments in one physical space. Virtualisation is essentially software that manipulates the hardware. In contrast, cloud computing does away with the physical hardware altogether, providing a computing service that is accessible over the internet. Put simply, cloud computing is computing as a service, and virtualisation is optimised computing on a physical infrastructure.

With fewer physical servers there will be a reduced cost to power, cool and manage the server infrastructure.

Benefits of Virtualisation
Server virtualisation has many benefits for an enterprise. Servers are migrated to virtual machines, which in turn are placed into fewer physical servers. All this effort is largely intended to save money and improve efficiency, since with fewer physical servers there will be a reduced cost to power, cool and manage the server infrastructure. By consolidating servers, it also saves on the amount of physical space needed. Virtualisation also gives businesses a greater degree of flexibility when allocating additional resources to the servers. Moving virtual machines and storage to another machine can also be done seamlessly, without a need to disconnect from the hardware or interrupt an operating system or application. It also allows options for layers of extra redundancy, increasing availability, and for faster recovery in case of disaster (DR).

Benefits of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing has its own share of additional benefits. Since it’s (as a) a service, businesses will depend on a provider / supplier instead of relying on its own IT staff. This outsourced IT means your company will not have to worry about the day-to-day maintenance and administration of the service, which can save your business money on IT costs. (Most) Cloud service providers also offer a pay-as-you-go model where you only pay for the services that you need and use. If there are some systems, services or resources you don’t want, then you simply don’t need to pay for them. This also allows a business to optimise its operational capacity based on what it needs in the moment, meaning long-term planning isn’t as necessary as it would be when adding actual physical infrastructure for yourself.

If there are some systems, services or resources you don’t want, then you simply don’t need to pay for them.

Choosing Between the Two
With both tools providing unique benefits, knowing when is the best time to utilise each of them becomes important as well. First, you need to assess what your company’s needs and workloads are so you have accurate and up to date information when making a decision. Since your business would be in charge of managing a virtualised infrastructure, you also need to know who is going to provide support while it operates. Virtualised environments can also be difficult to integrate with other systems.

If it’s too challenging for the amount of money and resources you have available, cloud computing is likely be the better option. This is born out by the research company Gartner advising businesses with less than $20m in annual revenues not to build their own infrastructure. Security needs may also play a big factor in the decision-making process; whereby if data security (and accountability) is of paramount concern then virtualisation may be the better route to take since all your data is kept in-house, and there may be less reliance on encryption of data at rest and in transit.

Though both technologies have a lot to offer individually, many companies are choosing to use both in tandem to get the most out of these tools – effectively a hybrid (public/private) cloud. When the two interact with each other, most of their advantages are amplified. Many businesses have already implemented one technology, so going that one step further could prove very beneficial in the long run, reducing costs and maximising productivity.

What other points or advice have I missed for those looking into virtualisation and cloud computing, as the best solution for their business problem?