Virtualization is the creation of a virtual (rather than actual) version of something, such as an operating system, a server, a storage device or network resources. Virtualization is a computing technology that enables a single user to access multiple physical devices. This paradigm manifests itself as a single computer controlling multiple machines, or one operating system utilizing multiple computers to analyze a database. Virtualization is about creating an information technology infrastructure that leverages networking and shared physical IT assets to reduce or eliminate the need for physical computing devices dedicated to specialized tasks or systems.

Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Through cloud computing, a world-class data center service and colocation provider such as Consonus offers managed IT services through a hosted or "Software as a Service" model. A server or database can be physically located in a highly-secure, remote location while the data is accessed from a client's computer, using the database's server to retrieve, sort, and analyze the data. This arrangement eliminates the need for a costly in-house IT department and hardware and the associated capital expense. Instead, a cloud computing provider owns the hardware while providing hosted, managed services to its clients on a usage basis. Cloud computing generally utilizes virtualized IT resources such as networks, servers, and computing devices.

Virtualization Paradigm

Virtualization comes in many types, all focusing on control and usage schemes that emphasize efficiency. This efficiency is seen as a single terminal being able to run multiple machines, or a single task running over multiple computers via idle computing power. Virtualization is also seen in a central computer hosting an application to multiple users, preventing the need for that software to be repeatedly installed on each terminal. Data from different hard drives, USB drives, and databases can be coalesced into a central location, both increasing accessibility and security through replication. Physical computer networks can be split into multiple virtual networks, allowing a company's central IT resources to service every department with individual local area networks.

A computing device dedicated to individual members of staff or allocated to one specialized software application is highly inefficient, not to mention expensive. Just as the industrial revolution blossomed when people realized one water wheel could run multiple textile looms, so can today's high-powered computers run multiple processes. Virtualization is an approach to consolidating technology resources for improved efficiency and the elimination of redundancy by leveraging every opportunity to utilize idle resources and find places where multiple processes can be run at one time.

Cloud Computing

The widespread availability of cheap computing power in business and in homes has created the next advance in information technology. With all of the spare computing devices available, the time has come where the need for a business to own their own central server and database can be considered an obsolete notion.

By not locating a server or database in-house, data center services can be obtain from an IT server provider that has invested in developing world-class IT infrastructures that are secure, resilient, and robust. The entire capital expenditure of a state-of-the-art server room can be avoided while obtaining those services on a usage basis. Managed IT Service fees are similar to or less than the operating costs of an in-house data center solution. With the potential to completely avoid capital costs and eliminate any increases in operating costs, cloud computing is an extremely attractive option.

This cost savings is possible thanks to the leverage of efficiencies. A typical IT department is created to service the peak usage needs of a company. However, the vast majority of the time, that potential sits idle. Most servers are not operational outside of business hours and when they are in use, they rarely operate at 100% of their capabilities. Data center services provided by a third party are in dynamic use. Powerful computing resources and robust hosted, managed services become available 24x7x365. This fluid scaling of computing resources allows each client to utilize those resources at a competitive price.

A key advantage of Virtualization and Cloud Computing is a significant improvement in security, availability, and data protection. A decentralized IT infrastructure managed by an IT service provider that is wholly dedicated to its resilience and availability is immune to physical or data disasters. Replication over multiple systems ensures data backups. A dedicated data center service provider is better able to keep up with the latest security methods and technology upgrades. Through the provision of managed IT services, all of these benefits are embedded in the cloud computing model.

Ultimately cloud computing is about leveraging computing resources to their fullest potential. For the majority of companies outside of the technology industry, this means utilizing hosted, managed services rather than trying to maintain an in-house system that would ultimately prove wasteful. This fits into the virtualization paradigm whereby the efficient utilization of an IT service provider renders unnecessary an in-house IT solution. Together, they represent the next step in IT infrastructure: reducing costs while increasing efficiency.

About the Author

Steve Bulmer is CTO and an author for Consonus, a solutions provider of data center services, IT consulting and infrastructure and managed services. Consonus offers virtualization solutions tailor-made to fit any business need.