The Role of Virtualization in Cloud Computing

22 Sep 2022 by Michael Price

The rapid adoption of digital transformation initiatives has put cloud technology in the spotlight and raised questions about what role virtualization plays in cloud computing.

Virtualization and cloud computing are closely connected, often working together to provide various compelling services. However, while they're often interdependent, they're not interchangeable. Virtualization technology transforms physical hardware into virtual resources, while cloud computing delivers virtualized resources through the internet and on demand.

Critically, understanding the role of virtualization in cloud computing can help you make better decisions about which cloud or virtualization solutions will work best for your company.

What Exactly Is Virtualization?

Often called the foundation of cloud computing, virtualization refers to the creation of virtual resources, like servers, virtual network switches, and virtual storage devices over computer hardware. It allows hardware elements on a single computer (for example, processors, memory, storage) to be divided into several virtual computers. These virtual computers are often called virtual machines (VMs). Each VM can run its own operating system and behave like an independent computer despite running on just a portion of the foundational computer hardware.

What Is Cloud Computing?

You likely know how the cloud computing model works. Cloud vendors offer on-demand IT resources over the internet on a pay-as-go basis. This frees companies from buying, owning, and maintaining physical servers and data centers themselves. Instead, they can access computing power, storage, databases, and so on, on an as-needed basis. As a result, cloud computing offers numerous benefits, including cost reduction, increased data security, and rapid development (you can spin up new cloud computing instances in seconds).

Some Key Differences Between Virtualization and Cloud Computing

Definition and purpose: Virtualization is a technology that allows companies to create many simulated environments from a single physical hardware system. Cloud computing is a methodology or set of principles and approaches that enable the delivery of compute, network, and storage infrastructure resources, platforms, applications, and services, to users on-demand.

Use: Virtualization delivers packaged resources to specific users for a particular purpose. Cloud computingdelivers variable resources to groups of users for various purposes.

Configuration: Virtualization is image-based, while cloud computing is template based.

What Are the Different Types of Server Virtualization?

Virtual servers play a prominent role in cloud computing and have become a critical component of modern hybrid ecosystems.

Hypervisor

A Hypervisor, also called a VMM (virtual machine monitor), is a layer that exists between the hardware and operating system and acts as a control tool. It controls and supervises the installed virtual servers, identifying traps, responding to privileged CPU instructions, and handling queuing, dispatching, and hardware requests.

Paravirtualization

Paravirtualization is an enhancement of traditional Hypervisor virtualization. It also uses a Hypervisor layer but allows VMs to have an interface similar to the underlying hardware. It improves the VM's performance by modifying the guest operating system. VMware and Xen are examples of paravirtualization.

Full Virtualization

Full virtualization differs from paravirtualization and classical Hypervisor virtualization because it allows multiple guest operating systems to run on a single host OS in full isolation. It completely simulates the underlying hardware so that any software capable of execution on the hardware can be run in the VM. Full virtualization can be helpful in a number of situations, for example, running experimental new code at the same time as older versions while using separate VMs.

Beyond server virtualization, other types of virtualization exist, including:

Operating system virtualization: This is when the virtual machine of VMM is stalled on the host operating system instead of directly on the hardware system. The primary use of operating system virtualization is in testing applications on different OS platforms.

Storage virtualization: This is where physical storage from multiple network storage devices are grouped to look like a single storage device. Typically, storage virtualization is done for backup and recovery purposes.

Can You Leverage Virtualization Without Cloud Computing?

Yes. Plenty of organizations utilize virtualization without cloud computing. The main advantage of virtualization over non-virtualization is in making better use of the available server capacity - it allows businesses to maximize the servers they already have.

However, virtualization without cloud computing is becoming rarer these days. Why? Because it often takes days or even weeks for each VM to go through the internal approval process and be made available to the users. In other words, virtualization without cloud computing often stunts a company's agility, and many companies aren't willing to take this risk in an increasingly competitive business landscape.

Can You Have Cloud Computing Without Virtualization?

It's often said that cloud computing can't exist without virtualization, and while this is true, it doesn't mean what most people think it means. The cloud computing model or industry can't exist without virtualization - the business model relies heavily on virtualization to deliver on-demand IT resources at scale and affordably. However, you can access non-virtualized IT resources through the cloud.

Some providers offer cloud computing without virtualization for the companies that want it. This service falls under Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and isn't very common, but it exists nonetheless. So, why do some customers want cloud computing without virtualization? The primary use case is performance and minimal latency, where any virtualization overhead can't be tolerated. Another reason might be that the company wants to build and manage (have complete control) over their own private cloud but have it hosted by a provider over the internet.

Despite being less common, these services are critical for the companies that need them.

Cloud Computing With Virtualization

The most common approach is leveraging cloud computing with virtual machines. It offers all the benefits of virtualization and cloud computing, including:

Resources can be commissioned and decommissioned quickly. This means you don't have to buy heaps of spare capacity for the occasional peak period.

Typically, you only pay for the resources you use, making the model more cost-effective. CapEx costs are also reduced or eliminated because you don't need to purchase your own servers.

Final Thoughts

Virtualization undoubtedly plays a hugely important role in cloud computing and offers numerous benefits. You may decide to embark on a virtualization journey without cloud computing as a way to maximize your IT resources while remaining in complete control over them. This is especially true if you have stringent security requirements that may be difficult to achieve with a public cloud. Equally, you might decide to leverage cloud computing to reduce costs and increase agility, or if you have limited IT staff to manage your IT landscape.

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Author

Michael Price

Michael Price serves as the Vice President of Software Engineering at GCG and Datacenters.com. Mike’s role is to lead a team of developers to execute on the vision of Datacenters.com while building useful tools and applications for GCG sales agents. Mike has over 15 years of experience in technology and strategic communications. Mike is a full-stack developer and has built a reputation for creating lasting brand identities from the ground-up and increasing market penetration.

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