When listening to tech experts speak, or reading tech blogs, it's not uncommon to see or hear mention of 'the cloud'. This is normally followed closely by the word 'virtualization;, which has led to many believing that the two terms are synonymous, when they are actually quite different. Because of this, there is often confusion among business owners.
What is virtualization?
At its most basic, virtualization is the creation of a virtual version of something. This virtual version is housed in a physical environment, usually a server or computer. It allows one device (server) to run multiple computing environments at the same time.
Some examples of virtualization include:
- Condensing four servers in an office down to one which runs all four.
- Using one server to host software that 10 computers can access.
- Installing Windows 7 on a Macbook.
One of the biggest benefits companies see from virtualizing is maximization of the use of resources, such as networks, computers, and servers; along with providing increased flexibility.
What is the cloud?
The cloud, on the other hand, is more of an umbrella term to cover any service that is delivered over the Internet. There are numerous cloud services, most of which can fit one of three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service.
Some examples of cloud computing include:
- Using software like Google Apps or Microsoft Office Web Apps.
- Accessing your email through the Web.
- Storing files on a cloud-storage provider like DropBox.
The cloud carries most of the same benefits as virtualization, but can also further streamline the management of systems. Most cloud systems can be managed in a browser and can reduce the total cost of ownership for organizations.
Do the two overlap?
Where much of the confusion about the two terms stems from is the fact that there is actually quite a bit of overlap between the two concepts. Without the ability to virtualize servers, the cloud would not be able to operate.
Think about it this way: A cloud storage provider uses servers in a data center to host their storage. Without virtualization, the provider would essentially need one server per client or per group of clients. With many popular storage providers having millions of users, they would need to have an obscene amount of servers. So what they do is virtualize multiple servers and house them in one server. In other words, virtualization allows the cloud to function.
It's important to realize that the cloud is still reliant on servers, just as virtualization is. The main difference is that when companies virtualize, they usually host the servers on-site. When companies go 'to the cloud', they usually connect via the Internet to servers that are hosted off-site (outside of the organization).
Which is better for small businesses?
The main reason many companies virtualize their systems is so that they can reduce the number of servers and the physical space required to house each server. This in turn can reduce overheads. Virtualization also enables server resources to be better utilized, because when you host only one function e.g., email on a server, the hardware resources used are likely to be only a fraction of the total resources available. This results in increased efficiency and likely reduced costs.
Most companies tend to think of the cloud as a system - it provides end-users a service that they can use e.g., a word processor and document management system you access via your browser. Essentially, the cloud gives many small businesses access to enterprise level applications at a fraction of the cost - they don't have to develop, host and maintain these applications, yet see all the usability and benefits.
Because virtualization is usually local, while the cloud is seen to be more of a service, there is no real answer as to which is better - it really depends on the individual organization. If your business already has servers and systems which deliver capabilities like email, document sharing, telephony, etc. in place, then virtualization may be better employed, largely because it can help reduce your overhead and increase resource efficiency.
On the other hand, if you are a new company, or are looking to introduce a new system like document storage or production, a cloud service might well be a valuable option to look into.
Regardless of what you think would be best for your company, why not get in touch with us? Our experts can work with you to help you find the solution that best fits your company. Give us a call today.