Virtualization creates virtual resources that can be used the same way as any physical resource or application. Disk drive partitioning is a familiar form of virtualization. Servers, networks, desktops, applications, and storage can all be virtual.
The evolution of virtualization continues. Not too long ago, one application per server was pretty much the rule. Now many virtual machines, with full workloads, can fit onto a single piece of hardware.
The ability to monitor and manage a large number of virtual machines has not kept pace with their proliferation. The need to manage the hardware and network does not go away, so managing virtual infrastructure is an added responsibility. But without proper management, you might not realize the full benefits of virtualization, and, in fact, find yourself facing serious performance bottlenecks.
Problems Solved by Virtual Infrastructure
Virtualization started at IBM in the 1960s as a way of partitioning large mainframe computers into separate virtual machines that could run various processes in a more flexible way. Even as mainframes gave way to desktops, servers, and workstations, virtualization evolved to help manage a variety of applications throughout a network of desktops and servers.
Virtualization is now an integral part of both desktop infrastructures and data centers. It has a variety of advantages, from flexibility to cost, and is easy and relatively cheap to implement. Data centers now represent a key business capability for executing many business initiatives, and improving their effectiveness shows good returns.
Business Benefits of Virtualization
A virtual infrastructure can make enterprise-level technology affordable to organizations that lack the capital for hardware and software licenses or the cash flow for continuous data center maintenance. This approach to maximizing resource use is scalable, flexible, and allows for easier load balancing on servers.
Sharing hardware via virtualization reduces capital budgets. Physical hardware often sits idle for significant periods of time. When that same device stands in for multiple machines or resources, it can be managed much more efficiently.
Virtualization Speeds Deployment
As the physical resources are minimized, the reduced physical rack space means easier maintenance, smaller footprints, and reduced energy use. Data centers can use a significant amount of energy, so this last benefit can have a significant impact on operational expenses.
Desktops and servers can be cloned on existing machines, making provisioning and deployment faster and easier. Desktop virtualization through virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is probably the form of virtualization most commonly encountered by employees. VDI vendors include Citrix XenDesktop, VMware’s vCenter, and the open source Virtual Box.
In general, virtualization speeds deployment, setup, and maintenance of both servers and workstations, making life significantly easier for IT.