Virtualization: The First Step to the Cloud

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The underpinning for most high performing clouds is a virtualized infrastructure that pools resources for greater physical server consolidation and processor utilization. With the efficiencies associated with pooled resources, some organizations have considered their virtualized environment “cloud computing.” These organizations are selling themselves short. The full promise of cloud—efficiency, cost savings, and agility—can be realized only by automating and orchestrating how these pooled, virtualized resources are utilized.

Virtualization has been in data centers for several years as a successful IT strategy for consolidating servers by deploying more applications on fewer physical systems. The benefits include lower operational costs, reduced heat (from fewer servers), a smaller carbon footprint (less energy required for cooling), faster disaster recovery (virtual provisioning enables faster recovery), and more hardware flexibility.

Source: Why Build a Private Cloud? Virtualization vs. Cloud Computing. Intel (2014).

Cloud Takes Efficiency to the Next Level

A fully functioning cloud environment does much more. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a fully functioning cloud has five essential characteristics:

  1. On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities.
  2. Broad-network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).
  3. Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers.
  4. Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward, commensurate with demand.
  5. Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (for example, storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts).

Different but Complementary Strategies


A Forbes* article describes how these highly complementary strategies work together. Virtualization abstracts compute resources—typically as virtual machines (VMs)—with associated storage and networking connectivity. The cloud determines how those virtualized resources are allocated, delivered, and presented. While virtualization is not required to create a cloud environment, it does enable rapid scaling of resources and that the majority of high performing clouds are built upon virtualized infrastructures.

In other words, virtualization pools infrastructure resources and acts as a building block to enhance the agility and business potential of the cloud environment. It is the first step in building a long-term cloud computing strategy that could ultimately include integration with public cloud services—a hybrid deployment model—enabling even greater flexibility and scalability.

With a virtualized data center as its foundation, an on-premises, or private, cloud can make IT operations more efficient as well as increase business agility. IT can offer cloud services across the organization, serving as a broker with providers and avoiding some of the risks associated with shadow IT. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and the higher-level platform as a service (PaaS) delivery models are two of the services that can help businesses derive maximum value from the cloud.

Virtualization and cloud computing go hand in hand with virtualization as a critical first step toward fully achieving the value of a private cloud investment and laying the groundwork for a more elastic hybrid model. Delivery of IaaS and PaaS creates exceptional flexibility and agility—offering enormous potential for the organization with IT as a purveyor of possibility.

How did you leverage virtualization to evolve your cloud environment? Comment below to join the discussion.

Mike Moshier

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