Virtualization, as the name implies, creates a virtual version of a once-physical item. In a datacenter, the most commonly virtualized items include operating systems, servers, storage devices, or desktops. With virtualization, technologies like applications and operating systems are abstracted away from the hardware or software beneath them. Hardware virtualization involves virtual machines (VMs), which take the place of a “real” computer with a “real” operating system.
The Evolution of Virtualization
Decades ago, operating system (OS) virtualization technology was born. In this form, software is used to let hardware run multiple operating systems simultaneously. Started on mainframes, this technology enabled IT administrators to avoid spending too much costly processing power.
Beginning in the 1960s, virtualization and virtual machines (VMs) started on just a couple of mainframes, which were large, clunky pieces with time-sharing capabilities. Most notable among these machines was IBM 360/67, which became a staple in the world of mainframes in the 1970s. It wasn’t long before VMs entered the heart of personal computers in the 1980s.
But mainstream virtualization adoption didn’t begin until the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. While some VMs like those on IBM’s mainframes are still used today, they’re not nearly as popular, and few companies regard mainframes as a business staple. The first business to make VMs mainstream was Insignia Solutions, who created a SoftPC, an x86-based software emulator. This success inspired more organizations—namely Apple, Nutanix, and later, Citrix—to come out with their own virtualization products.
What are Virtual Machines?
Virtual machines are an emulation of a computer system. The underlying hardware is copied by a hypervisor to run multiple operating systems. While VMs have been around for 50 years, they are now becoming more popular with the advance of the remote workforce and end-user computing. Some popular virtualization stacks and hypervisors include VMware vSphere with ESXi, Microsoft Windows Server 2016 with Hyper-V, Nutanix Acropolis with AHV, Citrix XenServer, and Oracle VM.
What is a Hypervisor?
A hypervisor is a software that abstracts and isolates hardware and operating systems into virtual machines with their own memory, storage, CPU power, and network bandwidth. Another key function of hypervisors is isolating the VMs from one another and handles communications between all the VMs.
A hypervisor is composed of three parts that work together to model the hardware:
Dispatcher: Tells the VM what to do
Allocator: allocates system resources
Interpreter: instructions that are executed
How Does Virtualization Work?
One of the main reasons businesses use virtualization technology is server virtualization, which uses a hypervisor to “duplicate” the hardware underneath. In a non-virtualized environment, the guest operating system (OS) normally works in conjunction with the hardware. When virtualized, the OS still runs as if it's on hardware, letting companies enjoy much of the same performance they expect without hardware. Though the hardware performance vs. virtualized performance isn’t always equal, virtualization still works and is preferable since most guest operating systems don’t need complete access to hardware.
As a result, businesses can enjoy better flexibility and control and eliminate any dependency on a single piece of hardware. Because of its success with server virtualization, virtualization has spread to other areas of the datacenter, including applications, networks, data, and desktops.
The Benefits of Virtualization
Put simply, virtualization solutions streamline your enterprise datacenter. It abstracts away the complexity in deploying and administering a virtualized solution, while providing the flexibility needed in the modern datacenter.
Not to mention, virtualization can help create a “greener” IT environment by reducing costs on power, cooling, and hardware. But cost savings aren’t the only advantage of opting for virtualized solutions. Here are more reasons organizations are going virtual:
Minimize Servers - Virtualization minimizes the amount of servers an organization needs, letting them cut down on heat buildup associated with a server-heavy datacenter. The less physical “clutter” your datacenter has, the less money and research you need to funnel into heat dissipation.
Reduce Hardware - When it comes to saving money, minimizing hardware is key. With virtualization, organizations are able to reduce their hardware usage, and most importantly, reduce maintenance, downtime, and electricity overtime.
Quick Redeployments - Virtualization makes redeploying a new server simple and quick. Should a server die, virtual machine snapshots can come to the rescue within minutes.
Simpler Backups - Backups are far simpler with virtualization. Your virtual machine can perform backups and take snapshots throughout the day, so you always have the most current data available. Plus, you can move your VMs between servers, and they can be redeployed quicker.
Reduce Costs & Carbon Footprint - As you virtualize more of your datacenter, you’re inevitably reducing your datacenter footprint—and your carbon footprint as a whole. On top of supporting the planet, reducing your datacenter footprint also cuts down dramatically on hardware, power, and cooling costs.
Better Testing - You’re better equipped to test and re-test in a virtualized environment than a hardware-driven one. Because VMs keep snapshots, you can revert to a previous one should you make an error during testing.
Run Any Machine on Any Hardware - Virtualization provides an abstraction layer between software and hardware. In other words, VMs are hardware-agnostic, so you can run any machine on any hardware. As a result, you don’t have the tie-down associated with vendor lock-in.
Effective Disaster Recovery - When your datacenter relies on virtual instances, disaster recovery is far less painful, and you end up facing much shorter, infrequent downtime. You can use recent snapshots to get your VMs up and running, or you may choose to move those machines elsewhere.
Cloudify Your Datacenter - Virtualization can help you “cloudify” your datacenter. A fully or mostly virtualized environment mimics that of the cloud, getting you set up for the switch to cloud. In addition, you can choose to deploy your VMs in the cloud.
Types of Virtualization
- Data virtualization - Data virtualization is a type of data management that integrates data from multiple applications and physical locations for use without the need for data replication or movement. It creates a single, virtual abstract layer that connects to different databases for virtual views of the data.
- Server virtualization - Server virtualization is creating multiple instances of one server. These instances represent one virtual environment. Within each virtual environment is a separate operating system that can run on their own. This allows one operating machine to do the work of many machines, eliminating the need for data sprawl and saves on operating expenses.
- Operating system virtualization - Operating system virtualization is similar to server virtualization. The host operating system is reconfigured to operate multiple isolated operating systems such as Linux and Windows on one machine that allows multiple users to work from it in different applications at the same time. This is also known as operating system-level virtualization.
- Desktop virtualization - Desktop virtualization is a type of software that separates the main desktop environment from other devices that use it. This saves time and IT resources as one desktop environment is deployed onto many machines at once. This also makes it easier to deploy updates, fix systems and add security protocols across virtual desktops at once.
- Network virtualization - Network virtualization combines network hardware and software functionality into a single entity. Often combined with resource virtualization, it combines multiple resources that are then split up into separate segments and assigned to the devices or servers that need them. This type of virtualization improves network speed, scalability, and reliability.
- Storage virtualization - Storage virtualization is taking storage resources from multiple smaller devices and combining them into one large storage device. Administrators can use this storage as needed through a single, central console via virtual machines and physical servers. To do this, the software takes storage requests and determines which device has the capacity to use it as needed.
Why Should Organizations Opt for Virtualization?
Organizations hoping to pursue a more cloud-like IT environment will need to set their sights on virtualization first. Virtualizing your datacenter helps you use your server resources far more efficiently. In the past, businesses would have to dedicate one application—such as email—on a single server. In those cases, businesses would either over-accumulate multiple servers to take on their multiple applications, or they’d face a different issue altogether: Resources being underused on an entire server.
Either way, this method is costly, space-consuming, and inefficient. Thanks to virtual solutions, IT teams can run multiple applications, workloads, and operating systems on just a single virtual machine, and resources can be added and removed as needed. Virtualization scales easily with businesses. As demands rise and fall, it helps organizations stay on top of their resource utilization and respond faster as changes arise.