What is Virtualization?
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.
Decades ago, operating system (OS) virtualization 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.
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 its 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.
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.