A virtualization platform is a virtual, user-friendly computer that runs on top of a more complex platform, hiding the complicated and often intimidating physical traits of the computing resources from the user. The term virtualization, which has been widely used since the 1960s, is used in this context to mean the use of software to create a system that acts as if it were a piece of hardware. While it operates like its physical computer counterpart, it is simply a program on a far more complex machine.
Virtualization can be carried out on a given hardware platform by host software — a control program — that produces a simulated computer environment or a virtual machine for the guest software. The guest software runs as if it were installed on a stand-alone hardware platform and often calls for access to specific peripheral devices to operate. The most common form of a virtualization platform today is a virtual operating system, which is becoming a main part of IT infrastructure.
Using a virtualization platform is one way to easily and quickly transform the way companies deploy and manage their IT resources. Recent analyst estimates indicate that there will be 132 times more virtualized computers in 2011 than there were in 2007. Virtualization offers a strategy that goes beyond physical boundaries to drive down infrastructure costs and help manage risk, making the challenge to simplify and optimize infrastructure clearer.
Companies that are leading the way in breaking the physical relationship between an operating system and its native hardware include VMWare, Force.com, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and Hewlett Packard. VMWare, for example, is one of the most active companies in the field and holds the lion share of the overall market for virtualization technology. Microsoft, which folds virtualization technology into its operating system products, is not as strong a player as VMWare, but is getting stronger.
Oracle combines the benefits of server clustering and Oracle™ VM server virtualization software to deliver integrated clustering, virtualization, storage and management solutions. Oracle™ VM supports both Oracle and non-Oracle applications. With decades of experience in IT, IBM virtualization helps companies do more with fewer physical assets while expanding capacity and providing greater flexibility.
There are different areas where virtualization platforms are making headway. Some of these include network virtualization, storage virtualization, and server virtualization. Many analysts report that while the use of a virtualization platform may be very popular in the IT arena, only about 12 to 15 percent of global servers are virtualized.