Virtualization means to create a virtual or simulated version of a computer resource, as opposed to a real one. There are several types of virtualization technologies, including server virtualization, which consolidates an organization's physical servers, and application virtualization, which separates the applications from the operating system (OS). Client virtualization, also called desktop virtualization, leverages an organization's client-server network architecture to reduce the number of physical desktop computers required to accommodate all of the company's users.
Client virtualization simulates a user's desktop experience, but separates the desktop from the hardware, OS, and applications. The simulated client desktop, or virtual machine (VM), runs on a physical host server that's running virtualization software — the core of which is called a hypervisor. Many virtual clients can run on one host server with each client having different user properties, data, applications, and even OSs. This allows users to seamlessly access their regular desktops from inexpensive low-end, thin-client, or shared machines.
This centralization of computing via client virtualization helps information technology (IT) departments reduce hardware costs and lets them set up new desktops in a matter of minutes rather than days. It also simplifies the tasks of keeping the client computers up-to-date with software updates, security patches, and virus definitions, which frees up IT staff for other critical tasks. Computer client virtualization is especially useful in test or development environments. It allows system administrators and software developers to install and test applications while isolated from other machines, thus not placing their networks at risk.
For users, virtualization offers more flexible computing. The technology lets them securely access their applications and data from anywhere on their local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), or wherever they can access the Internet. Also, because IT can solve most client application problems centrally, users can benefit from less downtime.
The environment can also benefit when companies virtualize their IT infrastructure. Virtualization reduces the number of physical machines required to accommodate an organization's users. This typically reduces computing inefficiencies, energy consumption, hardware disposal, and space requirements, which lessens the impact on the environment.
Virtualization has a great deal of potential for companies and their computing infrastructures. It allows companies to provide highly available, secure, and flexible access to critical data and applications, without the cost and energy overhead of a traditional physical desktop environment. Large enterprises typically stand to gain the most from virtualization, but as the technology advances, small- to mid-sized businesses, and even home computer users, will likely reap benefits from virtualization.