What is Virtualization?

Margi Williams

Virtualization is defined as a logical view between computer hardware systems and the software used to operate them. Three terms used to describe how virtualization impacts computer systems are network virtualization, storage virtualization, and server virtualization. It is a concept that was originally introduced in the 1960s when the IBM Watson Research Center began the M44/44x Project. The project's purpose was to closely evaluate the notion of "time sharing" as it was more commonly known. The M44/44x project examined the practical application of virtualization through the utilization of virtual machines using virtual memory and multi-programming.

Desktop virtualization cuts down on hardware and energy costs, and allows system administrators to easily provision new desktops and roll out new software.
Desktop virtualization cuts down on hardware and energy costs, and allows system administrators to easily provision new desktops and roll out new software.

Since that time, the methodology has been associated with various computing technologies including partitioning, time sharing, machine emulation, simulation, and quality of service. Network virtualization combines available resources by breaking down the data transfer rate, or bandwidth, into smaller independent channels so they can be assigned to a designated server in actual time. In this scenario, virtualization works to camouflage the system's true intricacy by breaking it into smaller, more controllable parts.

Alternatively, storage virtualization is the grouping of several different physical storage components into what appears to be a solitary virtual unit that is then managed from a central location. This form of virtualization routinely is employed to coordinate storage area networks. Server virtualization allows the network to conceal server resources, such as the physical location and identity of servers, processors, and operating systems, from its users. The objective is to shield the user from having to interpret, process, and administer complicated server transactions, while at the same time allowing resource collaboration with the capability to later be further developed.

Virtualization offers several benefits that support cost efficiency and quality assurance deliverables. For example, it can be used to combine the functionality of several underutilized computing stations on only a few servers. Virtualization also allows network administrators to run software normally confined to older operating systems, or be used to protect computing platforms from potentially unstable applications. Further, a virtual machine monitor could be created and used as a basic operating system. These are only a few of the benefits afforded to IT professionals when applying virtualization management techniques.

Although most companies begin their exploration of virtualization with application testing and development, this tool is fast becoming the solution of choice industry wide. In a competitive market, IT managers are tasked with creatively meeting their organization's service requirements. Virtualization offers enterprise a unique solution to a variety of business conditions at a fraction of the cost.

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Discussion Comments


@fify-- One of the common problems with data center virtualization I have seen is the lack of organizational capacity to keep up with virtual server data. The shift to virtual servers happens rather quickly and usually personnel are not skilled or trained to work with them. Both administrators and employees need to have some experience to make the shift. Otherwise, company processes can suffer.

I would like to hear about any other issues that others have faced with virtualization.


@fify-- As far as I know, Microsoft,CA,VMWare and Citrix are some of the prominent actors in virtualization technology -- my brother is big into IT and these are the ones he always mentions. I'm not really sure which one is better than the others though, or if there really is a "best" one. I would ask your company's IT guy before you decide on one.


My business has recently been looking at going virtual, but honestly, I don't really know where we'd start. Can anybody tell me about some good virtualization vendors? Also, are there any disadvantages of virtualization? I only hear about the benefits, so I'd really like to know if there is a downside before I start investing in something like this.


I have had good experiences working with Microsoft virtualization solutions, though I know my Mac friends loathe them. But I would recommend it to anyone who is working with Windows systems, it really does a lot for efficiency and saving storage space. It makes it very easy to have additional virtual servers and if you are looking to run test servers while cutting down on IT costs, virtualization software will be a quick solution.

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