I have recently had a discussion with a fellow colleague about the technologies of cloud services and virtualization solutions. The discussion was on their similarities and differences. On one note, it can be said that cloud services has a core component which is to be virtualized! But, having a technological focus, one must also look at the different layers to the term “virtualized” vs “virtualization” which can range from server, network, data, and even software[SaaS] and even the complete infrastructure as a service [IaaS], which may or may not have anything to do with cloud-based service solutions.
Basically, by definition to virtual-ize itself means being on or simulated on a computer or computer network <print or
virtual books> <a
virtual keyboard> : as a: occurring or existing primarily online (Merriam-Webster) which in itself is does defines cloud services. However, the offset of that is virtualization technology is NOT cloud technology but a possible major proponent of it. Virtualization in itself is the separation of the physical and logical component like hardware and the OS and its applications. You can have a virtualized infrastructure providing services that are not cloud-based and this has been done both privately and publically (managed service providers). However, you can also have a cloud service being provided online “virtually” that can also be using virtualization technology or not. As users or clients the line drawn between the two is fuzzy and gray and often unknown, for IT on the other hand it becomes even more challenging to separate a technological paradigm (virtualization) from a business model (cloud services). One often hears the term virtual or virtualizes and often jumps straight to “virtualization technology” which is not always the context that these terms are being used in.
Cloud computing is one of Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2009 – #2, but, right BEHIND virtualization. Analysts say the economics of cloud for customers are truly compelling, with expected savings for business applications of 3-5x. A cloud service can be infrastructure for hosting applications or data storage, a development platform, or even an application that you can get on-demand, either off-site at a provider, such as SunGard or Salesforce, or built onsite within IT.
So, Charles King, Principal Analyst at Pund-IT has put it succinctly: "Without virtualization there is no cloud- that's what enabled the emergence of this new, sustainable industry." Cloud computing services do NOT require the use of a virtualization technology like VMWare, Citrix, or even Microsoft Hyper V to provide online services, virtually. It may seem that it does because so many public and private clouds depend on such virtualization tools. But these are two distinct markets and technologies with wondrous futures ahead of them.
So, is cloud technology virtualized, yes, one could argue by the technical definition that a cloud based service is virtual in that it lives “in the cloud” and not in your office. However, if looking at the technological aspect of the solution being used to host the cloud services, the use of “virtualization technology” as a layer of abstraction will vary in its utilization depending on the services required to be provided and the customer’s business need since virtualization technology in itself is not “cloud”.
Even more importantly, we have seen new technologies evolve over the past decade that are essential to the notion of the cloud. That key technology is advancements in virtualization capabilities and technology. In addition to some amazing cost savings and goodness for the environment (Green IT), virtualization's ability as a layer of abstraction to separate the OS and application from the hardware give it ideal properties to best deliver these on-demand cloud services.
Finally, let’s also be clear, virtualization and cloud computing aren’t always the answer. Virtualization technology can be a key enabling technology for cloud computing environments to both help deliver optimized, automated, on-demand utilization, flexibility and scalability resource solutions be it internal, outsourced or hosted. But we are slowly learning what applications work best in these varying types of environments and definitely those that do not!