The Cloud Vs Virtualisation… Spot the difference

To the untrained eye, cloud computing and virtualisation look very similar and are often mistaken as the same thing. But this is certainly not the case. In fact, they are different enough to make your choice of the cloud or virtualisation an extremely important one. So what are the differences and which one is right for you?

Virtualisation and cloud computing were both developed to maximise the use of resources and increase efficiencies, but it’s important to clearly differentiate what they are, how they work and what they offer to the user.

In simple terms, virtualisation is the technology that enables a user to run multiple operating systems and applications at any one time. Developed as a practical solution to help IT departments make better use of their hardware, it’s a fundamental building block for any business or organisation intending to use cloud computing.

But unlike the cloud model, virtualisation is an infrastructure that makes servers, workstations and storage independent of the physical hardware. It uses a hypervisor or virtual machine monitor (VMM) that is installed on top of the hardware layer to run virtual machines and get the most performance from minimal hardware and costs.

Virtualisation does have a number of similarities with the IaaS (infrastructure as a service), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) components of cloud computing. It reduces infrastructure expenditure whilst increasing flexibility and scalability – just one of the reasons why it’s viewed as the backbone of cloud computing.

So how is cloud computing different? In simple terms, if virtualisation is the physical technology, cloud computing is the result – the delivery of shared computing resources, software or data as a service which is accessed through the internet.

Cloud computing is built on top of the virtualised infrastructure. It relies on a highly virtualised physical infrastructure where applications, on the whole, run on virtual servers that are independent of the underlying hardware. But it must also be understood that the cloud is more than just virtualisation. And once you’ve worked out the difference, you must then consider a public, private or hybrid cloud.

Public clouds are based on shared physical hardware which is owned and operated by a third party. It not only saves the user maintenance and hardware costs but also spreads infrastructure costs across a number of users. Alternatively, private clouds offer a bespoke infrastructure that can be hosted either on-site or at a separate data centre. And as suggested by the name, private clouds offer greater control and privacy as they are only accessible by a single organisation.

Again, as the name suggests, a hybrid cloud is a combination of the two. Enjoying the benefits of both, the user can maximise their efficiencies by employing public cloud services for non-sensitive operations whilst utilising a private cloud for added security where required.

So which is the right system for you?

In reality, there is no simple choice between virtualisation and cloud computing, as the cloud can complement your existing virtualisation investment and capabilities. Virtualisation is a start but it might not offer everything that you need in the future.

Both will allow the user to do more with what they’ve got and can work together to further improve efficiency, service offering and save even more money. Once customers have virtualised their hardware servers, the adoption of cloud computing over time will then offer them increased self-service, scale, service delivery levels and agility.

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