Virtualization is the use of virtual hardware platforms as a replacement for physical ones. Virtual servers, desktops, storage devices and other computing resources are created using virtualization software. This software creates a virtual machine (VM), which behaves identically to a physical machine running software on its own underlying hardware. For the user, a major goal of virtualization is that it is indistinguishable from working on a physical computer. For the IT manager, the goals of virtualization are many, including simplified management, better scalability and lower operational costs.
Virtualization provides flexibility that physical hardware is unable to offer. A single computer running virtualization hardware can emulate multiple virtual machines simultaneously, each completely independent from the other. For example, a Windows server can run a dozen VMs at once — some Windows and some various distributions of open source platforms like Linux. Users interacting with one VM are oblivious to those on the other VMs. One of the key advantages of this strategy is that it allows the enterprise to host multiple types of disparate workloads on a single server instead of twelve different devices.
While virtualization is useful in a simple on-premises environment like this one, virtualization technology has become inextricably linked to the cloud, where virtual machines can be deployed on a massive scale and managed centrally. Most modern web and app platforms work on large-scale virtual environments, sometimes with thousands of VMs running at once. Operating a virtual environment at this scale requires significant attention to VM management and ample experience at working with the chosen cloud platform.
In this article, we’ll explore virtualization technology in more detail, including the various types of virtualization, key virtualization tools and platforms on the market and best practices for getting started.