Cloud Computing vs Virtualization: There Is A Difference

In the many meetings that we have at customer sites, conferences, seminars, and other industry events, one conversation point that we continually come into is the difference between Cloud Computing and Virtualization. The “cloud” has become a term shrouded in confusion.  Many IT organizations position themselves to be “doing cloud” to satisfy the questions from the business and other executives, because they believe virtualization to be synonymous. While virtualization is an integral part of cloud computing, they are not the same thing.

Virtualization has been around for many years and is the way for IT to maximize the use of compute, storage, networking and to provide increased flexibility to those resources. Cloud computing brings significant value on top of virtualization platforms by streamlining management processes and increasing efficiencies to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO). While most people talk about these two terms interchangeably, they are truly very different.

So, what technically makes cloud different than virtualization? 

At its most basic level, Cloud treats computing as a utility rather than a specific product or technology. Cloud computing evolved from the concept of utility computing and can be thought of as many different computers pretending to be one computing environment. Cloud computing is the delivery of compute and storage resources as a service to end-users over a network.  Virtualization itself does not provide the customer a self-service layer and without that layer you cannot deliver compute as a service.  Orchestration is the combination of tools, processes and architecture that enable virtualization to be delivered as a service. This architecture allows end-users to self-provision their own servers, applications and other resources.  Virtualization itself, allows companies to fully maximize the computing resources at its disposal but it still requires a system administrator to provision the virtual machine for the end-user.

Orchestration is what allows computing to be consumed as a utility and what separates cloud computing from virtualization. Cloud computing is the belief that computing resources and hardware are a commodity to the point that people and companies will purchase these resources from a central pool and only pay for what they used. In essence, these resources are metered, very similar to how you buy power or water for your home.

Cloud computing is an approach for the delivery of services to an end-user while virtualization is one possible service that could be delivered.

A self-serving model however is not an essential component of virtualization, but it is in cloud computing. Some will argue that virtualization solutions may include a self-serving component, however it is not mandatory. In cloud computing, self-service is crucial to deliver on-demand resources to end users, which is what service is all about. Self service is then, an effective mechanism to reduce the amount of training and support needed at all levels within an organization. It is a crucial vehicle to accelerate the ROI of a cloud computing solution.

So how do you decide which of these technologies meets your needs?

It is important to remember that you are not choosing between Virtualization and Cloud Computing as a final solution for your IT needs.  If you have already invested in virtualization, the cloud can work on top of that to help further maximize your computing efficiency in certain instances and help deliver your exiting network as a service. The cloud enables you to always use only what you need and this ability to rapidly, elastically, and in some cases automatically, provision computing resources to quickly scale out and rapidly release to quickly scale in, allows you to concentrate on your core business and not have to worry about IT management.

In the end, virtualization and the cloud computing operational model allow you to do more with what you have by maximizing the utilization of your computing and infrastructure resources. Just remember, they are not the same thing. While both have their respective advantages, you’ll want to think about factors like start-up vs. long-term costs in both models and which is the better fit for your organization.