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Cloud versus virtualisation – what does it mean?

Whether your business is heading into the cloud or it’s becoming more virtual, it’s important to understand what these changes mean for your organisation.

While the terms “cloud computing” and “virtualisation” are often used interchangeably, vast differences divide the two terms. Virtualisation is a key component of cloud computing technology, certainly, but it’s only one part of a larger whole. As Jennifer Skelly writes in CampusTechnology.com, virtualisation can happen without the cloud, and plays an integral role in data centers around the world, even those that exist without a cloud in sight.

Of course, both virtualisation and cloud computing technology were developed to solve the same business problem: how to generate more computing power using fewer resources. The core difference is how the hardware is managed. Virtualisation requires internal, on-premise management, whereas cloud services are managed by a company’s cloud provider.

Cloud computing does rely heavily on a highly virtualised physical infrastructure, according to AppNeta. In the cloud, applications generally run on virtual servers that are independent of the underlying hardware. In fact, a virtual server environment on which to run applications is often one of the services a cloud computing provider offers.

But one of the major differences is that, with cloud computing, RAM, CPU cycles, storage and network bandwidth are commodities to be consumed on a “pay-per-use” basis. Like other utilities, a cloud computing environment is configured to provide high reliability and availability. Clouds are also very flexible and scalable, in the sense that an application can simply consume resources as needed, according to AppNeta.

While both virtualisation and cloud computing allow you to slash costs and simplify your IT infrastructure by using your existing resources more efficiently, virtualisation still requires an investment in physical hardware that resides on-premise – servers, software, data centre equipment and the like, according to AppNeta. In addition, virtualisation requires an extremely high performance network connection, since all your servers will share that single network connection.

With cloud computing, however, your cloud provider takes care of the purchase and maintenance of physical infrastructure, eliminating the start up costs associated with hardware, cutting costs even further. The downside is that your business operations, applications and data all are dependent on the performance of a single WAN link. It is entirely possible to lose data, as well as access to business-critical services, when cloud services fail.

Which approach is right for your business? That’s a decision that must take into account the unique nature of your business and a host of different market concerns. It also means you should consider whether your staff can properly and efficiently deploy, manage and maintain an on-premise solution, or whether your organisation would benefit from eliminating hardware, software, licensing, personnel, heating and cooling costs.

There’s no simple answer, but knowing the pros and cons, benefits and drawbacks of each approach will give you a solid foundation on which to base your decision.

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Sharon Florentine

Sharon Florentine

Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer who covers everything from data centre technology to holistic veterinary care and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.

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