Opinion: So you’ve got virtual servers – you’re on the cloud? – No

With new, or evolving, technology shifts there often comes market uncertainty or even confusion. As the market continues to mature so does it become aware of pitfalls, myths and importantly grows savvier.

July 25, 2011

by Roelof Louw, Cloud Computing expert at T-Systems in South Africa

Cloud computing is no different and is still in a transitional phase between uncertainty and education in South Africa. A good example is the misperception that virtual servers and cloud computing are one and the same.

Unfortunately, a lot of providers – whether services or hardware – offer products that are really just virtualisation solutions. These products are beautifully repackaged and offered as the next ‘must-have’ in cloud enablement.

This said, virtualisation is a great technology and offers well-known benefits. It plays an important part in cloud computing and is a critical technology enabler that works cohesively within the entire infrastructure and service offering that brings the cloud the organisations.

Virtualise this – why it is not the cloud

Virtualisation is a well-known technology that allows users to seamlessly add additional resource in a virtualised environment. In layman’s terms virtualisation is a technique that allows you to run more than one logical server on the same hardware.

Typically one server is the host server and controls the access to the physical server’s resources. One or more virtual servers then run within containers provided by the host server. The container is transparent to the virtual server so the operating system does not need to be aware of the virtual environment.

This in turn allows servers to be consolidated which reduces hardware costs.

Less physical servers also means less power which further reduces cost.

However, the problem with virtualisation is that often spirals out of control. In some instances organisations start off with four servers and these quadruple in less than a year, purely because it is just that easy to add more servers.

Over the years there have been numerous instances of organisations losing control over the environments; mitigating all the great and proven benefits that come with virtualisation.

This then really puts you right back at square one – the very reason you embarked on a virtualisation strategy was to improve the management of your systems and servers it resides on.

And this brings us back to cloud computing. Cloud computing is a highly managed and controlled environment and service offering. And like any other technology solution within the cloud, virtualisation has to be managed and controlled.

Packaged offering

To some, cloud computing may look like virtualisation because it appears that your application is running on a virtual server detached from any reliance or connection to a single physical host. And they are similar in that fashion.

However, as mentioned cloud computing can be better described as an overall service where virtualisation is part of a physical infrastructure.

Virtualised servers forms a part of the packaged offering that is cloud computing.  It is an important technology backbone of cloud computing and an essential part of the service that ultimately became the cloud.

Virtual is not dead

This said, virtualisation as a standalone offering is still very relevant in a day and age where the optimum utilisation of resources is also paramount.

Also, particularly if you reside within an industry that is highly regulated, an entire cloud computing infrastructure might not be the way to go.

However, here you can still enjoy the spirit of the cloud by virtualising part of your infrastructure ensuring that you have a firm grip on it on a daily basis that will enable you to meet your industry’s stringent regulatory requirements.

It is important to stay in control of your virtualised environment and not allow servers to be added on a whim.

Ultimately, virtualisation and cloud computing are both ways to reduce infrastructure cost and maximise the utilisation of computing resources. It is, however, important to understand that they are not the same.

Remember this – virtualisation allows server consolidation by hosting many servers on a single piece of hardware whereas cloud computing is a service that delivers computer resources on a metered pay-as-you-go model.

It therefore brings us back to one fundamental issue; ensure that you have very clear picture of what your organisation requires and its regulatory posture. This will stand you in good stead and ensure you make the right decision on whether to use virtualisation as a standalone or part of a bigger picture that is the cloud.

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