th the ever-onward march of technology, several cycles of virtualisation have passed over the past decade. First, there were mainframe computers run with remote ‘dumb’ terminals connected – applications (in reality programmes running on punch cards and spooled tape) ran centrally and were viewed remotely.

Next, there was client / server computing – the traditional ‘pizza box’ environment where clients ran their own OS, and connected to a remote server running another single OS. Applications were often run remotely, but often also ran locally, collecting shared information from the server.

After that came the traditional virtualized environment: companies, departments and individuals consolidated physical servers into virtual machines – releasing wasted resources to make running IT more efficient, greener and more cost effective. However, the cost of the infrastructure for a virtual solution can be higher than the usual pizza box equivalent: large capacity hosts, networking and shared storage.

Pizza box environments, whilst often cheaper, suffer too from provisioning pains – think of the physical data centre space of all those servers and additional cabling.

The overriding benefit of virtualization is still availability, redundancy and resource efficiency, which is why we are moving in the direction we are, but what if we could provision infrastructure whilst addressing the drawbacks of the previous generations, using the benefits of virtualization?

Cloud computing: virtualisation 2.0

Cloud computing means different things to different people. Before we define the benefits, we need to understand what cloud computing really is. Essentially, it is virtualization cut loose. A true cloud can host applications anywhere, anytime – irrespective of global location, underlying hardware, or implementation method.

Of course there are constraints to this freedom – security and legislative considerations among others that must be accounted for in a cloud implementation, but I consider cloud computing to simply be this: Virtualization 2.0.

Using cloud technology, customers can quickly set up individual servers, grouped virtual applications or even whole infrastructures simply and quickly without the high costs of purchasing infrastructure or the provisioning pain of physical servers.

But how can you take advantage of these new service offerings? Here is a scenario with possible cloud applications. The IT Director of BigCorp has tasked the VM team with saving money on the annual capital expenditure budget, whilst at the same time refreshing the new offsite DR provision for BigCorp. How to achieve this?

Option 1: Traditional Virtualization

  • Size the environment to be covered by the DR requirement.
  • Investigate hardware platforms, check compatibility and find a physical host locations.
  • Negotiate rental of the physical location (with potential long-term contracts for best cost-effectiveness).
  • Purchase new hardware, and install it at the new site.
  • Configure the virtual environment.
  • Migrate data to the remote environment.
  • Test inter-site failover.

Option 2: Cloud Virtualization

  • Size the environment to be covered by the DR requirement.
  • Purchase resource from a cloud provider, either on allocation or ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis (depending on requirements).
  • Provision new virtual infrastructure using existing virtualization tools in the cloud.
  • Migrate data to the remote cloud environment.
  • Test failover provision.

Result? The cloud option greatly simplifies provisioning the new environment, whilst meeting the requirement to save CapEx from the budget.

(Time Saved) + (Money Saved) = Double Win for Cloud Solution!

So – as we have seen, there are some serious benefits to cloud computing models over traditional virtualization architectures. One important thing: I’m not suggesting we all replace or envelop our existing platforms into cloud solutions. As with everything, there is no one solution for every requirement, but adding some cloud into the mix is taking the first step towards releasing the benefits of the new technology.

In my opinion, cloud is here to stay, and will only increase in popularity as technologies mature. There is something for everyone in the cloud market – from open source code to enterprise vendors with fully-featured solutions. So maybe it’s time to reach up to the cloud?