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Virtualisation: What is it and how does it work?

Virtualisation can be defined as technology that helps you create useful IT services (such as applications, networks and servers) using resources that are traditionally bound to hardware. Creating a virtual version of a device or resource in this way enables you to maximise the efficiency of all of your computer hardware resources.

How does virtualisation work?

Software, known as a hypervisor, is used to create several virtual machines from one physical machine allowing organisations to run multiple operating systems on a single server. This makes IT operations much more cost-effective and efficient as computing resources are allocated to virtual computers only as needed, also making virtualisation the foundation of cloud computing.

Virtualisation methods are also flexible enough to change based on the operating system of the user, such as the kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) that is part of Linux. Due to the fact that KVM is part of Linux, host machines can run multiple virtual machines without the need for a separate hypervisor – but KVM is not supported by all IT solution providers and does need Linux expertise in order to implement it.

Different types of virtualisation

  • Application virtualisation. Users are able to run applications in a separate form regardless of the operating system they are using, eg. a Windows application can be run inside a Mac operating system.

  • Desktop virtualisation. Users can simulate a workstation load to access a desktop remotely from a connected device enabling more portable and secure access to data centre resources.

  • Data virtualisation. Enables an application to access and leverage data without the need to know where the data is located or how it is formatted, meaning one representation of data can be created from multiple sources without the need to copy or move that data.

  • Networking virtualisation. This works by splitting the available bandwidth into independent channels, each of which can be assigned to a device or server as needed, making it easier to programme and provision the network without the need to touch the underlying infrastructure.

  • Storage virtualisation. Where the physical storage from multiple networked devices is pooled together into a unified virtual storage device managed by a central console allowing IT admins to streamline storage activities such as archiving, backup and recovery.

Both application and desktop virtualisations are popular these days as with the rise in remote working more employees want to be able to use their own devices and have access to their favourite apps outside of the office.

Virtualisation versus cloud computing

Cloud computing is the name given to the sharing of computing resources, data or software as a service through the use of the internet. Virtualisation technology, therefore, makes cloud computing possible, as it allocates virtual resources into centralised pools that can be easily managed and deployed through the use of a layer of management software.

Virtualisation works by:

  • Creating virtual machines from physical servers through the use of a hypervisor, which makes those servers’ applications, computer power and storage available in virtual environments

  • These virtual resources are pooled together in a centrally located on-premises data centre (the cloud) that other computers access via a network.

  • If computers on the network need more computing power or storage capacity, then the cloud management software enables administrators to provide these network resources to the requesting computer quickly and easily. This step in the process can also be automated so that users don’t have to wait for admin approval to be able to access cloud services.

  • Once the requesting computer no longer needs the computing power or storage, the extra resources can be quickly switched off to control computing costs and reduce waste (automated infrastructure scaling).

So, the difference between cloud computing and virtualisation is that cloud computing allows different computers to access a shared pool of resources, a system that is made possible by the use of virtualisation (which is the technology that allows one server to provide the capacity for many).

What are the benefits of virtualisation?

  • Virtualisation means you can have one machine serving as many virtual machines – meaning fewer servers are needed, and the ones you have can be used to their fullest capacity. This then translates into savings on cooling, hardware and maintenance costs – along with the environmental benefit your company will receive from having a smaller carbon footprint.

  • Virtualisation technology allows you to back up and recover your data easily through the use of virtual machine snapshots of your existing servers. This process can also be easily automated to ensure your data is always up to date. Therefore, if the unthinkable happens and you need to restore your data to a virtual machine, it is easy to migrate this information to a new location in just a few minutes. This gives you greater business continuity and reliability as it is much easier now to recover from a disaster or potential loss.

  • Strategy. Virtualisation software can give your business more flexibility in how resources are tested and allocated, due to the ease of backing up and restoring virtual machines. Virtualisation also allows you to create a cloud strategy by allocating virtual machine resources into a shared pool, giving your IT team control over who can access which resource from which device, providing more flexibility and a higher level of security as well.

Virtualisation within the workplace

Virtualisation in the workplace builds on the benefits of application virtualisation by the bundling of multiple apps into one unified digital workspace. This allows an entire computing workspace to be simulated on a virtual machine, allowing users to interact with apps in the same way they would on a physical machine.

Users can also keep their own data and settings inside a virtualised workspace, customising it in the same way they would a physical machine – and allowing them to preserve their apps and data when moving their unique virtual workspace to a different machine or operating system.

If you want to harness the benefits of virtualisation and explore how it can play a part in supporting your team as they continue to work remotely, then please get in touch with the team at ebb3 today.

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