Virtualization, much like Cloud Servers, is basically about regular servers that live on the Internet. However, unlike regular servers, these servers are virtualized. That means instead of lots of servers in lots of boxes, you have one big box, and inside it are running lots of servers that think they're running in their own boxes, but are really just computer programs running inside that one big server.


Okay, but... umm... why? What's the advantage?

There are several things that make virtualization more attractive than a bunch of indivdual servers. But it basically all comes down to efficiency. You see, when a server is virtual, you can fine-tune it to use all the resources it needs, but no more. For example, if I buy a computer to run a Web server on, how big should it be? Big enough to handle the load, certainly, but how big is that load going to be? Do I need a quad-core system with 16G of RAM? How much disk space? If I make the Web server virtual, I can fine-tune it as I go, adding more processors, more RAM, more disk space with just the touch of a button. Some virtualization servers even automate that - as the load grows, more stuff is added to beef it up automatically. As the load shrinks again (say, at 2 AM), those resources (disks, processors, memory) can be take away again, and reallocated somewhere else.

There's also an energy issue. One big server can be much more energy-efficient than multiple servers. It can also be easier to maintain, upgrade, etc.

Another nice feature is how easy it can be to bring up new servers. You can get a new virtual server running in minutes instead of a day (or more, if you have to order it) that real hardware takes.

Virtualize Everything!

Virtualization isn't just for servers. User's desktops can also be virtualized. The advantages of that are much the same as for servers - you can bring them up and down in seconds, you can reallocate resources quickly and easily, and because all the data reside on the servers, backup is easy and - more importantly - out of the hands of the users.

Here's a sample scenario: Let's say you're a researcher, and you have to crunch a huge data set. In the old days, you'd either take a couple of weeks to do it on your desktop computer (which you couldn't really use for anything else during that time), or beg a bigger machine from IT. With all the desktops virtualized, it becomes pretty simple. Once everyone goes home at 5 PM, the IT folks can allocate all their CPUs, all their memory, and all their empty disk space to you, and you can crunch all your data in one night. Once your data are crunched, the IT folks can give all that stuff back to their rightful owners, who won't even know it was used!

There's also the fact that, generally, you can run a bigger operation with fewer IT people. We computer folks don't like to talk about that one much...

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