Although they’ve sort of taken a backseat to big data as the most overused buzzwords, cloud computing and virtualization are still pretty buzzworthy in the IT space. Strangely, they continue to be two of the more contentious concepts despite their notoriety. This has a lot to do with the fact that they offer similar advantages and can usually be found tag teaming in today’s IT environments.
The Heart of the Cloud
I’m not going to bore you with an introduction to virtualization and cloud computing because I’m sure you’re relatively familiar with both concepts. However, it does help to review the basic components in order to understand the relationship. While virtualization has a plethora of individual merits and uses, some say it’s the very foundation on which the cloud is built. That’s quite the praise, but it is certainly one of the core technologies that allows cloud computing to flourish.
Virtualization is known for a set of fundamental characteristics, including the ability to:
- Reduce the investment in hardware
- Lower maintenance and operating expenses
- Improve system performance
- Reduce energy consumption
- Enhance disaster recovery capabilities
There is a host of benefits on the menu, but abstraction is the most basic and valuable to cloud computing. Through abstraction, virtualization decouples or separates, operating systems and other applications from their underlying machines. The decoupling process enables them to move across servers, clusters, and even entire data centers. Virtualization also pools together storage, memory, and other resources into a single virtual environment for dynamic distrubtion, thus making it possible to conveniently distribute computing capacity and applications through the cloud.
Streamlined Infrastructure Management
Like virtualization, cloud computing is associated with a set of key characteristics. Some of the most common include:
- Simplified IT management
- On-Demand Delivery
While virtualization is credited as being a key driver for cloud computing, the cloud has benefits to offer virtual environments as well. Once liberated from the underlying platform and deployed in a virtual setting, resources are free to be distributed and provisioned as needed. The cloud takes advantage by providing on-demand access to those resources, automated delivery, and elasticity that accommodates immediate growth needs. In the end, both costs and complexity are greatly reduced so you can focus less on infrastructure management, and more on core business operations.
Non-Virtual Clouds on the Rise
We’ve built a compelling case for dependence, but keep in mind that the cloud doesn’t require virtualization to thrive. The pairing of the two just makes reaping all the benefits a heck of a lot easier, which is why most cloud platforms are supported by hypervisors such as VMware Sphere and Hyper-V. On that note, there are a few opportunistic technologies intent on empowing the cloud to fully spread its wings without the aid of virtualization.
A gift from the open source community, CoreOS is a lightweight operating system based on the world famous Linux kernel. Stripped of all services not considered vital, this unique Linux distribution utilizes so-called “containers” that strive to deliver the performance, security, and reliability benefits of virtual machines through the very same abstraction component virtualization is so well known for. With no hypervisor to deal with, CoreOS promises minimal performance overhead and the ability to harness the power of the cloud using fewer machines.
Docker is another open source option for those interested in tapping into the cloud without the hassle of virtualization. This tool is designed to “containerize” applications in shared Linux environments opposed to virtualizing the entire operating system. Docker fuels cloud deployments by enabling the easy distribution of applications, tasks, and processes across a single physical machine, or cluster of virtual machines. It also works seamlessly with CoreOS to improve the flexibility, speed, and efficiency of containers and their applications.
If you’re running a virtual environment, then you’ve already laid the foundation for a cloud-based infrastructure, which theoretically makes for an easier transition. In the event that tacking on the management challenges of virtualization sound too overwhelming, the increasing popularity of alternatives such as Docker and CoreOS in cloud deployments should be encouraging news.
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