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Virtualization is a key enabler of cloud computing

March 10, 2010 • Opinion

Herman van Heerden, Managing Director at Starship Systems

Herman van Heerden, Managing Director at Starship Systems, a local technology company specializing in the design, supply and deployment of virtualization technologies, says virtualization is the path to creating and managing the cloud and today’s advancements in virtualization technology have made it easier for companies to achieve their cloud computing goals.

Cloud computing might be one of the latest buzz words in computing, but this method of computing isn’t all that new.

Cloud computing is really just a new marketing term coined for consumer benefit, a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the internet. It is the old grid computing, with changes in the way that resources and services are allocated, so that only small parts of the system respond to small requests. The key difference, and advantage of cloud computing, is the way in which services are dynamically allocated.

In cloud computing, applications and services are accessed online. All the end user sees is one interface, and the backend infrastructure and data is hosted somewhere else. In essence, it’s the internet with services on top of it, and the goal is to deliver easy, scalable access to computing resources.

Cloud computing has really taken off in recent years, especially in developed markets, catapulted by broadband improvements and spurred on by advancements in virtualization and distributed computing. The recession, which has forced companies to cutback on technology investments, has also played a significant role in accelerating the adoption of infrastructure and software delivered as services over the Net.

While it’s most certainly happening in South Africa, cloud computing on a grand, public scale – as in the case of big players like Google and Amazon – is limited by the country’s broadband capacity – and costs. However, at a private, or what he calls a “micro cloud” level, the use of cloud computing is taking off and will become more common.

A “micro cloud” is a private network or data centre that supplies hosted services to a number of people. A company for instance can use the same ideas and technology of public cloud computing to create its own private cloud to provide applications and services to its employees or clients.

Virtualization, a method of running multiple independent virtual systems on a less physical resource, makes one computer act as many, sharing the resources of those computer hosts across multiple environments. So instead of having a server dedicated to running just one system, a number of virtual machines can be created on a physical machine. Each of these virtual machines is a fully-fledged sever, running its own systems and applications.

Very often, enterprise servers operate significantly below their optimal capacity. With virtualization technology it is possible to raise the utilization levels of existing physical servers in order to get optimum use out of them.

Through the optimization of existing infrastructure, virtualization technology ensures improved allocation of resources. There’s no longer a need to have big machines sitting around to service applications that only are used a portion of the time.

Virtualization is the foundation of cloud computing and makes the cloud function more effectively. It’s a tool that helps shape the cloud, optimizing the allocation of resources and allowing for growth and shrinkage of the services in the cloud without having to purchase new machines.

By virtue of its ability to slice and dice the underlying services, and improve the management and allocation of resources, virtualization enables companies and cloud services providers to downscale their infrastructure and have a much smaller cloudwhile at the same time allowing for the appropriate allocation of resources as requests come in. In short, it allows them to achieve economies of scale.

Because virtualization makes cloud computing more attainable and elastic, it makes it possible even for smaller companies to move into cloud computing.

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