Cloud computing and virtualization: what’s the difference?

“Virtualization” and “cloud computing” are terms that have become commonplace today, proof that technology is evolving at a rapid pace. These two concepts are very often confused, but each has its own particularity. On the one hand, virtualization involves implementing one or more virtual environments on the same physical machine. On the other hand, cloud computing provides various services that typically use this virtualization technology, such as storage locations, servers or applications, for example. Here’s a look at the main features of cloud computing and virtualization.

Many energy-intensive and underutilized machines

In data centers, IT infrastructures remain on for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are responsible for processing, storing and distributing data to users.

Today, thanks to server virtualization technology, servers are guaranteed to operate at more than 80% of their capacity. In the past, before virtualization became widespread, data center players applied a principle – albeit one which could be improved – that each server would host only one application. Over time, the technology evolved enormously, users multiplied and the number of applications rapidly exploded. As a result, the number of servers installed on sites also increased exponentially. However, most of them were underutilized, using only 15 to 30% of the server’s resources.

Virtualization or dematerialization of physical machines

For better efficiency of these IT infrastructures, virtualization is applied. This technology allows you to create several distinct environments and/or run several applications independently on the same machine. A specific software called hypervisor will manage all the virtual environments set up on each machine. Depending on the needs, this software will also distribute the resources of the physical machine – memory or processor, for example – to each virtual environment.

As a result, the benefits of virtualization are many, if only in terms of cost management. In the case of server virtualization, since a single physical resource can supplement several others, the financial benefit becomes significant. Unlike in previous years, the addition of servers is only necessary if those already present have reached their limit. A reduction in investment-related costs, maintenance and operation of new servers is therefore ensured.

Today, data centers are taking advantage of virtualization to optimize IT infrastructure management. This technology is available in several variants. In addition to virtual servers, virtualization is also about storage and networking. Even if it is still new, network virtualization will eventually make on-demand network connections available, regardless of hardware.

Cloud computing

Increasingly used in recent decades, cloud computing is a set of methods that give the user the ability to exploit the resources of remote IT infrastructures through a network, and generally via the Internet. In concrete terms, cloud computing provides storage, network or computing resources to users, as well as access to services, software and platforms.

In this context, the term “cloud” refers to a set of resources that are often virtual, accessible on demand and organized by management and automation software. One of the objectives of cloud computing is to provide online services at the user’s request, for a specified period of time and without the need to install hardware or software. These cloud computing services are available worldwide and are often invoiced monthly for each user.

Several categories of cloud computing services

Cloud computing offers multiple possibilities. Suppliers now offer several cloud services, including IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, which are the most commonly used.

Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, provides Internet access to IT resources in a virtualized environment. Thanks to this service, the user has at their disposal a virtual computer equipment that can include server space, bandwidth, IP addresses or network connections. With IaaS, the provider is responsible for the physical resources that generally come from a set of servers and networks distributed over several data centers.

PaaS or Platform as a Service provides an IT platform and environment for users to install services and applications. Web developers generally use this service which is similar to those offered by web hosts.

Today, more and more users are also using Software as a Service or SaaS. This category of cloud computing service offers users the ability to access software applications via the Internet. The software is installed in the cloud and provides a variety of features to users. Twitter, Google and Facebook are among the best-known SaaS services.

The benefits of cloud computing

Today, the various cloud computing services are spreading rapidly, as users – both private and professional – are attracted by their convenience. The benefits of cloud computing are indeed many, for example:

  • data-sharing is simplified, which encourages collaborative work, even from remote sites;
  • work environments and applications are instantly deployed and available, with no need for updates or maintenance, as the supplier performs these essential tasks for IT infrastructure and software;
  • free and open access from anywhere in the world.