Virtualization in Cloud Computing: The 6 Types

Virtualization in Cloud Computing

In computing, virtualization refers to the act of creating computing resources that have no physical presence, that is, they are virtual. These virtual resources are fundamentally pieces of software that act like their tangible counterparts. Thus, they are also called virtual machines. 

These virtual computing resources find many use cases in day-to-day life. They enable a single computer, called the host, to run multiple operating systems in isolation. Many of them also act as components of a physical computer, such as storage locations or virtual routers, as well as standalone computers. Users can also access virtualized applications remotely and run them as if they are locally installed. In short, the applications of virtualization are far and wide.

This blog post discusses one of the stand-out use cases of virtualization, that is, its injection into cloud computing.

Coupling cloud computing and virtualization has paved the way for possibilities that were, at one point in time, unthinkable. Thanks to virtualization in cloud computing, users can today summon not just storage facilities but even full-fledged powerful computers over the cloud.

Sounds interesting, right? Let us make things more intriguing by taking a deep dive into the different types of virtualization in cloud computing and dissecting their specifics.

But before that, let us have a good look at how cloud computing utilises the concept of virtualization.

Understanding Virtualization in Cloud Computing

Virtualization, as a computing concept, has existed for over six decades. Its first instance appeared in the late 1960s to facilitate the sharing of computing resources within organisations using mainframe computers. The goal was to utilise the processing power of the mainframe by allowing multiple sub-systems to access its resources.

Since then, the definition of virtualization has undergone several changes, although the fundamental premise remains the same.

Today, virtualization is a term almost synonymous with cloud computing. Cloud service providers are now offering on-demand customised and user-centric virtual environments via the cloud. All these environments share a single physical cloud server that houses all the processing and storage hardware. The users, however, experience these environments as if they are localised.

Advantages of Virtualization in Cloud Computing

  • Perhaps the biggest advantage of virtualization is that all primary computing operations are housed in cloud servers. This ensures that users do not have to incur extra expenses on assembling proprietary high-performance computers.
  • Since most of an organisation’s data is stored on the cloud, instances of data loss, data corruption and system failure are minimised.
  • Virtualization makes it easy for companies to centrally maintain their IT processes. Since most of these processes are cloud-based, companies do not need to spend time and resources in maintaining physical servers.
  • Virtual machines allow developers to test a piece of code without disturbing the current configuration of their systems.
  • Cloud service providers offer virtual firewalls as a defence mechanism against threats to the data stored on a server. Hence, organisations do not have to spend extra on setting up dedicated data security measures.

Some Relevant Examples

The Azure Virtual Desktop by Microsoft is an example of virtualization in cloud computing. As the name suggests, this cloud service allows users to deploy virtual desktops over the cloud. Using a virtual desktop, users can enjoy a comprehensive experience of the Windows OS without installing it on their personal computer.

Another popular example is the GeForce Now cloud gaming service by NVIDIA, released to the public on February 4, 2020.

GeForce Now allows virtually any compatible computer, whether it is a desktop, a laptop, a smartphone, or even a smart TV, to play high-end games sans the expensive hardware since all one needs is a stable internet connection.

GeForce Now is an excellent example that showcases the immense prospects of virtualization in cloud computing.

Types of Virtualization in Cloud Computing

So far, we have seen what virtualization as a computing technique is and how cloud computing leverages its principles. Now let us look at the different types of virtualization in cloud computing with some insights into their nitty-gritty.

1. Server Virtualization

One of the primary reasons behind the need for virtualization was the underutilization of hardware computing resources. And while all the types of virtualization today address this issue in their capacity, server virtualization hits more close to home.

Server virtualization refers to partitioning the resources of a server, which consist of hardware, software and networking resources, and distributing them over a network. 

The partitions are instances of a powerful physical server lying in a remote location but acting like standalone servers. These partitions are also called virtual servers.

Server virtualization allows for flexible scalability as, depending upon their need, users can request variable configurations of storage, computing power, RAM, etc from the physical server.

Virtualizing a server comes in handy when users want to install different operating systems on a single assembly of computer components.

The process of virtualizing a server begins with installing hypervisors on it. Hypervisors are pieces of software, aptly referred to as primal operating systems, that enable communication between the server and the installed programmes (operating systems in this case).

One can deem hypervisors as a layer between the physical components of a host machine (in this case, the server) and the software to be installed on it. These hypervisors can either be directly installed on a server (Type 1) or on top of an already installed operating system (Type 2).

2. Storage Virtualization

Storage virtualization works by gathering and merging multiple physical storage arrays and presenting them as a single storage location to the user over a network. It is employed typically by organizations and individuals looking to scale and maintain their systems’ storage without investing in physical storage devices.

Virtualized storage is visible as a single storage entity (such as a 2 TB disk drive) on a user’s system. But, behind the scenes, storage virtualization is pooling several storage locations to offer 2 TB worth of storage to the user.

Coming to the benefits of storage virtualization, well, there are many.

  • It allows for centralized management of all the storage devices by masking their individual hardware/software configurations.
  • It enables users to scale their storage capacity on-demand.
  • It allows organizations to manage large amounts of crucial data by allocating it to a single location.
  • Backing up, recycling and dropping data is much easier when consolidated at a single storage location.
  • Virtualizing storage offers better storage performance at significantly lesser expenses.
  • Automated management is another remarkable feature of storage virtualization. Automated managing of storage takes away much of the storage management burden from IT teams.

3. Network Virtualization

Earlier, we saw how storage virtualization brings together various heterogeneous storage pools as a single storage location. Network virtualization does something similar, albeit with a few changes.

Network virtualization refers to combining all the components of networks and administering them using only software. These network components include all the underlying hardware and software of a network with their respective functionalities.

Virtualizing a network takes away its dependency on the software embedded in its underlying hardware, converting it into a virtual network. Now, it is the virtualizing software, similar to a hypervisor, that controls its functionality and availability, although the network is still using its hardware resources.

Network virtualization is typically used to interconnect virtual machines, group several networks into one or subdivide the resources of a network.

Virtualizing networks enforces greater flexibility among the pooled networks and allows for better networking at reduced costs.

4. Application Virtualization

Currently, if we need to use a computer application, we first install it on our device and then launch it. But what if we never had to install that application, or for that matter, any application again? What if we could simply access applications on the cloud as and when required that would work exactly as their local counterparts? This idea is what application virtualization proposes.

Application virtualization refers to the process of deploying a computer application over a network (the cloud). The deployed application is installed locally on a server, and when a user requests it, an instance of the application is displayed to them. The user can then engage with that application as if it was installed on their system.

Application virtualization is a powerful concept that takes away most of the drawbacks of installing applications locally.

Using this, users can access a plethora of applications in real-time without having to allocate too much storage to all of them.

Users can also run applications not supported by their devices’ operating systems.

And let us not forget how it eliminates the need for managing and updating several applications across different operating systems for IT teams.

5. Desktop Virtualization

Desktop virtualization is similar to application virtualization, but the apps are now replaced with whole desktop environments.

The desktop environments, also called virtual machines (VMs), are housed on powerful servers that can host several desktop sessions concurrently. Users can access these VMs on their devices as and when required, regardless of the specifications of their devices.

Desktop virtualization is especially useful for enterprises as it offers a consistent desktop experience to all employees. 

IT teams responsible for managing a company’s devices can now manage and issue updates centrally.

Virtual desktops also minimize the security risks associated with employees storing the company data locally. And, since most of the data is stored on servers, device failure will not result in any major loss.

6. Data Virtualization

Data virtualization is a solution to the data management problem of analyzing data from different sources collectively and at a much faster pace. It enables organizations to centrally manage and alter data from several sources, such as excel files, google analytics reports, HubSpot reports, etc., while offering a holistic view (single view) of the data.

Data virtualization works by separating the collected data from its underlying data logic. A virtualization layer, called a data virtualization tool, acts as a mediator between the source and the front-end usage of the data.

Virtualizing data enables users to collectively view heterogeneous data sets via a single interface as well as access the source of the collected data in real-time.

Data virtualization is primarily used as a part of data integration in areas such as BI (business intelligence), Cloud computing and of course, data management.


So there you have it, a list of the different types of virtualizations in cloud computing with some essential info on them.

Virtualization is a fairly old concept, with the hype around rising and falling constantly. However, its coupling with cloud computing has not only increased its scope but also fundamentally changed its perception in the tech world. What was earlier termed as a means to share resources has now become a tool for sharing entire IT infrastructures.

Today, whether it is eliminating extra costs, reducing wait times, increasing efficiency and productivity or mitigating IT management troubles, you can count on virtualization to offer relevant solutions.

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