The fact that Babbage came up with the idea of the first programmable computer way back in 1837 totally blows my mind. How did he do that? I guess he was the very first geek. And these IT geeks continue to amaze us all. Some clever clogs came up with the idea that you can run virtual machines inside a computer, so a piece of software pretends it is a real server. In this way, you can have one physical box running many operating systems and applications at the same time. This brings many advantages, including energy savings, faster server installation (you don't have to fill out a form and wait for a physical box to be delivered) and higher availability and uptime. So from a cost standpoint, virtualisation is a great move. You can do much more with much less, which is why, reportedly, more than 70% of companies run at least some of their workload on virtual machines. This diagram gives an idea of the principal:
However (isn't there always one of those?), there is still a lot of work to do. You need an expert in virtualisation to deploy the operating systems and applications you want, so it is not a self-service IT system. The IT department has to find a physical server on which to start and stop, or provision in IT speak, the virtual machines, i.e. act as the "waiter". Also, usage cannot be quickly scaled up and down, as the waiter has to bring in extra supplies or clear away what you don't need.
So what's the difference between virtualisation and cloud? Virtualisation is indeed the foundation for cloud, but it is just one component. With additional software layers, cloud provides things virtualisation doesn't, for example:
- self-service: users can provision new servers themselves using a software interface, leaving the waiter to do something more interesting and creative
- rapid elasticity: when the IT department does not have to intervene to provision machines, usage can be scaled up and down more quickly, removing the middleman (or our waiter)
- automated IT management: the IT and accounting guys can meter the usage of each department and focus on issues such as security and reliability, instead of being... well, a waiter
- pay-as-you-go service: departments can be internally charged on a monthly or hourly basis, ensuring a much more efficient usage of resources. If something is hard to get, even when you don't need it anymore, you tend to hold on to it... just in case. This strange logic disappears with a well-managed cloud service.
All of this makes it sound like it is always better to opt for cloud over virtualisation. Is that the case? Well, cloud is much more complex than virtualisation and costs more to set up, although you do recoup these costs in the long run as the process is less labour-intensive. Ideally, a company should adopt some kind of cloud management platform to make the process run more smoothly.
Given that you want to opt for cloud over virtualistion, do you go for public or private cloud? If you want to read more about the basics of this, check out a previous blog.
And as always, we would be happy to hear from you with your cloud questions so don't hesitate to get in touch.