Many find the word “virtualization” confusing. This may be, in part, because it is used to define several related though not identical concepts. Each of these concepts focuses on a different part of your information management infrastructure.
Whether it’s a file server, or a print server, or a communications server, or an application server, any server is a computer running a network operating system of some kind, such as Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2. In the earlier days you had one computer and you ran one operating system, or let’s call it one “instance” of an operating system.
Virtualizing a server enables you to run MANY instances of the network operating system on one computer. The more processors, memory, and storage that computer has the more “instances” you can run. This not only reduces cost by eliminating the need to buy as many computers, it also reduces your cost of supporting that many computers.
Each of those “instances” and the workloads they run are referred to as “virtual machines.” Since they are really just large files they can actually be transported in their entirety from one host computer to another which can be very handy in balancing capacities and providing fault tolerance.
What makes “personal computers” personal is that the processing, the storage, and everything takes place at your computer. You don’t have to be connected to anything to use them!
In some cases, however, that may be impractical. There may be files that must be shared among many users, and some of those files may be very large. It could take hours to have them cross a network between a server and your computer. In some applications, the program itself may exceed the capacities of your computer but you still need to run them. Problems like these gave rise to an innovative solution – the virtualized desktop.
A virtualized desktop serves simply as a two-way viewer. The actual program is running on a server back in the data center. Only what appears on the screen is actually sent over the network to your computer. This is a very small amount of data and can be transmitted very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it seems to you as if the program is running locally on your own computer, but it isn’t. Any keyboard entries or mouse movements you make are transmitted back to the server. It seems as if everything is local, but the capacity of the server far exceeds that of your computer and you can do many things you couldn’t do otherwise.
Another important advantage, especially in today’s world of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is that absolutely no data is transferred from the server in the data center to your computer. In the case of “BYOD” applications, the computer may be a tablet or even a smartphone. Even these can accurately reflect the operations on the server which is very convenient for users on the go.
In cases where the user owns that tablet or smartphone, the company doesn’t want corporate data on that device because it could be a security threat. The user doesn’t want corporate data on their device either, because the company might then need to wipe out the device should they suspect a security breach. Imagine losing all your photos, music, and other personal files. Keeping corporate data off your personal device is in everybody’s best interest, and using a virtualized desktop is often the most efficient, most effective way to accomplish that!
One of the great advances from “cloud computing” is that storage has become very “elastic”. That is, when we need more storage we no longer need to go out and buy another storage device. We can simply “subscribe” or just ask for more storage and it is provided. We get a larger bill the more storage we use. And we get a smaller bill if we release some.
“Virtualizing” storage makes storage look like one big thing, rather than a collection of “drives” with identifying letters. You no longer need to worry about “where” the files are stored. You simply use a list of folders that you create to keep things in. It’s very much like a never-ending file drawer that you organize as you see fit.