A number of organizations use the terms “Cloud” and “Virtualization” synonymously. They proudly declare that they are “doing the Cloud” when they are really consolidating their data centers using virtualization technologies. Cloud computing and virtualization are not the same. The Cloud may be enabled by virtualization and virtualization may be a logical first step towards Cloud computing. They can at best be described as complementary technologies conferring enhanced benefits on end users when used in tandem.

Virtualization is really older than the Cloud. It has been around for some time and has been used by enterprises to optimize the use of IT resources and increase flexibility. The Cloud—which is of a more recent origin—was first perceived as a means to enhance the benefits derived from virtualization. It extended the reach of the data center and integrated disparate units of the organization reducing the need to invest money in distributed data centers.  The Cloud streamlined management of IT processes, increased efficiencies and reduced the total cost of ownership.

Cloud computing and virtualization are technically different in their approach to computing. Cloud treats computing as a utility. It links together a number of computers and computing devices to give the end user a feeling that they are dealing with a single unified network. Self service is its mantra—a necessary element. “Pay as you go” is its business model. Virtualization on the other hand is not concerned with providing services for a price. It does not have a self service layer and cannot deliver any kind of service to the end user directly. It combines tools, processes and architectures that enable virtualization of servers, applications and other resources by the users. But, the VM has to still be made available to them by the system administrator. Cloud interfaces may be one method of delivering the VM to the end user.

Users considering Cloud computing are not really discarding virtualization. They can take the virtualization route to Cloud computing. They can begin by investing in virtualization and gradually enhance the services of the data center by building up a public, private or hybrid Cloud on the virtualized infrastructure.  The operational model provided by the Cloud will maximize the utilization of computing resources and confer the benefits of Cloud computing and virtualization on the end user.