What is Virtualisation?
Businesses across Australia are taking a softer approach. They’re leaving the days of excessive hardware behind them and choosing virtualisation instead.
But what is virtualisation? It’s a type of technology that creates virtual representations of hardware or physical machines, such as servers, storage and networks. Space sucks with limited capacity and high running costs don’t blend well with modern-day businesses, so companies are finding more cost-effective methods. Enter: Virtualisation in cloud computing.
How does virtualisation work?
Virtualisation works thanks to a hypervisor, a piece of software that creates multiple cloud instances or virtual machines (VMs) on one physical computer.
Let’s tackle some of those terms:
- A cloud instance is a server resource that third-party cloud services provide. The cloud provider stores the necessary hardware and you get virtual access to the resources you need, provided to you as an “instance”.
- A virtual machine is a virtual environment that runs programs and apps using software instead of a physical computer. It’s a bit like a virtual mirror of a physical computer.
So, when you install a hypervisor on a server (a physical machine AKA the host), you can create multiple virtual machines (AKA the guests). You’ll be able to access all of these VMs just like any other application on your computer.
Businesses can use this technology to set up multiple virtual computers and applications on one physical server. The hypervisor is the key connection point here, letting multiple VMs run smoothly without the need to interact directly with the server.
What are the different types of virtualisation?
Businesses can virtualise a range of IT infrastructure elements, which is great news for your IT team and the overall business. Which, let’s face it, would benefit from more affordable, flexible ways to operate.
- Server virtualisation: A physical server is divided across multiple virtual servers. This process lets physical servers make the most of their processing capacities. Office365 is a good, familiar example of this. Instead of needing your own exchange server, Office365 provides email and other online applications like Word and Excel, storing your files in SharePoint or OneDrive.
- Storage virtualisation: Combines the functions of physical storage devices in your data centre and converts it to one large unit of virtual storage. Your IT admins can then assign and control this storage as they see fit, and the process is way more streamlined than when dealing with multiple storage devices.
- Network virtualisation: Ideal for multi-location organisations. This combines network resources (such as switches, routers and firewalls) from different offices to centralise admin tasks. It makes network management a breeze by letting your IT team adjust resources without visiting each office to access the physical components.
- Data virtualisation: Today’s businesses commonly store data in different formats and at different locations - from the cloud to an on-premise physical data centre. Data virtualisation processes data requests and returns the results in a suitable format for the application that needs that data. You could use this to easily analyse cross-functional data.
- Application virtualisation: Lets applications run on different operating systems (OS) beyond the OS they were originally designed for. This all happens without the need for any machine configuration.
- Desktop virtualisation: Remote team members can use desktop virtualisation to access your organisation’s desktop and applications from anywhere. This lets businesses save money on desktop hardware while enabling fast, secure remote access. Desktop virtualisation (along with server virtualisation) is provided by Azure “virtualised” servers. You might use this if you need bespoke applications or private servers to run your business applications, instead of software-as-a-service applications, such as Xero.
What are the benefits of virtualisation?
Virtualisation gets to work behind the scenes. Apart from the benefits your business can see, you’d hardly even know it was there.
Protect your data & recover from disasters
What is virtualisation’s role in cybersecurity? It’s a pretty big one. Virtualisation lets users manage data on their virtual servers individually, which helps reduce the risk of a data breach. Data recovery is faster and easier if something goes wrong - such as a system failure or malware infection. VMs can be rolled back to a time when they were uninfected, restoring the system to its clean state.
Work faster & flexible-er
Virtualisation keeps your business operating smoothly on reduced resources. You no longer need one server per computer system, but can bring multiple servers together on the same system. This opens up more space in your data centre, and lets employees do their job without being tied to one company-issued PC in the office.
Cut IT costs & manual configurations
Swapping out hardware for virtual machines lets businesses cut costs on electricity, generators and coolers. Virtualisation also reduces the need to hand out expensive devices to employees, and to get those devices individually serviced or updated by your IT team. Ultimately, you can consolidate what used to be multiple servers into one, and almost everything can be done centrally. The only question is: How will you spend all that leftover money and free time?
Keep your business business-ing
System and application crashes lead to downtime, giving way to unproductive employees and disgruntled customers. Virtualisation lets businesses run multiple VMs at the same time. If a problem pops up, you can simply switch to another one.
Let’s circle back to the security benefits of virtualisation
I know - I hate that weird office cliche, too. My Succession binge must be rubbing off on me. But it’s worth taking a closer look at virtualisation and security here.
We’ve already mentioned how infected VMs can be rolled back to a time before the malware got its hands on the system. Non-virtualised operating systems don’t come with the same security benefits. In most cases, malware gets deeply embedded into the core components, so it’s not so easy to roll back, delete and recreate.
But virtualisation isn’t totally free of security threats. If a hypervisor gets compromised, the attacker may then access all virtual machines and guest operating systems.
We work with businesses to make their cybersecurity as watertight as possible. Some tips you can take on board as you venture into virtualisation include:
- Use major providers when doing your own server virtualisation. This is a risky process and you’re responsible for the physical asset. Providers like Microsoft spend over $1 billion every year on their security teams alone; what businesses can do on their own pales in comparison in most cases.
- Keep your hypervisors up to date — not just the VMs on the host. These are often overlooked, and the upgrade process between versions can be really comprehensive.
- Over-allocating resources will slow down the workload. Be careful to avoid disrupting the speed benefits of this technology.