September 02, 2021

Article
6 min

What is Server Virtualization?

Server virtualization helps to maximize the power of any device and can provide many benefits to an organization and individual users.

What's Inside

Modern hardware, such as servers are powerful enough to accomplish a wide range of tasks. Server virtualization helps to maximize the power of any device and can provide many benefits to an organization and individual users. By implementing the proper services and software, a single piece of hardware can emulate the duties of multiple machines. Virtualization can also help protect servers by masking resources from independent users. Specific solutions, such as application or security virtualization are also available and further extend the many uses of any single piece of hardware. Here’s everything you need to know about server virtualization, so you can find the right solutions for your needs.

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What is Server Virtualization?

Server virtualization is the process of using software to divide physical hardware into separate unique virtual servers. Once divided, these independent virtual servers can be used for a multitude of tasks. Each virtual server will be able to host a different operating system without any compatibility issues. 

Types of Server Virtualization

There are three main types of server virtualization: full-virtualization, para-virtualization, and OS-level virtualization.

Full-Virtualization

A hypervisor is a specialized type of software that is necessary for full server virtualization. There are many different hypervisors available, so make sure to compare your requirements with available features before finalizing a purchase. Hypervisors function by communicating with servers to monitor disk space and CPU usage. The software can then allocate resources as needed across multiple virtual server deployments. Computing power can even be shared across various operating systems with ease without sacrificing efficiency. Hypervisors do require a set amount of dedicated server resources to operate, limiting overall server power. When utilizing full virtualization, the separate server instances will not need to be aware of each other.

Para-Virtualization

The major difference between full and para-virtualization is that each OS on the server is aware of each other's presence. This allows for an entire network to work together to manage resources. The most significant benefit of para-virtualization is that the hypervisor doesn't require nearly as many resources to operate because different virtual servers are aware of each other and thus can more efficiently share physical resources.  

OS-Level Virtualization

The most basic form of server virtualization is OS-level virtualization. There are limitations when using this method, but it can be implemented and maintained with fewer resources than para- or full- virtualization. When using OS-level virtualization, there is no need for a hypervisor. The duty of managing resources and separating virtual machines is instead handled by the physical server’s operating system. The drawback to this solution is that each virtual machine will have to run the same operating system, because the OS is acting as a hypervisor. 

Why Should You Use Virtualization?

There are many reasons you may wish to implement server virtualization. Modern servers are becoming more sophisticated every day and using a server for a single application may only use a fraction of the machine's total power. Server virtualization allows for a piece of hardware to reach its full potential by operating numerous virtual servers. This is a cost-efficient way to expand your IT infrastructure and give as many users as possible access to the power of your server hardware. When compared to using multiple physical servers, virtualization makes server management much more affordable and cost-efficient while reducing the need for physical space. Problems can also be addressed in a single location, which reduces maintenance costs and downtimes. 

Categories of Server Virtualization

While there are three major types of server virtualization, there are more specific categories that can define virtualization.

Application Virtualization

A popular managed service is application virtualization. This method uses virtualization to host and implement specific apps or software without the need to take down the operating system for installation or updates. Application virtualization is one of the quickest and most affordable ways to implement new software. Using separate virtual machines to host software and an operating system also allows for updates to be installed safely without worrying about the entire system going down.     

Client Virtualization

Sometimes employees may not have the necessary equipment at home or at their desks to run the applications required for their positions. Client virtualization (aka desktop virtualization) allows for the simulation of an entire OS that utilizes server resources from other PCs. Employees can then access server resources or applications from multiple machines using managed login credentials. Small businesses and organizations can even rent servers for desktop virtualization from third parties to reduce hardware costs and receive the security benefits of larger organizations. This improves the computing power of employee machines and increases security, because access to resources is locked behind the virtual machine and not the staff's physical computers.  

Security Virtualization

Security virtualization provides protection by using security software on virtual machines. This allows security to be more flexible and easily scalable because protection is not tied to a specific device. More often than not, security virtualization is hosted in the cloud and managed by a third party. Another significant benefit of this type of network security is that services and functions can quickly move between virtual and physical machines within a network. The ease of scalability also makes security virtualization one of the most affordable security solutions. 

Common Examples of Server Virtualization

There are many reasons you may choose to implement server virtualization. Read below for some standard use cases of virtualization and the benefits they may provide your organization.

Development and Testing

By using a virtual machine for implementation and testing, you can try new builds without fear of damaging systems. If issues do arise, the virtual machine can be reset and attempted again without loss of data or causing downtime to other systems. Virtualization also allows for the testing of communication between virtual machines with the same level of safety and security. Reducing downtime also means minimizing maintenance costs and increasing staff productivity.

Consolidation

The most popular use case of virtualization is server consolidation. You can transfer physical workloads to virtual machines and then move those virtual platforms onto fewer physical devices to reduce total server counts and operating costs. This process allows you to maximize use of your infrastructure while saving money. Consolidation is so common that it can be considered standard practice for almost any server virtualization scenario. 

Increase Availability

When using multiple virtual machines, there are a number of features you will gain access to that will improve availability. Features, such as live migration, allow for the easy movement of virtual machines between physical servers without service disruptions. With the added availability, critical systems can remain online during maintenance or testing of new deployments without sacrificing significant power. 

Support for Multiple Platforms

When using certain types of virtualization, you can easily have access to multiple operating systems without the need for dedicated hardware for each platform. Data and resources can then be easily accessed by any OS, thanks to the virtualization's hypervisor. This will allow employees to use multiple operating systems without fear of compatibility issues or the need to switch equipment. Having access to various platforms will significantly increase software options and can be a great way to expand your business functionality. 

Summary

Server hardware has grown more powerful than ever before. A single server can use software to perform the duties of several machines. Depending on the type of virtualization, each virtual machine can even use a completely different operating system. By using virtualization to consolidate hardware and increase resource availability, you can also improve overall redundancy and reduce operating costs.

No matter the size of your organization, virtualization can provide numerous benefits. Carefully assess your existing infrastructure to determine the most efficient way you can implement server virtualization.