What Is Virtualization? Definition, Benefits & Examples – Forbes Advisor

There are several types of virtualization, each designed to optimize a specific area or component of computing. Let’s dive into the most common types, along with use case examples for each type.

Server Virtualization

Using server virtualization, you can host several virtual servers on one physical server. Each of these virtual servers is unique and isolated from the others, and operates and runs its own applications and operating system independently.

Example/Use Case. Using server virtualization, your business could run your email server, customer relationship management (CRM) system and databases on separate virtual servers housed within one physical server—maximizing the use of your hardware resources.

Data Virtualization

Data virtualization allows data to be retrieved from multiple sources using one application or point of access. This means data stored in different databases, systems and locations and in different formats can be accessed and managed as if it was stored in one central location.

Example/Use Case. A small retail business might use data virtualization to give it a unified view of sales data from its physical store, its online store’s SQL database and additional data stored in the cloud. Doing this would enable the business to more effectively analyze sales data from across a range of locations and platforms, and make data-driven decisions for future sales promotions and inventory management.

Desktop Virtualization

With desktop virtualization, you create a separate, virtual desktop on a centralized or remote server, rather than on a physical computer. This type of setup lets your employees access this virtual desktop from any device with an internet connection, enabling them to work remotely or while using their own devices.

You can also use desktop virtualization to run several operating systems on one physical machine. For example, if you need to work with an application that runs on Linux as well as software that requires Windows, you could use desktop virtualization to create two virtual machines each running a different operating system (Linux and Windows) on the same computer.

Example/Use Case. By using desktop virtualization to create a virtual desktop on a centralized server, a design agency could give its designers working remotely access to high-performance desktop environments, including specialized design software, regardless of the performance capabilities of the designers’ personal computing devices.

Storage Virtualization

Storage virtualization lets you manage physical storage from different network storage devices as if all your physical storage is located in one place. For example, you might be storing your data in a hard drive on a server, on external hard drives and on dedicated network-attached storage (NAS) devices. Using storage virtualization, all this storage can be pooled together and managed as one storage space.

Example/Use Case. Let’s say your business has three separate servers, each with 1TB (terabyte) of storage space. If one server runs out of space, you wouldn’t be able to turn to the free space available on the other servers. But with storage virtualization, you’d be managing these servers as one entity with 3TB of storage in total—which means you can easily allocate the storage space without worrying about where the physical server is located.

Application Virtualization

With application virtualization, you’re able to run an application on a computer without installing that application on the computer in the traditional sense. Here’s how it works: The application is installed either in a virtual environment on your computer or on a remote server. In the server example, you’d be able to use the application as if it was installed locally on your computer, but with the processing happening at the server level.

Example/Use Case. An accounting firm that uses a certain type of accounting software can use application virtualization to install the software on a server for employees to access remotely. This can be a more effective solution than installing the software on each employee’s computer, as the firm’s IT team will only need to update and troubleshoot the server instance of the software, rather than separate installations on individual computers.

Network Virtualization

In a network, physical devices such as switches and routers set out a fixed path for data to travel through. Network virtualization divides these resources—much like splitting up a highway into separate lanes. Each lane is then directed to a specific computer or device. This means you can direct and manage the path traveled by data through the network as necessary (in real time), rather than as set out by the network’s physical layout.

Example/Use Case. A tech startup might use network virtualization to create virtual networks to house separate development, testing and production environments. For example, one virtual network could be designated for development, allowing the startup’s developers to work in an environment that’s a copy of the production environment—without potentially disrupting the actual production environment.


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