Hardware Virtualization: What You Need to Know

Having just one computer limits you to what that one computer can do, but what if you could have hundreds of computers on the same device? For companies in search of infrastructure as a service, hardware virtualization provides an effective method of divvying up resources. Using a virtual machine, you can create separate instances of the same machine rather than being limited to one.

 Virtualization technology promises a wide gamut of benefits, such as system efficiency, sandboxing, and quarantine. However, it can be a difficult topic to wrap your head around.

Today, we aim to address all your questions with this definitive guide to server virtualization.

What Is a Virtual Machine?

As the name implies, a virtual machine is a machine that does not exist in a physical space. Believe it or not, this technology has been around for decades, and most modern desktops have hardware virtualization built into the BIOS. A virtual machine is a computer within a computer. It's a translation layer that mimics a fully functional operating system, complete with its own dedicated virtual hardware. For all intents and purposes, this virtual computer is a computer, and the surrounding digital infrastructure treats it as such.

 The virtual hardware exists within a code container. This container emulates all the things you'd find in a typical computer: bus interfaces, RAM modules, and so on. The virtual computer can do anything a physical computer does, such as processing commands and connecting to the internet.

Key Limitations of Virtual Machines

Of course, virtual machines have their limits. At a foundational level, they are subject to the limitations of the physical machines on which they reside. A virtual machine can only take a portion of its physical host’s resources. For example, if your machine has 64 GB of RAM, then the virtual machine might only get 32 GB. The remaining RAM is necessary to keep the computer running. Within that limitation, however, you can run as many virtual machines as your system can handle. You can run multiple virtual machines in parallel via the hypervisor, or virtual machine manager.

Benefits of Virtual Machines

Perhaps you can already begin to see the potential uses for server virtualization. Let's discuss the main ways your business can benefit from this technology.

Ability to Run Disparate Operating Systems in the Same Space

The obvious application for a virtual server is running various operating systems at once. Every operating system has its applications and limitations. Rather than building a new server from scratch, you can create it on existing hardware. This is essential for modern systems, in which you might have a Linux server and a Windows server in the same ecosystem. Without virtualization technology, you'd be forced to build two physical server racks. Running two operating systems on the same hardware requires a restart to switch from one to another.

 With server virtualization, you don't need to spend another dime. You simply split what you already have into smaller instances. Remember, however, that a virtual machine won’t give you the full power of your system; it will have to be less potent than its parent physical machine. The more virtual machines you have, the less potent they must be. That may sound like a dealbreaker, but it actually provides a surprising advantage: more efficient resource usage.

Efficient Resource Usage 

Optimization isn't just for the benefit of the IT team's peace of mind. Businesses across the board spend a lot of time making sure their systems run efficiently. This saves costs over time by decreasing hardware wear and electricity usage.

 You may be thinking that building a physical system, which would give you access to a full server rack of resources on demand, seems like a better choice than virtualization technology, which forces different instances to share resources. However, you can’t use a server rack to its full potential at all times. Demand fluctuates; a server may experience high traffic in the evening but then little to none in the early hours. In short, physical servers are often idling, consuming electricity while performing very few operations. That's an incredible waste of resources.

Dynamic Resource Allocation

Virtualization technology is adaptive. Rather than having a fixed amount of system resources, you get resources that adapt to demand. If one server is under a heavy load while another is experiencing very few requests, virtual hardware can shift resources, adding more to the taxed server and removing unused resources from the idling server.

 This process is dynamic and can occur in an instant. Suppose you have a sudden spike in network activity. The hypervisor detects this heavy inbound throughput and reallocates resources to where they're needed. This occurs more quickly than it might in a physical environment. Modern hypervisors are very efficient, and since all systems are running in tight proximity, you won't notice the difference when this load shifting occurs.

 The most observant readers may have spotted an issue here: what if need surpasses the system's capacity? What if that sudden spike hits all servers at once, and the system needs more resources than you can offer? That sounds like the perfect storm for a system collapse akin to a DDoS attack. That brings us to the next advantage of hardware virtualization: infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

IaaS: Pay-As-You-Go Cloud Computing

Many businesses have outsourced their server needs to big providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS). It's affordable, convenient, and puts your network in the hands of professionals. One benefit that is often left out of the conversation, however, is its ability to adapt to demand. If you run your own proprietary server farm, you're alone. If demand grows too high, you'd be forced to increase the number of server racks.

Server virtualization provides a solution. Many providers offer IaaS, which lets you purchase system resources on an as-needed basis. There's no reason to contract a full server rack if you only need a very small portion of the resources. With standard cloud computing, you'd pay the same no matter what the demand. With infrastructure as a service, however, you pay less during lulls and more during spikes. In many cases, that can save a lot of money. It also provides the peace of mind knowing your system can roll with the punches. Never in the history of computing has outsourcing servers been more affordable. Not only that, but the big providers can deliver world-class security—bringing us to our final point.

Sandboxing, System Isolation, and Quarantining

Unfortunately, the interconnectivity of our world also proves to be its bane. Connected devices run the risk of contaminating their peers. That's another way a virtual machine can be an advantage. When a hacker wants to compromise your system, they need to know how to leapfrog. They find the weak points between systems and use glitches to perform privilege elevation, or they spread malware that jinks its way through your network until it obtains useful permissions.

Thanks to the hypervisor, all underlying virtual machines can remain isolated. You can have systems online right next to systems that are not. Thanks to this isolation, the devices look like separate entities to any outside viewer. If malware strikes one device, you can quarantine it from the rest. Using system admin tools, you can safely diagnose the malware without allowing it to spread to other machines. 

Sandboxing is the best way to prevent the spread of computer viruses, and server virtualization is the easiest way to do it. Without it, an air gap is necessary. Air gaps are an important security concept, but they have their limitations; a bad actor or a careless employee can negate their efficacy. Virtualization technology makes this breach of security more difficult. 

Use Server Virtualization for Your Cloud Computing

A virtual machine allows you to partition a physical device into a multitude of unique system instances, enabling greater efficiency as well as system isolation. Best of all, an IaaS plan allows you to pay only for the resources you need as you need them. Server virtualization may seem simple, but procuring services can be a complex process. Luckily, you don't need to do it alone. LinkSource provides vendor-agnostic procurement services to help you identify the best provider and plan for your organization’s needs and budget. Learn more about our network and cloud sourcing services, or see our blog for more insight into the latest technology solutions and how they’re revolutionizing the way businesses operate.

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