But what are the differences between the two and how can each approach be of benefit to a small or medium sized business?

Differing attributes

Virtualization tricks your software into believing that it’s running on a real server, network or storage that is actually there, but it’s not: it’s virtualized. When IT organizations virtualize their infrastructure, they’re essentially hiding that infrastructure from their software, which allows software to believe that nothing is changing in the data centre.

Cloud computing is the exact opposite. A real public or private cloud richly exposes the infrastructure to the application, meaning that the application is not only infrastructure-aware; it is dependent on its interactions with the infrastructure. Cloud applications often control the infrastructure directly to optimize performance, reliability, and cost. “Cloud computing allows Internet companies to turn off resources when they’re not using them and then spin up additional resources when required,” explains Chris C. Kemp, Founder of Nebula and OpenStack and Former Chief Technology Officer of NASA. “Cloud software directly manages cloud infrastructure.”

A virtualization approach

“Virtualization is great because every enterprise has hundreds of enterprise applications that they have been running for decades that IT definitely wants to get a better handle on,” says Kemp. “If virtualization software gets really good, software written in 1995 will run like it’s 1999 in the year 2025, and it will never know the difference.”

“Cloud computing allows Internet companies to turn off resources when they’re not using them and then spin up additional resources when required.”

If you’re a small to medium sized business, it’s likely that you have a lot of existing, average sized applications. Virtualization allows you to lift that software out of the physical world of infrastructure and manage it virtually. This gives your business a higher level of flexibility, allowing you to move your applications around without them knowing that a change in circumstance is occurring.

“Virtualization takes a lot of the tediousness out of managing older enterprise software,” Kemp says. “It also allows IT administrators to be a lot more productive, and gives them additional tools to manage the compliance and security of the data centre.”

Your company in the cloud

Although it may require an up-front investment, migrating physical machines onto virtual ones can significantly reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs, and enable services that simply can’t be delivered with a physical-only IT environment. By virtualizing IT infrastructure, organizations have laid the foundation for a move into the cloud, which has gone from concept to business necessity in recent years.

“Enterprises and small businesses are moving to the cloud at a rapid rate to achieve more agility, speed innovation and lower cost.”

As organizations look to adopt a cloud based approach, they are leveraging a wide variation of cloud services. In fact, cloud computing is fueling strong demand for IT-as-a-Service. Studies show that by 2016 cloud computing will account for the majority of new IT spending.

Enterprises and small businesses are moving to the cloud at a rapid rate to achieve more agility, speed innovation and lower cost, says Chris Christianopoulos, HP Canada’s Director for Cloud Solutions. The modest IT budgets of smaller companies had, until recently, been a prohibitive factor in them branching out and reaching a wider demographic. Setting up a cloud, whether that’s a private cloud or using a public cloud provider, “gives significant advantage around providing services to consumers with greater speed,” says Christianopoulos. “And that’s without having to make a huge investment in IT staff and technology.”

Christianopoulos also explains that the main focus of cloud computing is applications and service delivery, two aspects that are imperative to any organization regardless of size. “Being in the cloud allows you to automate and orchestrate the delivery of your business services and applications based on your workload requirements,” Christianopoulos says.

This means that the way services are being delivered and consumed is going to vary based on the workload, security, governance and service-level agreement requirements. Is the workload best served leveraging traditional infrastructure, a private cloud, a managed private cloud or a public cloud? How services are being delivered and consumed shouldn’t matter if they can be managed in the same way.

A top concern for organizations when moving to cloud is vendor lock-in, and investing in a cloud solution based on open standards mitigates that risk. You want to choose a vendor that provides you with choice, confidence and consistency in how those services are built, managed and delivered, leveraging a common management portal that is based on open standards to provide workload portability.

Chris Kemp has a long and impressive resume in the field of tech. His work at NASA led him to co-found OpenStack, an open source cloud project and community, with the goal of enabling any organization to process and store vast amounts of data. Source: POSSIBLE Agency

What’s the next move?

So, you now have the information, but in which direction do you take your business? It’s not really a matter of choosing one approach over the other. Today, a well-run business is using both virtualization and cloud computing, and while companies tend to find it complicated it’s actually not that complex.

You need to look at your portfolio of applications. “Applications that are blindly reliant on underlying infrastructure for reliability and scalability, whether that’s computing, storage or networking, that’s when you want to look at virtualization technologies,” says Kemp. “But, if you are building new applications that can take advantage of an API-driven elastic cloud infrastructure, it probably makes sense to look at running these applications on a public or private cloud.”

For most customers, cloud will be a part of a hybrid strategy that combines traditional IT with private and public cloud elements. A hybrid approach ensures organizations the best mix of delivery models — only the services they need, when they need them — with the flexibility to shift gears as needs change.