Where Does Virtualization Stop and the Cloud Start?

Where does virtualization stop and the cloud start? I was reading a post that one of our analysts, Edward Haletky, posted and the very first sentence caught my eye and really got me thinking.

“I was going to write about how building a cloud is similar to moving, but the more I think about it, the more I think people are confusing an automated virtual environment with a cloud: IT as a Service is not just about cloud. Having automation does not imply your virtual environment is a cloud or visa versa.”

First let’s define virtualization and cloud computing with a definition for both from Wikipedia.

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). The name comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams. Cloud computing entrusts remote services with a user’s data, software, and computation.

Virtualization, in computing, is a term that refers to the various techniques, methods, or approaches of creating a virtual (rather than actual) version of something, such as a virtual hardware platform, operating system (OS), storage device, or network resources. This article lists and briefly explains these methods.

Based on these definitions we could conclude that cloud computing is virtualization and virtualization is the foundation to cloud computing.  Either way they are intertwined, but once I show up to meet with new clients, we are not there to talk about virtualization, but rather what they can do with their own internal private cloud. The “cloud” has been one of the biggest marketing “go to” words in recent technology history.

So that brings me back to my original question.  Where does virtualization stop and the cloud start? Looking at Wikipedia again one could say the cloud would start once a service was presented. Ok, I can go along with that, but I still think there is more to consider.  Maybe my peers and I, who have been working with virtual environments for a while, could say that in the beginning we started building virtual environments, and now we build clouds. What has changed since the early days of virtualization?  Automation is the first thing that really comes to my mind. Would you agree?  That brings me back to a quote from the start of the topic. “People are confusing an automated virtual environment with a cloud”. So if not automation, then does that bring us back to delivery as a service as the line of separation?

Round and round in circles we go. I think that the actual definition might not really matter anymore or be too important now that the corporate marketing machines have defined the technology. Let me ask you this: When you meet someone new who does not work in the industry, and they ask you what you do, what do you say? My experience has shown me that most people I talk to have no idea about virtualization, but they think they know what a cloud is.

Inquiring minds want to know what your thoughts are. Where does virtualization stop and cloud computing take over? Where does the line get drawn?

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4 Comments on "Where Does Virtualization Stop and the Cloud Start?"

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We need to also consider the fact that not all ‘clouds’ are virtualized using any hypervisor. Which implies the definitions from Wikipedia may be off a bit.

Andrew Wood
I’m with Ed on this one – I don’t think “cloud computing” is virtualization. Treating an application, or a systems as a “service” – i.e. not purchasing/managing a discrete set of components but rather treating (and vitally *paying for*) the whole rather than sum of its parts. That (I think) is cloud. While it started with applications, the concept can spread over a number of services – storage, networks, authentication, angrybirds-score-maintenance etc. But *because* it is seen as a service and *because* you shouldn’t need to be concerned how it works, such a service doesn’t require virtualization. As the service/cloud… Read more »

Well, Virtualization changes everything, even the clouds, with or without automation 🙂
Where does this software defined thing end? I’m sure but – “You ain’t seen nothing yet”


I think without virtualization cloud computing doesn’t makes sense..data centers are maintained by virtualizing the resources..i think scaling of servers can be easily done through virtualization.