Virtualization vs Cloud Computing

This article is contributed by Thomas Roach, IT content researcher and creator for The Missing Link.

If you are considering a virtualization or cloud computing solution for your business, it’s vital to know the key distinctions between the two and not make the mistake of believing them to be the same technology. Yes, they are strongly linked, but their roles are different and it would be a hugely naïve Chief Information Officer who hastily picks a solution without knowing what it would bring to the business.

What is virtualization and cloud computing?

Both technologies operate on a one-to-many model. Virtualization enables one computer to act like many through the creation of multiple simulated environments from one physical hardware system. Cloud computing delivers resources on demand to users in a network, enabling multiple parties to access a single set of resources.

Virtualization is the software that manipulates hardware so that cloud computing can be facilitated. Cloud computing is the service which comes as a result of this manipulation and would not be possible without virtualization.

Ease of access

Of the two technologies, cloud computing is by far the easier to access. All someone needs to access a cloud is a working Internet connection, irrespective of their physical location. With virtualization, access becomes rather difficult when the user moves outside the confines of the network, as they would then need to request permission for access from the network controller.

Direction of scaling

Virtualization scales up, with resources added to a system managed by a single controller. Scalability is restricted by the configuration of virtual machines. With the cloud, scaling happens outward, with co-operation between multiple smaller systems that are each managed by their own controller. This facilitates an equal distribution of work and there is no limit to the extent to which a cloud can be scaled.


The capital expenses for virtualization are quite high, especially the acquisition cost, but the operating costs tend to be lower. The same can be said for private cloud, but the inverse is true for public cloud solutions, where initial expenses are low but ongoing costs can be substantial.

Disaster recovery

If only one, or few, machines were affected by disruption to a cloud service, it’s unlikely to be overly disruptive as cloud computing is not reliant on a single machine, so the system would remain active. By contrast, disruption to a virtual network could be disastrous, as the failure of one machine would likely shut down the entire network and disaster recovery would be slow.

Which is better for your business?

If you prefer a hands-on approach and you require total or near-complete control over integration and security, virtualization would be the better option for you. This is also the case if your company works to a capital expenditure model where high setup costs precede lower operating costs.

However, many smaller businesses would lean towards cloud computing, as its quicker setup and more convenient nature make it ideal for companies with outsourced IT management or few in-house technical staff.

We hope that this quick guide has been helpful in distinguishing between virtualization and cloud computing so that you can make an informed decision as to which is the better fit for your business.

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