What’s virtualization?(Part 1)

Lately I’ve been trying to learn about cloud technologies and have gone through more than a dozen articles. But because this is my first time actually getting into this field of computing, it was truly difficult to understand what the articles were talking about, thus, I have decided to start from the bottom and learn the commonly used terms in the field of cloud computing, bumping into a term called “virtualization”. And here’s what I have dug out so far from Wikipedia.

In computing, “virtualization” is an act of creating a virtual version of something, including hardware platforms, operating systems, storage devices and computer network resources.

1. Hardware Virtualization

Hardware/platform virtualization refers to the creation of a virtual machine that acts like a real computer with an operating system.

In hardware virtualization, the host machine(hardware) is the actual machine on which the virtualization takes place, and the guest machine is the virtual machine.

The software or firmware that creates a virtual machine on the host hardware is called a hypervisor or Virtual Machine Manager.

Different types of hardware virtualization include:

  1. Full virtualization is a virtualization technique used to provide a certain kind of virtual machine environment, namely, one that is a complete simulation of the underlying hardware. The guest operating system is unaware that it is in a virtualized environment, and therefore hardware is virtualized by the host operating system so that the guest can issue commands to what it thinks is actual hardware, but really are just simulated hardware devices created by the host.
  2. In partial virtualization, including address space virtualization, the virtual machine simulates multiple instances of much of an underlying hardware environment, particularly address spaces. A key form of partial virtualization is address space virtualization (address space is the set of ranges of virtual addresses that an operating system makes available to a process.), in which each virtual machine consists of an independent address space. This capability requires address relocation hardware, and has been present in most practical examples of partial virtualization.
  3. Paravirtualization is a virtualization technique that presents a software interface to virtual machines that is similar, but not identical to that of the underlying hardware.
    The intent of the modified interface is to reduce the portion of the guest’s execution time spent performing operations which are substantially more difficult to run in a virtual environment compared to a non-virtualized environment.

Hardware-assisted virtualization is a way of improving overall efficiency of virtualization. It involves CPUs that provide support for virtualization in hardware, and other hardware components that help improve the performance of a guest environment.

Next, paragraph is long, but it’s worth it.

Hardware virtualization can be viewed as part of an overall trend in enterprise IT that includes autonomic computing, a scenario in which the IT environment will be able to manage itself based on perceived activity, and utility computing, in which computer processing power is seen as a utility that clients can pay for only as needed. The usual goal of virtualization is to centralize administrative tasks while improving scalability and overall hardware-resource utilization. With virtualization, several operating systems can be run in parallel on a single central processing unit (CPU). This parallelism tends to reduce overhead costs and differs from multitasking, which involves running several programs on the same OS. Using virtualization, an enterprise can better manage updates and rapid changes to the operating system and applications without disrupting the user. “Ultimately, virtualization dramatically improves the efficiency and availability of resources and applications in an organization. Instead of relying on the old model of “one server, one application” that leads to underutilized resources, virtual resources are dynamically applied to meet business needs without any excess fat” (ConsonusTech).

Terms that come up in hardware virtualization:

A snapshot is the state of a virtual machine, and generally its storage devices, at an exact point in time. A snapshot enables the virtual machine’s state at the time of the snapshot to be restored later, effectively undoing any changes that occurred afterwards. This capability is useful as a backup technique, for example, prior to performing a risky operation.

Migration. The snapshots described above can be moved to another host machine with its own hypervisor; when the VM is temporarily stopped, snapshotted, moved, and then resumed on the new host, this is known as migration. If the older snapshots are kept in sync regularly, this operation can be quite fast, and allow the VM to provide uninterrupted service while its prior physical host is, for example, taken down for physical maintenance.

Failover. Similarly to the migration mechanism described above, failover allows the VM to continue operations if the host fails. However, in this case, the VM continues operation from the last-known coherent state, rather than the current state, based on whatever materials the backup server was last provided with.

Licensing. Virtual machines running proprietary operating systems require licensing, regardless of the host machine’s operating system. For example, installing Microsoft Windows into a VM guest requires its licensing requirements to be satisfied.

 

Next, Desktop Virtualization.

Desktop virtualization is the concept of separating the logical desktop from the physical machine.

One form of desktop virtualization, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), can be thought of as a more advanced form of hardware virtualization. Rather than interacting with a host computer directly via a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, the user interacts with the host computer using another desktop computer or a mobile device by means of a network connection, such as a LAN, Wireless LAN or even the Internet. In addition, the host computer in this scenario becomes a server computer capable of hosting multiple virtual machines at the same time for multiple users.

As organizations continue to virtualize and converge their data center environment, client architectures also continue to evolve in order to take advantage of the predictability, continuity, and quality of service delivered by their converged infrastructure. For example, companies like HP and IBM provide a hybrid VDI model with a range of virtualization software and delivery models to improve upon the limitations of distributed client computing. Selected client environments move workloads from PCs and other devices to data center servers, creating well-managed virtual clients, with applications and client operating environments hosted on servers and storage in the data center. For users, this means they can access their desktop from any location, without being tied to a single client device. Since the resources are centralized, users moving between work locations can still access the same client environment with their applications and data. For IT administrators, this means a more centralized, efficient client environment that is easier to maintain and able to more quickly respond to the changing needs of the user and business.

Another form, session virtualization, allows multiple users to connect and log into a shared but powerful computer over the network and use it simultaneously. Each is given a desktop and a personal folder in which they store their files.

Desktop virtualization simplifies software versioning and patch management, where the new image is simply updated on the server, and the desktop gets the updated version when it reboots. It also enables centralized control over what applications the user is allowed to have access to on the workstation.
Moving virtualized desktops into the cloud creates hosted virtual desktops (HVDs), in which the desktop images are centrally managed and maintained by a specialist hosting firm. Benefits include scalability and the reduction of capital expenditure, which is replaced by a monthly operational cost.

 

And last but not least, Nested Virtualization.

Nested virtualization refers to the ability of running a virtual machine within another, having this general concept extendable to an arbitrary depth. In other words, nested virtualization refers to running one or more hypervisors inside another hypervisor. Nature of a nested guest virtual machine does not need not be homogenous with its host virtual machine; for example, application virtualization can be deployed within a virtual machine created by using hardware virtualization.

Nested virtualization becomes more necessary as widespread operating systems gain built-in hypervisor functionality, which in a virtualized environment can be used only if the surrounding hypervisor supports nested virtualization; for example, Windows 7 is capable of running Windows XP applications inside a built-in virtual machine.

 

As I have read, in addition to these types of virtualizations, there are many others and I will go over them in my next post.

Sincerely,

Bilguun B.

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