It’s more than likely that your organization is already reaping the benefits of virtualization technology. Over the last several years, the benefits of virtualization have become so compelling that most CIOs wouldn’t bother making an argument to the contrary. It’s accepted wisdom that virtualizing a company’s infrastructure can lead to improved efficiency and increased revenue. But, there is still a debate when it comes to the benefits of the cloud. This is a curious state of affairs because the cloud brings all the advantages of infrastructure virtualization, but adds significant value of its own, building on virtualization but magnifying the potential for efficiency and cost-saving.

What’s the Difference between Virtualization and the Cloud?

In simple terms, virtualization takes servers and uses a piece of software called a hypervisor to enable the creation of virtual infrastructure. For example, one physical server can be split into multiple virtual servers. The benefits are obvious: hardware can be used with much greater efficiency if physical servers are consolidated into multiple virtual servers running on the same machine, reducing the amount that needs to be invested into physical hardware. Fewer physical servers are needed, which leads to reduced space, power, and maintenance costs. Additionally, virtual servers can be deployed much more quickly than their physical counterparts and existing virtual service can be easily replicated for scaling.

The cloud functions on similar principles, but rather than adding a virtualization layer to hardware, with cloud services organizations simply purchase virtual resources from cloud providers.

The Cloud Advantage

From the perspective of cloud service vendors, the benefits of virtualization are the same as for everyone else, but for their customers, there is significant added value to the cloud that virtualization alone cannot provide.

Most significantly, the cloud enables both self-provisioning and on-demand provisioning of infrastructure without large-scale upfront capital expenditure. If a business is going to virtualize its own IT infrastructure, it needs to buy or lease the hardware. Cloud vendors take care of everything involved in physical infrastructure provisioning so that companies have what amounts to push-button server and network provisioning.

Cloud vendors allow businesses to programmatically deploy and spin down resources as they require, and, best of all, cloud vendors usually charge by the hour or even the minute. That means cloud users get on-demand IT resources when they need them and only pay for what they use. The difference between spinning up a cloud server and provisioning and maintaining a physical server in a data center is enormous. Just as we no longer dig and maintain our own wells, the cloud allows us to provision virtualized IT resources almost as easily as turning on faucets.

While the cloud is still a nascent technology, it is mature enough to offer enormous advantages to businesses and bring about a sea-change in the way that we think about infrastructure provisioning and deployment.