Virtualization: An Easier Path to the Cloud

Is the idea of cloud computing still a bit ominous for your company? Not to worry. If you are already virtualizing some of your enterprise apps, then you've been gaining great experience that will help ease your transition, says analyst Laura DiDio.

By Todd R. Weiss
Wed, July 13, 2011

CIO — Diving into cloud computing may not be as big a leap for your company as you might think. In fact, an important shortcut to such a move could already be sitting there in your data centers, waiting on standby to make the process easier.

"Virtualization is a stepladder to the cloud," says Laura DiDio, principal analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting. So if you already have virtual servers running efficiently in your data centers today, then the road to seeing what cloud computing can do for you will be far smoother, she says.

"Virtualization is the first step," DiDio says. "It gets you in a cloud state of mind and it gets you thinking about things that are important, like easier maintenance, lower costs, improved reliability and better scalability. In terms of using virtualization, companies are further along with that than they are in using the cloud. Virtualization is more mainstream at this point."

That progress happened as businesses moved toward massive server consolidation projects in the last 10 years or so to cut costs, reduce maintenance and lessen data center floor space needs. Virtualization might also have been a bit scary at first glance, but it has taken off and provided lots of benefits for IT departments and corporate bottom lines.

"So cloud computing is a natural outgrowth of virtualization," DiDio says. "The idea is that you're sharing things. It's using multiple servers on a digital network as though it were one computer. When done correctly, except in very rare instances, all cloud environments are going to feature virtualization, but not all virtualized environments will be cloud based. Some companies will still only run their applications in their own data centers."

Since 2000, virtualization has been evolving, she says. "Those first virtualization 1.0 implementations were fairly straight-forward and they delivered immediate results, particularly at that time after the dot com bust. Many users said they were able to cut their hardware costs in half. As time has gone on, we've seen virtualization 2.0 and 3.0 and we're now seeing organizations move up the virtual stack. Instead of just virtualized applications, they're also going to desktop and storage virtualization."

With all of that in mind, DiDio has five key tips for making your company's transition to the cloud less worrisome and a whole lot more successful:

1. Before deciding your strategy, ask what benefits you hope to secure by moving applications and processes to the cloud.

"You have to help frame the discussion about what is being sought," she says. "Those are typically reducing costs and management headaches, easier provision of applications, better reliability and improved scalability. You need to determine the specific functions and features that you need to support your critical apps."

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