What is server virtualization?

If you are not an IT person, virtualization can be pretty hard to understand. You don’t have to be Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss to be confused about what it is, and how it can help your business.

No analogy is quite perfect, but here is one I think helps explain things:

Chauffeured employees

Imagine the employees at your business are commuters coming to work each day. You buy each of them their own car and even provide a driver. The employees LOVE it! They ride in privacy, and you pay for the driver, gas, insurance, and even for the repairs. You diligently keep track of all those cars  and make sure they keep running. Despite that, every once in a while, you’re surprised to find out some employee and their car is still around, when you thought they had retired years ago.

Every so often, you buy a new car to replace an old one. Of course, some employees hate change. They don’t want to ride in a different car, even if it is newer and has the latest safety features and gets better gas mileage. They like their old car. Some of them are still riding in gas guzzlers from the 1970’s, and they make you fix them every time something goes wrong, instead of replacing them.

Can you put everyone on a bus?

You’ve thought about buying a bus (or two) and having people ride together But, what about those employees who hate change and simply refuse to ride in anything but their aging clunker – with its leaking oil, torn seats, and balding tires. And, it seems like everyone wants to ride in the front seat.

What if you could put some special glasses your employees, give them some headphones, and put them on the bus without them knowing it? Imagine that everyone’s seat on the bus feels just like the seat in their car. Their special glasses make it look like their riding in their car. And the sounds they hear through the headphones are the ones they hear when riding in their car?

The employees are happy. As far as they can tell, nothing has changed.

Your happy. You’ve saved a lot of money by buying and maintaining 1 vehicle and paying 1 driver. And you’ve saved a ton of time keeping track of all those cars.

Servers, cars, and buses

If you haven’t guessed, already, the employees in this analogy are the software applications in your business and the cars are the servers they run on. When you virtualize, you are making the programs think they are still riding around in their favorite, comfy car… but in reality, they are riding in a more powerful, safer, and bigger bus – along with a bunch of other riders. Some programs (and employees) are bigger than others… they need a bit more room. The bus driver makes sure everyone has the right amount of room so that their bus ride feels just like their car ride.

Paying for one bus is cheaper than buying a bunch of cars.  Just like buying a server to host virtual machines is cheaper than buying all the individual machines.  And, its also cheaper to maintain and track than all those other machines.

Hope that helps!

Looking for some other analogies to help understand virtualization?  Try these:

The hotel analogy:


The flight simulator analogy (and others):



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