What is virtualization?

What is virtualization?

Summary: I was chatting with a neighbor at a local holiday gathering. He's an attorney, keeps up on current events and quickly grasps most concepts.

TOPICS: Virtualization

I was chatting with a neighbor at a local holiday gathering. He's an attorney, keeps up on current events and quickly grasps most concepts. Virtualization, as a concept, has him stumped. Being that analysts often are willing to rush in where wiser people would step back, I did my best to help.

As background, my neighbor mentioned that he had been reading articles in business magazines and newspapers that reference the term, "virtualization." Each of the references, he pointed out,  seemed to be discussing an entirely different concept. He wanted me to explain it to him

I tried to use the usual discussion of developers using high performance processors to allow functions to run in an artificial environment, one that had characteristics that best suited the task at hand rather than what actually existed. I then proceeded to lay out features of access virtualization, application virtualization, processing virtualization, network virtualization and storage virtualization. I pointed out that all of those layers needed protection and management and that those were two separate areas suppliers are intently focused upon.

I spoke about the concept that attorneys often use in contracts where certain selected words can be selected to describe something else. For example the words "the company" can be defined and then used throughout the document to refer to a company. Since he is a successful attorney, he understand that concept. I was unable to help him understand how that concept could be used elsewhere.

As my friends know, I've raised hand waving  to a high art over my years in the industry and yet my neighbor walked away as puzzled as before. I think it is because it is difficult to come up with examples of virtualizing a function in many other areas of life.

Can you help me come up with better examples?

Topic: Virtualization


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • substitute concept

    Linguistic minority communities are a good image for virtualization.
    • Could you elaborate on the concept

      I'm not sure that I really understand what you're suggesting. Could you elaborate a bit or give an example?

      Dan K
  • RE: What is virtualization?

    I typically explain it by focusing on the resource segmentation:

    3 things to bake. One oven. All the issues of temperature differences and time requirements.


    You can segment it into 3 ovens, each operating independently. Handy, right? Each has to act precisely like a separate oven. Many ways to do this, etc.

    Naturally, once you have 100 ovens, things get complicated. You can't watch them all at once or ensure none are broken or out of gas or being pilfered by cookie theives. So you set timers and security alarms and so on...

    It's not a nuanced explanation, but it passes the "explain it to grandma" test.
    • Good idea

      I imagine that would work if one was trying to explain virtual machine software. I'm not sure it would work quite as well when trying to explain application virtualization, storage virtualization or network virtualization.

      It's a good place to start however.

      Dan K
  • I was in a similar situation recently.

    At a neighborhood Halloween party. I started by explaining how desktop visualization works (e.g., VMware Desktop). I told him that I have created a set of virtual Windows images for each member of my family (i.e., an isolated Windows system w/in a Windows system). Then I went on to explain how Virtual server work. I think he got it.

  • RE: What is virtualization?

    To explain the concept to an attorney, how about the notion that virtualizing computer systems is similar to formally incorporating a small company, proprietorship, or partnership? In a way, corporations are "virtual" entities. The corporate entity provides uniformity, provides members a layer of protection from liability, and mandates a management structure to organize ownership of assets and resources. Similarly, a virtualized layer or interface both protects and organizes system resources underneath.