What does the word ‘virtual’ actually mean? Many of us are familiar with the term, but actually pinning-down its proper meaning is pretty hard for most of us. We commonly hear the term in connection with ‘virtual reality’ or VR, which sounds like an oxymoron, but might actually be a good demonstration of the real meaning of the word. However, perhaps the best way to explain of the meaning of virtual is by reference to the Matrix film series. For those that haven’t seen it (what have you been doing with your life?) the Matrix follows a group of people stuck in a world so perfectly simulated that to them, it seems like reality. This is the essence of the meaning of virtual: a ‘virtual’ thing is a thing which seems real in every way to the person experiencing it, but that doesn’t really exist at all. This is still a little confusing, so let’s use the earlier example of ‘virtual reality’ to illustrate. VR headsets present an image to those wearing them that is indistinguishable from actual visual reality. So, the phrase ‘virtual reality’ refers to a reality that seems real to the person experiencing it, but that on the outside isn’t real at all. A final, hypothetical, example of the meaning of virtual could be a ‘virtual apple’. This would be, you guessed it, an apple which seems real to the person eating it, but to everyone else…
There is no apple.
Now that we virtually understand (pardon the pun) this concept, the meaning of ‘virtualization’ should be apparent. Virtualization refers to the process of converting previously ‘real’ elements of a thing into ‘virtual’ (not-real-but-seems-real) elements. In this case the ‘thing’ is a network, and virtualization is totally changing the game.
Out with the old, in with the virtual.
In networking, the virtualization process essentially refers to the replacement of pieces of hardware with bundles of software. ‘Real’ network adapters, switches, firewalls and load balancers have all been casualties of the process of virtualisation, which began in and revolutionised the digital storage industry. Whilst the networking industry has been criticised for its slow uptake of virtualization, massive leaps forward have been made. The basic idea behind virtualisation is that hardware is more prone to breakage and harder to tinker with than software. Whilst hardware can literally break, become obsolete and struggle to interface with other hardware, software is as intelligent as those in control of it. The increase in network abstraction via a process of virtualisation allows for the potential of a total network overhaul using only a few keystrokes. The network thereby becomes ‘software defined’ (a topic we will cover in a later edition of The Future of Connectivity), allowing for faster application deployment, less manual intervention and therefore (in theory at least), a far greater ROI.
Real networks, real-ationships.
Virtualization is already creating waves in our industry, and its seismic potential has barely yet been explored. At Convergence Group we pride ourselves on being forward thinking and embrace innovation with open arms. Although virtualization is amazing and is rapidly changing the networking environment, it does not remove the need for a physical network infrastructure. Physical connections will always support the virtual world; the ‘not real’ within the real. At Convergence we supply this physical infrastructure and are always looking for the next opportunity around the corner. We are agile, driven, and always forward thinking. We believe the future is virtually upon is, and we’re working hard to make it real.