How to explain virtualization to your parents (or anyone)


The word for today is virtualization. I dug around for some different meanings of the word as it is sometimes not a simple concept. In my looking, I even learned more about the word. I have put together a few of the different meanings to help simplify the word.

virtualization-codeVirtualization: The process of separating the software layer of a computer or server from the hardware layer of a computer or server. A new layer is placed between the two to act as a go between. This could also be explained as the creation of many virtual or artificial resources from one physical resource (a computer or server) or the creation of one virtual or artificial resource from one or more physical resources. The virtualization concept can relate to various areas like networking, storage and hardware.

I came back to this a few days later and I read it again. It was still kind of confusing to me. So, I asked myself how I could make this term easier to understand.

I came up with an example from the movie The Matrix Reloaded, one of my favorites. There is a scene where the main character Neo is surrounded by hundreds of Mr. Anderson clones (the bad guys). Though the Mr. Andersons were all copies, they did different things and they were not limited to one task. They took one Mr. Anderson and divided him into multiple ones.  This is kind of like that creation of many virtual or artificial resources from one physical resource that was mentioned earlier.

If you are not a fan of the Matrix, then I have a different way of explaining the virtualization concept. You could possibly think of virtualization like growing a plant. If you think about how a plant grows, you will see that the plant often starts off as seed or single shoot where a piece has been cut off and placed in water. Within a few weeks you begin to see multiple leaves from a single shoot or even from that seed if it has been planted and watered correctly. Again, this goes back to that creation of many virtual or artificial resources from one physical resource. You get many leaves or shoots from that one initial seed or shoot.

So, now if your mom or dad asks you about virtualization, you can talk about plants or watch a movie with them.

What do you think? Would either of these be a good way to explain virtualization if your mom or dad asked?

Comments: 7
David Beaumont

About David Beaumont

David Beaumont is a Staff Software Engineer with IBM. In this role, David is a contributor in the Managed Service area where he provides client support to a number of clients with regard to EDI and SaaS related services. David is a qualified support professional, HDI Certified and holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Finance from The Ohio State University. David has more than 15 years of experience in customer service, EDI and client support. To contact David please email Feel free to comment on his blog:
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7 Responses to How to explain virtualization to your parents (or anyone)

  1. @the_n0ise says:

    …I remember what Prof. A. S. Tanenbaum said:

    "Hardware and software are logically equivalent. Any operation performed by
    software can also be built directly into the hardware and any instruction executed" ;-)

    • slaffka says:

      I can imagine a purely hardware implementation of Microsoft Office LOL!
      That would be a monster box!

  2. @cristi_miu says:

    Cool. I myself was thinking more in the terms of PO boxes in a Post Office, or even a large empty space with no walls that one could use as is or splitted in any number of independent (sort of) rooms

  3. Rick says:

    I think a carpooling analogy is the simplest way to explain it – that's how I explained it to my parents. We each drive to work each day occupying 1 seat in our car, along with other drivers occupying one seat in their car. Servers performing just one task are equally inefficient. Virtualization is the process by which we fill those extra seats, and run in the most efficient configuration. It's carpooling for servers. You can go so far as to expand the idea to towing one of the riders car behind in case you break down in an emergency (SRM).

  4. amy says:

    Dummy question…sorry. Why is it more efficient? Can't a server do many things at once? Or are we finding out servers are no better at multi-tasking than humans? Better to have one OS focused on one thing rather than one OS focused on many? What makes that better? The ability to not have things crash with or interfere with one another? I mean because it' s still the same processor, hard drive and ram running it all.

  5. Mary says:

    Amy –

    Let's go back to Rick's carpooling analogy. It is more efficient to have 4 people who are all working in the same building ride in 1 car to work than it is to drive 4 cars. Instead of running 4 different servers, a company can now run and manage a single server. Benefits may include reduced power consumption, reduced floor space in the data center, simplified management of the computer systems, just to name a few. There are many other operational benefits like copying a VM, testing, versionsing. It is not the way to go for every application but in many cases this allows companies to better utilize resources that they already own.

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