How to explain Virtualization to newbies

In the world of enterprise architecture, many parts of our daily conversation are taken for granted. We talk about Virtualization, vMotion, Storage vMotion, Replication, IOps, and so very many jargon filled statements. We know these things, understand the concepts and feel that our conversations amongst industry veterans can utilize these concepts without explanation. Even when we talk about things at a higher level, we leverage many of these concepts with so many presumptions that to go back and describe some of the most basic of them are exercises we almost never have to perform.

Sometimes, in my role as pre-sales evangelist, I find myself in the unenviable position many of us do to explain the concept of virtualization to people who have no basis on which to conceptualize. Often this is a conversation arising on dates, with family, or the parents of friends. And, often a lesson in futility. I’ve been in this space since ESX version 2, and have struggled with explaining this in a way that this population could grasp many times.

Simply using the phrase oft-quoted “Turning hardware into software” really doesn’t cut it.

I would love to get some of your analogies.

As I so often do, I usually use the connection to music, and the evolution of how music has been consumed through the years.

Forgive me for some of the obvious gaps in this conversation, like DAT, MiniDisc, etc, but here goes: Originally, we bought albums, 8-tracks, or cassettes. We were able to duplicate these media onto cassettes, but we’d experience degradation. Along came CD’s. CD’s, (apoloties to audiophiles who always and still believed that sound quality of this digital media never compared to their analogue counterparts, the LP) gave us perfect files with perfect consistency.

Hardware developed, and we were able to buy CD players that were able to load up many discs into them. I likened this concept to the ESX host, while the CD was analogized with the Virtual Machine. This worked because the disc itself was like a software version of the hardware that the physical version of the server. The analogy was Physical to Virtual (P2V). Of course, the difference was that these CD decks were unable to play all the discs simultaneously. I point to this as a differentiation, but find the conversational leap not all that difficult to bridge.

vMotion seems an easy concept to broach at this point, pointing out the assumption that many of the multi-disc changers are bound together in a “Cluster.”

And from that point, the idea of migrating these to the cloud, makes for again, an easy jump in conversation.

As time passed in my conversations, I found that using the analogy of our MP3 players made the idea of hardware becoming software became even easier, because the novices were more able to visualize that the music itself was just files.

This posting may seem rudimentary, but I find it to be an honest, real-world conversation that many of us find ourselves unable to perform adequately. I hope, again, that the posting will promote some conversation, and that I can read some of your approaches to this.

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