If we look at the current rate of technological advancements, it is becoming increasingly difficult to cope. Such is the very nature of technology and if multi-billion dollar companies are fueling this innovation, it comes as no surprise that there will be major breakthroughs in a matter of just a few months.
Intro to On-Premise Virtual Machines
Virtual Machines (VM) can be regarded as one of the most basic and effective Cloud Based Solutions. In a typical such deployment, all the hardware for the solution is set up on the premise of the solution employing company. The organization has to incur all the costs for setting up the in house data center.
In addition to the data center, a lot of additional hardware also needs to be procured such as servers, storage solutions, routers, network switches and much more. All the virtual machines are created over the on premise data center of the company and served from this central location as well.
Server less or Outsourced VMs
This is basically a continuation of the on premise VM infrastructure but differs in certain ways. In an outsourced or serverless setup, all the hardware that runs the VMs is the sole responsibility of a third party called Cloud Service Provider (CSP). In this case, the cloud tenant doesn’t have to procure any hardware whatsoever.
In addition to the hardware, security of the data is also the prime responsibility of the CSP. However, some security related controls have to be exercised by the cloud tenant to ensure data security. All the business critical data of the cloud tenant also resides over the data center of the CSP.
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The CSP charges the cloud tenant a usage fee against providing this serverless setup. Generally, there are no fixed charges associated with a serverless architecture. A major downside of this solution is that if an entity goes serverless, it loses substantial control over its business critical data.
Comparison b/w On Premise and Server less VMs
Both types of deployment have their own set of pros and cons and it will depend on the preference of each entity. An on premise VM infrastructure warrants establishing a data center within the premise of the solution employing entity. This is a costly option but gives the entity almost full control over its business critical data.
The obvious downsides of this type of deployment include high upfront cost, regular maintenance of the IT infrastructure and managing full responsibility for the entire solution. These drawbacks of an on premise solution often tend to overshadow the expected benefits of the solution.
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Emergence of Alternate Solutions
As on premise VMs were rapidly adopted and matured towards the mid of 2000, some alternate cloud based solutions also emerged as strong contenders for the spot. We will briefly discuss two such solutions which are serverless and containers.
Server less Architecture
The other type of deployment involves far less work on the part of the solution employing entity. All the above services such as hardware costs, maintenance costs and all other related activities are performed by a CSP in exchange for a pre agreed usage fee.
A great advantage of an outsourced or serverless solution is that it takes over all the administrative activities from the cloud tenant. The entity that employs the cloud based solution can channelize those resources and efforts towards its core business areas.
This is another cloud based technology that is creating a lot of waves over the past few years. A container architecture enables you to run stand-alone application over the cloud. That’s just not it, some solution providers are even offering containers of bundled applications that an organization may need for productivity.
A key limitation of a basic VM is that is offers a very limited functionality in its very basic state. Virtually no productivity application or software comes along with a basic VM offering. If a cloud tenant wants to execute productivity related tasks or manage its enterprise resources, it finds itself constrained.
If the solution is a serverless option, the CSP would be more than happy to offer the productivity software or application but it would come as an add-on. It will not only entail additional costs but also give rise to configuration related bottlenecks.
This gap was filled very effectively by software companies who started developing cloud native “containers” of productivity and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. One container would be comprised of a single or in most cases, more integrated applications.
Another very good feature of these containers was that they were designed in such a way that certain common resources could be shared across the container native programs or applications. This not only created efficiency but also greatly reduced the bulk of all the well-integrated components.
What Makes Virtual Machines Still Relevant
Now that we have briefly touched upon the two major contenders of a typical on premise VM infrastructure, let’s discuss why they are still a very relevant proposition.
A VM infrastructure offers a lot of flexibility as compared to a containerized infrastructure. A user can access the virtual machine over a web browser regardless of the operating system (OS). A VM can be accessed via multiple OS platforms such as Windows, Linux, MacOS, iOS or Android.
This gives the user a lot of flexibility and removes the hassle of first provisioning a device with the exact same operating system. This inherent flexibility of VMs make them a highly productivity oriented platform. A container architecture is dependent on the operating system and this can pose challenges.
As the hardware in a VM architecture is located on premise, the cloud employing entity enjoys nearly full control over its data. As all the business critical data is converged at a single point, it becomes administratively much convenient to secure the entity’s sensitive data.
On the other hand, if the data is spread across multiple devices, it is virtually impossible to secure data that is spread across so many end point devices. The security of containers, though improved, has not evolved enough to come at par with that of a VM architecture.
Another factor that makes securing a container based architecture challenging is that it shares common resources. This implies that the boundaries within each container are relatively undefined. Too strict controls tend to compromise the efficiency of the solution, which is a key performance indicator in such a setup.
A VM infrastructure is not only flexible but also quite versatile as it offers cross device compatibility. An employee can access and execute work over a VM from multiple devices. Some of the key devices include but are not limited to smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop.
This cross device capability of a VM architecture ensures that a user can remain productive over multiple device platforms. It also enables work to remain unaffected even if an employee can’t physically show up for work. Although containers are improving on versatility, they still lag behind on premise VMs.
In an on-premise VM architecture, scaling is virtually free of cost. If the organization has planned its future needs well, scaling up is free of charge and almost instantaneous. All the entity has to do is create additional instances or copies of its virtual machines, absolutely free of charge.
Similarly, scaling down is equally simple and cost effective. All the administrator has to do is remove the excess virtual machines from its in house data center once the business critical data has been successfully extracted. This instant scalability is ideal for companies that experience seasonal trends.
A VM infrastructure is much convenient to manage, especially as the size of the deployment increases. Despite quite a large footprint in some cases, the complexity of the solution does not increase exponentially. The only major issue associated with scaling up a VM architecture is procuring additional hardware for the extra workload.
Containers do not function the same way as they are an intricate combination of programs or applications that heavily rely on one another and also use shared resources to a certain extent. As the size and complexity of a container based architecture increases, its management becomes much difficult.
Some processes are so intertwined that slight changes to one component can adversely affect the stability or performance of another vital process. This aspect of resource dependence makes containers a complex solution in terms of management and requires a highly specialized skill set.
The relatively new and still maturing container architecture is by no means inferior to a VM setup. However, as with any new system, it is passing through certain phases of evolution and trouble resolution. Secondly, cloud based solutions should never be viewed as a one size fits all approach.
Each organization, regardless of its size and core business area, has its unique needs when it comes to any cloud based solution. Instead of getting in the debate of what’s right and wrong, the more pertinent question to ask is which cloud solution best serves our needs.
There should be no initial bias towards any cloud architecture as it may prevent a cloud tenant from choosing the most suitable option. One thing is for sure though, VMs are still quite relevant in the cloud solutions landscape and simply cannot be written off as a dated cloud solution.