The goal of DevOps is to improve the speed and quality of software development. Traditional teams must evolve to reach faster deployments, and embracing virtualization is a major part of the DevOps transition. Virtualization offers the consistency and agility a team requires to make the most out of modern development.

This article explains the value of virtualization in DevOps. Read on to learn how virtualization enables engineers to set up flexible and consistent systems throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC).

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization is the process of creating several virtual systems on a single server. This practice maximizes a physical machine’s capacity by distributing its resources between multiple users and environments.

DevOps teams use virtualization to create virtual machines (VMs), emulations of hardware and software configurations. Each VM has an operating system and acts as an independent computer even though it runs on a portion of the physical device. A virtual machine mimics all components of a computer, including:

  • CPU.
  • RAM.
  • Storage.
  • Networks.

With virtualization, a piece of hardware can host numerous VM configurations simultaneously without performance issues. The main benefits of virtualization are:

DevOps teams use a hypervisor to manage virtual machines. A hypervisor, or a Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM), is a piece of software, firmware, or hardware that creates and runs VMs. The most popular VMMs are:

  • VMWare (ESXi).
  • AWS XEN.
  • Microsoft Hyper V.
  • AntsleOS.
  • Oracle VM Server.
  • POWER Hypervisor.

The hypervisor runs on top of a physical dedicated server or an operating system to emulate the underlying hardware.

Virtualization relies on cloud computing to ensure optimal performance at all times. Cloud allows a VM to scale up or down on-demand and in a matter of minutes to meet resource requirements.

PhoenixNAP’s virtualization servers enable businesses to lower expenses and improve productivity with flexible virtual environments.

Hardware vs virtualized servers

Different Types of Virtualization

There are four primary types of virtualization:

Server Virtualization

Server virtualization enables a single physical server to perform multiple independent functions. This form of virtualization leads to:

  • Reduced operating costs.
  • Increased server performance.
  • Faster workload capacity.

Server virtualization also lowers managing costs and physical server complexity.

Network Virtualization

Network virtualization mimics a network in a virtual environment. This virtualization process distributes network functions (directory services, file sharing, IP configurations) among virtual environments.

Network virtualization reduces the number of physical components necessary for setting up multiple separate networks, such as:

  • Switches.
  • Routers.
  • Servers.
  • Cables.
  • Hubs.

Virtual networks also offer better operational capabilities than their physical counterparts and do so at a reduced cost.

Desktop Virtualization

Desktop virtualization creates a virtual environment that imitates the settings and applications of a desktop device.

This virtualization form allows an administrator (either a person or a tool) to deploy desktop environments to multiple physical machines. Admins can perform mass configurations, updates, and security checks on all virtual desktops simultaneously.

Virtual desktop infrastructure is ideal for providing a secure, centralized work environment accessible from any device.

Operating System Virtualization

Operating system virtualization allows a developer to deploy multiple operating systems on a single machine. This virtualization type helps a team to:

  • Reduce bulk hardware costs.
  • Test an app in multiple operating systems on a single machine.
  • Increase security due to the isolation of virtual instances (e.g., test unapproved software solutions).
  • Speed up IT services.

Operating system virtualization is a popular option when a team needs to run Linux and Windows environments on a single device.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of practices, philosophies, and tools that enable a team to release software at high velocity. DevOps has two primary goals:

  • Break the barriers and silos between Development and Operations teams.
  • Automate build, test, and delivery processes to make software creation faster and more reliable.

DevOps optimizes the entire application lifecycle, from development and testing to deployment and operations. Transitioning to DevOps is essential to improving time-to-market and becoming more competitive. Notable benefits of DevOps include:

  • Speed: Teams create software at high velocity and can adapt to market demands faster. Increased frequency and pace of releases allow faster product improvements.
  • Reliability: Application updates and infrastructure changes do not impact the user experience. Continuous testing ensures the functionality of every code addition.
  • Scalability: Engineers manage infrastructure and development processes at scale. For example, teams use Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to manage development, testing, and production environments.
  • Collaboration: Developers and operations staff combine workflows to reduce inefficiencies and save time.
  • Security: Automated compliance policies and high control levels allow DevOps teams to ensure security across the SDLC.

How Does Virtualization Help DevOps?

Virtualization is a vital part of the DevOps software stack. Virtual machines allow a team to build, test, and deploy code within simulated environments without wasting computing resources. The benefits of virtualization include:

  • More agility, flexibility, and scalability during development.
  • Cost savings across the SDLC, primarily in terms of maintenance and testing.
  • Faster workloads and environment setups make the team more productive.

Virtualization in DevOps is essential in the development of complex cloud, API, and SOA systems. VMs are ideal for test-driven development (TDD) teams that prefer to start their bug hunt at the API layer.

DevOps teams often use virtualization alongside containerization to add more flexibility to software creation. Containerization tools allow engineers to run multiple applications within a single container, an environment that contains everything an app needs to run:

  • Code.
  • System tools.
  • Libraries.

The use of both VMs and containers supports complex application infrastructures. For example, a platform’s front-end and middleware components might run in a container while the back-end components operate on a VM.

Virtualization and containerization architecture

Read about container orchestration to learn how DevOps engineers manage container lifecycles within large, dynamic environments.

DevOps and Virtualization: Benefits

Virtualization introduces benefits across the DevOps pipeline and improves most aspects of CI/CD.

Benefits of DevOps virtualization

Faster and Better Real-Time Testing

By emulating the components present in the production environment, virtualization allows integration tests to run much earlier in the development process. Bug discovery happens sooner in the SDLC, which removes bottlenecks that delay production and time-to-market.

Virtualization also allows development to happen alongside real-time testing. Real-time testing leads to:

  • High levels of accuracy.
  • Reduced deployment times.
  • Increased product stability.

The team can confidently check the effect of every new change in real-time and discover production defects early in the lifecycle. Using VMs for testing also reduces the time for retesting and rebuilding for production.

Fast Server Provisioning

Physical serves require time to set up. An operator must assemble a server, fit it on a rack, set it up, and place it into operation.

With virtualization, all an admin needs to do is assemble the virtual machine and transfer it to the target system. If necessary, this process can be automatic.

Faster and Easier Backup Systems

A loss of integrity or server data typically leads to data losses for most companies. With virtualization, however, a team can set up automatic data backups that occur every minute.

Virtualization features snapshots, complete images of virtual computer systems developers can reliably restore on any hardware.

More Efficient Teams

Whenever a team requires additional resources or environments, engineers can deploy a VM in a matter of minutes. Virtual instances are also flexible and scalable, so teams can do more with less while decision-makers can rely on efficient IT planning.

Virtualization providers keep the VM hardware and software up to date. There is no need for local updates or management, which allows DevOps teams to focus on other areas of the CI/CD. Experts estimate that a team saves between 50 and 60% on total productivity with virtualization.

A DevOps team can easily share and use virtual assets, allowing more efficient parallel development.

Cost Reductions

Virtualization saves money across the DevOps pipeline as:

  • Testing becomes cheaper.
  • The team no longer relies on environment sharing.
  • VMs require less energy than local hardware, lowering power utilization.
  • Less reliance on physical hardware lowers maintenance costs.

Standardization of environments across releases also reduces the cost of maintaining custom configurations.

Bare Metal Cloud provides the flexibility of virtual machines and the capabilities of dedicated servers. It’s cloud native, built to support infrastructure-as-code solutions such as Pulumi, Terraform, and Ansible, and optimized for DevOps-centric software development.

Environment Consistency

Working on virtual machines is more predictable than programming on bare metal, especially at scale. Physical hardware often exhibits slight differences due to:

  • Manufacturing processes.
  • Substitution of components.
  • Firmware differences.
  • Intermittent failures.

With a VM, the system’s configuration, device functioning, and memory state are all consistent. Teams use the same virtualization for both development and production, reducing the likelihood of configuration errors due to code pipeline transitions.

Additionally, the software has fewer latent defects (which are more reproducible even if they occur).

Reduced Failure Rates

Virtualization reduces check-in and release failure rates. DevOps teams often design automated tests that simulate the real-world use of the software. These tests run automatically whenever an engineer submits code for check-in, so bugs rarely end up in a release.

Large-scale virtualization also allows the team to set up simultaneous testing on different release and patch levels. These setups improve both product compatibility and interoperability.

Relying on virtualization is beneficial when the team must repeatably test against a dependent third-party component. By virtualizing an ERP or payment gateway, a test accounts for all the simulated data and software responses of the real-world dependent.

Improved Security

Virtualization provides failure-tolerant, consistent, and predictable environments that improve configuration control, safety assurance, and cybersecurity.

VMs are ideal for high-risk tasks. Risky processes run in isolated virtual containers away from other processes and data, limiting the potential blast radius.

A team can also set up VLANs to virtually separate operations. This form of network segmentation improves security as an intruder cannot move freely through a compromised system.

DevOps and Virtualization: Challenges

Despite offering many benefits, virtualization in DevOps still poses some problems. While VMs speed up development and testing times, setting up and using these machines still requires time.

Also, some teams have experienced data breaches due to remote access and virtualized applications. These features can increase the attack surface if not set up correctly.

However, the biggest obstacle for virtualization in DevOps is the knowledge gap. To effectively adopt VMs, a company must either hire new staff or invest in extensive training. Both options are expensive, especially for large DevOps projects.

Read our comparison of bare metal and virtualization to learn when and how to deploy these technologies.

An Essential Part of the DevOps Pipeline

True CI/CD is only possible if the team leverages the versatility of virtualization. Set up a strong virtualization strategy to gain a competitive edge over companies still relying on linear development practices.