Virtualization: A Primer

Virtualization: A Primer

While funding evaporates in these harsh economic times, virtualization benefits budgets, education, and the environment while improving security. Here are some ways to virtualize:


The entire desktop environment, including the operating system, runs on a remote desktop or server. Typical implementations include:

Thin clients, or low-powered computers stripped of most applications, that are connected to a server or a cluster of servers that house and power applications, services, and data.
Black-box connections of keyboards, mice, and monitors from several remote devices to single desktops.

Benefits include reduced spending on hardware, energy, and technical support. Computer labs and library computers are good potential candidates. Reliable network bandwidth is essential in high-use situations.


Logical servers reside on a single physical server. Operating systems and applications are isolated from one another in their own “virtual machines” under the control of “hypervisor” software. It reduces server costs, simplifies technical support, and provides backup: If one server fails, another automatically pinch-hits. Additionally, virtualization reduces the space required to house servers. Server virtualization requires a learning curve in purchasing and implementing the hypervisor and other equipment.


The application runs on a remote machine, but the operating system functions as if the application were running on the client computer. Applications are made more portable, manageable, and compatible by encapsulating them from the operating system. Applications can be managed centrally, allowing for huge savings of time and cost, potentially including reduced license fees.


A single data-storage device works with servers or other devices. Each server seems to access local storage; sometimes, though, the same physical storage appears as different drives to different computers.


One physical network infrastructure acts as two or more separate networks, helping schools avoid duplicating physical networks when they separate administrative and instructional networks for security reasons.

Data center

Includes virtualization of both the server and other data-center equipment. It’s related to cloud computing, which locates the virtual servers in a shared remote facility, and is best suited to low-transaction applications.

Excerpted from CoSN's EdTechNext report - "Making the Most of Computing Performance: Virtualization." The EdTechNext reports are provided as a resource to CoSN members only. To learn more about CoSN or to join, visit