What is Virtualization Software? Evaluating the Best Virtualization Solutions for Your Needs


  • Rise of the virtual machines: What is virtualization?
  • Hypervisors, hosts and hardware: What is virtualization software?
  • From Citrix to Cameyo: How did virtualization software evolve?
  • Making the choice: Which virtualization software is right for you?
  • To VAD or not to VAD?

In the era of remote work, distance learning and online meetings, there’s a lot of talk about virtualization. And that conversation isn’t just among IT pros. Even folks who aren’t necessarily tech savvy are looking for ways to adapt their traditional face-to-face workflows to new, virtual ways of doing things.

With that in mind, it might be helpful to take a step back and review the basics of virtualization:

  • What exactly do we mean when we talk about virtualization and virtualization software?
  • How do virtual machines and operating systems like Windows and Linux come into play?
  • What is desktop virtualization and how is it different from application virtualization?
  • And above all, which approach is right for your organization?

Rise of the virtual machines: What is virtualization?

Virtualization is by definition a process of simulating something. In IT circles, it typically means abstracting physical computing resources so that applications or end users are presented with functionality that is running atop a software layer rather than directly on the hardware/physical servers itself. 

Here’s a real-world example:

One of the most common virtualization use cases has to do with operating systems. If a user is running a PC that natively boots into Windows, that same user can also use a virtual machine (via server virtualization) to run a full-fledged Linux operating system (OS) in a self-contained virtual environment at the same time. It’s like picture-in-picture on your TV, only this is an OS within an OS.

In this example, the virtual machine “tricks” the Linux OS into thinking that it’s running on a dedicated computer. Virtual machines can even emulate basic hardware like CPUs. This is what would enable a user to run native applications on different operating systems – like the ability to run Windows apps within Apple’s macOS (or Mac apps on a Windows Server) even though the architecture that underlies these operating systems is very different.

Hypervisors, hosts, and hardware: What is virtualization software?

As its name suggests, virtualization software is the layer of code that automates the ability of IT teams to create virtual networks, virtual desktops and virtual servers. This software often goes by the name hypervisors or virtual machine monitors.

VMware vSphere/VMware Fusion, Citrix, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Parallels Desktop are all well-known virtualization software providers or virtualization solutions. However, each of these virtualization platforms take different approaches. VMware Workstation, for instance, is a hosted hypervisor that runs within an OS, just like our example above. Hyper-V, on the other hand, is what’s called a bare-metal hypervisor. That means it runs on the actual physical machine itself from the firmware-level BIOS.

Virtualization software can be run on-premises, on desktop and mobile clients, or even through cloud services and remote data centers. That versatility and scalability is actually part of its appeal. Most organizations use virtualization to overcome the limitations of hardware, provisioning or administration, so the more flexibility it offers, the better.

From Citrix to Cameyo: How did virtualization software evolve?

The idea of virtualized computing has actually been around since the late 1950s. But it really took off around the millennium when personal computing hit a new level of maturity. As a result, solutions like Citrix’s thin-client computing architecture and VMware’s hosted hypervisor became both practical and popular.

First came desktop virtualization. These days, it broadly takes two forms:

  • Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI): Desktop virtualization enables organizations to deliver a full desktop experience to their users in the form of a virtual environment. In this model, client computers connect to virtualization software—usually hosted in an on-prem server or data center—that provides them with their computing session. VDI requires a heavy investment in dedicated infrastructure, especially for large, distributed organizations like enterprise companies and school districts.
  • Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS): You can think of DaaS as cloud-hosted VDI, sometimes referred to as a virtual PC. Since the advent of cloud computing and work-from-anywhere models, DaaS has become a more attractive choice for many organizations that want VDI benefits but don’t want to purchase or maintain all the servers, storage and network infrastructure that goes along with it. Many virtualization solution providers like Citrix and Microsoft now offer DaaS products.

Desktop virtualization was soon followed by application virtualization. On one level, app virtualization offered organizations a more streamlined method for providing specific functionality to their end users. After all, why equip users with a complete desktop environment when all they need is access to a single app?

However, the infrastructure that underpins app virtualization is more or less the same as for desktop virtualization. That comes with the same sizable investment in cost and resources. It also leaves application virtualization exposed to the same security risks that VDI and DaaS might pose.

Virtual App Delivery (VAD) is the latest evolution in virtualization technology—one that’s better suited to the age of mobile computing and remote/hybrid workplaces. VAD can be a more targeted, right-sized approach because it allows end users to access only the business-critical software they need, without a virtual desktop. At the same time, it has leaner infrastructure requirements and less virtualization management overhead, in addition to more streamlined pricing. Some VAD solutions, such as Cameyo, enable users to work securely with Windows software on any device by effectively “streaming” applications through the HTML5 protocol.

Making the choice: Which virtualization products are right for you?

Because every organization is unique, their workflows and workforces will differ, sometimes even from department to department. To figure out which virtualization software is the best fit, start by asking yourself and your team what your organization is trying to accomplish.

  • What do your users need to be most productive? Complete desktops or select apps?
  • Do you have the resources to purchase and manage the infrastructure required for desktop and/or app virtualization?
  • Would you prefer to keep things in-house or shift the heavy lifting to the cloud?

You might be surprised to find that your users’ needs are best met by a combination of virtualization tools and hosting methods. In many cases for large enterprises, >10% of users might require a full desktop virtualization solution (for specific workloads, like heavy video editing). But 90% of users usually only need access to 8-10 business-critical apps so that they can be productive form anywhere and on any device.

Regardless of the solution (or mix of solutions) that you identify, the most critical question is this: How important are cost, complexity and security to you? Let’s break that down.

  1. Cost: The total cost of any virtualization solution is the sum of its licensing, administration, infrastructure as well as its effects on productivity. Of all the available options, VAD tends to be the most budget friendly. It’s less resource intensive and more flexible/versatile.
  2. Complexity: The average user doesn’t always know an operating system from a CPU. Most IT teams are already overtasked and don’t want to manage more infrastructure. That’s why ease of use and simplicity of deployment are key for any virtualization solution. VAD is superior on both counts because of its user-friendliness and low IT overhead.
  3. Security: A number of virtualization technologies make use of always-open ports or virtual private networks (VPNs), which unfortunately create several risks. Hackers have learned to exploit these vulnerabilities, leading to a rise in ransomware attacks. VAD solutions like Cameyo use innovative technologies like Secure Cloud TunnelingNoVPN and Port Shield to thwart malicious attacks without sacrificing ease of access.

Of course, if your some of your users absolutely need virtual machines or desktop virtualization, you can leverage VDI for those specific people. But in a growing number of scenarios, including distance learning and hybrid workplacesvirtual app delivery is the more cost-effective, streamlined and secure choice.

To VAD or not to VAD?

Determining the best virtualization strategy can be a big decision. It isn’t something you should have to research based on words alone. Without actually working with a given virtualization solution, it’s not always easy to tell if it will integrate seamlessly into your environment and deliver the intended benefits.

That’s why we offer a free, no-strings trial of Cameyo as well as the opportunity to schedule a one-to-one demo of our virtual application delivery platform. Whether you want to self-host Cameyo or run a fully hosted cloud instance, you’ll be able to evaluate its features, its flexibility and its simplicity firsthand.