Virtualization has, in one form or another, been a key component in IT for many years, but in that time the practice has diversified into different uses, from operating systems to big data. Virtualization can save space, money, resources and energy, and we should expect to see more and more IT departments get on board with virtualization in its many forms for many years to come.

Not only has virtualization become diversified in its applications, but also in the businesses that are using it. Small businesses can benefit greatly from the cloud and virtualization, and they all stand to gain more productivity and more cost efficiency as a result. With that in mind, how can a small business get started on virtualization in its different forms?

Operating System Virtualization

Operating system virtualization involves running a number of different operating systems on one piece of hardware. When a different operating system (OS) is running alongside the primary operating system, this creates what is called a virtual machine. Despite running on the one machine, none of the operating systems ever interferes with or affects the others, and each will accept and run commands individually from their end users.

Server Virtualization

You’ve likely heard of dedicated servers, each attending to one sole purpose. Server virtualization is rather the opposite, where we partition multiple physical servers to maximize their resources and capabilities with different servers working on different tasks, respectively. The division of the servers is actually hidden from the end user, so everything runs seamlessly and is created by software deployed by the administrator, which creates this virtual division. Server virtualization is most commonly used with Web servers, especially for its cost effectiveness for Web hosting. (Learn more in 5 Best Practices for Server Virtualization.)

Desktop Virtualization

Desktop virtualization is one of the more popular uses of virtualization in IT, where several computers run off one system and can wipe away any sensitive data when need be. This is particularly helpful in the workplace when one computer or device is damaged or needs to be replaced, as no data is stored on it; rather, it is all stored on the remote central server. The user has access to all their usual apps and programs through the Internet, LAN or WAN. Desktop virtualization allows IT departments to monitor activity across the organization and can increase security by keeping data away from individual users who may act maliciously or make honest mistakes that impact security, while maintaining access to all the tools they need for work. (Get more insight into this area of virtualization in LAN WAN PAN MAN: Learn the Differences Between These Network Types.)

Storage Virtualization

Storage virtualization is the practice of gathering several physical storage components together to create a virtual storage center, which most people will know as cloud storage. This is one form of virtualization that crosses over from IT to individual, personal users and for multiple uses. The user, or business and enterprise, can access their data from multiple devices, which are connected to the virtual machine, as if accessing one storage point. This also makes it much easier for the system administrator to manage, back up and recover the data, and it can be done much more efficiently and quickly.

Big Data Virtualization

Big data is a phrase used quite frequently now, and big data virtualization is one of the newer types of virtualization, one that hasn’t fully formed yet. As the name would suggest, we’re now dealing with and processing huge of waves of data every day. One of the practical uses of big data virtualization is processing the data for presentation to the end user and for businesses to make sense of the data in front of them. Big data isn’t just for big business and SMBs can use the data generated from their business, employees and customers. Data is everywhere, small businesses have much to gain from leveraging it. Virtualization stands to make the process a little more manageable.

Wi-Fi Virtualization

Virtualization has many different uses, and companies big and small can put it to use in different ways. However, for small businesses, virtualization can help them get the services they need within their budgets. Small businesses can outsource Wi-Fi to a service provider, which can handle the service and, most importantly, fix any downtime; this is especially convenient for smaller enterprises that simply can’t afford an IT staff. Wi-Fi virtualization may not necessarily be done on its own, but may be part of a wider plan to move all back-end systems to a centralized data center with Wi-Fi access points deployed to the business.