What is Service Virtualization?

By Melissa Rudy
Updated: May 15, 2012

What is Service Virtualization?

Computers are an integral part of our lives. We use them for working, banking, and shopping, and many of us even carry computers in our pockets, disguised as smart phones. Computers run many of our services—they control traffic lights, keep communication lines open for emergency services, and make sure our electricity stays on.

We may not think about it often, but computers are machines that require maintenance and upgrading. Service virtualization provides a way for developers to make system changes and perform complex tasks behind the scenes, while what we see as end-users remains the same.

How it works

Service virtualization takes the application that you see when you access a website, and moves it from the actual business servers to what's known as a service intermediary, which is often located in a cloud computing environment. This creates a “loose coupling” between your access point and the company's data.

For example, your bank may use service virtualization for its online services. When you access your account from the bank's website, the information you enter is sent to the service intermediary, which then retrieves the data you need (such as your checking account balance) from the bank's system and sends it to you.

The wizard behind the curtain

One of the main functions of service virtualization is to shield you, the end user, from all of the complex transactions that happen when you use a digital service. Chances are, you could care less about SQL databases, runtime environments, or communication protocol. You just want your checking account balance.

This type of shielding actually goes both ways. While you're spared from having to sort through a mind-boggling mess of technical data, all of the company's essential infrastructure details are protected from prying eyes, offering added security.

Allowing for invisible improvements

Another way service virtualization helps businesses is the ability to perform upgrades, testing, bug fixes, and the like without interrupting their services.

Let's consider the banking example again. Your bank wants to introduce a new functionality for their online services. In order to do this, they're going to have to upgrade the on-site systems used to serve customers. Depending on the level of complexity and the problems developers run into, their system could be down for several days.

Since the bank can't afford to shut down completely—and they'd have to face the wrath of customers wanting access to their money—they use service virtualization to host their critical applications in a separate environment. The tellers can still wait on customers, you can still get your checking account balance online, and the developers can work on the system upgrade without interruption until it's ready for launch.

Service virtualization and the cloud

Cloud computing—basically, storing applications and data on massive third-party servers that are accessible through the Internet—is the latest trend for many aspects of our computerized lives. For example, if you buy digital products like eBooks or MP3s from Amazon, they're stored in “the cloud” so you can access them whenever you'd like.

More businesses are moving to a cloud environment, because it means they don't need to invest as much in hardware, and they pay only for the software and data storage they actually use. But one of the challenges companies face is data migration. When the decision is made to switch to the cloud, system changes have to be made, which can result in service interruption and massive loss of profits.

Service virtualization is quickly becoming the preferred strategy for moving to a cloud environment. Once the service intermediary is in place, companies can continue to use this third-party setup to tap into their cloud servers. Customers never experience service interruptions, and employees can go about business as usual during the migration.

How does service virtualization affect you?

You've probably been tapping into service virtualization without even realizing it. With so much of our daily lives dependent on computers and the Internet, using virtualization is almost imperative—especially if we want to keep enjoying our digital services without interruption.

Through loose coupling between businesses and end users, companies can protect their critical data, and we can receive the information we need without the confusing technical jargon. In addition, businesses can continue to improve and expand their services without lengthy delays or shutdowns in the services we enjoy now. It's a win-win situation.

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