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Virtual Server vs. Physical Server: 8 Key Differences to Know

Posted on Jun 6, 2022 by
24.1k

With the growing trend towards data center virtualization, virtual servers have gained significant popularity. Nevertheless, this doesn't imply the obsolescence of physical servers. Each has its unique advantages and applications. This article aims to provide a comprehensive comparison between physical and virtual servers, aiding you in making an informed decision based on your network requirements.

What is a Physical Server?

A physical server, also known as a bare-metal server, refers to a computer server equipped with powerful server components such as a motherboard, CPU, memory, hard drive, and network connection, along with an operating system (OS) for running programs and applications. Typically, these servers are located on-site and serve as hosts for communication, data storage, and processing. Due to the inability to share resources and components among different digital tenants, a single physical server can only serve a singular business.

For different roles in the network, physical servers can be classified as web servers, proxy servers, file transfer servers, file servers, database servers, and print servers.

physical server

A virtual server, also known as an online virtual machine, is a software-based environment that replicates all the functionalities of a physical server. It is employed for the virtualization of resources within a physical server, and the distinction between a well-configured virtual server and a physical one is often imperceptible to end users.

On a single physical server, multiple virtual servers can be deployed. While a standalone physical server can only support one operating system, the introduction of multiple virtual servers allows each one to function independently. Each virtual server runs its own operating system and utilizes dedicated resources, including memory, storage, and computing components.

Setting up a virtual server involves installing a hypervisor on the underlying physical hardware. Once installed, the hypervisor can create and oversee virtual servers with their dedicated virtual computing resources. The hypervisor functions by abstracting computing resources, memory, storage, etc., from the underlying hardware and allocating them to virtual machines. This enables the loading of multiple operating systems and applications onto the virtualized hardware.

Virtual Server

Physical Server vs. Virtual Server: 8 Key Differences

Now that we've examined both physical servers and virtual servers more closely, let's delve into their distinctions. The following outlines eight key differences that you should be aware of.

1. Performance

Even if the capabilities and computing resources of virtual servers match those of physical servers, they cannot reach the same level of performance. Physical servers possess dedicated resources like CPU, memory, storage, and network components, rendering them generally more potent and efficient with superior overall performance. In contrast, multiple virtual servers contend for computing resources, making them susceptible to performance issues, potentially resulting in diminished efficiency and stability.

If your organizational network handles substantial data and executes operations demanding the full utilization of computing resources, opting for a physical server might be a more suitable choice.

2. Management

Virtual servers are generally easier to handle compared to physical servers. If a physical server encounters a failure, restoring it to its original state may take a considerable amount of time. In contrast, the recovery process for virtual servers can be swiftly completed by initiating previous backups.

Moreover, since virtual servers are built upon existing physical hardware, they can be created and powered on rapidly. This stands in contrast to physical servers, which require additional components to be installed and configured before they can be used.

However, managing virtual servers demands a high level of expertise. It's essential to ensure that your IT team possesses the specific skills needed to effectively manage your virtual platform.

3. Security

In a virtual environment, security management is streamlined compared to the complexity associated with physical servers. The hypervisor layer facilitates centralized security management, making it more convenient. Conversely, for each physical server, constructing a unique protection system becomes necessary, considering its specific capabilities, computing resources, and the confidentiality of stored data. Managing security across numerous physical servers in a network can be labor-intensive.

Furthermore, virtual servers benefit from a universal security model. Your IT team can create, document, and implement security policies efficiently through dashboards on the hypervisor, ensuring a cohesive and standardized approach to security measures.

4. Portability

In the virtual environment, relocating workloads is a seamless process, allowing you to move from one physical hardware platform to another with minimal effort. Furthermore, this migration can be performed online, ensuring continuous operations.

On the other hand, transferring physical servers to a new location is a complex undertaking. It involves moving all data and hardware resources to the new server location, followed by the reinstallation of software and hardware components on the new physical server. Essentially, this process necessitates rebuilding a physical server from the ground up.

5. Scalability

Scaling physical servers can be challenging due to the necessity for additional hardware components. The introduction of new operating systems requires the procurement and installation of new servers, a process that is time-consuming. In contrast, a virtual server environment offers greater scalability. Multiple virtual machines can be effortlessly added or removed from the virtual environment, providing flexibility to scale according to business needs. Importantly, this scalability in the virtual environment doesn't demand additional server hardware, contributing to a more efficient and adaptable infrastructure.

6. Space Requirements

One single physical server, sharing all physical hardware. This makes virtual servers more space-efficient. In contrast, physical servers demand more space as they need to accommodate individual physical hardware components like CPU, memory, and storage.

7. Maintenance

For both physical servers and virtual servers, it is essential to carry out 24/7 monitoring to prevent potential risks. In the case of a physical server issue, troubleshooting is simplified as only one physical entity requires attention. Virtual servers offer an additional advantage by isolating physical component failures from operating systems. This isolation capability reduces the risks of downtime to some extent, enhancing the overall reliability and stability of the server infrastructure.

8. Cost

Consideration of both short-term and long-term financial implications is crucial when deciding between virtual and physical server solutions. Establishing a server virtualization environment requires a substantial initial investment in both hardware and software. However, the long-term benefits include cost-efficient upgrades and scalability, potentially lowering the total cost of ownership. On the other hand, physical servers may offer some savings in initial software purchases, but expanding the physical environment can result in higher costs over time.

When to Choose One over the Other?

The preceding discussion highlights that both physical servers and virtual servers come with their unique advantages and limitations. There is no clear winner in every aspect. To assist you in making an informed choice, here, we consolidate the key considerations.

  • Opt for physical servers if you have demanding workloads and prioritize processing speed, as they offer powerful performance.

  • Choose virtual servers if your network requires flexible scaling based on business growth. Virtual servers are a preferred choice, catering to the varied needs of SMBs and large enterprises.

In summary, there is no straightforward answer. When deciding between the two options, it's crucial to carefully evaluate their distinct features and align them with your specific business requirements to determine which best suits your infrastructure.

Conclusion

Based on the comparison presented in this blog post, it is evident that establishing a virtual server environment offers a greater number and variety of benefits and opportunities for your organization. Nevertheless, the choice between physical and virtual servers should still be made based on what works best for you and your business. Many organizations now lean towards a hybrid server environment, as it enables the combination of powerful server hardware capabilities with the advantages of virtualization.

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