Virtualization and cloud computing are terms being thrown around every day in all levels of government. But do government agencies really know the difference between the two?

Apparently not.

A new study from Quest Software’s public-sector subsidiary found that nearly two-thirds of state and local respondents indicated that there is confusion in their organizations about what constitutes the two technologies.

“The survey was surprising,” said Paul Christman, Quest Software’s vice president for state and local government and education sales. “We expected that there would be a very clear understanding of what virtualization is because it’s been around for so long. And it’s been implemented in various aspects of information technology, whether it’s networks or storage or computing.”

Virtualization is generally defined as creating a virtual version of something, such as a desktop or a server. Cloud computing, on the other hand, is on-demand provisioning of computational power from a pool of resources, sometimes delivered over the Internet.

Christman said he thinks one cause of the misunderstanding is misleading advertisements that don’t specify what cloud computing really is. For example, one TV commercial recently touted online photo editing as a cloud computing technology, which is a stretch.

“The biggest source of that confusion has been all of the marketing hype, all of the advertisements,” Christman said. “The vendors out there slapping, ‘Oh, this is cloud computing,’ on anything. And that gets really confusing to see.”

Released Monday, May 23, the Pulse on Public Sector Virtualization and Cloud Computing Study was conducted by the School of Graduate and Continuing Studies at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. The report garnered answers from 646 respondents (307 in federal government, 128 in state and local government, and 211 in higher education) on virtualization management, cloud computing attitudes, and barriers and incentives to cloud computing adoption.

While confusion about virtualization and cloud computing poses as a challenge to government agencies, it hasn’t stopped some of them from embracing the technologies. Nearly 20 percent of state and local respondents said their organization has already implemented virtualization. Interestingly nearly 20 percent of respondents also said the biggest barrier to private cloud adoption was the upfront cost to implement. Seventy-two percent of the respondents who have implemented virtualization said it has made it easier to manage their environments, the study said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.