At the beginning of 2009, Gartner predicted the server virtualisation software market would grow by 28% through to 2013, reaching $US6.2 billion. With 2013 getting nearer by the day, there seems to be more interest in virtualisation than ever before, much of this driven by cloud computing.Virtualisation allows companies to transition seamlessly from their current software and/or server to a new server – whether that be on-premise, hosted or in the cloud. Essentially the virtualisation software simulates the underlying hardware in a separate environment, allowing users to continue working uninterrupted.Application virtualisation allows the company to run both old and new applications concurrently, in a virtualised state, and nondisruptive manner. This has ramifications not only in terms of simplifying compatibility and management issues, but it can also increase productivity. Businesses that need to run two IT environments on the same server infrastructure is another example of virtualisation in action, where client desktop workloads (such as operating system, applications and user data) can be hosted and executed on servers in a data centre. This shifts the demands of serious number crunching from the client to the server, and means users can access their virtual desktop from any client device, increasing mobility.Virtualisation continues to offer enterprise businesses a means to reduce total cost of ownership of their technology, while increasing business agility and decreasing maintenance costs. The ability to consolidate workloads and better utilise servers continues to generate greater efficiency for business and also reduces the number of servers required, meaning smaller energy bills and more free space.Virtualisation is playing a key role in cloud computing itself, making it more efficient, maximising the return on investment for cloud providers and driving down costs for the end-user. In the same way that virtualisation can help free up resources and maximise efficiency within an organisation, the same can be said for virtualisation of servers in large scale data centre deployments – all working to free up space and make each server more efficient to create greater efficiency with less IT architecture.The ability to access software and applications that are removed from the hardware makes virtualisation an essential tool in delivering cloud services. As a result, organisations that have undergone virtualisation will find it easier to move into the cloud. But enterprise cloud services like those of Microsoft, Amazon and Google are not dependent on IT departments having a virtualised infrastructure in place.While there are many benefits to entering a virtualised cloud environment, there are a few questions that need to be asked before taking the plunge. Consumers should consider the set up and ongoing costs associated with hosting applications. It pays to shop around.When considering placing applications hosted in the shared infrastructure of a public cloud, the security services on offer and the experience of the cloud provider with multi-tenanted cloud-based services must be investigated. Organisations should also consider the level of service the cloud provider is willing to offer, and the compensation package for applications that become unavailable. A good service level agreement is essential protection for peace of mind.When it comes to security, it is wise to consider the reputation and experience of the organisation, before trusting them with private data. It is also good to find out what services the cloud provider has successfully delivered for similar organisations with comparable solutions.Organisations stand to benefit greatly from moving into cloud environment, and virtualisation allows for a smooth transition throughout this move. Advantages of the cloud include reduced costs, greater agility for remote or mobile workforces, the ability to better share resources, greater efficiency and reliability, as well as removing the issues associated with maintaining and updating IT infrastructure.