In recent years, the words "virtual" and "virtually" have come to mean almost nothing -- or virtually everything. There was a car ad on TV awhile back featuring a phony customer testimonial (I guess we could call it a "virtual" testimonial) in which the guy gushes his endorsement for a certain vehicle by saying, "I virtually live in my car -- to a degree." Now, I don't expect TV ads to be the equivalent of Thomas Aquinas or Shakespeare -- but what in the wide world of fluffery does that sentence mean? Or how often do you hear something like, "I'll virtually guarantee that this idea will work" or "My team's a virtual lock for the Super Bowl." Well, is it a guarantee, or isn't it? Will that team be in the championship, or won't it? What does the word "virtual" mean anymore? All I can tell you is that it's a virtual certainty that I don't know the answer.
But in the business-technology world, virtual servers and virtual machines and virtualization have become incredibly real as more businesses are finding them to be rich sources of flexibility, cost-savings, and simpler administration. Comparable to the aggressive push toward grid computing from IBM, Oracle, and others, virtualization at its core is an attempt to allow companies to make better use out of what they have -- and that's a value proposition high on the priority list of every CIO today.