Virtualization is the happening place in technology at the moment. The idea of running one or many virtual machines each utilizing a portion of CPU, RAM, Hard Disk and Bandwidth on a hi-end computer has been an appealing idea since the early 2000’s when VMWare appeared on the scene offering users the ability to run many Operating Systems within a VM (Virtual Machine) regardless of the real OS running.
For the world of System Admin, Software Testing and of course Start Up CFO’s plagued by increasingly expensive server costs this was a definitive change. Instead of running a massive server room filled with tens of PC’s or servers, many VM’s could be run off the same server simultaneously replicating the CPU and RAM allocated to the VM.
Of course the images on which the VM is based are massive and such a server requires large Hard Disks to provide optimum support for this system but the best alternative to Virtual Machines, Norton Ghost also creates images of immense size.
Ghost works in a different manner, it simply saves an image of the OS after being created to a separate partition or location which once the user has installed and “dirtied” the OS with trial ware etc can be rolled back to the clean image as if nothing happened. Also, the bigger the image .. the longer to perform the rollback. (Ghost is so much more than just this and remains the king of QA Lab tools).
VMWare provides a parallel function built-in called snapshots. The user boots up the VM, installs what they want on it and if this state is something they might wish to roll-back to at a later date then they take the snapshot. Again each of these takes up their fair share of disk space but for a user wishing to run tests (for example) on a particular OS configuration and then roll-back this is ideal.
Microsoft competes nicely with VMWare in this arena with their Virtual PC/ Virtual Server. Many users will be familiar with the built-into XP System Restore; a utility that on owning any PC I automatically shut down for taking up resources running in the background (that and I have never once had a successful restore thru it). Microsoft recently released an extremely useful free utility called Steady State, the idea behind which is that any PC with it installed (e.g. one PC for the family or an internet cafe) can be restored to it’s steady state once the PC Admin finds that a roll-back is needed. I have not yet tested this but I do have high hopes for this based on everything I have read.
So, all of this aside where is this all going? Well, VMWare released from beta in the last month the VMWare Thin Install, a so-called Thin Client – if I had to guess this will allow the user to create a VM, install their application or environment on it and deploy a zero footprint executable onto other user’s PC’s … no changes to their registry … defined to only allow the user access to the application not the whole OS … no administrative privileges need to install.
In a nutshell, welcome to the big leagues VMware; look out Citrix and Windows Terminal Services. The only downside I can see is that the underlying OS in the VM albeit unexposed to the user will still require a license fee and the pricetag for using this beyond evaluation is not cheap but then neither are Citrix licenses or Terminal Services CAL’s.