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All posts in Virtualization

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.

How do you update all that pesky software that sits on your hard drive that doesn’t come with a built in auto-update or “check for new versions” option?

Truth be told, even for software like Adobe Acrobat Reader I don’t set it’s daemon that downloads new updates when my connection is not active.

Until today I used the Filehippo service. Filehippo’s site allows you to download a small executable that when run from your computer scans for a wealth of different applications and drivers. The resultant updates are displayed in a web page containing links to each new version as a download via your browser’s download functionality. Furthermore, Filehippo’s site contains a comprehensive list of extremely useful software you may want to use or at least try out; whatever sandbox you use (VMWare, Virtual PC, Symantec Ghost etc.)

Then you simply click the link and security settings permitting download and install each update.

Today I ran BitComet, my Bit Torrent download client to get a Linux VMWare image from VMWare’s site (they have an abundance of pre-prepared images online to choose, saving the user from having to do all the setup work themselves) and lo and behold Bit Comet displays a pop-up window containing a list of software and drivers (my NVidia graphics card in this instance) to download as Torrents and install.

This is the confluence of logic, elegance and one less executable (however small) for me to remember to run [remind me to explain how to automate this or any other EXE to run].

These Torrents are 100% legal to download (for those of you who read Torrent and think of other files), the elegant implementation of this functionality seems seamless and requires little user intervention.

The added advantage of Peer to Peer (P2P) download of these applications should outweigh using a service like Filehippo. Now I have to diff the software index on each service and see if the Bit Comet function doesn’t provide support for all the software that Filehippo does. Something to test another day 🙂

Technorati Tags: ,,,Killer Apps,Peer to Peer (P2P),,,
I am a huge fan of tools that allow me to keep my OS clean, deal with my browser cache and prevent temp files from overwhelming my Hard Disk.

Pretty much every activity you perform on your PC leads to something being saved there; browsing, productivity and so on. It’s not always easy to track where all this stuff is being saved by the applications and system. These tools identify the locations and allow you to select what and where you get to clean up.

Three that I favor are Windows Washer, NCleaner and CCleaner. The first is an excellent tool, robust and stable with several updates per year but should be purchased. The other two are free and each does things slightly differently.

All have functionality that can affect the registry and contents of your hard drive so read carefully and backup files and registry (NCleaner and CCleaner have reg backup built in) prior to running a clean.

I would say that NCleaner has the broadest suite of options but with this perhaps the most potential for complications. The Tweak system option is for super-users who know what they are getting themselves into when they make these changes and the Real-time monitor keeps an eye on your CPU and Memory load/ stress.

I am somewhat circumspect as to their abilities to maintain a cleaner registry for me but that all depends how much Freeware/ Trialware/ Shareware you test as to how much your registry is affected. If you are a heavy software test user and want to keep the OS clean then think of either using VMWare as a test environment or Symantec Ghost to rollback to a clean OS and registry.
There I was minding my own business, surfing the web when suddenly my IE freezes on me.

I assumed that it was no big deal at first and tried to figure out if it was a particular site with a particular embedded technology (e.g. ASP, PHP, Java ..) but no, at random IE would freeze, hang and require me to exit via the Task Manager.

I tried a series of diagnoses and fixes to see if things would resolve: –

a) Clean the cache and history + the cache of JAVA and any other Add-ons.
b) Start IE without add-ons and then add one after the other to see if a particular add-on is guilty.
c) Uninstall programs I had upgraded that day before the freeze began and then re-install if the problem re-occurred.
d) IE7 has a neat reset button in the Internet Options, this literally sets everything back to default.

None of these resolved the problem so I decided to run an in-depth anti-virus and anti-malware scan during my lunch and yes it was a long lunch. I was beginning to think that I was going to have to backup all my data, inventory programs, drivers etc and then format and reinstall from scratch.

I decided that this was the option of last recourse so I ran my VMWare and used the stable IE6 that sat there to look for similar problems online; talk about information overload.

At some point I reviewed the plethora of tests I had run to diagnose the problem and decided to try a simple solution; I downloaded IE7 from the Microsoft site and installed it anew. This seems to have repaired the problem. Still I would love to know what actually affected IE7 to cause this problem.

For now though I have my IE7 back with my IE7Pro Add-on working nicely.
As the internet becomes richer in terms of content, functionality and or online applications and we wonder what the transition from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 will entail it serves us well to stop a moment and think about how we actually use the internet; for entertainment, research, interaction or other uses.

My usage of the internet is varied and changing and how I use it is a function of my bandwidth. One thing has not changed thru all the evolution of the Web since I hooked up my first PC with an analogue modem; I use Internet Explorer.

As a QA/ testing professional I have used other browsers: Netscape, Firefox, Opera et al, usually on a Virtual PC or Ghost-able PC as I have discovered I simply don’t like these other browsers.

I have espoused in the past on this blog the concept of a 100% Microsoft software PC but beyond simple redundancy of another browser being installed where IE serves me so well it’s the look and feel of my browsing experience that keeps me loyal to my IE.

I am a happy user of IE7 and but for the occasional crash when I overzealously open to many tabs or have too many other heavy processes running it just works for me.

Frequently I am surfing and get hit with a message from a website informing me (in case I was ignorant of the fact) that I am browsing using IE and oh yes, it’s obviously inferior to Firefox which I should install. Please, just save it guys.

I am not going to tell you all to dump your other browsers and move to IE but for me this works so why change?
I was watching CNN tonight and saw on the News Ticker that VMWare IPO’ed today on NYSE. Firstly, congrats to the whole of VMWare – an obvious case of hard work and an excellent product line.

Talk about wanting to slap my forehead, how did I miss this? Obviously I did what with several personal issues in my life of late taking my attention away from hot tech issues like this.

Now for the irony; I had started writing a piece on VMWare yesterday but never completed it.
I have been a huge fan of VMWare since they opened doors and run VMWare on my home PC for various testing scenarios.

The concept of running a Virtual computer is brilliant and as a tool complements having Symantec Ghost as a roll-back or cloning option on your computer(s). VMWare does more than just run an alternative OS on your Computer, it knows how to play nicely with resources – RAM, multiple processors, Disk space and Network. Oh yes and you can define rollback points within the Virtual Machine.

For a user who doesn’t want the high electric bill of multiple computers, doesn’t have the space or whose significant other doesn’t like the home becoming one huge test lab then this is a splendid option.

This once I am going to say that VMWare versus Microsoft’s Virtual PC/ Server wins the day. I know, I know .. it sticks in my craw that I have supposedly found a serious piece of software that Microsoft does not lead the market in. Remember though that VMware will run just about anything on most platforms.

A good friend of mine was telling me several weeks ago how he is strapped for a test machine for different software and this resulted in him installing a piece of software that did horrific things to his work PC and email. One short lecture on VMware and Symantec Ghost later he was checking out their sites and asking for my advice how to set this up.

The one qualifier or warning I will give is that Virtualization uses large amounts of disk space each time you create a roll back point so ensure you have a reasonably large Hard Disk.

The best fun I had with this was creating a Home Network of my real OS, Windows XP Pro and several other Virtual Machines.

Alas and this is the slap on the forehead I would have purchased this stock at first market opening as they are as of 16:00 EST at $51.00 already. It is good sometimes to remember that knowledge can transit to money if you remember to apply it and don’t just see technology in the purest sense as a solution.