Virtualization technologies have been around for a very long time – the 1960’s era seems to be the consensus as to early implementations. Within the past 10 years, x86 systems have been targeted for virtualization as that is probably the most widely used platform on this planet. Whether you are a Windows, Apple, or Unix/Linux fan, you can now confidently employ virtualization products to do some pretty cool stuff.
The big player in the virtualization is undoubtedly VMware, claiming about 89% of the market share. Microsoft is building up their Hyper-V and Microsoft Virtual Server product lines but are relatively new to the party, so it may take a while for them to be a major player. Citrix Zen is another of the popular choices currently and there are probably about 10 other players in the <1% market share range vying for position.
While the enterprise products are a fairly significant investment for businesses, all of the major vendors offer free versions of their products that are very capable at handling non-enterprise needs. Translated to the small business, home office, and home user communities, you can take full advantage of the core technologies at no cost.
In my very first implementation of a VMware virtual infrastructure (a group of computers that run on virtual platforms, such as VMware), I built an environment totaling close to 100 servers in test, development, QA, and production environments at my company. This was part of us testing the waters of virtualization that eventually led to the company investing in enterprise products and virtualizing more higher end production systems. This is typically known as performing a “proof of concept” (POC) to vet the technology and see if it works for your specific goals and objectives. THIS is precisely why companies offer free editions of their products, which is a fantastic idea. If only the music and movie industries would take note, but that’s another post for another day.
You can do a lot with the free editions of these products. Some common home office uses may be:
- Setting up a domain controller, file server, and print server to service your home network.
- Testing new operating systems like Linux, Vista, and the new beta version of Windows 7.
- Running an older operating system to support applications that may not work on newer platforms – for example, you may upgrade to Vista yet keep a version of XP running to handle specific tasks.
- Protected “sandbox” where you can download and install files to test before running them on your main PC.
- A place to install and scan files for viruses that you may get from peer-to-peer sharing or torrent sites.
One interesting and useful concept is that virtual machines are stored simply as directories and files that can be copied and run on any machine running a compatible virtualization product. You do not need to create new partitions or boot into them when you want to use them. Think of a virtual machines as almost just another “application” that you would run when you want to from within another OS. You can conceivably build a Windows XP virtual machine, copy it to a thumb drive, and then run it from any other machine that runs an appropriate version of a virtualization technology. The user community now has what are known as “virtual appliances” – completely built servers that perform a specific task that you simply download and fire up. You can browse them here.
If you are interested in dipping your toe into the virtualization waters, try these:
VMware Server – runs on just about every current version of Windows and Linux – allows you to create, modify, and run virtual machines. Version 2.0 is a new design. If your OS supports it, I would suggest the home user starting off with version 1.0.8.
VMware ESXi – runs on a dedicated machine (meaning, you would NOT have another OS installed) and is a lightweight version of the enterprise product. This requires more advanced knowledge but will allow to run a greater quantity of virtual machines at one time. After you set it up, you then start building/importing virtual machines.
VMware Player – runs on just about every current version of Windows and Linux – this version really only allows you to “run” a virtual machine that was created with another VMware product (such as VMware Server)
Microsoft Virtual Server – Comparable to VMware Server – only runs on Windows platforms.
Microsoft Virtual PC – Updated version of Virtual Server – only runs on Windows platforms.