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Windows 7's XP Mode is one example of how virtualization is becoming more useful to home users and business users alike.
Virtualization is a way of getting more out of the same hardware -- are you taking advantage of it

While virtualization is not without its share of detractions, its allure is great. After all, it promises to make compatibility and resource management woes -- two eternal computer problems -- things of the past. 

Imagine being freed from fears of software compatibility, and being able to reclaim your idle hardware for a purpose.  That's the premise behind virtualization.  While new users may still not have heard of virtualization or understand its benefits, the movement is growing and it may eventually become as ubiquitous a concept as the desktop operating system.

Virtualization is divided into two key categories -- application virtualization and platform virtualization.  The goal of application virtualization is to provide compatibility layers.  This could allow you to, say run an old Windows 3.1 program on a Linux operating system.  The open source project Wine is an example of this kind of virtualization.

The second category is platform virtualization -- bringing the whole OS onboard.  There's a variety of ways of accomplishing this with solutions available in both the desktop and server markets.  Some solutions have multiple kernels (a central component of the OS) running in parallel, with one for each virtual machine (full virtualization), while other schemes involve a single kernel managing multiple virtual servers (a server is the interface users use to interact with the OS -- how we perceive Windows) allowing them to all to run at once.  Windows 7's XP Mode is one example of such a scheme -- in Windows 7 a guest virtual machine for Windows XP runs on the system, which communicates through the host Windows 7 kernel.

Some platform virtualization implementations, such as XP Mode, use redirection of input to accomplish application virtualization via platform virtualization rather than a compatibility layer.  The experience is more seamless as the Windows are displayed inline without the need to physically switch to a virtual machine window and navigate through its own windows.

A final important aspect of virtualization is the cloud computing movement.  Though not all cloud computing involves virtualization, many cloud deployments involve sharing virtualized resources over a network.  Shared resources are nothing new, but by virtualizing them, it lowers overhead and ensures that resources are efficiently used.  Google, IBM, and Microsoft are just a few of the major names delving into this field.  An example of cloud computing that even novice users can appreciate is Microsoft Office 2010, which will be available as free web applications for home users.

Virtualization is a fast evolving field and it is not without its problems and obstacles.  One obstacle is cost.  While costs of virtualization are dropping (Windows virtual machines for home users come with copies of Windows 7 Professional at no extra cost), deploying such a solution at your business may require some up-front IT investment and hours.  In the long run it will save costs, but for cash-strapped businesses, this can be a deterrent to adoption, albeit one that will eventually be overcome.

Another more serious challenge is the increased likelihood of interruption of service.  By putting more services on a single set of hardware you raise the damage that could be caused by a power failure -- either at your location or from your system's power supply.  Furthermore, by running your hardware under larger workloads, you run the risk of a higher incidence of part failures.  Again, this is unproven territory as the field is still young, but logic dictates that hardware flexed to its full capacity will likely experience more failures than hardware that spends a significant amount of time in idle.  As the deployment of virtual machines is in the hands of system administrators, it’s up to them to make sure that they're not overburdening hardware.

A final challenge is security.  By placing multiple virtual machines on a single set of hardware, you run the risk of an escalated intrusion threat if an attacker can compromise the hypervisor layer -- the layer beneath the virtual machines.  Also in a guest/host setup (like Windows XP Mode) you run the risk of guest-to-host attacks, which can exploit vulnerabilities in legacy operating systems or applications.  Thankfully, such attacks have thus far been rare, but proof-of-concept exploits show the need for vigilance.  As always, diligent patching and careful system administration can protect your virtualized network against most threats.

With that said, how is virtualization impacting you?   How are you adopting virtualization at your home or business?  And, if you're not adopting virtualization, what's holding you back?

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RE: It is a bit scary when.......
By rippleyaliens on 7/23/2009 10:54:57 PM , Rating: 2
Well Virtualization with the masses.. Yes Xen from citrix, Hyper V , from microsoft, etc.. are all good and dandy. Except they lack the one thing in which having your stuff virtualized for in the first place.. That is Ease of use, with the ability to fail over, and not have a panic attack..
We could argue performance, etc.. to death,, blah blah..
Buying the hard ware/software, is but a smallllll price when compared to TCO, and Your ROI.,, Vmware ESX is still the Champ.

If your software is sluggish on a VM, that means your software has issues. Ive virtualized, Citrix servers, Exchange Clustes, SQL Clusters, WEB server Farms, and i tell you what, $ for $, i can make the Vmware installation (including the Storage infrastructure, Network infrastructure cost,,) compare with physical any day, Against a competitive virtual infrastructure even WORSE...

In my Experience, and MANY , I SAY AGAIN, Many benchmarks.. Virtualization is the way to go. I can fit 2x the Citrix users PER U, Virtualized versus Physical, With the addition of 3-6 Servers per U.. (using standard 2u chasis).. Exchange,, SAME thing, as we would Scale out versus scale up.. SQL,, Even better...

It is all about the configuration, configuration, configuration. You can get a dual quad server, 8cores with 72GB of ram for under 10k, that my friends 20+ win 2k3 servers with 4 gb of ram. 11+ win2k8 servers with 8 gb ram Ea. and those are very conservative.. with Memory balooning EVEN MUCH MORE.. Add to that with Vmware DRS 3x 10k server=30k in cash.. But those 3 servers can run 30+ VM's so less than 1000$ Per server.. Much less... Add to that HA, High Availability, == WHICH ROCKS.. and DRS=WHICH REALLLLLYYYYY ROCKS.. Microsoft, xen, iron,, they are close, but they cannot get those numbers per server. Performance well, with a SOLID SAN, in place,, and a good network infrastructure set.. There is not much that Vmware Cannot do.. From 2000 user exchange environments, to 1000 user citrix farms.. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE CONFIGURATION.. And this has been done.. EASILY, the hardest part about virtualization, is getting the IT guys, and SOFTWARE Vendors, to get on board with the option.

RE: It is a bit scary when.......
By stubeck on 7/24/2009 8:32:22 AM , Rating: 2
Hyper-V in R2 has failover protection. You store your virtual machines on a SAN, and if one of your host machines goes down, everything switches over to the new system automatically.

By TreeDude62 on 7/24/2009 8:44:40 AM , Rating: 2
That is not true DRS. We use that same setup, but that only helps if the hardware fails. What if the whole site goes down? You need replication to an off site for true DRS.

I honestly don't trust any MS product to be running 24/7. Even if Hyper-V has better features, I would stick with VMware because they make a rock solid product.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

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