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Free VMware server

© February 2006 Anthony Lawrence
February 2006

VMware is making a free virtualization server for Linux and Windows.. That's simply tremendous news, though I'm surprised by how many people I talk to who don't understand why this is so important.

There seems to be a lack of understanding about the value of virtualization. It is NOT just about being able to maximize cpu cycles on high end hardware. If that were its only value, it would be limited to only the largest businesses and VMware wouldn't be popping out a freebie at all.

In fact, virtualization has real benefits right down to the little guy with one lonely laptop. Virtual machines are the future, and I'll eat my hat and a fried buffalo patty if I'm wrong about this: within a very few years, running virtual machines will be very common in business of all sizes and won't be particularly unusual even on home desktops.

For the individual user, virtual machines give you instant application independence: if the application you need runs on Linux, Windows, BSD or even SCO Unix, you can have it on your desktop, cut and paste between it and other apps and not really care what OS it was written for.

You also get bad patch immunity: clone your OS instance, apply patches to the change, and if they break your back, don't apply them to your running instance quite yet. Developers can use the same technique to test their own code changes in a "real" environment.

A virtual machine instance can also be protected from its own stupidity: because a hypervisor can watch its every action, some security holes could be caught at a higher level and be logged or even prevented outright. Such control is much easier applied at the hypervisor level than within the OS itself.

Businesses get all those advantages but also get the ability to easily move a running instance to different hardware. VMware's higher end (not free) products do that sort of migration transparently, offering centralized management and fail-over capabilities.

VMware is not the only player in the virtualization arena. Xen is also offering both free and paid products, and there are many smaller companies also.

Virtualization is a moving target. Intel's latest cpu's have new instructions that make this easier, and I have little doubt that we'll be seeing more of that. Tech folk aren't immune to having trouble grasping it all; this quote from You've Got A Lotta 'Splainin To Do By Johanna Ambrosio is telling:

I understand the very broad strokes of what server virtualization
is and how it works, or at least I thought I did. But I began
blinking really hard when IT Guy started explaining about virtual
NIC cards and virtual printer drivers. Turns out--and this is
true--that 'pretend' servers have other 'pretend' gizmos to help
them out. Kind of like your kid having a make-believe friend who
has other make-believe friends. You don't see any of them, but you
know they're there because other people are talking to them. (I
suggested to IT Guy that he use this analogy during his presentation,
but for some reason he didn't think his top execs would find it
all that illuminating.)

But my point is this: if IT professionals and their groupies have
trouble explaining ourselves to each other, how can we expect
business executives to follow the bouncing ball? Because you know
that when you're talking tech with most business types, they're
really thinking about how to get their merchandise from the assembly
line to their distributor in Japan--or whatever their big problem
of the day is.

Are you ready for the new world of virtualization? Some of the contributing writers here have already dove in; see the comments at Vanderpool, Intel Dual Core VT and Intel Macs for example. Other people I've talked to have blinked and shrugged their shoulders in dismissal: virtual machines aren't on their radar, at least not yet. I think that's a big mistake: this is something that is just going to become more and more important.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

Take Control of Numbers

Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal, Second Edition

Take Control of Pages

Take Control of iCloud, Fifth Edition

El Capitan: A Take Control Crash Course

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