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I never knew I needed OS virtualisation till I used it...

Posted by Eksovichea Hak on Friday, October 29, 2010 Under: Software




Since discovering virtualisation I haven't looked back. Its sounds a lot more technical then it actually is but its basically the notion of running a whole Virtual computer (or numerous virtual computers) inside your current computers OS environment. Yes like a computer inside a computer. It does this by partitioning off system resources to then run them as a if they were a completely separate machine inside your OS environment.

Obviously it was created for more serious mission critical applications to help easily test and deploy working configurations and environments within various kinds of IT infrastructures. However I've found a good number of uses for them on a more generic single user level which have pretty much become routine when I use my main computer these days. Ultimately it allows me to do much more from a simple computer with the appropriate hardware resources.


Keeping things much more efficient and tidier

Over time your computer eventually becomes bogged down as you install and uninstall software. Your system registry eventually gets bigger each time for lots of new entries to be left behind even after the removal of software via the uninstall procedure. I was skimming through my registry one time looking for registry entries for something in particular and whilst doing so I noticed there were hundreds of entries for software that I no longer had on my machine still present in the registry. Not to mention all the other types of entries that aren't easily traceable to any particular application or program at all.

VM's present a good means for testing such programs. They can also help you more easily identify the changes that they make.


Greater organisation and resource management

It also presents a tidy and simple way for you to group related applications for doing certain tasks. Again once you've finished you can simply just shut the virtual machine down for all resources to be freed up for more demanding applications to have access to more untainted OS and hardware resources such as with demanding graphical applications or gaming.  Obviously for most people they won't really be able to run full blown graphically intensive games within virtual machines on their computers at home due to the limitations of their hardware.



Increased security

This also means that you can also completely truly delete applications and programs from your machine entirely simply by installing them to your VM and deleting the VM once you're finished without it altering any variables or environment settings on your main machine.  Its also good for testing what certain viruses might do as you can pretty much let it loose in the virtual machine to then delete it once you're done. If you want to create some sort of partition when accessing the internet you could run all your messaging and internet access programs within a VM for any potential would be system infiltrators to stay within your VM if you can't actually afford to get a separate system.

This also makes it ideal for testing purposes if you're suspicious of any particular application(s).

If your virtual machine gets screwed up for any reason at least your computer will still be intact for you to then simply able to delete and quickly set up another VM.



Unused potential

There are plenty of times when your computer isn't actually being used to its fullest potential. Virtualisation means you can use these unused resources for other things as if it was a seperate computer. Doing this saves you money on additional hardware and electrical power usage.

 

VM's that you actually use regularly and want to keep

There's also the ability to port VM's. For instance you could regularly backup up a particular VM that you use all the time every month to  2 months or so. If your computer should completely fail you can simply install the virtual machine software to another machine and run your backed up virtual machine in tact on an entirely different physical computer. Depending on which Virtualisation software application you use there'll be different levels of security features that you can implement in order for you to prevent your virtual machine simply being copied and used by others.  Within premium based virtualisation software there's also the option to make a self contained USB loadable instance meaning you could pretty much take your computer with you wherever you go on a USB stick to use it on any machine you like much in the way that Linux users have done for years.
 


The two main contenders

For me there are only two GUI based virtualisation software packages that I really use, both are extremely polished and seem to work flawlessly...



First up is VirtualBox



This is a free and open source GUI based virtualisation platform that you can get for PC, Mac, Linux and Solaris in both 32 and 64-bit flavours. I've only seen and used the desktop version of this. Over the years its been an absolutely solid application to use from my standpoint and its only just gotten more creditability with long time proven providers of large scale industry standard IT and networking solutions ORACLE taking ownership it. The application itself is highly polished and is very easy to use. At the same time it provides many feature that can be found in premium virtualisation software.

In my experience of it VirtualBox is very light and allows you to run VM's with less physically allocated resources as quickly (if not more quickly) then VM's with a higher level of resources allocation within other brands of virtualisation software.

It also allows for greater depth of control over GPU resource allocation relating to both 2D and 3D rendering. Meaning that it could easily be used for heavy game testing within VM's provided you had the appropriate hardware capability and drivers.

As a free GUI based solution its by no means half assed and lacking in any way shape or form as far as giving you the ability to run VM's with your supported OS environment with or without native hardware accelerated virtualisation support.


Despite it being extremely user friendly and very easy to use for the end user in its default form...

Of course because its open source users  with the technical ability can pretty much use and modify it how they please to deploy a perfectly tailor made solution.

Click this to go there now



Then there's VMware
 
This one comes at a premium, its pretty much more of the same thing but comes with a greater level of end user support and more included ready made features relating to higher levels of security and methods of deployment within large company/corporate based scenarios. It also seems to work with a lot more things in general straight out of the box. There are different versions depending on intended use whether client or server based with a whole host of additional support applications with ready made packages and solutions that can be configured for individual scenarios of different scales. However most folks at home will mainly be interested in the Workstation Version of VMware. To be honest I think its a good option if you can get it however I don't think most general users would be losing out too much if VMware wasn't an available option to them to just use VirtualBox as their virtualisation platform. I'm also thinking of switching to using VirtualBox again myself for a while due to its lesser demands on hardware resources for running individual VM's as it somehow manages to run the VM's at greater speed (if not the same) via its latest ORACLE acquired release of it as I found out for myself in a bout of recent first hand testing. However I'll reserve judgement for now as I've still yet to test the very latest 7.1.1 release of VMware workstation as I'm still using the 7.0 version. Keep in mind that all the additional encryption feature of VMware if activated on your VM's could also be helping to slow them down a little since it requires more processing.  There are several layers that you could chose to activate and obviously the more you use the more demanding its going to be on resources. VirtualBox doesn't come with options to encrypt your VM's but no doubt the default layer of OS security features that already come included with XP, Vista, windows 7 and Linux (in its many-many distro's and versions) should be more then adequate for most general users. The Mac version has a slightly different name going by VMware fusion.

Click here to get to official words on WMare workstation 7.1.1



Or if VMware fusion is more your bag click here.

In : Software 


Tags: "guest os virtualisation" 
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...ramblings on tech...

 



Eksovichea Tito Hak

London, UK

 



 

 

 

 
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