Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What the Heck is PC Virtualization?

Computer virtualization…sounds pretty cool. Want to sound like a computer guru, try throwing “desktop virtualization” around in a conversation, and watch the eyes glaze over. But seriously, what’s the deal with desktop virtualization, and why should you consider using it?

The easiest way to explain desktop virtualization is to think of a computer inside of another computer. I guess a synonym for virtualization would be emulation. You are emulating another computer on your physical computer.

First you have your physical computer on your desk, with all kinds of software installed on it. Now you download and install some desktop virtualization software like Microsoft Virtual PC (free), or VMware workstation (30 day free trial) on to your physical computer. After installing your desktop virtualization software, you’ll launch the virtualization software, and create a new virtual computer.

To create your new Virtual machine, you’ll need to define some virtual hardware specifications (easier than it sounds), install a real operating system (just like you would on a physical computer). After installing an operating system on this virtual machine, you can now run this new virtual machine inside of your physical computer. The virtual machine boots just like a physical computer would, and thus you would log on the same way. The best part about virtualization is the virtual machine is totally separate or encapsulated from the physical computer. Therefore, whatever happens on the virtual machine stays on the virtual machine!

So what are some of the benefits of desktop virtualization? In other words, what are the benefits of being able to use different operating systems on the same computer?

If you’re a software developer, the advantages are obvious. As a software developer, you can easily test your applications on different operating system platforms. Without Virtualization, a software developer would require several physical computers to test his/her applications. So virtualization saves money and time for software developers.

You can use desktop virtualization for training. Want to learn Linux, create a Linux virtual machine and get busy. Need to train a new employee? Create a virtual machine with all the applications installed and train your employee in the virtual machine’s environment.

Tired of your spouse, child, or guest installing silly software on your computer or messing up your settings? Create a virtual machine for each computer user. Create a user account for each user, and then install a virtual machine for each user. You can set it up so that when the user logs on to the physical computer, the virtual machine launches in full screen mode, making the virtual machine somewhat transparent to the user. The user can do whatever he/she wants to the virtual machine, without damaging the physical machine’s software. Remember whatever happens on the virtual machine, stays on the virtual machine. If the user “breaks” the virtual machine, simply delete the broken virtual machine, and restore the original copy of that virtual machine.

I forgot to mention that each virtual machine you make creates a set of files on your physical hard drive. Therefore when you create a virtual machine you can save those virtual machine files and easily restore those files when a virtual machine breaks.

Finally, you can use virtual machines to safely browse the Internet. You can work on your physical computer, and when you need to browse the Internet, launch your virtual machine. If you download a virus, spyware or something nasty, the bad stuff is on the virtual machine, not your physical computer. You can set up your virtual machine not to save any changes made to it. Therefore the next time you launch your virtual machine, it will be restored to its original configuration…no more virus!

Virtual machines are easy to use, powerful, and have great uses in business as well as in the home. Download Microsoft’s Virtual PC and have fun.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for explaining virtualization in a easy way.


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