VMWare is Cool, or maybe “VMware is Hot”!

I have done some more studying of VMware and its product line and they certainly seem to have it together in their product offering. It should be noted here that virtualization technology predates VMware and that they have competition in Microsoft Hyper-V, Xensource, Red Hat, etc., but I am going to focus on VMware for now. The basic premise of the technology, for the uninitiated, is virtualization of servers (and desktops, but more on that later) on physical machines. A server running an application on a physical machine is “virtualized”  – that is the software, data, network interface card, RAM, cpu, storage, bios, etc. are all turned into code elements and run as a “virtual machine” on another server that can then hold a number of these virtual machines. The initial driving force of this technology was server consolidation. It is typical to be able to average reducing 15 existing servers to 1 after virtualization. There are obvious hardware savings to doing this as well as energy, maintenance and rack space savings.

Thanks to the wonderful world of competition the basic software tool that allows the virtualization of a server is available for free from both (and not by coincidence) VMware and Microsoft.   This tool is called a hypervisor and the latest VMware hypervisor is ESXi – again,  freely available.

The VMware world has moved way beyond the hypervisor itself – although that technology remains at the core. The main thrust of data center offerings by VMware is around central  management of servers for reliability, energy savings and efficiency of operations. This is where some of the the way cool stuff happens – once you get jaded with 15 or 20 servers running on one box!

The main VMware product is Vsphere which provides centralized management of the virtual servers, running ESXi  or ESX, under its control.  Aside from really efficient central management and control, some of the impressive features available include Vmotion which allows you to migrate a server from one host machine to another on the fly -while the server is running – with no loss of accessibility!  Other modules can monitor the load on a pool of servers and shift operating load so that some servers can be idle while others are fully utilized.  Those servers that are not needed can also be powered down and restarted when needed.

I mentioned virtual desktops earlier and this I think is really exciting technology. “Exciting? ” you might say.  While I am not excited by the average new technical gizmo, major shifts in how we provide computing capabilities to users, huge new markets and technical challenges are at the least very interesting. Running around and maintaining desktop PCs all through a big office is a huge waste of time and the whole PC interaction with its software and other devices is a a mess that as an engineer I have always felt was designed for kids, by kids!  The “VMware View” approach to enterprise desktops, to reduce desktops to virtual machines – basically files on a central server that can be copied, saved, recreated, provisioned for new setups, etc. all in minutes,  is a very powerful paradigm shift.  That the approach is already migrating to smaller environments as well is a given.  Big changes ahead and the change has great promise!

Desktop Virtualization, VDI and Client-Hosted

Another acronym – just what the IT world needs, but VDI is with us now. VDI – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is one type of desktop virtualization. It refers to hosting client virtual machines on a central server and deploying that virtual machine to any appropriate device –a PC, a thin client, a netbook on the road, etc. The other category of desktop virtualization is client-hosted. That model involves having two or more separate environments –as separate virtual machines on one client machine.
VDI is the more generally applicable model for business computing needs. This approach offers at first blush a lot of advantages. Your friendly, all setup as you like it office computing environment can be accessible to you anywhere from a lot of different devices.
Setting up a new desktop would take potentially minutes. Management, maintenance, updating of all of a business’s “desktops” is done centrally and probably more quickly than for separate desktop machine. The whole concept of a desktop PC goes away to some degree.

Cost, time and security advantages make the technology certainly intriguing. One disadvantage is the effort to get setup –without ending up with double the hardware investment. That is you could end up with bigger, more powerful servers and more of them plus be using desktops. A from scratch implementation with thin clients in place of desktops would make more sense.
The big players seems to be VWware and Microsoft. We will be deploying a pilot environment here at ERGOS and I will report back on our experiences.

Windows 7 – Looking Good!

Microsoft is getting close to release of Windows 7 – the plan is in October of this year. After the many concerns and issues with Vista there is some hesitancy to jump on the bandwagon for Windows 7, but it looks good! It apparently builds on the best parts of Vista and adds speed and reduces memory usage. It reduces laptop power consumption. It has improved internal search, faster online access, touch screen options and new “jump screens” that seem to add functionality. One of our techs has used it for several weeks now and his comments are very positive:
“My initial impressions of Windows 7 have been overwhelmingly positive. It is amazingly stable and intuitive. The user interface has not changed drastically from Vista, but it resolves all of the complaints I had with its predecessor. After a clean installation, it went out and downloaded every single driver I needed, even drivers only available from third party websites, and automatically notifies me when new drivers become available from the manufacturer. I attempted to install two products that were never functional in Vista x64 for me, and when they failed in Win7, I received prompts recommending that I run them in WinXP compatibility mode. A quick click of accept and both are running flawlessly.

Windows 7 also includes a utility called Windows XP Mode, based off of Microsoft’s Virtual PC, that allows you to run an XP virtual machine from within Win7 in the event of a software compatibility issue, which I have not found to be necessary due to the compatibility adjustments. I was skeptical that the Virtual PC offering could be as useful as its VMWare opposite number, but was pleasantly surprised again. It’s as smooth as I’ve ever seen a virtual machine, and all of the host’s hardware, including anything attached by USB or Bluetooth, is automatically available in the virtual environment.

In short, Win7 provides multiple, redundant solutions to the major issues raised in Vista. I can perform most actions faster, with less clicks, than I ever could with Vista Ultimate. With several weeks of business and personal use and not a single crash or lock up, I am very optimistic about the newest version of Windows.”

Other reviews that I have read also have been very positive such as, “…upgrade without trepidation, people. With excitement even.”[1] and “essentially a faster Vista, the Vista that should have been”.[2]

Windows 7 is looking good!

[1]Windows 7 Review: You Can Quit Complaining Now
By Matt Buchanan,
http://gizmodo.com/5330609/windows-7-review-you-can-quit-complaining-now

[2]Business Insider, Eric Krangel, http://www.businessinsider.com/2009/1/windows-7-review-consensus-its-a-faster-vista-msft
“Windows 7 Review Consensus: It’s A Faster Vista”

Instant On PCs, Laptops, Notebooks

It takes what, 2-3 minutes to boot your PC? Drives us all crazy when we have to boot up so we tend to leave PCs on all the time – burning electricity, heating components, not clearing out the machine RAM, etc.
Microsoft has said that load times of less than 30 seconds is the near term goal, but there is a lot of activity in this area and alternatives are springing up.

Probably the most market advanced option to get a fast boot is offered by DeviceVM. They make a product called Splashtop (http://www.splashtop.com) that gives a really fast start -in seconds. This product and others like it, use a Linux kernel to quickly bring up email and Internet access. These fast boots are being offered as supplements to Windows. You hit the F4 etc. and boot quickly while Windows is loading, or just to browse or check email and you do not start Windows. This operating system for now comes built-in to new machines -mainly laptops/notebooks -from Lenovo, Asus and Acer and others.

Google Chrome -the new operating system Google is working on (to be, or not to be confused with the Google Chrome browser already released!) has a fast/instant boot as a promised major feature.

Dell has announced an “instant on” offering – they call it ‘Latitude ON”. Right now they seem to have little to say about when its coming, but they have an oar in the water.

Of course Microsoft is not sitting by idly -they are also promising faster boot times to come – as mentioned.

Less power use, instant access to information – it sounds great.