My Renewed Love for Virtualization

Every once in a while I need to use windows centric applications at work. IE is the least of my problems since it seems to work semi-reliably under Wine. But sometimes I need to test things in a full Windows environment, or run into an app that is just to much pain in the ass to install on Linux. This is why in the past I commandeered an old decommissioned desktop barely capable of running WinXP and I plopped it under my desk as my “windows machine”. I would then rdesktop to it whenever I needed to something windows centric. The machine was aged, but it worked quite well when I had a really old and slow laptop. You could barely tell the difference between the two as they were both crawling at the same speed.

Now that I got upgraded to a much newer, and much nicer machine the difference between the two became noticeable and somewhat annoying. My laptop is set up as dual boot with Windows XP but since I can do 90% of my work from under Linux I have my whole working environment set up and ready to go when I boot Ubuntu. Rebooting into windows every time I needed to do something there would be silly – especially since I’m used to working in that two-machine mode anyway.

So I figured since my machine is several times powerful than that puny desktop, I could probably emulate it and get comparable and better results. When I tried virtualization in the past it usually performed poorly due to my hardware specs. So I never really used it extensively. It was more for novelty value – for example installing an obscure Linux distro in a VM to check it out. I never really used virtualization on a daily basis, because of the poor performance. My current laptop however seemed strong enough to be able to handle an OS that was not a huge resource hog. That security talk from last week gave me the final motivation to get it all together and actually set up an environment which I could use regularly.

I briefly talked with the security expert after his presentation and naturally we chatted about virtual machines since this was major topics he discussed. He mentioned he was all about virtual machines. For example, he said liked to keep his work and play environments separate. So when he took his work laptop home, he started a virtual machine in full screen mode and then did all his casual browsing and entertainment from there. He could install whatever he wanted without making the machine unstable, and didn’t really really worry about viruses that much since he could always just roll back to the last clean snapshot. So if this guy could do this, then so could I.

So I installed VirtualBox on my machine, then grabbed Windows 2k CD and created myself a virtual machine of my own. End result is that my 2.4 GHz dual core laptop with 2GB of RAM is able to comfortably run a Windows 2000 session. And by comfortably I mean that I’d be actually using both machines to do real work. So on the Ubuntu site I may have the following things running:

  • Kontact
  • Firefox
  • Komodo Edit
  • Several gVim sessions
  • Seveal open Konsoles
  • 2 rdesktop sessions

On the VM side I would have the following open:

  • Excel
  • Monarch
  • IE
  • Adobe Reader

Both environments remain responsive, and there is no sign of slowdown at any point. VirtualBox even has the so called “seamless mode” which removes the VM window and makes the program windows appear as if they were running natively. Kinda like Parallels on OSX. Still, the Windows apps in this mode are sort-of confined to a single virtual desktop (I usually work with 6 or 7) which limits the usability of this mode. Also, they only see the virtual file system, so after experimenting a bit I switched it back to windowed environment. I sort of like the clear separation – and the VM window almost feels like just another rdesktop session which works out great for me. And now I can literally take my “windows box” with me everywhere I go.

If you haven’t tried this yet, and you have the hardware for it I highly recommend jumping onto the virtualization bandwagon. If you are already on the bandwagon, let me know what OS’s do you run virtually and how you use them!

[tags]virtualization, virtual machines, vm, virtualbox[/tags]

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8 Responses to My Renewed Love for Virtualization

  1. astine UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    We use virtualization extensively where I work. Our ‘enterprisey’ product requires an entire Windows machine to itself and is impossible to uninstall. So basically, we deploy it on VMware VMs in the lab and VNC into them from our desks. It’s a little slow, but it’s way more efficient than wiping a full computer with a ghost backup, which is what we used to do.

    At home however, I’ve never really gotten into VM’s, never needed them. I did once set up a Window’s VM, but quickly found out that there was nothing for which I needed to use it.

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  2. Adam Kahtava CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    VMs are great provided you have the hardware. Most of my work is done in VMs to replicate complex environments. Today I’m running a Domain Controller, a SharePoint Server, and a Commerce Server all in separate VMs. My host machine is Vista 64-bit, 2.4 Quad core w/ 8GB of RAM. I have a XP sandbox VM for installing and downloading junk, and a couple vanilla Windows 2000 server, and 2003 VMs kicking around.

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  3. Mazro DENMARK Opera Windows says:

    We use VMware at work for everything except DB work. We have ~50 virtual machines on 3 servers. It’s incredibably easy to tear down a machine and put a new one up (transfer speeds between hdd’s are fast). 3-4 minutes for a complete new machine.

    Sure it’s a lot of work getting to there, constant updates and tweaking to get the max performance out of the OS.

    Personally, I use them for testing out software and looking at dangerous places on the wild wild web ;)
    Much easier to clean up a vm than a physical machine.

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  4. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    [quote comment=”8788″]So basically, we deploy it on VMware VMs in the lab and VNC into them from our desks. It’s a little slow, but it’s way more efficient than wiping a full computer with a ghost backup, which is what we used to do.[/quote]

    Out of curiosity, why do you use vnc instead of running a VMware console at your desktop and accessing the VMs remotely with that, or even using Remote Desktop which is faster than VNC (but is limited to one user)?

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  5. astine UNITED STATES Konqueror Linux says:

    Out of curiosity, why do you use vnc instead of running a VMware console at your desktop and accessing the VMs remotely with that, or even using Remote Desktop which is faster than VNC (but is limited to one user)?

    Honest answer? I don’t know; decisions like that are out of my control.

    I do know that VNC is a legacy setup. It’s what we used before we started using VMware, so when we started using VMware it was already setup everywhere and established in everyone’s workflow. We use it not only to control the VMs but also the machine’s they run on. We do everything remotely these days.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    [quote post=”2394″]We use virtualization extensively where I work. Our ‘enterprisey’ product requires an entire Windows machine to itself and is impossible to uninstall. So basically, we deploy it on VMware VMs in the lab and VNC into them from our desks. It’s a little slow, but it’s way more efficient than wiping a full computer with a ghost backup, which is what we used to do.[/quote]

    Heh! That’s actually the best solution to this issue. I hate those enterprisey apps fuck up the whole system.

    [quote post=”2394″]Out of curiosity, why do you use vnc instead of running a VMware console at your desktop and accessing the VMs remotely with that, or even using Remote Desktop which is faster than VNC (but is limited to one user)?[/quote]

    It could be for consistency. Since vnc runs on just about everything, and most client/server combinations are compatible you have the same method to access every single remote server in the company whether it is real, virtual or running a different OS than you.

    You need to access server XYZ? Fire up the VNC client, type in XYZ in the host field and you are done. Using something else would just complicate the issue. For example, rdesktop doesn’t work on Win NT and Win 2k (and linux/unix of course) so if you have these older systems amongst your servers you won’t be able to access them that way.

    VMWare console will only work on virtual machines – but what if you need to connect to a real one?

    So yeah, if I had few dozen servers, real and virtual and mix of different OS’s I’d go with vnc too, despite it being slower than some of the alternatives. :P

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  7. Myside UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    “Thanks to a tutorial on VentureCake, I was able to integrate my gnome desktop with Windows XP explorer for a seamless multi OS desktop environment.

    The requirments for this trickery include VMWARE, rdesktop, SeamlessRDP, and XP PRO. Here is a screenshot of my desktop with Internet Explorer 7 and explorer running along side my Linux desktop applications…” – My Blog Post URL

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Nice! Btw, VirtualBox does something like this out of the… Well, box. ;)

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