Virtualized Macs In the Enterprise

Deploying a virtualization solution may be all it takes to make Windows- or Linux-based applications sing in perfect pitch with Mac OS X. Here are the tweaks to make it work for enterprise users.

By Lisa Hoover
Fri, December 07, 2007

CIO — If Mac OS X Leopard wowed you enough that you're ready to migrate your entire company to Apple hardware, one of the first things you're likely to hear from some employees is, "I won't give up Microsoft Outlook!" or, "Sorry, Boss, the CMS we bought last year only works on Windows." Fortunately, expecting your staff to relearn an entirely new operating system or wrestle a commercial product into submission on a new OS is a thing of the past. These days, deploying a virtualization solution is all it takes to make Windows or Linux-based applications sing in perfect pitch with Mac OS X.

Although the term "virtual environment" seems a little 22nd century, the technology has actually been in use in various iterations since the 1960s. It's just in the last few years that consumer technology has evolved to a point that makes the deployment of virtual machines a viable solution for today's business needs. While there are many ways to use virtualization technology in enterprise, common desktop setups include:

  • maximizing a computer's physical resources by splitting up (partitioning) one server into several sections and allowing it to run several virtual servers at once

  • running more than one operating system on a single computer, such as running Linux-based Fedora 8 or Windows XP on a Mac

  • ensuring rapid disaster recovery by backing up data from several physical servers onto one virtual machine

  • creating a testbed where developers can quickly check software performance on a fully functional—yet separate—operating system, without risking the company's infrastructure

While virtualization solutions used to be available only to companies with deep pockets, today there are several options that range from thousands of dollars, to only a few hundred. Some open-source solutions, such as VirtualBox, are free. And Apple's recent OS X upgrade, Leopard, ships with BootCamp, a robust virtualization package that allows users to dual-boot 32-bit releases of Windows XP and Vista.

With virtualization accessible at the consumer level, many people are becoming acquainted with the technology by using it on their home computers. Virtualization in the enterprise is a horse of a different color, however, with inherent considerations of its own.

Pat Lee, VMware's group manager for consumer products, says, "While many business users need to use specific Microsoft applications such as Outlook, Visio and Project that don't exist on the Mac, enterprise customers tend to have internally developed applications or websites that are Windows-only that could be costly to replace. Virtualization enables enterprises to maintain these critical applications and extend them to Mac users in the enterprise."

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