10 Cool Things Virtualization Lets You Do

Virtualization isn't just for geeks or those who run enormously powerful servers. It offers something for everybody, and if you haven't yet dipped your toe into the virtualization ocean, then you're at serious risk of being left behind.

By Keir Thomas
Fri, February 25, 2011

PC WorldVirtualization isn't just for geeks or those who run enormously powerful servers. It offers something for everybody, and if you haven't yet dipped your toe into the virtualization ocean, then you're at serious risk of being left behind.

In its strictest sense, virtualization refers to running two or more operating systems one one physical PC. Either the multiple operating systems run side-by-side, with a separate piece of software called a hypervisor used to manage them, or one operating system runs the other operating systems within program windows. The former is usually limited to servers, with the latter finding common use on desktop computers.

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Companies including VMware (VMW) and Oracle (ORCL) lead the way in this kind of virtualization with their products for workstations and servers. There are even some highly capable free-of-charge versions in the form of Oracle's VirtualBox and VMware Player, both for desktop PCs, and VMware vSphere for server-grade virtualization.

However, there's also Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which is an entirely different technology. This is where client computers log in to a server and access their own desktop environments, all of which is hosted on the server computer. Usually the remote desktops appear in program windows on the client computers, but mobile devices such as tablets are increasingly being used to access desktop virtualization, too.

For example, Citrix XenDesktop allows hundreds of client computers to log in to a single (usually very powerful) server via remote connections. Each user has their own account and therefore their own personal workspace, plus applications.

Here are 10 things you can do with virtualization that might convince you that it's worth giving it a try, if you haven't already.

1. Run Old Apps

Got an application that won't play nice in Windows 7 or Vista, but works fine in XP or an even earlier version of Windows, like Me? Just grab an old Windows CD and install it within a virtual machine (VM). Then install your app.

VMware Player features Unity mode, which allows applications running in the virtual machine to appear as if they're running natively on the host computer. They have their own taskbar buttons and their own program windows, making for a seamless experience. For this to work, however, you'll need to install the VMware Tools program on the virtualized operating system. You're usually prompted to do this after installation of the OS has finished.

2. Access Virus-Infected Data

Ever been sent a file that your antivirus program has flagged, but which contains important data you just have to view? Most virtualization software includes snapshot functionality, which means you can create a "saved state" of the virtual OS and its entire hard disk. It's a little like travelling back in time.

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