computers can help head
off real problems
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
20-26, 2007; issue 904
High Tech Office
Coca Cola may have claimed to be “the real thing,”
and more, you may be working with a virtual computer without knowing
manages infrastructure services for Intrawest
In charge of a corporate network, he’s confronted with
challenges like Microsoft
monthly Patch Tuesday. Once a month, he’s faced with a new
downloadable security patches. Maybe they will provide important
protection for his users. But maybe one of them will break some other
application his users are relying on.
Before pushing patches or new applications out to his users, Park tests
them. But he doesn’t set up actual systems for this. Instead,
his test lab, he uses virtual computers, running under VMware
VMware, which has versions for Windows, Linux and a new pre-release
version for Mac OS X, takes a chunk of your computer’s memory
treats it as if it were an independent computer. A file on your hard
drive acts like that computer’s hard drive. You can load the
operating system of your choice and watch it boot up and run in a
window on your desktop, sharing your computer’s CD drive,
printer, network and other devices.
Some users may remember software that emulated one computer on a
completely different kind of hardware. Many Mac users have done that to
run Windows programs using software like SoftPC or Virtual PC. This
emulation had to be continually translating software instructions meant
for one kind of hardware to the equivalent instructions for different
hardware. This meant slowwwww.
The new virtualization software doesn’t need to do that. You
virtualize one Windows computer on another with minimal translation
because they’re all built for the same sort of CPU. So
there’s little performance hit compared with running a
This lets Park test patches or new software safely on a virtual system.
He noted that he no longer has to wait for new hardware to be delivered
and set up. If he needs another computer for test purposes, he can just
create a new virtual system.
Other uses: upgrading to a new computer or operating system can
sometimes break older applications. Now it’s possible to put
old operating system and the old applications on a virtualized session,
giving you the benefits of your new system without having to throw out
your old standbys. Many network administrators are finding this
especially useful, running multiple servers virtually in a single box.
New Macs use the same sort of Intel-style CPUs as Windows computers and
can optionally boot to Windows XP. But many Mac owners needing to run a
Windows application found they were better served running a virtual
Windows session using the new Parallels desktop software. That way,
there was no need to reboot, and the Windows application shares the
desktop with their other Mac applications. Recently, VMware released a
trial beta of a new virtualizer, Fusion, for Intel Macs.
While this new generation of virtual computers doesn’t exact
of a speed penalty, there are other costs. Budget for computer memory
and hard drive space for the virtual computer on top of what you need
for the physical computer. For home users, virtualization software can
be free or inexpensive. VMware has free downloadable Player and Server
versions, while Microsoft has recently made its Virtual PC for Windows
version a free download.
Park notes that corporate users should expect to pay for support. It
may be virtual, but that doesn’t mean it’s free.