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Virtualized Computing Explained

How virtualization software makes notebooks more secure and cheaper to deploy.

by Todd Haselton on April 21, 2008

Virtualized-Computing-Explained_shThese days, it’s to the benefit of corporations to provide their workers with virtualized machines. They save money and give IT administrators control of what’s on the PCs they deploy, which maximizes security.

Companies like HP, Microsoft, and VMware are among those leading the virtualization charge. In fact, Microsoft entered the virtualization market only recently with its latest version of Microsoft Server 2008, which includes a “Hyper-V” virtualization technology feature. VMware is also working with Dell and HP to implement its virtualization into enterprise servers from both companies. But what exactly is this “virtualization” you’ve been hearing so much about? We spoke with Jerry Chen, senior director of VMware’s enterprise desktop division, to bring you up to speed.

LAPTOP: What is virtualization?

Jerry Chen: Virtualization essentially lets one computer do the job of multiple computers by sharing the resources of a single computer across multiple environments. Virtualization lets you create multiple “virtual machines,” each with its own operating system and application, on the same computer at the same time, increasing the utilization and flexibility of hardware. Virtual machines can be moved across different hardware, and they can also be hosted locally or in remote locations, because virtualization frees you from physical and geographical limitations.

L: How does virtualization work?

JC: Virtualization is a layer of abstraction that sits between the physical hardware and the software (operating system and applications) so that each can be managed independently. This enables the creation of virtual machines, which are tightly isolated software containers that can run their own operating systems and applications as if they were each physical computers. A virtual machine behaves exactly like a physical computer and contains its own virtual (i.e., software-based) CPU, RAM, hard disk, and network interface card (NIC).

L: Who benefits most from virtualization?

JC: Virtualization is a technology that can benefit anyone who uses a computer. Millions of people and thousands of organizations around the world—including all of the Fortune 100—use VMware virtualization solutions to reduce IT costs while increasing the efficiency, utilization, and flexibility of their existing computer hardware.

L: Can you provide any examples of how virtualization is being used in the field?

JC: Case studies have shown the benefits of virtualization for both large and small companies. Bell Canada, for example, needed to deploy 400 new workstations for its call-center agents in just three weeks. Using virtualization solutions like thin clients, which require a quick CD build on a desktop computer and a driver update, Bell Canada was able to eventually add 1,700 workstations, far past the original 400 needed. Each new environment took just 20 minutes to set up, as opposed to weeks for traditional workstations.

L: How can virtualization benefit everyday consumers?

JC: Virtual machines allow users to run multiple operating systems side by side on the same computer, which is useful in my respect. Every member of a family can have his or her own virtual machine on a shared family computer, or an individual user can use different virtual machines for different purposes, such as a virtual machine for playing games, a virtual machine for work, et cetera. When you virtualize your computer, you increase the flexibility you have with the hardware while providing better management and security.

L: How will this technology evolve?

JC: Virtualization will only continue to get better in terms of performance and usability to the point where, in five years, running in a virtual machine will be the default way consumers use a computer.

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