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Using Virtual Machines

In the IT industry, the next big thing causing a storm is virtualization. The ability to cut down on the number of servers is an enticing aspect for many big companies, as it not only cuts costs but also boosts the green image of that company. Instead of having 10 semi powerful servers, you can have 2 very powerful machines, that will do the work of the rest.

In the corporate world, it’s a great facility, but for home use it is also as intriguing, especially when you want to study operating systems and even some forms of networking. Normally you would need a mini test lab of computers, network cables and switches, but with the right software product, you can cut all that out, provided your host computer is fast enough.

There are many products on the market for home use, such as VMWare’s various offerings, Microsoft’s Virtual PC, and Sun’s Virtualbox. I’ve used Virtual PC and Virtualbox, with Virtualbox being my preference. The reason for this is because it officially supports a wider range of operating systems than Virtual PC does, as well as running on more platforms. There is also an open source version available, which satifies the needs of many people.

I was recently able to run 4 instances of Windows at once, while my host Windows Vista x64 ran in the background. The machines reacted quickly and snappy, with only the hard drive and the lack of system ram really holding it back. I have 4GB of ram, but I know that to really be able to experiment, I’ll need 8. I had 2 Windows 2003 servers running, with 2 client XP machines. In time I will be learning more about ISA server, Exchange server, and various other pieces of software I’ve picked up over the years.

If you have a powerful enough computer and are interested in learning, I highly recommend getting a copy of Vbox and learning how it works, and then have fun with virtual machines. It’s well worth it.

Check out www.virtualbox.org for more information.

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