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It’s a Virtual Christmas!

2017-06-10 12:04:45

About 10 years ago I started writing my own code. Unfortunately for me I chose directory based software which meant that I had to be running almost every email or directory server known to man. The technology of the day was the KVM switch, essentially you could hook this up to a bunch of computers and share a single keyboard, monitor and mouse between them. At the peak of this configuration I was running eight machines in my basement. The noise was so annoying that I invested in a cat-5 based KVM extender, which I still think is a cool piece of technology.

Enter VMWare. They were one of the first commercial ventures into the world of virtualization. Imagine running a full virtual computer in a window on your host PC. The first few versions were a bit of a kluge but workable. In a scant week I had suddenly moved all of my development environment into a single desktop PC, all for the price of around $350. Less than the cost of a single physical machine. I was hooked.

For more than 5 years I had religiously used this piece of software, moved on to the VMWare server product which allowed the use of a headless PC as the host environment with remote connections. AND because of pressure in the market they ended up making the code (though closed source) totally free. Absolutely brilliant!

This all came crashing to a halt with version 2.0 of their server product. I got a pretty foreboding feel when the web site required a user account. OK, the account is free they just want some personal information. No problem, just an annoyance. Whoops the download is 500 meg! My first thought was my god that’s practically 5 times the size of the original version… That little voice in the back of my mind started getting worried. In the past versions the installation was literally 2 minutes: install the software, compile the kernel modules (yes a Linux host) and restart the service. This new install had all of that and a web interface.. hmmm. Despite all of my work and consulting user forums ad nausium I just could not get it to work. One other administrator admitted that he had to hack selinux (some security strap-ons to Linux) to make it perform. That pretty much was the last straw for me. I gave up and reverted to the old version.

While looking for technical information to help my plight I ran across a ‘roundup’ of virtualization products that were Linux friendly. At the very bottom of the article was this odd footnote about a product from Germany called VirtualBox. One very sleepless night I decided to look into this oft-known program. I found some follow on reports that VirtualBox was acquired by Sun to enhance their Virtualization position. But there was an interesting piece of news, Sun had open sourced the code!

Madly racing to my Linux box, on a whim I searched for VirtualBox for my Linux distro. It turns out that Debian (king and protector of open source) had a copy of the software ready to install. In less than a blink of an (apt-get) eye I had the software installed and running! That little voice started getting cautious, this can’t be that easy after all we tried Qemu and Xen and it was not as powerful or graceful as VMWare.

Wonder of wonders! A truly open source virtualization product that performs actually better than the version of VMWare server I was running in the past. It even has a few very neat enhancements including support for virtualization hardware (found in all modern 64bit CPU’s). With the latest version of 2.1.0 I am now running 7 different machines from my laptop. Everything from Linux to Windows 2008 server (x64) has run flawlessly. By the end of the year we will be completely cut over to VirtualBox for all development and testing for both SimpleSync and Profiler . AND since this runs so effortlessly on our laptops, we can carry our complete lab environment around with us.

Happy Holidays!

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