Virtualization Beyond the Enterprise

Food for thought from David Berlind at ZDNet… This goes back to what I talked about at LinuxWorld in April where I articulated a vision along these lines.

Up to now, enterprise needs have driven virtualization. I believe this will change with the move to client virtualization—unbinding the OS from the platform opens up cool new opportunities on the desktop.

In a virtualized environment, multiple virtual machines run different environments on the same platform. One could be running a secure Web browser so that viruses or malware can’t trash the rest of the system; another could run a dedicated gaming environment with a software stack optimized for gaming; and yet another could run Media Server to serve up video content over a home network.

A fourth scenario is the segregation of work and home applications. Let’s face it… even though most IT shops mandate that laptops are for business use only, the reality is that they are used for work and personal efforts. I have yet to run into a business traveler carrying two laptops—one for personal use and one for business use—to comply with their IT policies. Now imagine: as a mobile user with virtualization, you could maintain a home virtual machine and a work virtual machine on the same laptop. This certainly better segregates usage and is a more realistic approach to IT policies for our ever-increasing road warrior population. One other client opportunity is having a dedicated virtual machine to help with diagnostic or support services on a system.

David points out how valuable this concept could be when, say, migrating to a new computer where you would merely create a new VM for your new OS/applications and maintain a VM of your legacy OS/applications.

Returning to the scenario of a single application per virtual machine… what if you could purchase these preconfigured “personalities”—customized VMs—that plug into your virtualized client system. There is a clear opportunity here for the industry to seed the market with a variety of purpose-built VMs. I think this vision around virtualization is key to driving Linux adoption on the client. In fact, I challenged the Linux community in my April keynote to seed the market. In this new world, we will find Linux co-existing next to Microsoft on the same platform.

VMWare has already done work here on their Virtual Machine Technology Network (VMTN) where people have posted prepackaged VMs for general consumption. This is an early indication of where I think that things could move. However, software licensing will probably be the gating issue for these prepackaged VMs.

One of the biggest values of virtualization is the fact that it abstracts the operating environment from underlying platform. However, for this to be effective, we need some industry standards that minimize the associated snags. Watch this space… : )

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19 thoughts on “Virtualization Beyond the Enterprise

  1. Aaron,

    You make a good point about the new system vendor making it easier to upgrade from an old system of one company to a new system of said vendor.

    However, what I think David Berlind was saying, is that right now, it is problematic to upgrade a system across the board. Regardless of who the vendor is, even if it is the same vendor.

    What I think he meant, is that the first vendor to make it easier to upgrade from their own old systems to their own new systems, will get more loyalty out of their customers.

    After all, if the old system doesn’t support virtualized machines, then it would still be equally difficult to transfer from the old system to a new one, regardless of vendor  Unless, the old system can be imaged, and the new system can run that image as a virtual machine.. much the way we create an image of a CD or DVD as a .ISO and mount it on a virtual CD drive with a utility like Daemon Tools.

    What I fear is going to happen, is that various system vendors will impliment their own customized/proprietary virtualization solutions, making it difficult or impossible to transfer a virtual machine image from one vendors hardware to another, essentially locking in the customer.

    Virtualization as he describes it, would allow easier upgrading (or just transfer from a nonworking physical system to a working physical system) independant of vendor.. *if all vendors supported compatible virtual machine enviornements.* And, this is what I hope is actually realized.  

    Unfortunately, open standards supported by all is something that goes against traditional business models.

    I hope Dell will offer their virtualization solutions and API’s to other vendors, without overly burdensome licencing fees and restrictive/anti-competitve contractual requirements, so that a true standard can arise. Additionally, I hope they allow other vendors to mutually build upon this technology, so a true industry standard can arise, to the benefit of all customers.

    I realize how unrealistic this might be with the marketing channels desire to lock their customers in. However, I truly believe the quality and value of service a company provides will always gain more customer loyalty than the proprietization of their products.

    And just a note to the average Windows user. If you need to upgrade your computer to a new system.. look into the Windows File And Settings Transfer Wizard, aka FAST. It makes moving your personal data from one system to another much easier than doing so manually. It has some limitations, so learn about it before using it, but it reduces hours of work I know many people believe they have to do to transfer their files and configuration.

    Hopefully, virtualization will will make this an academic issue for the average non-enterprise custumer.  (enterprise level customers will still need to transfer individual users between systems)


  2. What a great article. As a software developer, I have been using virualization for some time to maintain different environments for things such as one for testing, one for developement etc. Personally, I think the big change will come when virtualization is possible at the machine level. I still feel the solution is a little goofy when you have one OS running in another. I don’t think we are too far from that in the main stream though.

  3. At first I thought David Berlind made a huge mistake in his comments, but maybe he just worded it incorrectly.

     "Upgrading from an old Dell to a new Dell is no easier than upgrading  to a system from a competing vendor. The system vendor that figures out how to make it less painful to upgrade to their own systems than to their competitors’ is the one that will get more loyalty out of their customers."

    At first, it seems like he means making it easier to upgrade from a Dell to a Dell, or HP to HP but I think he really means:

    The first company that makes it easy to upgrade to their system, regardless of the original system the customer is upgrading from, is the one that will gain loyalty.  

    And that is so true, it is hard to believe how little work has been done in that area, people would probably upgrade more often if the "cost" of upgrading didn’t include hours of transferring data, contacts, e-mails, schedules, music, favorites, cookies, programs, themes, layouts, etc.

  4. DL,

    That was my point, probably not expressed well.

    If a company makes it only easy to upgrade from their own systems, instead of loyalty, it will upset customers.  I plan on buying Dell, I’ve owned other brands and I keep coming back to Dell.  But if I felt I didn’t have a choice, my stubborn soul would force me to buy a different brand just because.

    I intentionally did not mention FAST, because while it works but it isn’t easy and sometimes has unwanted side-effects and it is part of the Microsoft product, not Dell or HP or etc.

  5. Really great but then why does Dell choose to not implement VT control in the BIOS of the XPS 700 and other non business systems???

  6. I’ve just bought a new Dell XPS 700 system, specifically to take advantage of the VT technology in the Core2 Duo CPU.

    However Dell have disabled the feature in the BIOS, and not provided a way to turn it on.  I understand that this is not the only Dell system that suffers from this problem.   How pointless is that?  I am seriously disappointed as I waited over two months for the system…

  7. I too have purchased a XPS 700 to take advantage of this and other features for both the Core 2 Duo processor and the 590 chipset.  Why is it that Dell has disabled almost every feature the hardware supports in the BIOS?  This is supposed to be a gaming flagship and it doesn’t even support 800mhz Ram, VT tech, real OC, ect.  I am VERY disappointed.

  8. Can Dell please explain how they can be pushing VT technology on their Blog, but their high end enthusiest machine(XPS700) does not support this feature.

    I realize that the XPS700 may not be intended to be a server, but many of your enthusiest customers like to tinker in this sort of thing,  Not having this type of feature, and several others call into question what type of work you do in researching your customers.

    I bought a this machine in July, recieved it last week, and have been disappointed in the features intentially not supported.  All of which would have been expected in a “high end” machine.  Judging from your forums, Dell has underestimated what their customers expectations are.. 

  9. Tom, I Jones, Pointgard and romill: Sorry for the delay… Am on the road right now, but I’ll ask about VT on the XPS 700 and will let you know when I have some information.

  10. Lionel,

    Can you also get an explanation on why the XPS 410 is able to support VT, but it is not planned for the XPS 700.  I realize they are different motherboard and chipsets, but I would think that your high end PC would have a fuller feature set than your middle line.


    (Also, why can’t Dell interact on the User Forums, other than just the moderator.  This would be a better way to answer some of these questions.)

  11. romills,

    Where did you find that the XPS 410 supports Virtualization?  The CPU supports it, but I couldn’t find anything that said the system supports it. 

    Like the post says, this is mainly a server technology and the new CPU’s are supporting it natively and so eventually it will get to the desktop but from what I understand about it, I sure don’t want multiple copies of Windows running at the same time I’m in a frag fest.

    I can’t see gamers needing it or even wanting it beyond something new to play with.

    I can see it on a workstation, but not much use on a home or gaming desktop. 

  12. QuakeGod,

    Virtualization may be a great benefit to gamers as game developers learn to take advantage of it.

    There are game genres which emulate hacking/cracking, and with virtualization, they can advance to a whole new level. You could actually hack into a second OS running simultaneously on your system, chock full of hidden gems as a part of the game.

    Also, gamers can benefit from virtualization by running a dedicated multiplayer server in one VM, while joining in on the game in another, without loss of framerate or requiring a second physical machine.

    Virtualization can also benefit gamers as developers learn to customize the base OS they want to use. Which means a leaner, more efficient base for their games to run on, without uneccessary processes running to reduce game performance. Also, it can reduce the time some gamers spend in teaking their OS for better performance, as the VM image will have already been tweaked by the developers.

    Think virtualization is still something gamers wouldn’t want?




  13. Quakegod

    For some reason my first response didn’t get posted.. so I’ll try again.

    It should not matter if VT may not enhance games.  I didn’t buy this computer only for games.  Games will be played on my pc for sure, but I also plan to use it to run VMWARE, and likely use it to replace my linux server in the future.

    Vista is supposed to also take advantage of VT to help it run better.  VT will not just be for VMWARE, and will likely be used to help any OS designed for it in the future.  I did buy this machine thinking I could use it in the future..

    I hope Dell get’s it’s act together.  (right now I am considerably less than impressed)

    As far as 410 supporting VT, look up the online user manual, it’s located in there someplace.  It was mentioned in Dell’s Customer forums a couple days ago, I don’t know the exact page, but it is in the BIOS / Performace settings.


  14. I have the XPS600 With 950 Pentium D.

    Another example of a recent dell model that supports a CPU with VT features but does not allow you to enable it in the BIOS.

    A good example of this:

    My own personal experience is with the Parallels Workstation product.  It reports that the VT feature is disabled on my machine.  (they call it hardware virtualization support on the VM flags settings screen) 

    So anyhow.  I’m asking the powers that be to roll this support into a (soon to be released?) bios update. 

  15. MDrechsler: Thanks for the feedback.  I’ve forwarded the request to the product development team.

  16. I think the whole 1 app per VM idea is in error.  The OS should have a better security model so that apps can run without being interfered with rather than move to highly inefficient and restrictive VM model.  Perhaps a per app permission system would be good to still allow addons to function.  VM interest is great news for Microsoft, why spend time and money making the OS work properly when you can encourage VM and sell Windows 4 or 5 times over for 1 physical machine?

    Also I am regularly amused by folks like in the above comments who seem to think that VM will make their machine twice as powerful.  The guy who wants to run a dedicated server as well as the game on a single machine seems to miss the whole point of a dedicated server and why all these people are complaining about not having VT support when I doubt half of them will know the difference.  To me it seems that VM technology is being pushed by salesmen and noobs in a direction that is full of buzzwords and hype rather than technically great.

  17. elKeeed,

    Which person seems to think that VM/VT will make their machine twice as powerful?  Why do you seem to think you are much more knowledgable on this then the other people who post here?  Have you done background checks on all the posters? 

    Yes, the condescending manner in your post rubs me the wrong way, its not clear if you were implying my post or the one above, but that doesn’t matter, I found your post very condescending either way.  If you know alot about virtualization, you could be more informative without copping a know it all attitude.  While most people may not be aware of what virtualization is, you will find that the population reading these posts likely have a better comprehension of VM than the general population. 

    Personally, I would not use an active server as a game machine (can you say Lag), hence why I have my old machine as a linux server.  Eventually my XPS will replace that box and I will purchase (or build) a new gaming box.  This is one of the main reasons I ordered Raid 1 over Raid 0 on my machine.  This machine will eventually become a file and application server. 

    It will be a long time before any games or desktop applications take advantage of any VM-like features.  If games or application ever do take advantage of virtualization, it would likely require the hosting OS to support this, and it would likely be for system stability versus performance.  The only actual performance improvements would be in the overhead improvement from the HW versus SW virtualization, and not by direct algorithm efficiencies in the game engine.  Feel free to correct me where I am wrong on this.

    If you are aware of benchmarks on Core2 VM support versus SW, please post a link, I would  love to read it.

    My beef with this is that Dell made no mention that this was not supported out of the box, they either need to fix this or fix their marketing so it’s clear what is and is not supported.  If I had build my own box, it would of been there.

    For those that don’t know, the primary advantage (at least to me) of Virtualization is to eliminate multiple physical servers, while still having the stability of unique servers (HW failures not included).  You can restart an virtual server without taking down the other OS’s on that server.



  18. So… any word yet on why there is no virtualization support on the XPS700, or what if anything will be done about it?  Is Dell under the mistaken impression that high-end “consumer/enthusiast” machines are only for gamers (or that gamers couldn’t possibly be interested in virtualization or other “esoteric” hardware features — those same gamers who’ve been at the bleeding edge in overclocking and other hardware tweaking?) 

    If the hardware (CPU, motherboard, chipset) support the feature and it’s just a BIOS issue, Dell needs to update the BIOS to allow its customers to turn it on.  (Go ahead and make the default state be “disabled” if you feel it’s necessary, but please let us change the setting.)  If the issue is more complex than that, please explain — I think you owe that much to customers who spent significant $$$ on a high-end PC with an incomplete feature set.

  19. All:

    My bad for not closing the loop on this thread. We released on updated     XPS 700 BIOS that enables Intel’s Virtualization Technology and also

    Here’s the post that communicates those details.

     Again, my apologies for not closing the loop.


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