With single core processors reaching their peak potential, and the latest quad core processors either on the market or a short distance off (dual 4-core Penryn), we are left to wonder how consumer computing will change beyond editing Word documents and playing 3D photo-realistic games. Enter virtualization.
Virtualization refers to virtualizing hardware in software, allowing multiple operating systems, or images, to run concurrently on the same hardware. There are two main types of virtualization software:
- Type-1 Hypervisor, which runs ‘bare-metal’ (on top of the hardware)
- Type-2 Hypervisor which requires a separate application to run within an operating system
Type-1 hypervisors usually offer the best in efficiency, while Type-2 hypervisors allow for greater support of hardware that can be provided by the operating system.
As much as virtualization sounds like it should be relegated to 3D Sci-Fi movies viewed through bulky helmets, it has a much more practical use. For the developer, power user, and small business IT professionals, virtualization offers the same basic idea of collapsing multiple physical boxes into one. For instance, a small business can run a web server and an Exchange server without the need for two boxes. Developers and power users can use the ability to contain different development environments without the need to modify their main operating system. Big businesses can also benefit from virtualization by allowing software maintenance to be run and tested on a separate image on hardware without having to take down the main production system.
So what’s the big deal you ask? Two weeks ago, VMware made its entry level Type-1 hypervisor (ESXi) available for free, possibly in an attempt to take market share away from Microsoft’s upcoming Hyper-V technology. This announcement opens the floodgates for venture constrained businesses, developers, hobbyists, and consumers alike to tinker with such an advanced technology on relatively cheap hardware. While most will avoid the new technology for a while, it is only a matter of time before we see some very unique uses, and products, for this technology. Dye-in-wool open source advocates may not want to choose this product due to is closed-source license, but at least this is a cheap option for those that don’t want to delve into the complexity of the open source competitor: Xen