You actually may fall in love with virtualization

  • Analyst Opinion - Earlier this week Microsoft announced its Virtualization initiative and I’m sure most of you are so excited you can barely contain yourself. Maybe that’s a bit sarcastic but I am quite certain that virtualization sparks more ideas about World of Warcraft or Second Life than about laptops or desktops today. But virtualizing computers is a big idea and here is why you should care.

    Now, be aware, that even on Apple systems where you can actually see virtualization at work (at least if you are one of the few that are running Windows on a Mac), the full impact of virtualization is still some time off.  In fact, for us Windows users, most of us won’t be seeing the real benefits of this until Windows 7, which is still (and we know Microsoft and dates) two years off, at best.
    So, unless you plan to use PC Blades, this whole piece is about stuff that is out in the future. But I think it is time to paint a picture of this future world and why you will like, and I know I will like it, a lot better.

    We can go into a lot of technical mumbo jumbo about hypervisors and the like but virtualization basically is when you separate the hardware from the software with an intermediate “virtual” layer.   Already I can see your eyes glazing over as you think “who cares?”  
    Just bare with me: When you separate the two layers, you can give the guys that build PCs the responsibility for the layer near the hardware and the guys that build the OS and related applications the responsibility for the upper layer.   For simplicity let’s call the lower layer the hardware layer and the upper layer(s) the application layer.
    The first big benefit from doing this is the fact that the software guys and hardware guys don’t often work particularly well with each other no longer matters.

    What are the benefits?

    Think of the last time you got a new PC and you had to reinstall all of your applications or you fried a hard drive and had to set up a new system from scratch.   If you can treat this application layer as a package, you simply have to copy it from the old machine to the new machine and all of your data is there.   Don’t want to move from XP to Vista on new hardware?  Well, if we were in that future virtualized world, you wouldn’t have to. You would simply copy over your XP stuff along with all of your applications and you would immediately see performance benefits (granted they might not be as great as with the new OS) and you’d be fully up and running in minutes with all of your stuff where it always has been.  

    Remember driver problems and nasty things like rootkits? They largely go away as the folks that build the PCs will be better able to assure driver problems don’t happen in the first place.

    With the dreaded blue and black screen system crashes they truly become memories.  The hardware layer can, in this future world, survive a catastrophic crash by the application layer and better track what caused the crash.   This means reporting back gets vastly more reliable and fixes come much more quickly.   Rootkits, which embed themselves into the OS kernel will find a much harder time concealing themselves, because you will be better able to scan for them with tools that just run in the more secure hardware layer.  

    This unique advantage of having a part of your PC become near bulletproof has several additional advantages. It still can execute a number of tools to correct or repair the upper layer.   With some service plans you can probably call a tech, they can log into your running machine remotely (assuming you still have it powered on) and fix problems that typically would now require you to have somebody visit you on site.   
    You can loan your system out and not be worried someone is going to mess with your stuff.   Someone borrowing your machine can be given access to their own little OS world, much like having their own machine, and as long as you encrypt your personal data they can’t mess with any of your things.  If you want to see something like that now, check out a tool called the Mojopac.  It uses a light virtualization technology to do something very close to this.  

    Finally, you can run reliable dedicated applications, which pull less power.  Say you want to just watch movies on your laptop, or have PC be a TiVo like product, or run Apple applications, or Linux.  Because you can run multiple OSs in the application layer, you can (assuming you can get the provider to agree which will be a problem with Apple) have your machine change personalities as much as you want and not mess up your primary work space.   Get tired of this stuff?  No problem, just delete it, there is nothing left behind.  

    Wrapping up

    I don’t think I’ve covered all of the stuff we will see when we finally figure out how to use this new technology on PCs and I clearly haven’t spoken about the differences between a number of the players like VMware, Clear Cube, Novell, or Citrix that are pushing into this space right now. But rest assured, once the PC guys figure this stuff all out you are really going to like the result.  

    Think of this like reliving the same time 20 years ago when we were just figuring out the UI and whether it was a good or bad thing.  Ten years from now, there will be no doubt that PC virtualization was a good thing and it too will probably be in the OS.

    Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.