Virtual Computing Gets Real
Virtual PC is a flexible, full-featured virtualization environment.
Even just a couple of years ago, the mention of virtualization conjured
up images of white-coated lab geeks working deep in the recesses of places
like MIT or Stanford. Virtualization still has its place in research,
software testing and other erudite applications, but the cost and time
savings it brings to enterprise operations have set it well on its way
to becoming a mainstream technology.
Microsoft has virtualization tools on both the server side (see "Virtualization
Saves Real Dollars," June 2006, Redmond Channel Partner) and
the desktop. The company acquired its desktop tool from Connectix in February
2003. The following year, it released the product as Microsoft Virtual
Virtual PC (VPC) has been locked in a "virtual" dead heat with VMware
Workstation for the last several years. The trick is to divine your customer's
needs and figure out how they could benefit from virtualization. Then
you can better match them with VPC's capabilities.
Virtual PC 2004
Release Date: December 2003
Price: $129 per single license (volume licensing and
guest operating system
licensing priced separately)
Companies turn to virtualization as a means by which to save money
in hardware and licensing fees and save time and effort in deployment
and management. Using virtualization as part of a network infrastructure
also helps your customers tighten security, improve efficiency and establish
a more flexible deployment framework.
VPC lets your customers set up a physical computer to run as if it were
two or more computers. The number and capacity of virtual machines (VMs)
they can run is limited only by the resources available on the physical
computer. Running Windows XP as the base operating system, they can install
multiple instances of different guest operating systems in VMs and have
them run concurrently.
Microsoft VPC officially supports the following operating systems as
guests within its VMs: Windows 95, 98, Me, NT 4.0 Workstation, 2000 Professional
and XP; plus MS-DOS, OS/2 Warp Version 4 Fix Pack 15, OS/2 Warp Convenience
Pack 1 and Convenience Pack 2. Your customers can also run Red Hat Linux,
Novell NetWare and other flavors of Linux within their VMs. Performance
may vary because they aren't specifically supported.
Each VM behaves like an individual computer. VPC emulates all the aspects
and elements of a physical computer, establishing a virtual processor;
sound, video and network cards; even virtual hard drives. Customers can
set up dynamic, fixed-size or linked virtual hard disks with each VM.
They can also set up Differencing disks to share disks among multiple
users and VMs and track changes, and Undo disks to preserve a copy of
the original drive state.
Any application your customers install on a VM will work just as it would
on a physical machine. They won't distinguish a VM from a physical computer.
This adds an effective layer of protection for the physical host computer.
Any changes that users make to VMs won't affect the physical computers
that are running the host and guest OSes. Any viruses or spyware loaded
onto a virtual machine are easily eradicated simply by ending the session.
Under the Hood
There are several other areas of functionality to emphasize when
presenting VPC to potential customers. Guest-host integration is a big
one. The level of integration between the guest OS and host OS is virtually
seamless. If you or your customer installs Virtual Machine Additions in
the guest OS running within the VM, they can then easily copy, paste,
drag and drop between guest and host.
There are several options for configuring VMs, installing or uninstalling
applications and allocating memory resources based on what the physical
computer has available.
Customers can switch between operating systems and different VMs as easily
as they switch between Windows applications. To conserve resources, they
can also pause an inactive VM so it won't waste any CPU cycles on the
physical computer. They can also save VMs to disk and restore them later,
which is much faster than restarting the guest operating system. VPC has
a single interface for handling these management tasks.
The updates that came with Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 Service Pack 1 (SP1)
improved the overall reliability, performance and manageability of VPC.
It also now supports running Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition as a
host operating system.
Virtualization on the desktop is essentially a two-horse race—Virtual
PC and VMware Workstation. It's the same situation on the ser ver side
between Microsoft Virtual Server and VMware Server and ESX Server.
VPC and VMware Workstation each do more or less the same thing in similar
ways, with some variations in interface, operation and performance. Each
has a solid base of dedicated users, so when you're selling a customer
on virtualization as a concept and VPC as the platform of choice, your
primary concern will be VMware Workstation.
VMware Workstation can run Windows, Linux, NetWare or Solaris x86 within
its VMs. Version 5.5 supports 64-bit guest and host operating systems
from Microsoft, many of the latest open source distributions and new processors
from Intel and AMD. It also lets users open and convert Microsoft VMs
and Symantec LiveState Recovery images, and comes bundled with VMware
Player (VMware's free application that runs VMs created by VMware Workstation,
GSX Server or ESX Server).
There are other virtualization methods and tools, like Altiris SVS, which
focuses on application virtualization rather than the entire operating
system and all properties of the physical computer. Softricity's Softgrid
(which Microsoft recently acquired) turns locally installed Windows applications
into virtual network services using application virtualization and streaming
technology. Expect Microsoft to position this to ease migration to Vista.
- Tight integration between host and guest operating
- Runs just about any operating system in a virtual
Competition: VMware Workstation
- Significant cost and time savings
- Well suited for migration projects and preserving
Marketing and Sales
Microsoft is poised for a heavy push on virtualization. There are
plenty of resources online that can help you educate potential customers
about the concept of virtualization and details about VPC. For adding
technical background to your sales presentations or if you just want to
pass them out to your customers, there are several white papers on the
VPC page that cover general technical issues, deploying VPC and using
VPC as a development and debugging platform.
Newsgroup is a lively forum where you and your customers can share
stories and tips, discuss issues and exchange ideas about getting the
most out of VPC. This is a valuable resource and a good way to connect
with current VPC users and help your customers do the same. There's also
the VPC Guy's blog,
a good resource for sharing deeply technical issues.
Knowledge Base is another useful resource. There are more than 250,000
articles contributed by support technicians after resolving particular
customer issues. Microsoft is always updating, expanding and refining
the Knowledge Base, so it's worth checking on a regular basis.
The Final Word
VPC lets your customers run multiple machines and multiple operating
systems on a single computer. The benefits of this flexibility and the
potential cost and time savings are significant in a variety of situations.
And again, the bottom line is that VPC lets your customers use one computer
as if it were two or three (or more). Your presentation to potential customers
should point out how this aspect of VPC means it can quickly generate
a return on investment many times over—and those savings are in