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article imageVirtualization- end of the operating systems mystique for computers?

By Paul Wallis     Aug 29, 2007 in Science
A new company called VMware is causing shudders, or looks like it should be. VMware specializes in virtualization, which is the process of making different operating systems work together.
VMware just floated on the stock market, and it’s said to have been the most successful launch of a tech stock, for years. Its stock in trade is virtualization applications, across a wide spectrum of users. The technology is getting a lot of traction in the IT realms. One of the reasons for the enthusiasm is that it seems to solve a lot of problems.
With virtualization any program can operate on any piece of hardware using any operating system. A common operator. That’s not great news for the present titans of the industry, Microsoft, Apple, and Linux.
This Sydney Morning Herald article has some information which doesn’t quite gel, when trying to understand virtualization. It’s written in the paper’s technology section, so it’s probably geared to people with a bit more information than the average computer user. It refers to “virtual machines”, an expression which must mean more to someone than it does to me. Nor am I overcome with embarrassed comprehension after reading something like "thin layer of software applied to the hardware".
I don’t know enough about the technology to express much more than an opinion that the world’s need for efficient computers outweighs the proprietary interests of anyone.
As it is, data loads are crushing, and getting much bigger. Computers which can run anything beat those that can only operate whatever software happens to be available for a given operating system. An absurdity exists whereby stunningly lousy, unbelievably irritating, rubbish is compulsory software. Anyone who remembers the early accounting software is probably still having nightmares.
Some computers have to run at plod level because of operating system protocols, as I understand it. I’m far from being an expert, but when you see 19kb of something taking millennia on a Pentium 4 with 800+Mhz speed and 512 RAM, you know something’s wrong. Compared to the processor and performance potential, that’s not even a corn flake’s worth of data.
Let’s face it, the computer user wants “Click, done.” Not “Click, wait for next geological epoch, not done.”
VMware itself has come up with something which explains its position and products, thankfully. It boils down to a more efficient use of computer resources, enabling multiple use of operating systems, simultaneously. The original idea sprang from a need to use mainframes more effectively.
One thing has to be said about VMware's approach: the ideas are good, and the thinking goes somewhere. The intro to virtualization refers to a "virtual infrastructure" operating across hundreds of computers.
Is your intranet feeling blue/hyperventilating/like you've just swallowed gravel? Try virtualization.
I do know enough about basic IT to know that anything which would dare to imply itself to be a virtual network is aiming high. It can mean no longer being stuck with the mysterious debilitating neuroses of whatever happens to be on your network. A sort of IT Utopian vision, in some ways, but it's what's needed, too.
Virtualization can also be applied to servers, too, so there's a fair percentage of the IT population who may yet escape auto-pattern baldness, the condition caused by tearing out chunks of hair and scalp while wrestling with server problems.
Sales pitch it may be, but the amount of human suffering it could prevent...!
The Sydney Morning Herald article makes one point very clear which wouldn’t be lost on anyone. It means that software installation can become a lot cheaper. Not being bound to operating systems, compatibility, and other moldy albatrosses does make sense. Even now, people still scream about how poorly some software runs on their systems. It’s been a built in inefficiency, and a thoroughly useless one. Virtualization sounds like a very marketable idea.
Microsoft itself is said to be working on some form of virtualization. Not before time, you’d think, for the company making 90% of the world’s computers. Particularly if it’s a known operating principle for mainframes, because personal computers have been following the mainframes’ lineage of development, in many ways.
This could get very interesting indeed. Disk operated systems are also heading for the museum. Add virtualization to solid state computers, and we might be getting somewhere. The $100 personal computer might be a lot closer than we’ve been led to believe.
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