Virtual World: A new approach to the web
Desktop virtualization is transforming enterprise computing much in the same way
that the personal computer did in the 1980's and 90's. The shift then was away from the
consolidation of mainframe computers: Hulking behemoths of expensive machinery, mainframe computers were intended for maximum use and throughput. In the 60's and 70's the consolidation inherent in mainframe computing was a good thing: The extremely expensive hardware could be purchased by a large organization and shared between thousands of people. The age of the personal computer dawned: Video games, movies and video, music playback and synthesis. The market suddenly shifted away from business transactions and towards calculating locations in 3D. Computers became a lot less about the numbers and the answers gained, and a lot more about how you get there. (To a large extent, more about how pretty it is, too.) It became significantly more important to have one's own computer. One's own graphics card and one's own sound card: Voice chat would be really slow if your processor was halfway across town, at the University or
colocation hosting facility.
The transformation occurring today is a shift back towards the consolidated computer. The huge corporations can bring an entire building, campus... even an entire company's computer fleet down to one cluster running a virtualization service. Hardware can be used to 90-100% of its capacity rather than the average 10-20% for physical servers. This saves on maintenance, upkeep, upgrades. Virtualization is being used widely in business sectors, with the United States, India and Singapore topping the interest charts. Web virtualization is also popular, allowing a vendor such as a plesk hosting
company to sell "slices" of their servers: A small (Or any size) virtual machine that allows the user to install their own software. This machine is treated as if it belonged to the user, but it happens to physically reside with the hosting company.
Desktop virtualization is somewhat different from the enterprise consolidation aforementioned. Products such as VMWare Player/Workstation, Microsoft Virtual PC or VirtualBox allow end users to create a number of virtual instances. Aside from being cool, this is useful for a number of different reasons: First of all, it provides the ultimate solution to compatibility: If you have a program that only runs on Windows 95, chances are it's not going to play nicely with Windows 7 64-bit. So what do you do? Install Win 95, of course! Second, developers can use these tools to test their programs or web sites on a number of different platforms. Windows XP might behave differently from Vista, and definitely behaves differently from OS X. Virtual machines let the developer work on different types of computers without actually requiring those computers.
There are some drawbacks to a virtual desktop, however. The hardware acceleration, for one, is not always supported. Especially with open products like VirtualBox, compared to VMWare Workstation, the difference in graphics and sound performance is noticeable. There is also a constant resource overhead that can be somewhat annoying. If your system is not particularly strong (Lots of memory and a couple cores at least) then the guest OS will be choppy. In general, desktop virtualization is a poor choice if you want to play games, watch movies, use Flash (Or other proprietary multimedia technologies.) If you were to choose a virtualization product for these purposes, however, then you should expect to have to pay.
The world of tomorrow will involve higher market & public interest penetration for virtualization. As it becomes more prominent in business and government, we are sure to see some technological breakthroughs resulting in higher efficiency and throughput. Server rooms will be moved to colocation hosting buildings elsewhere in the country, or even elsewhere in the world. Products like Remote Desktop Services are already replacing the 'smart' workstation with 'dumb' terminals in enterprise environments. Desktop Virtualization is already in the middle of its revolution, and it's nearly midday.