Virtual testing lab

GCN Insider | Trends & technologies that affect the way government does IT

Recently, we got the chance to play with the free VMWare Player from VMware Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. Even from our limited tests, we can see the potential for virtualization. Running a program, or even an entire operating system, within the protected sandbox is a good way of testing software without corrupting the host OS with viruses, reconfigurations or bad code in general.

Think of the VMware player as a type of browser for applications. You install it on your machine, and then run what VMware calls virtual appliances. A virtual appliance consists of the application you want to run and a supporting OS, both bundled into a single, large .VMX file.

VMware itself has a repository of virtual appliances at its Web site. Most of these are specialized applications such as content management systems. For our tests, we ran the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Yes, this is a full OS, which ran as a single thread on our own computer's OS'in our case, Windows XP.

We tried out a good number of Ubuntu features and programs, most of which worked just fine. Exceptions: VMware couldn't connect Ubuntu to the sound card, and even though the VMware establishes a separate IP number for the network card, it wasn't one that fell under the range we used for our network. Predictably, virtualization of a full OS takes up a lot of resources. Our Ubuntu quickly swelled to occupy more than 270MB of RAM and assumed 95 percent of the host CPU's capabilities.

All in all, though, application performance within the virtual container of applications seemed only slightly more sluggishly than normal. We could see very easily what Ubuntu was all about. And after we first booted Ubuntu, we didn't have to keep booting it on successive sessions. The player works as kind of a state machine'marking where you were when you shut down the player and returning you automatically to that point when you start again. We're hoping more vendors'and in-house development teams'offer test drives of their wares through virtualization containers. It certainly would make life easier for potential users.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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