While sitting at a family reunion a few weeks ago, my mother-in-law, a retired school teacher who now spends much of her free time quilting, asked me about virtualization on her home computer. She has an Apple iMac at home and she just got a new sewing machine that can copy design files from a USB thumb drive. The problem is, the program to manage the design files runs only on a Windows PC. The solution, as decided in her quilting group, was to get Parallels and get the designs onto the sewing machine that way. I was, and still am, in a bit of shock, considering there is still confusion in that group about how wireless computer keyboards work.
When computer virtualization makes its way into a quilting club we know there’s something to it. What is virtualization? As with most things, it’s older than you might think. In the 1960s, mainframes would be virtualized so that specific resources could be allocated to specific applications. Since the big, powerful and expensive mainframe was never used to full capacity, it was sub-divided into smaller sections so it could serve multiple masters.
Modern virtualization is very much the same. As a very basic example: take a server, supply it with lots and lots of memory and disk space, and then virtualize it into many smaller servers. Each virtual server gets its own CPU, memory and disk resources. Instead of installing many applications onto a single, physical server, which can potentially cause conflicts, virtualization allows for the creation of a server for a specific task. Email gets its own server as does accounting, production, CRM, etc. Virtualization is great for providing test servers when upgrading important enterprise applications or for providing a training environment.
Like all technology, virtualization has both benefits and drawbacks. Virtualization is good in that it allows you to use fewer physical servers, which in turn can save floor space and power consumption. Backups and duplication are relatively easy because you can easily copy a virtualized server…instant backup and nearly instant duplication in most cases. A significant drawback to virtualizing is that you are now “putting all the eggs in one basket” – if your physical hardware fails now, more than one server will be unavailable.
As with all technology decisions, weigh the pros and cons and talk with your IT staff and technology consultants to make sure virtualization is the right way to go for your organization.
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 Parallels is an application for Apple computers that allow them to run virtual instances of Windows (or other) computers. It is similar to Microsoft Virtual PC or VMWare.