Virtualization … a whole new level of abstraction

I love to think about the future, and how it is going be for my 4 year old son. As I consider the models of “how things are”, I keep wanting to explore the “edges” more and think about what things are going to be like 10 years from now … or 20!

Virtualization is one of those technologies that is just beginning to alter how we look at hardware and software.  The hardware that we are buying is now so powerful, that we can emulate whole PCs on our PCs.  On a daily basis I am running Linux on my laptop … in a window, on Windows, using Microsoft Virtual PC.  I am also running Windows XP and Windows 2000 in Virtual PC on my desktop at work for testing purposes.  What is fun is that I now have a library of “machines” that I have created in Virtual PC, and I carry these on my 80GB pocket USB hard disk.  Windows (various versions), Linux (numerous distros), OpenSolaris, OpenDarwin … even a CP/M hack.  When I set up my new desktop machine I simply copied my “test machines” onto the new hard disk, and immediately booted them in my free Virtual PC that I downloaded and installed.

What I found last week – and predicted years ago – is that “virtual hard disks” are now being distributed by Microsoft.  Do you want to check out Windows Server?  Exchange Server?  SQL Server?  Instead of installing all of that software, simply download the pre-configured Virtual Hard Disk and boot it in Virtual Server!  You are instantly up and running with a machine ready to go!

What is facinating to me, is that I start to see this as a whole new level of software distribution.  Instead of downloading ISOs images of CDs and DVDs … just download the vitual hard disk and boot it!  Why download the software to run on yor machine … when you can download the machine!?!?!  I can begin to see a future where people are running numerous virtual machines on their desktop or laptop … just as we run applications on our OS today.

There are already tools like WinImage that can read and write the .vhd (virtual hard disk) file format, and Microsoft has opened up the specification for others to use this format.  What this means is that we are watching the first moves to create a “standard” format for passing virtual machines around on the Internet.

I’m curious when we’ll see the first Linux distros that realize that offering their installed solution as a .vhd might get them some real traction with Windows users who want to experiment with Linux?  I’m also watching to see what Internet web site becomes the defacto palce to download *any* .vhd that you might want?  Who will become the one-stop-shop for grabbing a VM?  I can see whole libraries of VMs being developed and made available … all in the not too distant future!

Oh yeah … and my son?  I can already see that he won’t be into “file sharing” on the Internet … he’ll probably be into “machine sharing” or “VM sharing” … or what ever comes after that.

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