7 years ago someone showed me VMWare for the first time. I remember my jaw-dropping. Here was somebody running Linux on their computer, but running a full-blown instance of Windows as well in a ‘Virtual Machine’ (VM). The VM even showed a BIOS screen when you ‘powered’ it on. This was huge – to be able to run applications on different Operating Systems in isolated machines opened up opportunities that just didn’t exist before.
In the years since then people have used VMWare, or Microsoft’s equivalents of Virtual PC and Virtual Server, for a lot of different tasks such as being able to run Windows applications even when your primary OS is Linux, to running VMs as production servers for ease of configuration. In the software development world VMs are often used to allow testing across a whole suite of OS’s, user configurations, etc. For instance when you are writing a Web Application you want to test with multiple OS’s, multiple browsers, multiple screen resolutions, that kind of thing. You may have many different permutations of these, and to have a physical machine for each would just be too much overhead. With VM technology though you can setup a multiple VMs very easily, and even automate your testing so you run against every configuration regularly (e.g. overnight.) Connextra, the eXtreme Programming pioneering company in the UK, were doing exactly this several years ago.
VMWare have undoubtedly driven this in the x86 world, with Microsoft playing catch-up. This week though, VMWare dropped the biggest bombshell since they launched their original product – they made it free. No, we’re not talking about the limited functionality ‘VMWare Player’ which they announced a few months back, we’re talking about VMWare Server, the next version of their baseline GSX Server product, just renamed, with extra functionality and a price tag of zero.
Why is this such a big deal? ‘Local decisions’ often drive a ‘global strategy’. By that I mean that often when we want to implement something new its hard to justify it in terms of long term benefit, and its much easier to justify it short term. Using VM technology though is very much a long term benefit – the short term alternative is just to use a spare PC that’s hanging around. As such, its hard in a short term context to justify the cost of buying VMWare, or Virtual Server, licenses. By removing this purchased licensing barrier VMWare have removed the short term barrier, and so open up organisations to make that short term leap. Of course, VMWare are hoping that such organisations are going to want to purchase the higher-value products they offer once they start seeing the benefits of virtualisation.
I’m very excited about this – I think that VM technology is fantastic for software delivery, right from development through QA to production deployment. I’ll be posting more on this in the future.