Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two-for-One Laptops

My friend Jim told me about VirtualBox a year ago. I didn't think much about it at the time, but I downloaded it for my laptop, and then I downloaded it on my desktop. Now, inside the VirtualBox, I run Ubuntu Linux on my netbook (Windows XP) that I carry with me on trips, and on my iMac (Mac OS X) at home. All this for free! Why, you might ask, does this matter?

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy who's at a virtualization start-up. He told me about a large law firm in Silicon Valley whose lawyers like to work away from the office, probably on beaches or in ski chalets. Their problem? When these lawyers traveled, they had to carry two laptops, one from their IT department with all the approved applications and security, the other with all their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, photo, video, game, and other personal stuff.

Then someone in the IT department figured out what I figured out at home. They could deploy virtual desktops that run on the lawyers' laptops. Problem solved! The lawyers now carry a laptop of their choice (well, it has to have x86 chips inside) with all their personal stuff on it, and run a virtual machine that does what their second IT-issue laptop used to do. It's a two-for-one laptop. The lawyers are happy to carry one laptop instead of two. The IT department is happy because they buy fewer machines and deploy the same the apps and security as before.

You'd think VMware would clean up in this market. I think the market is still fragmented enough for new entrants.

In fact, companies like MokaFive and Doyenz are entering the virtualization market with different technologies and market focus. On the technology side, there are differences in how much of the virtual software goes on a server (so-called cloud computing) versus on the end-user device. On the market focus side, all these companies are approaching different verticals with different packages of solutions. One solution you've probably known about for a while, but never thought of in this context, is the virtual PBX offered as a service from RingCentral and Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral).

Cloud computing may be one of the reasons Oracle is buying Sun. Virtualization in Solaris has a huge performance advantage over VMWare's virtualization using hyperviser. According to Forbes,
What Solaris offers IT is a top-to-bottom engineered approach to virtualization where the hardware, the hypervisor, the OS and the ZFS file system are all designed to deliver optimal performance and manageability. Solaris Containers are a lightweight but powerful virtualization option with very low processing overhead (2% vs. about 20% for a hypervisor). Linux will get there but at a slower pace as the multiple parties involved negotiate with each other.
Of course, Oracles also gets VirtualBox as part of the deal. That tells me there will lots more competition and new products in the virtualization space soon.

But, why wait? You can do it all in the safety of your home today.

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