Imagine only being able to run one software program at a time on your computer. What if, in order to check your email, you had to turn off your office application? What if you had to close your PDF reader in order to use the Internet?
While we take for granted that we can use more than one software application at a time, we seldom consider running more than one operating system at once. Virtualization software — programs that allow you to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single computer — allows you to do just that. Using virtualization software, you can run multiple operating systems on one physical machine. The technology is now mainstream enough that it is a built-in feature in Windows 7 Professional and in Windows Server 2008 R2.
Below, we'll show you how virtualization software works, what it can be used for, and a few virtual software packages your nonprofit or library may wish to consider. Virtualizing can allow you to turn one computer into many, saving time, money, energy, and space.
Running multiple operating systems is not a new concept. Since the early days of desktop computing, software engineers have found ways to do this using boot managers or boot loaders. Mac OS X includes Boot Camp which allows for a Windows operating system to be installed on an Apple machine. What makes virtualization software different is that it's a much simpler and straightforward process, and you can run multiple operating systems simultaneously.
Virtualization software runs like any other application. To get started, you power up your computer, load the virtualization program, and install an operating system from its install CD, DVD, or .iso file. In virtualization parlance, the main operating system is called the "host" operating system, and the secondary operating systems the "guest" operating system. Once the virtualization software is running, each subsequent operating system you install on your PC will act like a new computer. For instance, one computer might run a Linux server, two Windows servers, and three other Linux servers — for a total of six servers (five guests and one host) you could access at once. On the network, each server would appear as a unique system. You could run programs, share files, and do anything on these guest systems that you could do with a real computer. But, you've got the convenience and cost-savings of running all of them from one machine.
Depending on your IT architecture, the nature of your work, and your IT budget, virtualization software can offer a variety of advantages to your nonprofit or library.
It is not uncommon for offices that run mostly Macs to need to run one or two Windows-only programs; in this case, virtual software can be an affordable, easy way to do this. Note, however, that the reverse is not applicable; many virtualization applications for PCs allow you to run Linux, but not Mac operating systems.
Despite its many benefits, keep in mind that virtualization software is not for everyone. There is a learning curve in both conceptualizing how virtual machines will function in your network and organization, as well as managing them reliably and cost-effectively. If your staff has trouble with physical computers, you may need to consider making sure which machine is the guest and which is the host extremely transparent to your users, or explaining to them in simple terms how this will affect their day-to-day work, if at all.
Virtualization software is available for a variety of needs, ranging from free or no-cost software for desktop users to six-figure packages for datacenter operators.
The package you choose will depend on what you need to accomplish with the technology. Other factors to consider include how many computers you currently have, your level of technical expertise, and the kind of tech support available at your nonprofit.
If your organization is considering virtualization technology, here are some popular options you may wish to consider. For a broader comparison of the features of these and other packages, Wikipedia's Comparison of Virtual Machines may provide a general reference as well.
Even if your nonprofit or library doesn't currently have a need for virtualization software, knowing that the technology exists can help you plan for the future and may be a factor for future buying decisions. Virtualization has the potential to greatly streamline your organization's IT infrastructure and operational workflow, but it must be planned out with a clear understanding of its compatibility with your organization's present and future IT needs.
Image: Laptop (notebook) with sky desktop wallpapers isolated on the white, Shutterstock
Join today to access donations and discounts for your nonprofit or library.
Already a member?