Tuesday, October 30, 2007

(NYSE:VMW) VMWare Converter 3 - Awesome Product!

I just finished using VMWare's Converter program (which, for the VMWare Converter Starter Edition, is FREE by the way) to quickly create a virtual-machine from a physical machine at a client site, and it worked flawlessly. The free VMWare's Converter 3.02 download (latest release version as of 10/18/2007), enabled me to create a completely software-based clone of a running physical web-server in only about 1/2 an hour, and copy the resulting two files (a VMX file, which is a text file with the virtual machine's configuration information; and a VMDK file, which is the VM's virtual-disk file) over to a notebook computer where I quickly verified the results using VMWare's other awesome (and FREE) product, VMWare Player 2.0 (dowload VMWare Player 2.0 here - latest version is VMWare Player 2.0.2 as of 10/18/2007).

I can't fully express how awesome these VMWare Products are, especially when used in conjunction to fully realize the synergistic power of software virtualization coupled with hardware / physical-machine conversion to a virtual entity. And, these are the free software products from VMware! VMware (NYSE:VMW) also has the more robust VMware Workstation 6.0 series, as well as other desktop and server-based hardware virtualization products targeting software developers, individuals, small business and enterprise applications.

In my personal use yesterday, I needed a way to take a company's live web-server off-line to test connectivity to a new DB machine and verify some new web-server code that was to be deployed soon, but I did not want to impact up-time to the customers which use the production web server around the clock. So, I installed the VMWare converter product on the live web-server (which didn't require a reboot or anything!) and proceeded to "convert" the physical machine to a Virtual Machine (the files mentioned previously, that run as a virtual computer using VMware Player or Workstation) without any reboots or downtime at all!

I copied the resulting VMware Converter output files (a single directory with the two files as noted above) to my notebook computer, and then used that virtual computer, running with VMware Player, to pre-test the new database-server-connectivity, a Windows 2003 Service Pack 2 install on the web-server (which, did in fact reveal an IIS change made by the Service Pack that would need to be quickly changed in production after applying the Service Pack), and a new COM+ component install and some ASPX (ASP DotNet) code. All of this testing was done with no interruption to the production web-server!

Having just pretested my implementation strategy using a virtual machine, I minimized the likelihood of any unforeseen delays and installation issues when working with the production web-server. In fact, I was able to provide my client with a quick estimate of down-time to expect to repeat the same thing in production - which, was likely not to exceed even one hour to do it all.

One thing I am pushing for at this particular client site is they go a step further and turn the production web-server into a virtual machine. Then, since no data is persisted on their web server machine (it's all stored in separate SQL Server 2005 on another firewall-secured server), I could simply take a copy of the web-server's virtual machine files when it needs updated, apply any updates and test them thoroughly, then reinstall the updated VM copy back into production, bringing down-time to as low as a couple minutes - hardly any more than a reboot of the web-server. For that, VMware workstation (a for-cost product, but extremely reasonable price of under $200!) will serve as my virtual-machine manager of choice on the physical server. and I will also consolidate another one of the client's web-sites to that same box as another VM.

Bottom line: virtualization products can be a huge time and expense saver, and VMware's products are the best out there from my personal experience. I can not emphasize enough how helpful these products can be in testing out deployment plans and scenarios BEFORE doing a full production upgrade or install. But yet, I continually encounter IT (information technology) people that have never even heard of the products, or have not tried them, or have said they can't justify the cost (uh, hello guys, these things are FREE for the most part, or quite reasonably priced). Instead, I have seen people waste countless hours (and dollars) working around NOT using virtualization software -- perhaps once upper company management and owners learns the full potential of virtual machine products, any resistance in the IT area will be met with an unwillingness to employ those with such resistance.

By the way, have you seen VMWare's stock price (NYSE:VMW) lately!? Last I looked, it now has a higher p/e multiple than Google. Some of this may be hype, but much of it is the realization that server consolidation (i.e., less physical hardware) and the resulting energy, equipment, and space savings is a huge way to save money! And, on top of this, the simplicity and flexibility of managing virtual machines (compared to physical ones) offers all sorts of savings potential - some of which I have described herein. Fact is, given how few IT people have yet to work with virtualization technology, there seems to be plenty of growth left in this industry. Check it out!

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