Thursday, November 25, 2010

Me and virtualization

I have been an avid user of virtualization for many years. Initially I started out with Virtual PC on the desktop to accommodate all the operating systems I had to support. These days I use Hyper-V to run both production and test machines. In this post I want to mention a very specific use I have and how I recently benefited from the machine being virtual.

Apart from all the technology I run a business day to day. This means I have to do my accounts and pay tax. I have done this via electronic submission for many years. As soon as I was given the opportunity by the Tax Department to use electronic submission I did and over the years I have had very little problem. The one major problem came about when I had to shift the software to a new machine. The issue had more to do with obtaining new digital certificates than it did changing hardware. However, none the less it was painful.

After that experience I decided to virtualize the machine. Why? Firstly, it meant that I could fairly easily transport the machine between host hardware systems without needing to reinstall. It meant that I could minimize what software I had on the machine (effectively just the electronic submission software). It meant that I could run it up as needed, make my submission to the tax office, update the machine, take a snapshot, back up the machine and then have it ready for next time. If I ever had issues during a submission I could easily rollback to the last snapshot and start afresh.

Now times move on and once again I was faced with an update to the electronic submission software. I installed it but was having issues updating it via the Internet. Because the machine was virtualized I could test just about every aspect of the machine without fear of ‘losing’ anything. After exhausting my meagre brain I contacted the nice people at the tax office technical support area for assistance. They got me to do all sorts of things to no avail. Again, because I had a virtual machine I could try any request they threw at me and return the machine to the original clean state. Another very handy aspect of virtual technology is that I could ‘freeze’ the machine in any state. This means when they called I could quickly have the machine running without the need to physically boot it up in exactly the same state I left it in.

After finally getting to level 3 support I was given a solution that works just fine. So now I have updated my virtual machine, taken a snapshot and shut it down ready for when I have to actually do my submission.

The take-aways? If you haven’t played with virtualization then you really should, on the desktop and the server. Rather than piling everything on a single desktop PC have a think about creating a ‘clean’ virtual machine that you use for specific tasks (maybe internet banking?). I think virtualization is great solution to some of life’s little ‘incompatibilities’!