Perhaps One Day, We'll Send Our VMs Away For Their UpdatesPerhaps One Day, We'll Send Our VMs Away For Their Updates
Some people think I'm crazy, but I really love my current system configuration. I run with a MacBook Pro and it's worth every ounce of weight and every dollar paid for it. Thanks to VMware's VMware Fusion which lets me run Windows Vista in a virtual machine on this Mac, I'm having my cake and eating it too (read on, and you'll see what I mean by that). But I'm irked by a little quirk and am now wondering what role the cloud (particularly offerings like Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud or maybe som
September 5, 2008
Some people think I'm crazy, but I really love my current system configuration. I run with a MacBook Pro and it's worth every ounce of weight and every dollar paid for it. Thanks to VMware's VMware Fusion which lets me run Windows Vista in a virtual machine on this Mac, I'm having my cake and eating it too (read on, and you'll see what I mean by that). But I'm irked by a little quirk and am now wondering what role the cloud (particularly offerings like Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud or maybe some new startup) might play in maintaining the health of virtual machines like mine.People think I'm a little anal when it comes to running both Mac OS X and Windows Vista at the same time. My only beef about doing so is that I'm somewhat tied to Apple's hardware. Not that I dislike Apple's hardware. But I always like how choice leads to innovation. Unfortunately, if you want to run both OSes on one machine, you don't have much choice on the hardware side because there's no way to run an OS X-based virtual machine on a Windows host. Thanks to Apple's restrictions, the only option is to run a Windows VM on an OS X host using one of the virtual machine solutions like Fusion or Parallels. I've heard of workarounds but quite frankly, I just want to install something and have it work and know it's supported by someone.
Why do I need both OSes? Two of the sites I regularly visit require Internet Explorer. Though it's simply the lesser of three evils, Microsoft Outlook bests Mac Mail and Mozilla's Thunderbird when it comes to integrated mail/calendaring and for accessing a Gmail back end through the IMAP protocol (which, unlike POP, supports folder synchronization). I can test products like Google's Chrome that are released for Windows first (or Windows only). My primary choice for a portable audio player is Sandisk's Sansa View (I really love this little thing) and it's one of many non-iPods on the market that relies on Windows Media Player for keeping it loaded with your latest music and video purchases. By the way, whenever I buy music on line, I buy it from Amazon's MP3 store. Amazon offers a great iTunes like application for browsing its store. More importantly, since the MP3s I buy there aren't saddled with DRM, I've set Amazon's downloader to drop any MP3s I buy into a directory that (1) is shared between the Windows VM and Mac OS X, (2) iTunes is pointing to, and (3) Windows Media Player is pointing to. In other words, everyhing points to one location for all my audio and video. Not only does this give me a choice of which media player to use at any given time, but I can also synch everything to an iPod if I want and I can use iTunes to subscribe to podcasts in a way that they're dumped into that directory too (after which point, Windows Media synchs those podcasts to the Sansa View). Finally, VMware Fusion is awesome because, using VMware's virtual machine runtime, I can use my Windows Vista virtual machine on other computers as well, including ones where the host is Windows (and not Mac OS X). For example, sometimes I don't want to lug my big MacBook around. Or, when my wife and I head off somewhere, we only want to bring one computer with us. We can bring her smaller lighter Lenovo notebook and, when it's my turn to use it, I just run my virtual machine on it and, voila, most of what I need is there. A couple of downsides to VMware Fusion: despite multiple updates where VMware has said the problem should be fixed, I cannot get the Windows VM to create a virtual network adapter with its own IP address (so it appears on the network as a completely separate machine). One reason I want to do this is so I can keep Mac OS X on the corporate VPN (over its IP address) while making sure all the traffic from my Windows VM stays off the VPN. If I have to share one IP address (which is what I must do now), then all traffic from both operating systems is routed over the corporate VPN when I'm connected to it. Another downside, not not necessarily attributable to Fusion itself, but certainly attributable to VMware is that you need a user ID and password on VMware's Web site to grab updates. There came a time when I forgot my password and initiated the password recovery scheme. Shockingly, VMware runs a very amateurish and insecure password recovery scheme where it actually sends users their old password over the Internet. Internet email is not encrypted and the last thing I want is for a password that I also use for other sites to be transmitted across the Internet in clear text. The better way to handle this is to reset my password to a temporary one and then allow me to come back into the VMware site and reset that password to whatever I want over an encrypted (SSL) channel from my browser. I'm forming a "blacklist" of Web sites that need to fix this practice of sending existing passwords over the Internet. If you know of any, please send them to me at [email protected] and I'll add them to the list. We need to hold the operators of these sites accountable for their lax security practices. Perhaps the biggest downside of using virtual machines (VMware or others) is the amount of stress it puts on a notebook's processor to run both operating systems simultaneously (with various applications open). My MacBook's cooling fan whips up a storm when I'm using both OSes with a bunch of apps open. But things really heat up when something in Windows Vista automatically updates itself or the McAfee anti-virus package I have on it decides to run one of its scans. When one of these conditions occurs, both operating systems become less responsive and I find myself wishing for a way to get that work done faster so I can get back to the snappy system I'm used to. Much the same way I can copy my VM to my wife's notebook, the "stressful update" got me thinking. Surely, there must be a way to copy my VMs to a more powerful system (perhaps one in the cloud on Amazon's EC2 or something) where it can run all the updates in a couple of seconds and then synch back to my system. The process would involve triggers so that all the update processes held off until they sensed they were in the higher performing update environment. Once there, the updates and scans and such would automatically trigger and complete themselves. In some ways, I feel like this idea is sort of like sending your kids off to college. They go off for a while and come back smarter. From your point of view, the whole process is largely an unattended one.
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