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10 cool things virtualization lets you do

Keir Thomas | Feb. 25, 2011
Virtualization isn't just for geeks or those who run enormously powerful servers. It offers something for everybody, and if you haven't yet dipped your toe into the virtualization ocean, then you're at serious risk of being left behind.

You could create a snapshot in the virtual machine, open the infected file within the VM to access the data and, if the virus causes chaos, simply click to restore the VM snapshot. Hey presto--a clean virtualized computer.

3. Browse in Complete Safely

Why not install Windows on VMware Player, then install Firefox, and run it in Unity mode so it appears to run natively on the host computer?

Essentially Firefox will be running in what's known as a sandbox, meaning that should it (or one of its plugins) get hacked while you're online, there'll be no absolutely no risk to your actual operating system. You could create a snapshot once everything's been configured in the virtual machine in order to get things back up and running quickly, should anything go wrong.

4. Test Software, Upgrades, or New Configurations

The virus testing technique above isn't limited to malware. You could use your virtual computer to test new software, updates, or even new configurations of software before you roll them out for real on your main OS.

Some server administrators use virtualization to create a copy of an existing installation of an operating system, plus its data, which they then run virtualized and play with to see if configuration changes or updates will cause any harm. If you manage workstation computers and want to be sure a Windows update is OK before rolling it out, you could do the same thing--just test it in a virtualized machine first.

5. Run Linux on Top of Windows (or vice-versa)

Want to give Linux a try but can't face repartitioning your computer's hard disk? Provided that it would ordinarily install on your computer, you can run just about any operating system inside a virtual machine, including most Linux distros.

Linux and Mac users have been using virtualization for years to run Windows on top of their chosen OS in this way.

If you run a Linux machine for mail or Web services, as examples, having a desktop version of Linux for occasional use will also make it easier to communicate with the server. There's no need to install PuTTY on Windows to communicate via secure shell (SSH), for example, because Linux has that kind of thing built-in.

6. Back Up an Entire Operating System

Because the virtual OS is entirely contained within a series of files, backing it up is as simple as backing up any other files. It's the same with virtualized server installations too. If you're running a virtual machine on a server to host your mail server, and it's brought down by a hack attack, then bringing things back to working order is as simple as restoring the backup files (assuming the vulnerability that allowed the hack is quickly addressed once things are up and running, of course).


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