Intel's intro of virtualization hardware for PCs should herald new era

Intel's intro of virtualization hardware for PCs should herald new era

Summary: Intel has announced the arrival of the first desktop chips to include its hardware-based virtualization technology known as VT (codenamed Vanderpool). This could very well signal a new era in desktop/notebook computing and I would think long and hard before buying a new system that doesn't include this new and worthwhile technology.

TOPICS: Virtualization

Intel has announced the arrival of the first desktop chips to include its hardware-based virtualization technology known as VT (codenamed Vanderpool). This could very well signal a new era in desktop/notebook computing and I would think long and hard before buying a new system that doesn't include this new and worthwhile technology.

While I am becoming Using a virtual machine for just one application is like driving on an empty road with airbags. increasingly more fond of thin client approaches to desktop computing -- particularly as new innovations that push on thin's shortcomings come to market like Dan Bricklin's WikiCalc  -- I'm also realistic about how destkop computing isn't heading into extinction anytime soon.  And when it comes to desktop computing, one technology that I've decided I can't do without (and that you shouldn't be without either) is VMWare's Workstation 5 virtual machine software.  My fondness of VW5 was multiplied tenfold when the company recently made its virtual machine runtime available for free

With virtual machines of the desktop sort that VW5 enables, PC users can literally carve their desktop and notebook systems into completely separate instances of Windows that run side-by-side with each other as though the other instances don't exist.  In other words, if some process in one tries some sort of security exploit like a buffer overflow, it can't get to the others any more than a buffer overflow could affect another computer across the network.  It can only get to whatever is running in that instance or "partition of Windows."  The idea of partitioning systems in this way makes it possible to dedicate partitions to specific activities.  For example, you can do all your Web browsing in one partition while you run your corporate applications in another and your personal applications like Quicken in a third and never the three shall meet.  I'm a Firefox user.  But for those Web sites that require Internet Explorer (which I'm always nervous about using), I just run it in a separate partition.  Using a virtual machine for just one application is like driving on a completely empty road with airbags.

VMWare, a subsidiary of EMC (see why Ashlee Vance says EMC should Set VMware free) is one of a handful of options for desktop users who want to go virtual.  There's also Microsoft's Virtual PC -- a technology that the Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to include in the enterprise edition of the next version of Windows (Windows Vista) and, to a lesser extent, an open source virtualization technology known as Xen that is just now working the kinks out of its support for Windows.  There's also VMWare competitor SWSoft (recently introduced 64-bit support for x86-64 architectures), but the company has made it very clear to me that its interest is primarily in virtualizing servers.   

So, why is the Intel announcement so significant? Until Intel started releasing its VT technology (it first debuted in the company's recently announced Paxville XEON server chips), companies like SWSoft, VMWare, and Microsoft had to do a lot of the virtual machine heavy lifting in their software.  Without any hardware assistance the likes of which VT provides, it takes far more in the way of physical resources (processor, memory) to launch and run virtual machines than it does if those instantiations can be activated through hardware.  While such technologies make it easier for competing virtual machine software solutions like Xen to get in the virtual machine game, Raghu Raghuram, VMware's senior director of strategy and marketing,  told me earlier this year that his company welcomes innovations like VT because end users will get better performance and his company can focus its attention on adding value in higher layers of the virtualization stack such as management.   VMWare is wasting no time in rolling out its support for Intel's VT technology.  According to a press release on its Web site, VT support is being beta tested in version 5.5 of VMWare Workstation, which the company expects to release by the end of the year.

Topic: Virtualization

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  • My PC has enough trouble with one copy of Windows running

    Ahh, virtual PCs and servers. The new brass ring of computing. Maybe you would get less BSODs ( if you didn't overwhelm your computer with garbage software and goofy virtualization schemes.

    As you already state in your article ("Without any hardware assistance the likes of which VT provides, it takes far more in the way of physical resources (processor, memory) to launch and run virtual machines than it does if those instantiations can be activated through hardware."), the current state of virtual machines is not ideal.

    Indeed, I would hazard a guess that it is about as expensive to have a second PC sitting next to the first one with a KVM switch than to supply one PC with enough system resources to do the same thing given the current state of software-based PC virtualization, assuming that one of the PCs is peripheral stripped (a simple CD-ROM drive in one, for example).

    Here's where virtualization may save money:

    * Software licsenses, if the software is licensed per physical machine as opposed to installed copy.
    * Expensive add-on hardware such as pricey sound cards or video cards will tip the balance.

    Will hardware based virtualization help? Maybe. assuming that there is zero system resource entropy or usage needed by the virtualization system, it is still a heck of a lot cheaper to get two low-end AMD or Intel chips and 256 or 512 MB RAM (more than enough for the needs of most people) than one CPU that is twice as powerful and twice as much RAM, and enough extra drive space to hold the second (or third, fouth, whatever) OS. Also don't forget that both OS's are going to be grabbing onto the hard drive at the same time. Since hitting swap file will kill you at this point, you'd better more than double the RAM, because while a machine with 256 MB RAM occassionally hitting swap is slow, imagine what happens when two copies of an OS both try hitting swap on the same hard drive simultaneously because you divided 512 MB RAM in half.

    This is also why I am not making a big song and dance over Mac OSX on Intel hardware (, because as far as I'm concerned, you still only want to have one OS running at a time on each piece of software.

    The only place where I see virtualization working out well is if you need two totally separate OS's running, and one of them is significantly less resource intensive. For example, you have a Windows 2003 server, but you want to have a rarely used (a few hundred visitors a day, let's say) B/S/LAMP server for your companies website, maybe running qmail as well. This setup works more than adequetely on a AMD Duron 750 with 128 MB RAM (that's what my BAMP server runs, and it barely hits 5% CPU usage), and therefore wouldn't cut into your Windows server too hard. Even in that situation, I'd want to put B/S/LAMP onto a separate hard drive, at the very least. Anything outside of that, like running 2, 3 copies of Windows XP and I say that you're asking for a headache.

    Justin James
  • Tell us honestly, now.

    And David, are you purchasing a legitimate Windows license for each of those VMs you are running under Workstation ?? Tell the truth ....
    • Probably not

      The most recent information ( says that Microsoft will be allowing this for Windows Server, but not Windows desktop products. Additionally, Windows XP is quite explicit about allowing multiple logins simultaneous. The "Fast USer Switching" and Remote Desktop are both designed so that two people may not simultaneously use the computer at once, although you may have multiple logins running software simultaneously as a background process. With virtualization, that goes out the window. You could put a second video card in, a second sound card, and connect a second mouse & keyboard up, and have each PC use a different set of those peripherals, even though they were both installed with the same liscense key. Alternatively, one Windows XP partition could be used via Remote Desktop and the other could be used locally. Either way, you're using the same license to allow multple persons to operate that computer, which is expressly against the design (and, I'm sure, the license) of Windows XP. A few years ago, there was this nifty little product called a Mira (Mirra? Mirage?) that was very similar to a Tablet PC, but it was more like an automatic Remote Desktop client. You could be doing something at your desk, pick this up & walk away from your desk, and via some wireless networking technology, all of your work could be accessed via its touch screen interface. It looked pretty cool, but it required you to purchase a second XP license to use.

      Finally, the Windows XP license agreement ( states VERY clearly, in the very first item:

      You may install, use, access, display and run one
      copy of the Software on a single computer, such as a workstation, terminal or other
      device (?Workstation Computer?).

      That makes it pretty clear. You MUST purchase a second XP license.

      "Using a virtual machine for just one application is like driving on a completely empty road with airbags."

      Yeah, I'm going to buy a second copy of XP just to run IE or Outlook in it. Not to mention the resource usage needed. GREAT idea. This quote should read:

      "Using a virtual machine for just one application is like driving through the Holland Tunnel southbound at 4:45 PM after taking a massive quantity of crystal methamphetamine to help 'calm you down' and flipping off the police officers at the toll booth just so they notice the dead body in your back seat."

      Mr. Berlind, please let us know that you are doing this legally. If you are not, fess up and admit that virtualization has a whole host of issues, not merely technical, but also legal and financial, which make your case for it even less compelling. I for one, know that it simply isn't worth the hassle and expense of having to purchase two separate copies of every piece of software, just to have the "nifty" factor of multiple OS's running. Unless, of course, you're running some FOSS OS's (which you've already said you aren't) in which case you're fine.

      Justin James
      • NSDB License

        I would expect that as a developer, Mr. Berlind would have an MSDN sunscription (paid for by ZD)which would allow him ten legal installs of XP.

        VMWare Workstation IS way cool for running multiple Ubuntu Linux instances <g>..
        • MSDN license terms

          Yeah, I was thinking that too. But what he's doing is not within the MSDN license. He is using that system in a production environment, which the MSDN license expressly forbids. :)

          Yeah, I can see virtualization in a setup where the OS's aren't total resource hogs. I can't vouch for Ubuntu, or even Linux in general, but I know that BSD is pretty lightweight to function as a server.

          Using virtualization in a lot of server situations makes sense. If you sell a dedicated server at, say, 256 MB RAM, 10 GB storage space, and 1.5 gHz of CPU, it makes good sense (and the customer can't really object) if the physical machine is a 3.0 gHz CPU with 512 MB RAM and a 20 GB drive.

          But using virtualization in a desktop system is just a total waste of resources in my mind, especially if one of the two OS's is Windows or Mac OSX (OSX is no resource lightweight either; Darwin, the BSD-based core is fine, but it's the whole GUI/Aqua bit that makes it heavy). Basically, yeah, I might be willing to do two - four *Nix's in virtual machines, especially if none (or only one) of them are running X Windows/KDE/GNOME. They've proven to run quite nicely on pretty weak systems.

          But unless I want to be running different *Nix's on the same hardware, or I'm doing a lot of testing and development and whatnot where I'd need multiple machines, I really need to ask myself: "WHY?" BSD, Solaris, Linux, etc. all are beyond reliable. Why would I want to put myself through the aggravation of using a virtual machine setup, just to have two copies of RedHat running at once? With a *Nix, what does it actually acheive?

          Justin James
          • Snapshots can save yur butt

            To tell the truth, I mostly use VMWare to test out files that I have obtained from possibly unsavory sources. If a virus whacks my VM, I can restore a snapshot in minutes.

            I agree this is a technology more suited to servers (which typically run at less than 10% utilization on average.) It really can let you get more out of your hardware investment.

            So you think MSFT is going to ask Davey boy to pony up if he hasn't sprung for all those licenses ?
      • Licenses...


        Excellent points about Microsoft licensing.

        Sounds like good reasons to use open source software that comes without such restrictions.
  • VT and VPS

    Users might be interested to know that there is a large market growth potential for VPS:

    And VT when rolled out only strengthens this type of application--virtual private servers.

    A way of getting access to servers and 'rent' with full root is one example

    This is an interesting trend and many sites (ISPs) are sprouting offering for VPSs that utilize Xen, UML and the like VM memory.

    XenSource is working on extensions to Xen to support Intel's VT technology and running Windows XP on Linux:

    By the way, Novell SuSE 10.0 comes for FREE at and includes Xen (so do some other Linux distros, like Red Hat Fedora 4).
    D T Schmitz
  • I agree

    Without VMware, I would have to run *gasp* Windoze natively! I would not be able to run my computer on Linux without VMWare - there's just no way (until game developers wake up and develop on Linux boxes). A few months back, I gave an ultimatum to my best friend - either use Linux or find another "free" support person. I was sick and tired or fixing his Windoze crap! So I set him up, and made sure he uses Linux for web and email. For GAMES ONLY I set up VMWare on his box. It was tough going, as VMWare's graphics performance is not up to snuff with native Windoze. He kept whining about slow response and wanting me to set up a dual-boot. We all know that dual-boot REALLY means single-boot, as once you are into Windoze - its easier to just stay there. Anyway, anything that InHell can do to make this process easier I'm all for!
    Roger Ramjet
  • What about AMD

    Is there any word from AMD that they will provide hardware virtualization also?

      1H '06
  • VMWare Rocks

    I have been using VMWare for over 4 years now. And you could not pry it from my cold dead hands.

    I have Many Windows (Licensed) VMs not to mention several Linux and Unix Distros that use 4.5 gig file sets that easily backup on to DVD+RW Disks. That?s right; I can completely back up a system onto rewriteable media in minutes. I also keep copies of ?Clean? installs on DVD+R Disks and can easily replace any infected or trashed machine in a matter of minutes.

    But the best part is - it is so much easier to try out new software in a sandbox that you can trash when you are done and not bug up your main systems.

    Oh I almost forgot VMWare runs on Windows and Linux/UNIX Hosts

    PS: I have no affiliation with VMWare or EMC other then Loyal Customer