My Midsummer Night’s Dream of A Virtual Lab

I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. 'Twas something virtual and free, as in ale or speech, to me.

I’ve spent too many hours and a lot of my own money setting up virtual machine infrastructures for article, chapter or blog research only to have demo versions of those products run out of date or fail completely on me in my time of need. Since I have limited financial, time and space resources, it occurred to me that companies who develop and sell virtualization products should provide a virtual laboratory to their resellers (VARs), selected industry professionals, consultants and technical writers. Technical writers, specifically yours truly, regularly review, analyze, interview, discuss, post and author on topics that help promote their products. So, why not allow us the privilege of having free and unlimited access to these products via a virtual lab?

To give fair assessments of vendor products, I need complete and fully functional copies of those products. Vendors who do supply me with their products never supply the required hardware to go along with them. Often the hardware requirements are very high thus making my use of the product almost impossible. A virtual lab is the only logical answer.

So Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion

Microsoft, VMware, Citrix all allow you to download and use their hypervisor software free of charge but what isn’t free is the hardware on which you install it. All of these enterprise-level hypervisors require 64-bit, multi-core processor systems equipped with enough RAM to power the console operating system plus your virtual machines. This is where confusion sets in for unsuspecting, starry-eyed customers—they aren’t able to install the software on their existing hardware—even for testing. A virtual lab would solve this dilemma.

As a vendor, wouldn’t you like prospective customers to enjoy experiencing your software the way they should? A virtual lab would allow prospective customers, VARs and technical writers to fully explore the wonderful world that is your commercial software offering with all its bells and whistles—not just a few. Instead of confusion and frustration, they’ll experience your software the way you want them to: The correct hardware, the correct installation, the correct first impression.

Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be!

We often sit back in our lofty towers and feel that we provide everything that one needs for success: A free product, reams of documentation, a phone number and an email address. It’s easy to feel that once someone sees your product, they’ll fall head over heels in love with it. However, which one will they ultimately choose? The one that works for them.

Once someone downloads your product, success or failure is out of your hands. And, the part that really stinks is that you might not ever know whether they’ve had success or failure. Feedback is not a requirement for either outcome. Don’t assume success, guarantee it by providing those prospective customers with something that will surely close the deal for you: A virtual lab.

My Oberon! What Visions I Have Seen!

Yes, there would be cost associated with setting up and maintaining such a system. How many new customers will you glean from its existence? How many more articles, books and blogs will you benefit from by providing it?

As a vendor, your benefits won’t stop at those if you require registration and feedback for the continuing use of the service. This feedback acts as a community resource for your product by giving you valuable information for future developments and improvements. Follow the open source community model for your product whether it’s open source or commercial and proprietary. Learn from your community. Your community includes all of those bloggers, columnists, observers and analysts as well as your customers and VARs.

A virtual lab is my dream and my hope is that vendors will decide that it’s a good idea and implement it. With VMworld 2009 quickly approaching, there’s just enough time to setup a service for an announcement of it during that event. I’m betting that the benefits from such a service are the stuff from which dreams are made. And now, I, your ass-headed columnist, must take my leave for I have an exposition of sleep come upon me.

Comments on "My Midsummer Night’s Dream of A Virtual Lab"


\”This is where confusion sets in for unsuspecting, starry-eyed customers—they aren’t able to install the software on their existing hardware—even for testing. A virtual lab would solve this dilemma.\”

For real-time testing the high-end stuff like VMotion, load-balancing, etc, that\’s true. For leaning about VMware or for developing things to run in the datacentre, it certainly isn\’t. I\’m accomplishing many useful things with VMware server (free) on a desktop system with Intel DQ35JO MoBo, E8400 CPU (2 real cores, 4 Hyperthread cores – a quad Q9xxx CPU would be better), 4Gb RAM (8GB upgrade is possible), CentOS 5.3 i86-64 host, Intel VT turned on in the BIOS (not essential), and an old PCI Ethernet card to give me an eth1 to play with.

This isn\’t even top-end desktop hardware. That would be Core i7, 12Gb RAM (24Gb possible).

The VMWare training course I went on was using real VMWare ESX but the datastore was just a bog-standard Linux server exporting via NFS. Too slow for production(?) but VMotion & load-balancing demo worked fine.

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