A few weeks ago I downloaded the free version of VMWare Server to try out a few operating systems on my testbed Ubuntu box. Installation went quite well (even though it felt like I was building something from CPAN) and it even handled building some modules for the Linux kernel I had installed quite gracefully.
What I stumbled upon and have been thinking about off and on for the last few weeks is the selection of virtual appliances available for download. There are two pretty big things that you can do with this wide assortment of preconfigured images.
First, these virtual appliances are killer for evaluating applications, servers, and software stacks. If you’re evaluating mail platforms you can download the Open-Xchange appliance and run it with VMWare Player, testing it in a lab or with your existing infrastructure. If you’ve used SQL Server for years but want to see what else is out there you can experiment with PostgreSQL or MySQL appliances within a virtual sandbox.
The other killer feature of virtual appliances is that you can cram the functionality of several little pastic boxes in one relatively inexpensive box running Linux and VMWare Server. Load up a box with a couple of network cards and run a firewall, network attached storage, CRM software, and a PBX on it. This is the aspect of virtual appliances that VMWare is marketing well but I still think it’s a huge deal.
Many of these appliances take up very little disk space and othe resources which means you can pack them in pretty tight. You can replace several different servers or appliances with one physical box and operate multiple appliances for virtually zero additional cost. It’s also nice that there are a ton of virtual appliances from companies and hobbyists alike.
To be honest I’m not quite sure how VMWare isn’t loosing their shirt on this. Free appliances running with free (as in beer) software doesn’t bring in any money. They are however showing lots of people exactly how good their software is. Hopefully someone who loves VMWare server and player would be more likely to purchase a datacenter-quality product from VMWare over another vendor.