I've always thought that it makes sense for IT staff to use virtual machine (VM) software. Creating a virtual computer that will behave like one of your typical client workstations is the perfect way to test new applications and configurations before you roll them out to users. Add the ability to virtualize network behavior, and IT techs can get a good feel for how applications will behave and run in the network environment without having to set up hundreds of test computers or affect production networks and computers.

About 2 years ago, I wrote about a corporate client I worked with that selected VM software: The client decided to use Connectix VM software on its corporate sales force's notebook computers. Since then, VMware, Connectix's primary competitor and the largest market-share holder in the VM world, has made great strides with its virtual server software, targeting corporate server-side customers and their need to concatenate multiple servers on one machine. Performing operations such as running a half-dozen Windows NT servers and their applications on one SMP Windows 2000 computer in a production environment is well within the capabilities of the VMware software. Connectix made plans to announce its own server-side VM software when an interesting thing happened.

About 3 weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it had acquired Connectix's VM technology. The Microsoft press release discusses the current Connectix product line and emphasizes the Virtual PC for Macintosh product, which, according to the press release, demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to the Mac product line. (I'm not sure what kind of commitment Microsoft really has to the Mac. The Connectix software lets you transform a Mac into a Windows PC, but this subject is best left to another column.)

More important is that Microsoft is making a commitment to the Connectix Virtual Server software, with, I presume, plans to go head-to-head with VMware. The Microsoft software won't ship until the end of 2003 (although a beta should be available on the Microsoft Web site on April 15). That timetable gives the VMware folks an opportunity to point out to current and potential customers that the VM idea for server concatenation is the same idea Microsoft is trying to bring to the table and that VMware has many years of production use behind it. I expect this approach will bring additional business to VMware. I'll be interested in whether Microsoft does with the Connectix technology what it's done with so many other key technologies: roll the technology into a future version of the base Windows OS. In any case, I don't think we'll see VM technology bundled for free in a desktop OS anytime soon, but it's one very powerful tool that any systems administrator should consider for inclusion in the administrative toolbox.