The case for virtualization: Does using VMWare or other virtualization software make sense?

VMware9 on Windows 7 running virtual images of Windows 7 and Windows XPHave you ever installed a new program only to find an older program no longer works? Have you ever had the need to run two versions of the same program, but only one version can be installed at a time? Have you ever dreaded getting a new PC because of the time required to reinstall all the software you need to do your job?

Well, if you’re like me you’ve run into all of these issues! But if you’re willing to try something new (virtualization) you could say goodbye to them for good.

Note: You can listen to our podcast about virtualization HERE, or watch the first of our video series on virtualization HERE.

Virtualization software, like VMware’s Workstation product, allows you to run multiple “images” of “virtual PCs” on top of your existing “host” PC. It gives you the power to create as many of these virtual PC’s as you need, and once you have them running just right you have the ability to take “snapshots” to preserve the exact state of your virtual system which you can roll back to if  something goes horribly wrong in the future.

You also have the ability to “clone” your virtual PC’s to allow for multiple running copies of the same operating system, on which you can install different versions of your applications. And when your new company computer finally arrives, to make the migration you’ll only need to install your virtualization software and copy your (albeit large) virtual PC images to your new PC. Your new system will be ready in minutes versus hours, and you’ll have avoided spending long periods watching installation progress bars slowly creep across the screen.

While all those benefits are appealing, there’s another more pressing reason for virtualization in industrial automation: the inability to get modern PC’s to run legacy operating systems. If you’re not familiar with industrial automation, hardware devices in this segment are designed to run for decades – well past the point that contemporary PC operating systems (like Microsoft Windows) are available and supported.

VMware 9 Splash ScreenHowever, these hardware devices (like PLC’s, HMI’s and Drives) run mission critical systems like your local fresh water plant, power station, bridges, and even amusement park rides. So relying on a 25 year old PC and its hard drive can be quite risky. One false move climbing a staircase, or working near leaky pipes, and your antique Compaq Portable PC from the 80’s will be on it’s way to the dumpster leaving you with no way to connect to and maintain your legacy automation control systems.

But with virtualization, running every previous version of Windows (or DOS) isn’t a problem. In fact, with many virtualization software packages you can make a virtual image of an existing host PC. And hardware incompatibilities are a thing of the past as the virtual PC hardware has been specifically designed to work with all previous versions of popular operating systems.

So whether you maintain legacy systems, have the need to run multiple OS’s and software versions, or are fortunate enough to receive regular computer hardware updates, virtualization can go a long way to solving software and hardware compatibility issues as well as greatly reduce the time you spend installing or re-installing software.

Do you have an opinion on virtualization in general, or on specific virtualization software like VMware? If you do, please share your comments with us below using the “leave a reply” option.

UPDATE: You can hear Shawn’s thoughts on “virtualization” in Episode 5 of The Automation Podcast HERE.


Shawn Tierney
Automation Consultant
Insights In Automation

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