The Incredible Shrinking Virtual Machine

Arthur Cole

Virtualization is designed to make better use of system resources by squeezing multiple operating environments onto a single physical hardware platform. Now, it seems that the race is on to see how far the technology can go.


The past six months or so have seen a steady stream of technologies aimed at shrinking the footprint of the virtual machine, and the operating systems and applications it houses, to drive utilization to new levels. While a typical Microsoft or VMware virtual machine ate up multiple gigabytes of space, these new solutions can draw that down to one gig or less.


FastScale Technology is one of the newest entrants into this field, according to IT Jungle, launching its Composer Suite last April that utilizes containers to draw only the pieces of software or data that are required for any given task. Now, the company has set its sights on the VMware ESX Server, producing what some are scarily calling a virtual virtual machine. Although the FastScale Virtual Manager doesn't use containers to store the virtual hypervisor, says The Register, it does employ compression and other tricks to let managers size their virtual machine disk images to increase the number of machines per server by a factor of three. A Xen version is due by the end of the year.


At the moment, the FastScale Virtual Manager is only available on Linux. But Windows users can take advantage of the Invirtus VM Optimizer, which combines tasks like defrag and unnecessary file removal to trim the size of the VM needed for Windows Server 2003. A typical machine that would need about 3 GB can be reduced to about 1 GB, which can be zipped down further still to about 345 MB, which is small enough to load onto a CD-ROM. The Optimizer can be set for automatic or manual operation.


The trend is also extending into the virtual PC arena. Last week, we told you about MojoPac from RingCube Technologies. The system creates virtual machines using whatever operating system -- XP and Vista, at the moment -- happens to be on the hardware in use, forming a usable virtual desktop through virtualized application files. The company claims to reduce the VMware or Microsoft Virtual Server footprint from the 250 MB range down to about 30 MB.


The drive toward smaller virtual machines was inevitable. But there still is some question as to whether these stripped-down environments can perform as well as fully configured VMs. Of course, that was one of the early concerns about virtualization as well, wasn't it?

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 30, 2007 9:58 AM Dave Caddick Dave Caddick  says:
Hi Arthur,Very intriguing....I've also been looking at NComputing with it's WoIP (Windows over IP) and that looks a little dodgy with it's loose interperatation of MS's Desktop Licensing?Dave Reply

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