Using virtual machines for computer lab?

Discussion in 'OT Technology' started by mdaniel, Oct 27, 2006.

  1. mdaniel

    mdaniel S is for Shiksa

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    I just started working with a small school that has a classroom with about 25 computers for the kids to use. They have Internet access and print to a shared laser printer. All of the computers are running XP Pro and every kid has their own logon but they're all administrators. :noes: Of course, kids being kids, they're constantly finding a way to mess things up. My first thought was to make the kids users instead of admins but I was informed that they'd tried that before and several of their programs were crippled as a result.

    So I'm wondering about using virtual machines instead. It would be easy to build a standard configuration, keep it safe, and redeploy wherever its needed. I should then be able to lock down the physical Windows and have the virtual machine launch at startup. Does that make sense? Has anyone done anything like this before? I've heard of systems that universities use to roll back Windows to a fixed point at each bootup, but I'm sure they cost a lot of money. The physical machines aren't all the same so I thought VM technology would be a good way to deploy a uniform Windows installation across all of the computers.
     
  2. Coottie

    Coottie BOOMER......SOONER OT Supporter

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    Hmm...small school may not have techminded people so when "several programs were crippled" they may have opted for the easy/lazy solution and just made everyone an admin.

    If I were in your shoes, I'd investigate that a little further and find out exactly which programs broke and what messages they were receiving. I would then set up a test machine and try to recreate the error. I would then work on finding a resolution to these errors.

    Sorry, I don't know anything about virtual machines.
     
  3. EvilSS

    EvilSS New Member

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    Sure, most of the training I attend these days is done on laptops running VMs. It's a great solution.

    That said, you need decent machines to really pull it off. Also if the software requires special hardware or uses 3D graphics then you will run into some issues (VMWare workstation can do 3D, but it's not a free solution like VMWare or Virtual server).

    Something you might want to do instead is just image the machines so when one breaks you just have to reload the image. Not as convenient as VM's, but less hardware intensive.
     
  4. Jkuao

    Jkuao New Member

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    It depends on the hardware level. You're basically handicapping whatever the base system is by running a VM so if any machines are limited to 512MB RAM, I wouldn't recommend it. Virtual machines are generally designed for experienced users testing new configs or programming. I think it'd be easier to find a generic imaging program that can quickly throw on a profile.
     
  5. mdaniel

    mdaniel S is for Shiksa

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    Yeah I know performance wouldn't be the greatest but it should be OK for kids using typing tutor programs, MS Words, etc. I see two advantages to using a VM over imaging the base system: 1) The base systems aren't the same so that would mean maintaining multiple images and 2) I don't know if the teacher there could handle re-imaging busted machines on her own. I know I could teach her to replace a VM file on the hard drive with a clean copy from DVD or USB hard drive.
     
  6. Sexual Vanilla

    Sexual Vanilla New Member

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    What is a virtual machine exactly?:dunno:
     
  7. mdaniel

    mdaniel S is for Shiksa

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    VMWare, Parallels, MS Virtual PC.
     
  8. EvilSS

    EvilSS New Member

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    Actually, you don't even have to replace the file, just create a snapshot of a "clean" image (both VMWare and Microsoft solutions can do this) and roll it back if something gets hosed up.

    Something to also consider is using Linux as the host with the VMWare products (VMWare Server and VMWare player are both free and both available for Linux and Windows). Windows 2000 trimmed down with something like nLite is also a good option. Both would offer you a smaller host OS footprint in memory.

    Finally, keep in mind that you will need to license both the host OS on the PC AND THE GUEST OS IN THE VM. For Windows this means 2 OS licenses for each box.
     
  9. EvilSS

    EvilSS New Member

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    Essentially you use a software product to create a "virtual" computer (the Guest) that you can use just like a real computer, all running on your PC (the Host). Note that this is not emulation, which by its very nature is slow. The virtual hardware is mapped to physical hardware, either by piping CPU instructions to the physical CPU, memory into a section of RAM reserved by the virtualization software, to a file on the hard drive acting as the virtual Disk for the Guests, etc.

    Developers love it because they can test in isolated environments without dual booting or switching machines. It's being rapidly adopted into corporate data centers (using VMWare's high-end ESX product on large servers) to reduce hardware costs by consolidating under-utilized production systems while maintaining their "separation". It's also used extensively in testing production changes.
     

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