Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Workstation Virtualisation

I'm a long-time software developer. I have a ThinkPad R52 from August 2005, the last of the IBM's. I'm in need of new hardware. Since upgrading from Ubuntu 7.10 I've been unable to properly virtualize anything (VMware went away). I want to keep running Ubuntu but am fed up with fixing hardware issues. A suggestion made to me was to buy a PowerBook Pro and virtualize my desktop.

The idea is to run a stock standard OS X PowerBook and then run my normal Ubuntu Desktop as a virtual machine. Since I'm also writing software and testing all manner of strange configurations, I can then also simply virtualize all the other things, such as Ubuntu Server installations, various pre-release versions of Ubuntu, specific client configurations, etc.

Most articles I read talk about running Windows on OS X, and I'm really not interested in that - other than to export my accounting data out of MYOB.

My personal experience of VirtualBox under Ubuntu is less than stellar. A virtual machine that crashes *ever* is not an example of a tool that I want to run in production. That's akin to a hardware failure and a cause for the return of said hardware.

I need to be able to run this workstation with an external monitor, have a full monitor view of my workstation, run other tools on the other monitor. There will be times that I expect to run my virtual machine across both monitors.

I expect that the OS X side of things takes care of wired and wireless networking, battery management, sound and bluetooth connectivity, but I don't want to run OS X applications, other than the virtualization tool of my choice. I might even launch terminal once or twice :)

Am I opening up a whole can of worms trying this, or are there people who have gone down this path and come out the other end with a better understanding of what is what?

I should note that there was an initial suggestion that I run Ubuntu natively on the PowerBook hardware, but then I'm back to where I started, dealing with crappy hardware issues, video drivers, wifi chip-sets, sleep and battery issues, screen resolution, dvd drives, etc.

I'm not interested in migrating to OS X, I have more than enough work just keeping abreast of what is happening within Ubuntu and Ubuntu-server.

While my CPU demands are not going to be significant - I don't compile much, I'm also not going to be running a high-volume web-server or a database. I cannot stand editors that take 30 seconds to load or many minutes to search for files, so there is an expectation that disk i/o is snappy and that I'm going to be able to stay with the same virtualisation tool for some time.

The actual tools I use on a daily basis are:
Thunderbird, Firefox, Eclipse, bzr, svn, cvs, mysql, apache, ssh, grep, find

Things I expect to work are:
sound, networking, dvd burner, external usb devices

Any comments, suggestions, recommended reading materials or hardware that I can trial this on?

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