I love virtual appliances. If you've never heard of virtual appliances, here's a nutshell explanation: Virtual appliances are usually pre-packaged and self-contained virtual machines that serve a specific purpose. For example, at Westminster College, I used a virtual appliance from a company called JumpBox to provide some basic network monitoring via Cacti. Sure, I could have downloaded, installed and configured Cacti by myself, but with a virtual appliance, the process went from taking a few hours (or a day) to taking less than 30 minutes. In other words, I was able to focus on my outcome rather than a bunch of inputs.
With some virtual appliance services, you can host the virtual appliance under different systems – not just VMware. For example, with JumpBox, you can import that virtual machine to VMware (Fusion, Workstation, ESX), Parallels or even VirtualBox. However, only VMware is fully supported; the other platforms have some limitations. Obviously, virtual appliances downloaded right from VMware work under VMware hypervisors. Here's a list of just a few virtual appliance options.
- Microsoft VHD Test Drive Program
With Microsoft's program, you can download full virtual hard drives (VHD files for Hyper-V) that let you easily test such products as Windows Server 2008, Office Communications Server and Exchange 2007/2010.
So, fire up a Hyper-V or VMware ESX machine, download a virtual appliance and give it a shot! In a future blog posting, I'll walk you through the step-by-step instructions for importing a virtual appliance.