Virtualization Demos – Remote or Local – Mac or PC

Many of us have to demo virtualization technologies to our customers and colleagues, run classes, develop code for virtualization, or just play around. For many of these cases, a cloud based virtual environment may be fine. However, what do you do when the network connection to the cloud is flaky at best? You have to rely upon your local system to do the job for you. Some solve this problem by having a ready slide deck,  others solve this problem by using a fairly high end laptop, and still others tether their laptops to their phones and other cell phone cards. Which method is best?

I have always found local access to my laptop has always been the better way to run demos, classes, and presentations for my customers, colleagues, and friends. As I write software for and books about virtualized environments I almost always need access to various virtualization systems. Where I can I use network connections as going back to the office lab is in most cases much faster than local, but when I have to run things local due to telecommunication issues a high end laptop is a requirement. But which one?

I Have been recently looking at the i7 Apple Mac Book Pro with 8GBs and a 500GB SSD and the i7 HP Elite Book with 16GBs and 2 256GB SSDs. Both are excellent machines for my purposes. To make a choice is difficult without first understanding the requirements. I run within VMware Workstation the following VMs simultaneously:

  • Smoothwall Firewall
  • OpenFiler
  • VMware vCenter Server v2.5 or v4
  • VMware ESXi v3.5 or v4
  • VMware ESX v3.5 or v4

These run slow but usable on my current 8GB dual core laptop. The theory is that they will run much better on a quad core i7. So the real debate is over the amount of memory and the available internal storage as well as whether or not Hyper-V and XenServer will also run within the new environment. Xen has never been an issue as it does run within a VM, but Hyper-V does not. Which often means I have to use a remote demo machine as my laptop is not running Windows 2008. If I go with the Mac Book Pro then Hyper-V will have to run remotely, if I go with the HP Elite Book, Hyper-V will also have to run remotely or run a dual boot laptop which is always a possibility.

So let us look at the major hardware factors, memory and disk. Memory is not a huge issue as the VMs are tuned to live within 8GBs of memory however more would certainly be welcomed. The key to this discussion is disk IO more than anything. More spindles equals greater disk performance. This is true regardless of where virtualization is running.  So if more spindles is better than more ‘in machine’ SSDs would also be necessary. Which in this case points to the EliteBook. But with SSDs we are not really looking at spindles but solid state memory that runs 100 times slower than system memory but 10000x faster than disks with spindles (assuming traditional disks are a million times slower than memory). So are we still looking at the same concern?

SSD is the wave of the future for laptops as well as for systems and will make these decisions even harder to make. The choice of a demo laptop now translates into how many peripherals you wish to carry? Secondary SSD, Video devices, Presenters, etc. and not on the type of processor. Do you want MacOS which has far fewer known security attacks, or do you want to use Windows or a Linux with their inherent risks? Do you know enough about MacOS and Linux to easily connect to any network at which you will be working? These are just some of the question you will need to answer. Processor and memory are not all that interesting anymore. SSD and OS knowledge are once more becoming prevalent.

Mac Book Pro vs HP Elite Book decision will depend on your need for more spindles internal to the machine and whether your VM and application load really requires >8GBs of memory. Given that I would guess half the virtualization professionals use Mac Book Pro’s, which would you choose and what is your virtualization requirements?

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