There is an abundance of mature desktop virtualization solutions that are outright free or at least reasonable.  From VMware’s Workstation (at cost after 30-day trial, but entirely worth it) to Oracle’s VirtualBox and Microsoft’s Virtual PC, you can get started in literally minutes.  Why would you want to?

  • Trivial backups.  Tired of losing a drive and having to restore first the OS, then the applications, and finally your files?  Once everything is hosted on a virtual disk, keeping that backed up frequently means a physical disk failure costs you only the time to restore the hardware OS and your virtualization.  Major time saver.  For enterprise environments, this also makes hardware changes for employees a cinch.  New desktop?  A single file copy and a short vm configuration, and the IT folks can move on to something more important.
  • Snapshots prior to patching, new applications. Ever had an antivirus or OS patch destroy your system?  Snapshot your virtual machine prior to making changes, and if anything goes wonky, simply revert to the last snapshot.
  • Minimal, purposeful systems for online banking (or remote vpn access, shopping, etc).  Do you know the malware that threads its tentacles into your system over time from browsing the internet?  Keep one virtual machine that has nothing installed except the browser and plugins necessary to do your banking and investing, and once you’re done, shutting down the virtual machine restores it to original state so any potential malware threats are eliminated.
  • For the geeks in the audience (all of you?), quick test setups with teaming (VMware Desktop for sure, check on the others). Don had a great article on this relating to a BIG-IP LTM VE test setup.  This is great becuase you mock up complete test environments and spin them together, but only when you need them.  With several linux-based appliances, you can get virtual switches, routers, firewalls, lamp servers, all purpose-built and ready to go for your test environments.
  • Run nothing on the host OS except the hypervisor and antivirus.  This ensures a minimal rebuild time should there be a failure.  My exceptions to this rule are audio/video tools like skype, jing, camtasia, and iTunes.  Lest you think I’ll need a file rebuild for iTunes, that library is off box anyway.

There are far more benefits, but these are the ones that jump out at me.  Assuming you’re on windows, you can convert your physical disk to virtual with disk2vhd, another great tool from the Sysinternals team.  Note that if you plan to use Virtual PC, you’ll need to resize the drive to less than 127G with diskpart and then tell the drive it has shrunk as well with a tool like VHD Resizer.  If you want to use VMware Workstation, you’ll need an additional step that converts the drive from vhd format to vmdk with a tool like WinImage.