used to be that we talked about DLL hell. This was a place where everyone who
was evil enough to try to run too many applications on their computer ended up.
One day you would install a new application and you would be instantly
transported into DLL hell. You would try replacing one DLL after another. You
would move DLLs to individual application directories. In the end you would end
up feeling as if you were just shuffling the DLLs, trading one problem for

we’ve made some progress from the days when DLL hell was inflicted on most developers at some time or another, we have not
fundamentally resolved all of the issues that are caused by trying to take one
machine and get it to serve multiple masters. A more current day challenge
might be trying to run multiple versions of Windows on one hard drive, or Linux
and Windows side by side on multiple partitions. No matter where we are in the
technology lifecycle, we’ve seen how we can try to get one system to do too
many things and have had to live with the challenges. This is where
virtualization technology comes to the rescue.

longer do you have to mix two applications that don’t get along together just
because you only have one PC on which to work. Virtualization technologies allow you to run multiple,
independent operating systems which have the ability to be isolated completely
from other processes running on your PC.

this article you’ll learn some of the key ways that you can use virtualization
technologies to improve your development experience.

You’ve got to keep them separated

In the
situation described above there was no avoiding DLL hell. If you wanted to run
multiple applications on the same machine you had to be concerned about whether
or not you were going to have incompatible DLLs installed by two necessary
applications. However, virtualization provides a completely independent
operating environment, complete with its own allocation of memory, hard disk,
and use of processor time.

is, in essence, creating multiple miniature (virtual) PCs inside of your
primary PC. One of the great benefits of this is that it allows you to isolate
and test an application or set of applications in an environment that is free
of other things to interfere. It used to be that in order to get a new machine
with a new development environment on it you had to have another piece of
hardware, or you had to rebuild your system to the new environment. With
virtualization, you simply install the new environment that you need into one
of the virtual machines and you run it as necessary. When you’re done you can
shut it down.

is the ultimate in isolation — it can allow you to do things on one piece of
hardware that are simply not possible without it. For instance, you can install
software in a test environment on a member server because it won’t run on a
domain controller. You simply fire up two virtual machines at the same time —
one being the domain controller and the other being the member server. Both
virtual machines can run on the same physical hardware at the same time without
either being aware that they are sharing a machine. The result is a quick way
to implement testing environments.

Freeze frame

In a
typical organization when you end your work for the day you shut down all of
your applications and log off of your computer. You must stop whatever
development or debugging activity that you were working on and let the machine
hum quietly away at night, waiting on the network team to send patches and
updates. The next morning you dutifully log in and spin up all of the things
that you were working on. While neither of these activities are particularly
difficult or individually time consuming, when multiplied across dozens of
developers across the course of years, the time spent just starting up and
shutting down development environments and reestablishing the context of a
development or testing effort can be substantial.

developers fortunate enough to be on laptops know that using hibernate or
standby on the laptop can be a great benefit — even if there are times when it
causes odd things to happen. As a consultant who moves from client to client
the ability to stop my computer and resume what I was working on when I arrive
at the client is a huge time saver.

standby and hibernate are a great start, they do have their limitations. It may
preserve your overall context, but it doesn’t save any project specific context
that you may have. The development environment doesn’t have the important files
for your project open. It doesn’t have the special settings to facilitate
debugging that the project needs.

technology allows for the virtual systems to be frozen in place. In other
words, the exact spot in the machine that you are at can be frozen for an
indefinite period of time. If you work on one project until it’s released and
stable and need to come back in a year and start working on it again, you can
freeze the system when you stop working on the project and then restart it a
year — or more – later. When the system is restarted it will be like time had
not passed. The system will be restored exactly as it was left.

particular feature is great for developers who support multiple systems
including consultants who have different clients with different projects that
they will have to support over time. You don’t have to worry about recreating
an environment to test a bug fix; you simply thaw out your virtual machine and

Turn back time

you ever made a mistake? Everyone has made mistakes; it’s a part of the human
condition. However, sometimes mistakes aren’t so easy to recover from. If you
write a piece of code that accidentally destroys your registry or corrupts your
user profile you may find hours, or even several days worth of work ahead of
you. We’ve all had those moments when we know we’ve made a big mistake. Most of
us deal with the consequences of making a mistake by moving forward and making
the best of it. However, virtualization technology allows us to turn back the
hands of time.

programs have a feature described as Undo disks. Undo disks allow you to
operate on the system and if you decide that you don’t want to save your work
you simply don’t’ accept the changes in the undo disks. Poof.
Like magic everything that you did is undone and it’s like it never happened.

that you’re working on an installer for your application and you need to
install your application on a “clean” machine. Of course, building
the install is an iterative process while you identify problems in the
installer. How do you get a clean machine for each run? Leveraging the undo
feature allows you to install over and over again on a single virtual machine. After
each failed or incorrect installation you simply discard the undo disks (the
changes) and prepare to start again.

that you’re working on a program to delete duplicate files and something runs
amuck with the program and it starts wildly deleting files. If you’re using
undo disks you can simply discard the changes and the files will be instantly

admissions when it comes to undo disks. First, they take more space. They will
require space for each sector on the hard drive that is written during the
course of the session. This can be a substantial amount of storage for large
operations. Second, they slow things down a bit. Because of some extra lookups
to determine where the data is and non-sequential disk access running with undo
disks on takes more time. Of course, if you can live with the slightly slower
performance it’s a great tool to back you out of a jam.


technology is what the buzz is about today. People are talking about reducing
servers, consolidation, and other ways that virtualization impacts the IT
landscape, however, little awareness has been created at the benefits that
virtualization technology brings the developer. The ability to maintain
isolated environments, keep your place when shifting to another project, and
the ability to roll back unintended changes are great (legal) performance
enhancers for software developers.