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Virtualization for security

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Intel and AMD. The two chip vendors are building support for virtualization into their CPUs to make the technology easier to implement and faster to run. Called, respectively, Vanderpool and Pacifica, this bodes well for virtualization technologies.

There are others; if you want to know more, Wikipedia provides a nice comparison chart of the various software options you have.

Why get excited?

The broad trends in virtualization are clear: greater commoditization, cheaper prices, more options, better integration with hardware, improved performance, and wider availability and usage. It's that last trend in particular that I want to focus on, as it appears obvious to me that users of all three of the major operating system families - Windows, Mac, and Linux - are one day going to find virtualization software and support installed as a matter of course. Like a text editor or web browser, virtualization will be an expected part of an operating system. How's that going to affect security pros?

If you haven't started working with virtualization, now's the time to begin. In particular, if you have a machine of reasonably recent vintage running Linux or Windows, you should immediately head over to VMWare and download the free VMWare Player. Once it's installed, you can install and run pre-made operating system images (open source only, of course - you think Microsoft is going to make an image of Windows available for this?).

VMWare offers a Browser Appliance virtual machine, for instance, that's designed for safe and secure web usage, but you can download a huge number of different VMs for SUSE, Red Hat, K/Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora Core, Gentoo, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD. Even more interesting, there are VMs available that are designed to showcase software such as Asterisk, Bugzilla, TWiki, MySQL, Zimbra, and DB2. And even more interesting than that, you can find VMs for security programs such as the Still Secure Strata Guard IDS, the IPCop firewall, the SmoothWall firewall, and the Squid proxy. Trust me: for security folks like those reading this article, you're going to feel like a kid in a candy store.

That's with the free VMWare Player, which allows you to run VMs created by others. If you instead want to create VMs, you'll need to buy VMWare Workstation (around $175) or - and here's my tip of the day - spend $300 on the VMWare Technology Network subscription and get access to almost every bit of cool software the company has to offer, for every platform they support. Once you have VMWare Workstation on your Linux or Windows machine (and soon Mac), you can create as many VMs as you'd like, and run as many at one time as your system can handle (the more RAM and faster CPU, the better).

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