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A community on Parallels lines

It's virtually an appliance

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Communities seem to be one of the de rigueur marketing approaches these days, especially when vendors are targeting applications developers and systems architects. They are not just a good way for such people to share knowledge about the established technologies and products they work with, but also an increasingly important delivery vehicle for newer technologies.

An example of the latter is the Parallels Technology Network (PTN) recently launched by Parallels Inc, a division of server virtualisation and consolidation specialists, SWsoft, that specialises in the opposite end of the network, workstation virtualisation.

At one level PTN sets out to operate like other online communities, offering services such as a Knowledge Base incorporating product guides, white papers, datasheets and the like and a Community Forums where developers and users can share information. It also has a Virtual Appliance Directory and download service.

This latter touches on the core of the Parallels offering, in that its virtualisation technology allows the creation of complete Virtual Appliances – applications routines which are normally written in Linux, but which can then run on workstations such as PCs running either Windows or Linux, or on Apple Macintoshes, without direct reference to the operating system being used.

At the heart of this process is the use of a hypervisor, old mainframe technology that puts in a thin layer of intermediary software between the workstation hardware and the operating system. This allows application code operating within a Virtual Appliance to directly control the hardware profiles and resources. Each workstation can then run multiple Virtual Appliances, which gives some interesting mix’n’match possibilities to applications developers and business service architects.

The Virtual Appliance Directory in PTN can then be used as a marketing and distribution vehicle for those applications developers that sign up as partners in the service. 'Appliances’ in this context can, of course, vary widely. One existing example is an implementation of the OpenOffice Suite, but the approach could also provide a market opening for small, possibly individual developers to add specialist niche applications, tools or services.

The approach also offers the potential for IT departments to specify user work environments that are constructed from a set of standardised, pre-configured appliances that can then run on whatever workstation platform individual users or the business line management chooses or specifies. This could be particularly useful where potential customers do not have the resources to manage complex applications installations or management processes.®

High performance access to file storage

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