Virtual sanity: How to get a grip on your home PCs
Set up once, use again and again anywhere
Sysadmin blog Virtualisation can have a role in the home computing environment. Personal computers are kind of crap at migrating (or duplicating) your settings, applications and data from one system to another. Virtualisation can remove some of this grief.
In the consumer space, Windows PCs come preloaded with crapware. The shiny new notebook comes out of its box and goes straight onto the bench for a quick memtest, dban, and a clean reinstall of the operating system. A combination of Ninite* and Steam can get 95 per cent of my applications installed in an automated fashion, but this will still take the better part of a day.
After this, I have to set up my profile. Tell IE that no, I don’t in fact care for the way it is configured by default and would the annoying messages please go away and let me work. Aero snap has to be killed with fire, Classic Shell installed, browsers logged in to grab my accounts from the cloud and so on and so forth.
It’s all quite a bother. Even if I use Windows 7’s profile migration tool, it never seems to quite work right, and settings for some sure-to-be-critical application or browser don’t quite make it.
Apple still doesn’t quite do everything I need it to on the desktop; Windows 7 will eventually end up being required. Installing a bootcamp copy of Windows 7 brings me right back to square one there. Ditto Linux.
How to solve this dilemma? I could script complicated installers. Maybe even send a bottle of Scotch and a bag of money to the good folks at Ninite and see if I could sweet talk them into supporting the final few apps on my list.
That all seems like a great deal of effort. When I get home from a long day of fixing computers for a living the very last thing I want to do with my free time at home to fix yet more computers.
Offload the effort to a virtual machine server
Enter virtual machines. I built a small MiniITX Intel Sandy Bridge computer for the princely sum of $750. It serves as my HTPC, my Plex media server and my virtual server. Each member of the house has a personal virtual machine that contains the idiosyncratic digital cruft that forms our personal work environments. We can get at them from anything that can post an RDP client.
Suddenly, wasting time defanging the crapware off whichever endpoint we buy doesn’t really matter. Trying to get the computers at home to perform some new task isn’t an invitation to extracurricular insanity; it’s solved by a quick trip to the VMWare market to get a virtual appliance that just does the thing I need it to do.
Let’s look at backups as one example. In the case of my particular setup, my virtual host runs the virtual machines assigned it locally. Every so often it will run a complete image-based backup of itself every so often and dump that image on the house file server.
Shortly thereafter the backup virtual appliance will begin its run. It collects the "saved games" folders from any systems it can find on the network, the personal homefolders and the backup of the virtual host off the Synology and uploads the whole shebang to the TeamDrive server I keep at work.
Better still, avoiding work by playing some video game with a habit of freezing my PC no longer loses me any unsaved documents. I may replace endpoint after endpoint, but my little XP VM will still be there on the other end of an RDP session. A faithful friend configured "just right" and backed up by some little widget that I barely even remember exists.
My home "network in a box" is a lot less frustrating than the perpetual cycle of rebuilding with every upgrade, or trying to keep configuration and settings synced across multiple devices.
When we talk about virtualisation in the enterprise we talk about high availability, redundancy, failover, efficiency, consolidation and other such things. But virtualisation in the consumer space has delivered me something I find equally important. It "just works" ... and it works exactly the way I want it to. ®
* If you do anything involving Windows PCs, Ninite is required knowledge.
Notice he installed Steam as a high priority item. Linux and OSX still lag way behind Windows when it comes to gaming, and I dont see that changing in the near future. If you are a serious gamer, Windows is still where its at...
I'm glad it wasn't just me then. I thought this was going to be some clever way of reversing a virtual image out on to physical hardware or something else.
Instead it's just bizarre-o and IMHO wasteful. Games inside virtual machines? Over RDP? Yuck.
Full consumer PCs to simply remote into an XP image? Huh?
Maybe I too a missing something, but it strikes me that most of the issues could be resolved with a lot less complexity.
I feel your pain
I've spent the last eight months installing different versions of Windows, Exchange, SharePoint and various backup packages. I'm sick to death of the whole 'virgin' browser experience.
Tell the EU to sod off - I just want a browser, thanks. Any will do.
/No/ I don't want to confirm every bloody site just because it's a server. /No/ I don't want Bing as my default search engine. /No/ I don't want accelerators. Blah, bloody blah. But what really gets up my nose is that if you decide you just can't be arsed because you just-bloody-want-to-install-the-damn-applications-thank-you-very-much then clicking No causes a new tab to open with some marketing shite anyway. Maybe we need a third button.
'No, I'll do it later'
'Fuck off and let me browse'.
As for the rest. Sigh. Turn off shutdown prompt on servers (they are only test servers anyway). Single click thank you, don't you dare hide known extensions, show the full path, open a new window for each folder. Turn off all the panes except the actual folder view.
Gordon Bennett - the list goes on. And you know you're trapped. If you try to skip something you'll get pissed off at it later anyway. And does anyone understand how the Group Policy Editor works in Win 2k8r2? You have to launch the reporter then ask it to edit a setting so that it can open the editor in some magical way that allows you to actually edit group policies. Assuming you can even find where the setting is in the first place.
I'm bloody glad I'm only a programmer. Visual Studio is bad enough but configuring Windows and applications is a nightmare. I take my hat off to IT support gurus.