On August 16, I blogged about a Windows 7 virtual machine technology called ZInstall that lets its users turn an existing Windows XP installation into a virtual machine that runs quite nicely after a target machine gets a clean install of the new OS (remember, you can’t use the “upgrade” option to go directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 using tools from Microsoft). This time out, I’d like to discuss another technology from the makers of Zinstall: it’s called zPOD and it extends Zinstall’s capabilities by permitting users to set up portable virtual machines on removable USB or eSATA drives (the bigger and faster, the better, for capacity and performance reasons, respectively).
I also went to the Zinstall folks with an out-of-the-way request to take the VM created for my small, underpowered Asus Eee 1000HE netbook PC, and let me install it on one of my quad core test machines, so I could see how it might behave in a more salubrious runtime environment. It turns out zPOD was the key to building such a portable VM, and that some pretty serious runtime environment and SID hacking was required to set up a version of the VM from the original Windows.old file on the Asus so it could run from a standalone hard disk environment.
It took a senior tech support staffer by the name of John B., who put the proprietary Zinstall python based installation and management environment through a pretty extreme workout, about two hours to grant my request to build me a standalone version of my old Asus machine running XP so that it would run on another computer. The install work took place on my primary test machine: a PC with an Asus LGA 776 P53 Pro motherboard, an Intel Q9450 processor, and 8 GB of DDR3-1333 RAM. It showed me that the XP VM would indeed work fine on another computer running zPOD, provided that all the SID related login matters were patched along the way.
The XP VM image now resides on a 160 GB Seagate portable 2.5″ drive that’s attached to my wife’s mini-ITX PC with 4 GB of DDR2-800 RAM and a T2350 mobile processor in an MSI industrial motherboard with built-in Intel G35 graphics. That’s not a huge step up from the original Atom N270 with 2 GB of DDR-667 RAM on which the image originally ran, but two real cores, double the memory, and a faster hard disk make the environment tolerably fast and capable. All that’s necessary to use this environment, once installed, is to run a progam named
to launch the runtime environment. On my quad-core system, launch took about 30 seconds; on the T2350 system, it takes nearly a minute, and the zPOD environment consumes just over 2 GB of RAM on the host machine, of which it makes 1,350 MB available (along with a single processor core) to the virtual machine running Windows XP. It’s not going to set any speed records, but it runs reasonably well–appreciably faster, in fact, than the original host environment ran on the Atom N270 processor in its original home without any virtual machine activity in play at all.
zPOD is another $90 product from Zinstall (and volume purchase discounts are available to organizations that might desire them). It’s a great way to retain access to still-working Windows XP environments, and the applications they can deliver, even after migrating to Windows 7. And you can even run the old XP environments virtually on machines other than their original hosts, given the right help from the vendor!
Shameless self-promotion note: Please check out my latest story for Dell’s ITExpertVoice site, which posted publicly last Friday. It’s entitled: “Why Buy Real KVMs, When Virtual KVMs Will Do?” (and lest you think I advocate wholesale abandonment of physical KVMs, this story not only explains how remote access technologies can supplement and to a certain extent supplant KVMs, but also when real, physical KVMs are still necessary to obtain access to key servers and other devices).