Sunday, February 25, 2018

Embracing Your Inner Über-Geek!

Okay, I'm not trying to imply that I am an Über-geek by any stretch of the imagination.  But, and you knew there would be one, I am well on my way to becoming a member of said class of geek.  How you ask?  Gentle reader, please sit back and prepare to be amazed...or put to sleep.  Either way, you win!  So put on your jammies, sit down with a nice, soothing beverage, and read on.

Besides consuming lots and lots and lots of a certain greenish-yellow, highly caffeinated soft drink, I am enamored with technology.  Not just any technology, mind you.  I am not that mundane, thank you very much!  No, I am enamored with virtualization, cloud computing, and network security.

Why would I be so interested in those three aspects of information technology, especially when there are so many others to be interested in?  Well, let's see here.  Hmmmm...oh, yeah, just about anything we do today has its foundation built upon those three things.  Unfortunately for the third arm of my techno-lust, it is the one area that is either ignored, downplayed or forgotten about completely.

Since this blog posting is about my almost certain assent into Über-geekdom, I am going to focus on what has led me to believe that I am headed in that particular direction.  That focus has a name, sweet as any other, namely (get it) virtualization!  Took your breath away, didn't it?!  I know it did mine...sort of.  Either that or I hit my target heart-rate typing this little missive.  I'll have to check into that before too much longer.  Anyway...

In years past, you had to be employed by a large IT department in order to get your hands on server hardware and the operating systems that ran the services that we have come to rely on so much.  Why?  The cost of entry was extremely high.

For one, the hardware cost several times as much as buying a desktop computer.  Not many of my friends had that kind of money.  And, you still had to have a desktop computer to connect to that server.  Otherwise, what would the server communicate with?  Sort of like buying microwave food and not having access to a microwave.

Then, buying the actual OS was prohibitively expensive.  Whereas you could buy the latest, greatest, soon-to-BSOD-on-you version of Windows 2000 Pro for less than three hundred dollars, Windows 2000 Server, with only five client access licenses, would run you around one thousand dollars.  Again, not too many of my friends had that kind of money to throw at their own personal networking lab.

Fast-forward to today.  Gone are the days of having to dual boot your computer.  With a computer using the latest AMD or Intel CPU, you get built-in hardware acceleration for virtualization.  Virtualization allows you to use your computer, running a suitable OS, to host a variety of other OSes.  You could, for instance, run Windows 8 Pro, use Hyper-V, and install and run Ubuntu Linux.  Or, you could run Oracle Linux Server, use KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine), and install and run Windows 7.  Pretty nifty, no?

I can hear the thoughts in your head right now, asking me why does it matter that I can run one operating system on top of another operating system?  Isn't that a waste of time, money, and resources?  To me, no.  Here is why: I can now use whatever virtualization software I want, on any OS I happen to use, and set up a virtual network.  All without having to invest too heavily in hardware or even software, for that matter.

The virtualization software that one can use allows you to set up virtual servers and workstations, network them together, and let you play, play, play!  You are only really limited by RAM, hard drive space, and the capabilities of your CPU.  So, if you choose wisely, you could have a reasonably priced computer that meets the minimum requirements, and then some, for you to run two or three virtual computers at one time.

So, where should you go so that you, too, can ascend to the heights of uber-geek-dom?  Well, for one, Intel has a great site where you can research whether or not your CPU has virtualization built-in.  It will also let you know how much RAM your CPU supports.  Hint, if it doesn't include that information you will need to go to the computer manufacturer's website to find that out.  Also, you could go to Crucial and find out the maximum RAM of your system or motherboard.  A word of warning, though.  Often the amount quoted is the same amount the computer maker stipulated when the computer was made.  That number may not be the maximum supported as many times they will use the maximum available RAM you could buy at that time.  For instance, I have a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 that has a maximum supported RAM capacity of 8 GB.  The CPU, from Intel, has a maximum supported capacity of 16 GB.  Which one is right?  The CPU is right since the memory controller is built into the CPU.  So, I have successfully installed two 8 GB sticks of RAM and everything works great, no issues.

Aside from hardware, you can go to VMware's or Oracle's sites and pick up the virtualization software.  From VMware you can get their highly respected Workstation Professional ($249) or Workstation Player (free but with some limitations).  Oracle has their VirtualBox software (free).  Each company produces great software so I would recommend downloading both of the free versions and having a go.  Pick the one that you enjoy using the most, that is the easiest for you to set up and use, and that allows you to do the things you want to do.

Now, once your hardware is strong enough to support virtualization and you have selected your virtualization platform of choice (you have done that already, right?  No?!  Well what are you waiting for...I'll wait sweetheart!), you are now (probably) wondering what you can do with all of this virtual goodness.  How about playing with virtual machines?  You can play with Linux (try Ubuntu), where you can download the ISO, which is a virtual optical disc of sorts that you can install from directly.  You can also download some great VMs of Windows (good for 90 days) here.

What does all of this mean for you, dear reader?  Well, that's where things get a bit more complicated.  You must answer one vital question...what do I want to learn?  Do you want to learn about security products?  What about learning a new OS for certification purposes?  What about learning a little networking?  All of those can be done.  Unfortunately for you, it is getting late and I need to get things done.  I know, I know, believe me, I'm disappointed as well.  How about we make a deal?  I'll post one tutorial each for the three scenarios above?  That way you can get started and hopefully gain some practical value out of my ramblings.  Deal?  Great...until next time!

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