Is Virtualization Becoming the Turducken of the IT World?

VMs-within-VMs-within-VMs raise new virtualization promises and concerns.

It's just about Thanksgiving, but I feel like I already have a refrigerator full of turducken leftovers in the form of client VMs scattered across my lab bench.

For those not familiar with the term, a turducken is a partial deboned turkey that is stuffed with a deboned duck that is stuffed with a deboned chicken. It's the concept I use to keep clear about what virtual machine is running where in the flurry of desktop virtualization reviews I've written during the past year.

Running a fat client stuffed with fat clients that are themselves stuffed with fat clients came to a head with my review of VMware Workstation 7. When I found myself using the names of Greek and Norse gods for physical computers-words that started with the letter "v" to name virtual machines and "s" to denote the virtual machines running inside those virtual machines-it was time to take a sanity break.

All this VM stuffing is of great benefit when used by developers and trainers. Setting up whole test environments in the confines of one physical system provides a tremendous productivity boost to high-value IT employees. Also compelling is the ability to provide IT workers with training on bleeding-edge virtualized infrastructure without the associated costs of physical infrastructure.

Further, client hardware has gained enough compute power to support turducken-style VM implementations. With the advent of relatively inexpensive multicore client systems with relatively large amounts of inexpensive RAM, it's almost a waste of silicon not to run multiple VMs on a single physical system.

Even Fruitarians (Apple users) are getting in on the game. My recent reviews of VMware Fusion 3 and Parallels Desktop 5 showed that the heavyweight of fat clients (the Mac platform's mandatory hardware/OS combo) is gaining the ability to stuff the most widely used business OS (Windows) into an elegant, apple-shaped VM. VMware and Parallels are in a race to see which virtualization tool can make the Windows OS appear the most Apple-like-"just another application" running on the Mac platform.

I wonder to what extent all this VM-within-VM stuffing is both indicative of the advances made in virtualization and a precursor to moving the utility provided by these physical machines to the cloud. The mastery gained from encapsulating this much compute power on a local system also serves as a basis for putting the VMs on an always-accessible platform, regardless of the physical location of the IT pro who needs to use the resources.

For today, however, I have some practical concerns about the use of VM-within-VM architectures. Until now, power users have been entrusted with administrative privileges because they weren't naive end users. I've seen in my own test environments how much administrative time I've had to devote to ensuring that my sprawling virtual kingdom is patched, secured and generally maintained so as not to pose a threat to myself or others.

Even my Apple systems, most now running Windows clients, come within the scope of my anti-malware regimen. I've spent a lot of time managing all these clients-within-clients-within-clients-enough that I now count this time against the productivity gains provided by virtualization tools.

Today, it's cool to run an entire VMware infrastructure on a laptop. Tomorrow, you might be wondering why you made all that turducken.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at