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Virtualization for the classroom

Virtualization is an up and coming fad in the classroom environment. It allows for the use of programs where you wouldn’t usually have access to them, or practice in a classroom that could potentially harm a computer. An example of this would be using a virtual machine running a Linux operating system on a Windows machine. Virtualization is quickly becoming popular within the business environment as well. Virtualization can also be used to store data virtually creating more logical space than we were previously able to use.

A virtual machine is a software implementation of a machine that executes programs like a physical machine. Virtual machines can be split into two specific types: A system virtual machine, and a process virtual machine. A system virtual machine provides a complete system platform, which supports the execution of a complete operating system. A process virtual machine is only designed to run a single program or process.

VMware workstation is an example of a program that makes use of virtual machines. VMware runs fairly smooth and is useful for classroom environments. I, personally, have used VMware in the classroom for several projects and for testing operating systems from the comfort of my own home at no risk to my personal computer. VMware information can be found at http://www.VMware.com while, you can get a free trial of the program, it is a product of the VMware Company and a full version of the software will cost you.

Another good example of virtualization would be cloud computing. Cloud computing, in a most basic explanation, is the use of data storage outside your own personal computer, typically in the form of a virtual server over the Internet “the cloud.” Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what information technologies always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in a new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the internet, extends information technology’s existing capabilities.

Cloud computing is at an early stage, with a motley crew of providers large and small providing a slew of cloud-based services, from full-blown applications to storage services to spam filters. Yes, utility-style infrastructure is part of the mix, but so are SaaS (software as a service) providers such as salesforce.com. Today, for the most part, information technologies must plug into cloud-based services individually, but cloud computing aggregators and integrators are already emerging.

A good example of a cloud computing service would be having a web site you built, or had built hosted on a server in a location far from you. Your access to this server would be limited to the Internet, using a file transfer protocol process you would get your information from point A to point B. In this example the virtual storage of the servers hosting your web site would prove to save you space, as well as get your web site up and running. I have used this process myself, making use of servers via TurnKey Hosting Solutions (http://www.ths1.com) to host my web site project for Web Programming and Design in my Summer semester at OSU institute of technology.

My last example of virtualization would be virtual networks. Virtual networks are pretty self explanatory, an implementation of networking devices such as routers, switches, hubs and the like as well as cabling, workstations, servers and several other types of equipment you would find on a network. The purpose of programs like this can be different according to where they’re used; however, for the most part it is used to test networks, get a general idea of how you want to set a network up, or for troubleshooting in a classroom setting. Virtual networks can be accurate and crucial for teaching a networking class. They can show, in real time or simulation time, a packet’s route as well as any errors occurring along that route which allows for a hands-on learning experience that some people simply cannot go without. I, personally, have used virtual networks in the classroom environment and can say that they were crucial to my learning of the material. In a virtual network it is easy to see the relation of cabling to certain devices such as which cable will allow for what type of communication between devices. It makes learning networking a lot easier to hands-on learners because they actually get a chance to do it in real time.

An example of software for virtual networking would be packet tracer, available from cisco.com. Packet Tracer is a powerful network simulation program that allows students to experiment with network behaviors and ask “what if” questions. As an integral part of the networking academy comprehensive learning experience, Packet Tracer provides simulation, visualization, authoring, assessment and collaboration capabilities and facilitates the teaching and learning of complex technology concepts.

Packet Tracer supplements physical equipment in the classroom by allowing students to create a network with an almost unlimited number of devices, encouraging practice, discovery, and troubleshooting. The simulation based learning environment helps students develop 21st century skills such as decision making, creative and critical thinking, and problem solving. Packet Tracer compliments the Network Academy curricula, allowing instructors to easily teach and demonstrate complex technical concepts and networking systems design. With Packet Tracer instructors can customize individual or multi-user activities, providing hands-on lessons for students that offer value and relevance in their classrooms.

In summary, Virtualization is still in its early stages, but is proving to be a promising field for expansion in the information technologies community. While most of the software is still used primarily by businesses and educational bodies, I believe that in the near future we will see it in more common use, perhaps even household uses. As information technologies continues to grow and expand, so will virtualization and the power of the people to make possible what was not possible yesterday.

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Keith Boudinot - Server Administrator/Security Specialist and Chief Programmer for Boudinot & Associates, Inc. Keith has a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology Security and Forensics from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.

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