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Virtual Machines and Project 2010

It should come as no surprise that the hardware requirements of the Office 2010 suite continue to expand. The relationship between ever-increasing hardware capabilities and software which takes advantage of those capabilities is as inseparable as that between the chicken and the egg,

One way to attack the problem is pretty simple, make a thin client and put all the computing burden on the server. This is the approach that netbooks take. They have enough power to do basic tasks and rely on web-based applications for the rest of what you might want to do. The whole concept of cloud computing follows on this approach. It offloads the heavy database and computing loads (and the responsibility for building, maintaining and scaling them) to somewhere else than your PC.

But not everything can be done over a network. One area where control of and access to the servers is required is in giving demonstrations. You can't always count on being able to have access to a network or a port through a company's firewall so you HAVE to have a stand alone system. The tool of choice for this is the use of Virtual Machines. They can easily be copied and customized for a specific demo. Then the state can be frozen so it is always right back where you wanted it.

With Office 2010, a number of the compelling features make use of components which require a server (Sharepoint, Excel Services, SQL Server etc.) This makes them a heavy load for a virtual machine. Rumor is that at least 8GB of RAM is recommended to run one of these virtual machines. This requires a 64bit operating system in order to effectively use all that memory. It also requires a long time to load the virtual machine.

Some computer companies are already addressing the need with laptops capable of holding 16GB of ram and having space for 2 internal disk drives. The drive makers too are addressing it through the use of Solid State Drives (SSD's) which eliminate the rotating platters in typical drives with an array of semiconductor memory. This is similar to moving from a record player (some of you may not have seen one...) to an iPod. They offer nearly instant access to memory as there are no moving parts to worry about.

Prices are coming down on these and you can get a replacement drive of reasonable size for a couple hundred dollars:

One good source for information about how these perform is Christophe Fiessinger's Blog. Here is his benchmarking of how SSD's helped with his demo images:

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