Converting my entire production environment to VHDs

Ever since virtual PC type systems have been out, long has been the dream to run any type of operating system you want, multiple operating systems at the same time, all working independently of each other.

However, only in the last year or two has this really become a reality with the latest hardware supporting virtual environments natively.  Now Windows 7 lets you boot off of a VHD as if it was a standard hard drive making full use of your actual hardware devices.

After attending Stephen Rose’s presentation on Virtualization 101 for Developers my eyes were suddenly open to the possibilities of what could be done.  I could move my entire development environment to a virtual PC image.  This would allow me to copy that image at any time allowing me to test beta products, new upgrades, etc without worrying about damaging my current environment.  Many times I have upgraded to new releases (or betas) that caused previous programs to stop running, Dlls required in legacy projects to be removed, etc.  In some rare cases (SQL Server 2008 RC2) I had to reload my entire environment because I could never get my machine back to its original state.

Now that Windows 7 allows you to boot from a VHD my wheels are suddenly turning.  I could move my entire computer use (not just development) to VHDs.  This would allow me to have a base image for general tasks like email, MS Office, etc that my wife and I could use for general day to day tasks.  I could have another environment for all my video editing work, which is especially useful since video compression codecs can sometimes cause havoc.  I could have a production development environment and as many beta environments as I want.  If I want to download a 30 day trial of any product I just create a copy of the appropriate VHD, boot off of that and try out the product.  After 30 days if I don’t like it I just delete the testing VHD and it will have never touched my production VHD.  If I do like the product I just delete the testing VHD, purchase the full copy and install it to my production VHD.  Very nice and clean.

I just purchased a new HP dv7 laptop with the Intel core i7.  So, this is the perfect time to get started.  While it is possible to wipe the drive clean and use VHDs without any core operating system at all I’ll leave the HP environment intact.  That way I can always fall back to that just in case.  If for some reason my sound stops working I doubt HP will be willing to care if I can’t reproduce it in the standard OS.

So, I’ll document how I set this up and how it works out in future blog posts.  Enjoy the ride!

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Matt Penner

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