Explaining Virtualization to Your Mom in 5 Easy Steps

She may not get it, but you'll have a great time anyway.

For the longest time my mother, Cleta, had no idea what I did or what computer virtualization was. Using the five steps listed here, I explained to her what virtualization is. I didn't even attempt to explain what a "Validation Engineer" is or does.

In preparation for this you'll need a beer, a shot of whiskey and a bag of Peanut M&M's.

Step 1
Drink the whiskey and place the glass near -- but not on -- the coaster. Open the M&M's and discard the yellow ones, because they're nasty.

Step 2
Bite an orange M&M in half and place half of it on the coaster. Explain to your mother that the coaster is a computer server and it has a processor to do the thinking. Then explain that the shot glass is a hard drive and it's used to store information. The hard candy coating of the M&M is an application like Word or a Web browser; the chocolate under-layer is the OS, like Windows XP or Windows 8.1, and it allows the application to work with the computer hardware. Tell her not to worry about the peanut at this time.

Also, explain that in a corporation, the best practice is to run one application on one computer, so if the application crashes the OS it won't bring down the entire enterprise. Have her notice that the M&M is using very little space on the coaster, and that most applications similarly use very little of a computer's resources.

Step 3
Write "hypervisor" on the coaster. Tell your mother that a hypervisor allows you to run software to make virtual copies of the computer on the real computer hardware, and that now the peanut in the M&M represents software that acts like real computer hardware. Bite four more M&Ms in half and place them on the coaster.

Tell her that these are other applications and they can now safely run on the same hardware as the other applications, because there's a lot of unused space on the coaster. Tell her that this is called "server consolidation," and that by doing this you can get rid of a lot of unneeded computers in a datacenter. Pick up and eat one of the broken M&Ms on the coaster, and explain how if even one of the applications fails, it won't affect the other applications.

Step 4
Drink the beer. Write "hypervisor" on the beer's coaster, same as before, discard the glass and form a triangle with the two coasters and shot glass. Put a few more M&M's in the shot glass. Tell your mother there are ways to attach the two computers (coasters) to the storage (shot glass). The M&M's can run on either of the computers, so if one goes down, the other computer can run the applications; this is called "business continuity," and it ensures that an application will always be running.

Step 5
Share the rest of the M&M's with your mother and tell her you love her, because you can never tell your mother that enough. And even though she has no idea what you were talking about, she is still proud of you.

Web Resources

Love you, Mom!

About the Author

Tom Fenton has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 25 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 15 years focusing on virtualization and storage. He currently works as a Technical Marketing Manager for ControlUp. He previously worked at VMware as a Senior Course Developer, Solutions Engineer, and in the Competitive Marketing group. He has also worked as a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, where he headed the Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on Twitter @vDoppler.


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