As multiple operating systems on a PC  become more common, students more prepared for jobs

[caption id="attachment_12500" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Ryan Donham with one of the new computers"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA - Information technology students at Empire College have been brought into the future with the addition of virtual computers to the classroom.

The college just switched its information technology department equipment over from single workstations to a fully functioning virtual network at each computer. The project cost $200,000.

This means that a single machine can run up to 10 operating systems at once. One machine can run Linux, Windows and the Mac OS at once and files can be transferred between operating systems.

Ryan Donham, the head of the information technology department at Empire College, said what would once have taken 10 computers now takes only one. The machine allocates processing and memory to each specific operating system.

Virtual machines allow the user to share the physical machine resources between computers, each running its own operating system. Other than the advantage of being able to run multiple operating systems on the same computer, the different platforms are partitioned so if, for example, one of the operating systems got a virus the partition could be reset.

[caption id="attachment_12502" align="alignleft" width="216" caption="Screenshot of a virtual machine simultaneously running Windows 7, WindowsXP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2000 and SUSE Enterprise"][/caption]

The user simply takes a snapshot of the original system and at any time, the machine can be put back to that place.

For the classroom this is useful so a virus can be installed and a student can have the chance to remove it. When the lesson is over, the computer can be reset to the snapshot and it is good as new.

Chairman, chief executive officer and president of the college Roy Hurd, said being able to share files and folders between operating systems is a huge advantage when teaching information technology.

And, he continued, students can get more familiar with the different operating systems, which will help them with future employers.

Outside the classroom there are very practical uses for this technology.

For businesses, using a virtual machine or a multi-boot system can save energy, performance and money.

For a company with 100 employees where each employee has a computer, having to purchase 100 additional computers to be able to run a different operating system could be a crippling cost.

Russell Tammany, president and senior systems engineer of Xponentia, a small business network specialist in the North Bay, said the virtual systems technology is becoming more and more prevalent in small and large businesses.

"It is something that is coming of age in the industry," he said.

Large companies often already have the technology. Now he said many of his clients are making the shift to virtual machines for cost, energy savings and safety.

"It is something everybody getting into the field should know," he said.

Mr. Hurd and Mr. Donham are excited to have this available to their students.

"Most companies are starting to use virtual machines in their back end," said Mr. Hurd. "For those that are not, the students can carry this technology to their future employer."