The liquefaction of hardware (The Economist, Nov 18th)

Innovation in IT

The liquefaction of hardware

The rise of the virtual computer Nov 18th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION

Imagine a personal computer that has two souls. One moment it is your work machine, complete with a set of corporate applications and tight security settings. Then it becomes an entertainment centre, allowing you to watch any video and download any program.

Thanks to a process called “virtualisation”, such computers are now being created. Ever more processing power and clever software are allowing devices of all kinds to separate from their hardware vessels and move to new homes. If this process continues as some expect, it will change computing radically. And more than one IT company will have to rethink how it does business.

Virtualisation dates back to the age of mainframe computers. To make better use of them they were sometimes split into smaller “virtual machines”, each of which could run its own operating system and application. But the approach took off only in recent years, when VMWare, a software firm, applied it to servers, the powerful computers that populate today’s corporate data centres. VMWare and its main rivals, Citrix and Microsoft, have since developed all kinds of software tools to manage virtual machines—moving them between data centres, for example.

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