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Soon my fancy new 120GB SSD will arrive for my laptop workstation I use for PHP development and other misc tasks. I really don't want to bog it down with heaps of software, so my current plan is to have, on the actual OS (Windows 7 Pro):

  • VirtualBox
  • Google Chrome
  • Some AV (AVG or Avast...)
  • Not a lot else.

I envisage having 2 VM's, one for "misc" software (photoshop, itunes, MS Office, etc.) and the other as my development environment. (Apache / MySQL / PHP, Eclipse, Firefox, SVN etc.)

I haven't decided what OS to make the dev workstation yet... I could probably use Debian. Obviously I'd need some flavor of windows for the 'misc software' vm.

Host Laptop's specs: Win7 Pro, Dell Studio XPS1645, OCZ Vertex 2 120GB SSD HDD, Intel Core i7 CPU @ 1.73GHz, 6GB RAM

Does anyone have any experience with virtualising their entire workstation, tips, tricks, things to look out for?

Should I install antivirus on each of my virtual machines?

Should I store the source code of the development machine on the development machine, or store it on the host, share the folder, and in the guest; dev off the "network" share?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

From my personal perspective (and experience), it is a good idea to run a Linux as your Host OS (I use Ubuntu). The major reasons for this is that Linux has a much smaller footprint with all of the system resources which will be able to let your Guests have a little bit more. VirtualBox and Chrome can both be installed in Ubuntu, then you also don't really need AV, but if you insist Avast does have a Linux virus scanner which im pretty sure would just search for windows viruses on the linux file system.

To answer your bolded questions: I would install AV on just my windows machines (virtual or not).

I have my entire workstation visualized at my house, one thing I have noticed is that graphics acceleration is the biggest nag. I cant play any 'real' games on my windows virtual because of this, windows areo doesnt work, and ive also noticed that you must turn off 3d acceleration in VirtualBox if you want the lates visual studio express to run. (really weird, but thats what it is).

If you are running and SVN repository on your development machine I would highly suggest having the repository on something like a hosted iscsi volume simply to make backups much easier, and in case something goes corrupt it is less layers to dig through to save what matters most.

Also the comment about having a shared folder system by @pthesis is a really good idea, I have the shared folder system hooked up through virtual box just for quick file swapping.. and then I have a samba exclusive virtual that hosts the majority of my files (pics, vid, docs, music, etc) through my entire home network.

I have been considering making a redistributable pre-setup of my svn server virtual and my samba server virtual... if you are interested in it, you might be enough motivation for me to pull something like that together.

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I've been doing what you're proposing for several months with Virtualbox, and it works pretty well.

Some things to consider:

  • You'll probably want to set up file-sharing in your VMs, either via Samba or VirtualBox "shared folders", or both
  • Take snapshots of your VMs frequently for backup, and especially before major milestones. I use snapshots to try out new software - it's a lot cleaner to revert to a snapshot than uninstalling software, drivers, etc.
  • Photoshop runs fine inside a virtual machine with 2.5GB RAM. You might want to add more RAM to your machine.
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I second the snapshots. No need for anti-virus (imo) on the VMs as you can always roll them back. – Uninspired May 25 '11 at 5:58

If you are going to run Photoshop (CS4 or above) on a guest VM, you may want to consider VMWare Workstation 7.1 as it has far better 3d video performance than Virtual Box according to this source.

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Thanks for your response. I only use photoshop on the odd occasion I need to tweak a graphic element like an icon or something... unless photoshop is unbearably slow I'm happy to stick with VirtualBox. – Dean Rather May 17 '11 at 3:57

You could give each VM a direct disk partition instead of a virtual disk file on the host OS. Seems to me that one less abstraction layer on the file system can't hurt performance.

I know VMware Workstation supports this, not sure about VirtualBox.

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You do have a point, but trying to do something like this with virtualbox is possible, but difficult to do in Linux, and I would imagine near impossible to do if your running a windows host because you dont have access to the lower-level tools that you need. – CenterOrbit May 20 '11 at 20:41

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