A virtual appliance is a pre-built, pre-configured and ready-to-run software application packaged with the operating system inside a virtual machine. Basically consider a VM appliance to be a pre-configured virtual machine that comes loaded with an application. Normally, each VM appliances is designed for a single purpose, such as running a browser or security application.
Today, VMware literally has hundreds of appliances that can run on VMware Server, VMware Workstation or VMware Player. To view and download VMware VM appliances, go to the VMware Virtual Appliances page: http://www.vmware.com/appliances/
While VMware certainly has a leg up with hundreds of available appliances, Microsoft is now onboard as well. You can view the available Virtual Hard Disk-based virtual machines for Virtual Server and Virtual PC at the VHD Download page http://tinyurl.com/y8ar3v . You can also read more about Microsoft VHD appliances here: http://tinyurl.com/yj8vg5
By downloading the VHD, you can run any of the following with Virtual Server or Virtual PC:
- Windows Server 2003 R2: http://tinyurl.com/yd8hmb
- Exchange Server 2007: http://tinyurl.com/yx22w3
- SQL Server 2005: http://tinyurl.com/yfu2ae
For testing and training, this could save you quite a bit of time. To use any of these virtual appliances, you just need to download and install Virtual PC or Virtual Server 2005. Since both Virtual PC and Virtual Server 2005 are free products, you can now test and evaluate these Microsoft applications and operating systems at no cost with little setup time.
Since there currently are no Microsoft applications available as VMware appliances, in the past I had to configure my own VMware virtual machines for testing Microsoft applications. If VMware is your preferred testing environment, note that you can convert VHD disks to VMware’s VMDK virtual disk files by using the VMware Converter tool, which is currently in beta: http://www.vmware.com/products/beta/converter/
For the training, support professional or network administrator, the continued growth of available virtual appliances will only help to make your testing and development system setup much easier.