I’m extremely lucky as an Oracle Apps DBA – I’ve got literally tons of hardware for me to experiment and play on to learn.
But not everyone has hardware and software lying around and the time and ability to set it up. I may know my way around Oracle and RedHat Linux, but setup Windows with SQL Server? Active Directory? Sharepoint? Not a chance. That’s what my (very nice and understanding) Windows Administrator coworkers are the experts in. But I came across a way to create a prebuilt environment with all this and more, for free.
Recently I stumbled across CloudShare and their free Pro offering. This isn’t a sales pitch, I promise.
Right now they are in public beta and while it is in public beta, it’s free to use. All you need to sign up is to provide your name and an email address.
With the free account you can create an environment of up to 6 VMs (Linux or Windows) at a time based on the available templates:
Xubuntu 8.04 Desktop
Windows XP With Office 2007
Windows XP Professional
Windows XP Pro with Office 2010
Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Edition x64
Windows Server 2008 Enterprise
Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition
Windows 7 Pro
Windows 2008 with SQL Server 2008
Windows 2008 with Microsoft CRM Dynamics
Windows 2008 with Active Directory
Windows 2003 with Sharepoint 2007
Windows 2003 R2 with Oracle 11g
Ubuntu 8.04 Desktop
CentOS 5 With RubyOnRails
CentOS 5 with MySQL
CentOS 5 with KDE
Sure the machines aren’t the most powerful things out there, but that’s not the point. You want to go through an Oracle install? Go for it. Want to kick the tires on Windows 7 without buying it? 5 minutes and you’re up and running. Want to mess with Sharepoint or Active Directory but avoid all those downloads, installs and configuration? Poof – done. Want to setup a 6 VM environment and share it with friends over the internet? Done.
It’s actually pretty cool.
There’s one feature they have that I especially like: FastUpload functionality. With this you download one of their existing templates (which are good for 90 days), fire it up with VMware Workstation, and make whatever changes you want and then you can upload your VM back to their servers. The magic of this is it doesn’t re-upload the whole VM (Gigabytes and gigabytes of data), but just the changed blocks.
How cool is that? Short of having friends in the know, this is the only legal way I know of to download a prebuilt Windows VM (please note you should have your own Microsoft licenses) and be able to check it in after configuring it just so.
So now you’ve made this super cool environment and want to share it with your friends – you can send them an invitation to use your environment. You can send 10 invitations each month. When your friend opens their invitation, they see the last snapshot of your environment and can make whatever changes they want, without it effecting your original. Your friend can decide to take ownership of the environment and then they become authors of the copy for as long as they want. Think linked clones in VMware speak.
So while your VM is in CloudShare’s cloud, how do you access it? It’s got a External address ( XXXXXXXX.env.cloudshare.com ) so you can access it from anywhere on the Internet and also an Internal IP so it can see the other VMs in your environment. Want to RDP to your private Windows XP Pro with Office 2010 box from your iPhone to open a document in your email? Go for it. Their platform supports http/https, ssh, RDP and any fat client that uses public IPs.
I spent a couple hours messing around in my environment this past weekend and setup an Oracle 11gR1 database on a windows box, downloaded some evaluation software from Oracle and setup a little client server environment involving 3 boxes. I was able to upgrade the Centos box (it was Centos 5.4 – latest is 5.5), and get it configured to talk to my Oracle server.
CloudShare has some big Partners , notably to most of my readers, VMware. There’s even a quote from Paul Maritz (President and CEO of VMware) on the Partners page: “We see the CloudShare platform as an attractive technology that strengthens, supports and extends our ecosystem.”