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Virtualization in Software Development

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Virtualization is the ability to create multiple virtual machines on a single host machine.

About 8 years ago I started using virtual machines (VMs) as parts of the development environment. At that time, I worked as a .NET developer and we used VMware for development environment virtualization.

The process of sharing VM using copy-paste was slow, but it was still much faster to set up a development environment like that than to set it up directly on a PC.

Today, I mostly use Docker and Compose combination to build up the development environment, but I still sometimes use VirtualBox with Vagrant. It mostly depends on the project I am working on.

The costs of the SSD and memory are lower now than they were when I started working with the virtualized development environment. Moreover, today that kind of virtualization is a standard.
 

What is virtualization?


To put it simply, virtualization is the ability to create multiple virtual machines on a single host machine. It can be said that virtualization has found its place in most companies thanks to developers who quietly used this technology in the development and testing process and then introduced the VM concept to their IT higher-ups.

Virtualization can be used in many different environments. It works differently in every situation. In this article, we will provide an overview of the concept of virtualization and explain some of its benefits that can make your organization enjoy it.
 

Making a development environment a virtual environment


One of the challenges we always face when developing new websites and tools is creating a development environment that will be stable and effective for both developers and testers.

Besides server virtualization, the primary use of virtualization technology is the creation of virtualized development environments that serve for housing VMs for development and testing. Virtual machine development and testing enable us to test not only different versions of software but also potential product implementations as well as new features.

Virtualization also enables us to allow developers to closely mimic a production server environment. In this way, less time is spent on configuring and maintaining an engineer's development environment.

With this approach, each developer can have a clone of the production environment. As code is written and saved, it is automatically copied to the developer's personal virtual server.  Developers can instantly see the changes without exposing real web servers to a potentially buggy code.
Virtualization is not only useful in the development process.

It can also be used for running the automated website and tools functionality tests. A VM can run multiple web browsers, which we script to automatically test complex forms, or test various user interface (UI) elements.
By using virtualization in development environments, a wide range of web browsers and screen resolutions can be tested without spending a lot of man-hours on the setup process.

Virtualization of the development environment not only enables us to write and test code efficiency but also includes testing new versions of database servers, application code caching strategies, framework updates, and almost all possible changes that can be made on the production server.

Virtualized development environments also give developers the freedom to use their preferred operating systems. It allows each team member to use the system and work with editors that they are most comfortable and productive with. Virtualization of the development environment helps to keep code light and clean, as we don’t need to create dynamic environment variables to accommodate different systems.
 

Key benefits of the virtualized development environment


The virtualization concept in the software development industry comes with many benefits, some of which are listed below.

Quick setup 
 

One of the key benefits virtualized development environments can give your organization is the reduced speed of the setup environment process. This will especially be useful to the new developers in the team.

For example, imagine there is a PHP project running in a dockerized environment. A new developer in a team would:

  • Install VM software
  • Pull application code from a repertory
  • Run a docker-compose up -d command in the application directory.

Once the automated process of pulling and building the docker images up is finished, the development environment is ready for use.

If everything is done properly, this process will take a few hours, depending on the project. However, downloading the necessary software, docker images and third party packages from the Internet will still take a long time.
 

Flexibility
 

Virtualized development environments enable developers to quickly switch between projects as each project is run in a separate environment.

Depending on developers' machine hardware resources, several virtualized development environments per project can be run. Worst case scenario is to be forced to shut down one project's VMs, before running another one's. 
 

Reduced IT costs
 

Using a non-virtualized environment can be inefficient because when an application is not in use, the computer is sitting idle and cannot be used for other applications. When we virtualize a development environment, we can transform a single physical development server into many virtual machines. Those VMs can have different operating systems and run different applications, while still being hosted on a single physical development server.

Through the consolidation of the applications into virtualized environments, multiple operating systems and applications can reside on a single computer. Thus, significantly less money is spent on development servers.
 

Robust, affordable, and available environment
 

When a disaster affects a physical server or local development environment someone is responsible for replacing or fixing it. While this process could take hours, or even days, with a virtualized development environment the VMs that have been affected can be replicated or cloned. The recovery process can take a few minutes - compared to the hours it would take to provide and set up a new physical server or developer local machine.
 

Increased efficiency and productivity
 

With reducing servers for development environment setup, your team will spend less time maintaining the physical hardware. The IT teams will be able to install, update and maintain the environment across all the virtual machines on the server, instead of going through the process of applying the update server-by-server. Less time dedicated to maintaining the environment increases team efficiency and productivity.
 

Controlled independence and faster deployment to production
 

Since the virtualized environment is segmented into VMs, developers can spin up a VM more quickly and without impacting a production environment. This is perfect for development and testing, as the developers can quickly clone the virtual machine and run tests on the local environment.

For example, when a new software patch has been released, developers can quickly clone a VM and apply the latest software updates, test the environment, pull it to the development server, and finally pull it to the production environment.
 

Conclusion


Despite being created decades ago, virtualized development environments are being exponentially accelerated, as companies strive to their IT modernization.

Virtualized development environments increase cost optimization, scalability, and efficiency by making developers more productive. They allow developers to spend more of their time coding, testing, and debugging.

Virtualized development environment eliminates a lot of time and delay spent in setup and preparation, making the developers available for more useful tasks.

Finally, it can be said that virtualization is a very powerful tool that saves time and money while ensuring efficiency and keeping your company up to date.

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