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Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

  • DaveGrennan
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Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging. was created by DaveGrennan

Over the Christmas period, I took the opportunity to re-image my observatory PC as I managed to stuff up my ASCOM install and nothing was working right. I had been thinking about using virtualisation technology to avoid this sort of thing happening in the future.

For those who haven't heard about virtualisation, its one of the latest 'buzzwords' in IT departments. It provides for many 'Virtual PCs' to share the resources of one physical computer. You can create new PCs assign computer resources and then interact with each virtual PC as if they were real physical machines. The benefit for IT departments is obviously lower costs due to far less hardware costs acheived by virtualising many servers onto one physical machine.

VMWare is one of the main players in the field and they provide a free virtualisation tool, 'VMWare Player'. There are other players in the field but as this is the one we use in work and since its free I gave it a spin in my observatory.

I started off by creating a virtual PC and installed windows xp and did all the normal updates. I also downloaded linux (just to try it out) as a ready to go VMWare image. So no install, just download the file and start your new linux PC. Dead easy! I then made a backup copy of my new virtual windows install (just in case I messed it up). In fact I did manage to stuff it up. With WMWare player going back to the base install was as easy as copying a few files back to the base folder and my PC was fully operational again.

Now heres the cool bit. You can install as many virtual PCs as your operating system license allows. So you can have a os install for each of the various configurations of your astro gear. Often I need to swap scopes/cameras etc. For me this always involves changing heaps of settings. Not any more. Now I can just create a setup for each configuration of my astro gear and just switch between them in instantly. Also it becomes very useful if more than one person uses your pC. Rather than have separate users accessing the one PC you can create a VPC for each user and to them it looks like they are the only person using that machine. It also isolates everyone from each other so that if one person thrashes their PC a restore can be done instantly and no-one else is affected.

I was alittle worried that I might have problems getting all my astro gear to run inside a VPC but I was worrying unneccessarily. All my drivers installed just like I was running a standard PC. All in all virtualisation gives me the flexibility to run multible configs and setups without messing with and existing install. Also trying out new operating systems like linux or chrome os becomes easyand if you don;t like them you can delete them at the click of a mouse.

Just though this info might be useful to some.
Regards and Clear Skies,

Dave.
J41 - Raheny Observatory.
www.webtreatz.com
Equipment List here
13 years 3 weeks ago #82983

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Replied by mjc on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

VMware seems to have gone through phases where you could use their stuff free then at cost then VMWare did the player thing which at first prevented the creation of Virtual machines and then they allowed it. It's hard to know what the scene will be like going forward. But VMware is a good product.

I personally use VirtualBox (free - Sun Microsystems product / GNU/GPL)- this product allows for snapshots (essentially roll-back points to allow the restoration of a previous state) which is really good for doing difficult installations as one can backtrack to a known good point if one makes a blunder.

I used Ubuntu Linux guest O/S on Windows XP acting as host O/S to get myself an IRAF installation. The installation wasn't straight forward and the roll-back feature prevented a lot of rework. It allowed me to try different Linix flavours as you describe. However, ASCOM only runs on Windows so one can't, at present, switch enitirely to Linux.

There can, however, be licensing issues if one has multiple concurrent running installations of proprietary guest O/Ses like Microsoft.

Mark
13 years 3 weeks ago #82986

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Replied by Frank Ryan on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

Thanks for posting this Dave.
I didn't know this kind of vu virtual set up would
be so easy to do.
My Astrophotography
Shannonside Astronomy Club __________________________________________
Meade ETX-125PE, Bresser 10 x 50 Binos & Me Peepers
13 years 3 weeks ago #82987

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Replied by Seanie_Morris on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

That's a pretty cool idea Dave. I have a copy of Virtual PC and have thought about doing this with an old Pentium 4 I have here, but never really got round to it. Every use that? Would it compare to VMWare out of curiosity?

Seanie.
Midlands Astronomy Club.
Radio Presenter (Midlands 103), Space Enthusiast, Astronomy Outreach Co-ordinator.
Former IFAS Chairperson and Secretary.
13 years 3 weeks ago #82990

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  • DaveGrennan
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Replied by DaveGrennan on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

mjc wrote:

There can, however, be licensing issues if one has multiple concurrent running installations of proprietary guest O/Ses like Microsoft.


Yep absolutely. Its up to you to ensure that whatever you do is in keeping with your licensing arrangements. Specifically with windows the version (home/pro/enterprise) have different EULAS which either allow or disallow virtualisation. OEM versions (the ones you get preinstalled on a new PC) are specifically disallowed to be used in any other environment other than the original non virtual PC it was supplied with.

Mark: Thanks for the heads up on Virtualbox. I look forward to giving it a spin. Just had a quick glance at the documentation and I couldn't find out if it supports virtualising existing physical PCs. Do you know if this is the case? Either way its another free option worth considering.
Regards and Clear Skies,

Dave.
J41 - Raheny Observatory.
www.webtreatz.com
Equipment List here
13 years 3 weeks ago #82991

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Replied by mjc on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

No I don't know if it has that capability.
I'm assuming that what you mean is taking an existing real installation and virtualising it so that it can be run elsewhere.
I have some - I must say vague - recollection that VMWare can do this. But I really could be wrong in that - is that what you mean?

In any event I don't see any capability in VirtualBox doing that.
I would say, personally, I have greater faith that VirtualBox will be free going forward than I would in VMWare and that gives it an edge with me. But VMWare is the first of hypervisor technology being used in PC environments as far as I am aware - and I do belive it to be a good product.

Mark
13 years 3 weeks ago #82994

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Replied by DaveGrennan on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

Mark,

I loaded up virtualbox last night and I must say I'm very impressed. I loaded windows 7 onto a VM and it just worked first time with no issues. I got the answer to the 'virtualising an existing machine' question. With virtualbox it is possible but a little 'involved'. It is easier with VMWare but I have been having a problem that everytime I virtualise an existing PC with VMWare I end up getting a BSOD on startup.

So all in all I'm a convert to virtualbox so thanks again for the heads up.

Just another idea if your a Linux fan (or a mac guy) it would be a straighforward matter to install windows on a VM running on a Linux base. So you have windows for the astronomy stuff and Linux for your physical machine. Best of every world.

Dave.
Regards and Clear Skies,

Dave.
J41 - Raheny Observatory.
www.webtreatz.com
Equipment List here
13 years 3 weeks ago #83032

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Replied by mjc on topic Re:Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

Dave

I've just had one of those WOW moments.

I know that your intended use and my intended use for a virtual machine environment are not the same but I'd like to share this as a continuation of the thread as I feel its a valulable comment for anyone else considering a VM environment..

I want a Linux environment so that I can explore IRAF - the stuff that the professional sphere use. I aint got too far (I'm making slow, very slow, incremental steps).

A requirement (rather more of a strong recommendation) of an IRAF environment is that you shouldn't have to click a window to activate. Hover over part of a window and its up-front and personal. Makes for less work and one doesn't have to keep moving windows around to see what you are doing. For IRAF work it is a better way of working.

I attached a CRT as a secondary screen to my laptop (haven't had a working desktop in years). The motivation was to compare different images of Mars that I captured early Thursday morning. I wanted to compare the results of stacking different subsets of the entire 8 minute capture.
Some results were noticeably inferior and some results were indistingushable on the laptop - hence motivation to see the images on a CRT. I now fully appreciate others' comments on why you can't use LCD screens for image processing.

I decided to see what a VM would look like - and I was impressed. I put the VM in Full Screen mode on the secondary monitor and there's where the WOW comes in.
I have two screens - for two machines and the VM is in full screen mode on the secondary CRT monitor and I just have to move the mouse from the lap top to the IRAF environment and whatever app I'm hovering over pops up without a single click. Normally when one has both Windows apps and the VM visible at the same time one needs to click to give focus to the VM. But when the VM is full screen on a secondary monitor one doesn't. That's magic.

Mark
12 years 11 months ago #83733

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