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Using Virtual PCs for Astro Imaging.

  • DaveGrennan
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  • IFAS Astronomer of the Year 2010
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14 years 1 month ago #82983 by DaveGrennan
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

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14 years 1 month ago #82986 by mjc
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

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14 years 1 month ago #82987 by Frank Ryan
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

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14 years 1 month ago #82990 by Seanie_Morris
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.

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  • DaveGrennan
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14 years 1 month ago #82991 by DaveGrennan
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

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14 years 1 month ago #82994 by mjc
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

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