A better idea is to adopt something called virtualisation—a technique that’s been around for ages, but has only lately come back into fashion. Virtualisation provides a way of hiding a computer’s resources—its central processor, operating system, internal memory, network controller, and storage devices—behind a software curtain. The idea is to give users (not to mention nefarious strangers) the impression they have control of the machine, when really they are dealing with a simulacrum created entirely in software.
The technique was invented by IBM back in the 1960s, when software was relatively cheap and hardware incredibly expensive. By using virtualisation, one costly mainframe could be partitioned so as to run many different applications all at the same time—each within its own “virtual machine” in a layer of software running on top of the physical machine’s actual operating system.
With modern hardware so cheap, Intel-based servers that dish out applications and data have proliferated like rabbits. In most cases, only 10% to 15% of their resources are actually used. VMware, a company based in Palo Alto, California, was founded in the late 1990s to capitalise on this waste of resources. Helping companies get the most out of their hardware has made VMware one of the fastest growing software firms in decades.