Using virtualization to automate deployment: is it a good idea or not?

As the number of servers needed to run slideshare increases, we are spending more and more of our time simply deploying our software. Each new box has to have a lot of software installed, configured, and tested before it can be hooked up. Scripting common tasks makes things go faster, but doesn’t resolve the fundamental problem, which is that there’s never any way to prove that Server A has the exact same configuration as Server B. This makes troubleshooting tricky, obviously.
One path we’re starting to consider is virtualization. I haven’t heard of this as a common use for virtualization. Typically, people seem to use software like Xen or VMWare to run multiple virtual servers on one physical server, so they can get more use out of existing hardware. We don’t have that problem: all our boxes are in the red! But we would like to be able to roll out new servers reliably, at the push of a button, the way you can make a new instance of an image on Amazon EC2 just by typing a command into your command line.
The way I look at it, the configuration of a machine is valuable intellectual property, and it needs to be captured so that it can be reproduced whenever we need it. Of course there’s a performance penalty: something like 5/10% of CPU will be consumed by the virtualization software, meaning that overall we’ll need more boxes than we would otherwise. But we’ll be able to set up or rebuild boxes faster, and right now that seems more important to me.
Thoughts? Is this a good idea or not? Has anyone used virtualization in this way? Any recommendations on which software to try first? As always, reply in the comments field below.
Also: a special bonus slideshow on virtualization for your reading pleasure!

SlideShare “World’s Best Presentation” contest!

Today we launched our first contest on SlideShare. Contests are the new hotness on the web nowadays … if bix is the American Idol of the web, you can think of this as being the American Idol of PowerPoint (yes, that is a weird idea!). Today youtube also launched a huge contest of their own, so it seems like the time is right for contests on the web.

The idea of an American Idol of PowerPoint may be funky, but the contest is serious. Every judge is a renowned presentation expert. Guy Kawasaki, for example, has serious rules about how long your powerpoint can be, and what should be on each slide of a pitch to potential investors. Garr Reynolds is the author of the amazing Presentation Zen blog, which was one of the first blogs I started reading about presentation design. Bert Decker is a top presentation coach who you’ve probably seen on TV (especially in election season, when he comments on the presidential debates for NBC’s Today Show). And Jerry Weisman is silicon valley’s go-to guy for executives gearing up for the grueling presentation hell that is the pre-IPO “road-show”. Presentation rock stars, all of these guys.
The prizes are pretty rad too. An alienware Area 51 laptop (w/Vista), plus two Xbox 360s and a ton of games, were generously donated by Microsoft. Thanks Seattle people! And Garage Technology Ventures sponsored the contest, which was really cool of them.
Judges will determine the final winners, but there’s also a prize for the “people’s choice”. Anyone can vote for the winner of the people’s choice, and there are ipods for the top three winners in that category.
The contest design was a lot of fun. We tried to make the contest really social, so you can always see the avatars of “recent positive voters” next to a slideshow that is in a contest. Warning, this is addictive!
Anyway, go on and upload your presentations to slideshare if you want a bad-ass new AlienWare laptop. What are you waiting for?

AJAX and Flash SXSW Talk

I gave a talk at SXSW a few days ago (AJAX & Flash: What we learned building SlideShare).
Here’s the slides. I also put my talk notes into SlideShare as comments, so if you’re interested in knowing what I actually SAID, go check it out here.

On a side note, SXSW is an AMAZING conference. The parties were out of this world: it really is “spring break for web hipsters”. I’m definitely going back next year…

Success Stories for Flash Sockets?

Youtube is the cannonical success story for Flash Video. I’m wondering, where is the big consumer success story for Flash Sockets?
I had long assumed that cool web chat applications like Meebo and GMail-Embedded-GTalk used Flash sockets. But on closer investigation both of them are using COMET.
What gives? What are some examples of massive scale webapps that use sockets? And please, no custom-built inside-the-firewall type app stuff. I want to know about popular consumer webapps that leverage Flash sockets.