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5 free virtual appliances for data analysis, app creation

Virtual appliances can execute specific IT tasks, such as data analysis and application creation. There are several free offerings available, but admins must be wary of risks.

Virtual appliances have been around about as long as virtualization technology and provide a quick way to deploy a self-contained application with little effort. A virtual appliance is a great choice for testing possible improvements for specific system challenges, such as software or driver compatibility issues.

There are many virtual appliances in the market to choose from, and admins can make the decision a bit easier with these options.

The choice to use free software comes down to the level of risks admins can and decide to take. Though these stacks bring cost savings, admins must weigh this against possible security risks and lack of support. At the same time, admins can certainly find value in testing one of these free virtual appliances.

Taking a closer look at free virtual appliance options

The following five free virtual appliance offerings provide several different capabilities to meet IT requirements, such as data analysis and the ability to build self-contained applications.

1. Elastic ELK Stack
Elastic ELK Stack delivers a combination of Elasticsearch, Kibana and Logstash. Along the way, Beats was added to the mix. The combination of these open source products makes it possible to process and analyze a wide variety of data types.

When admins launch the appliance, it offers them the opportunity to load sample data to see how ELK Stack works. The graphics created by Kibana help admins visualize their data in multiple ways and is completely customizable.

The choice to use free software comes down to the level of risks admins are willing to take.

2. WordPress Stack
WordPress is a popular blogging tool, and this virtual appliance enables admins to get a website up and running in short order. It includes MySQL as the supporting database for keeping track of all blog posts and comments.

Everything is fully integrated, and when WordPress Stack boots up, admins have a blank WordPress site as the default webpage for their system. However, admins should apply the latest WordPress security updates before pushing WordPress Stack into production.

3. LAMP Stack
Building a self-contained application running on a Linux system is a common request for many IT departments. The LAMP stack includes Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Perl/Python. LAMP Stack uses Debian 9 as the base OS, which is also the foundation for the Ubuntu distribution.

LAMP lets admins run their web engine on Linux using Apache and rely on MySQL for any database requirements. Admins can accomplish any necessary programming using PHP, Perl or Python. Admins can test this in a development environment with full control over access to the system.

4. Jenkins
Software development based on continuous integration and continuous delivery has gathered quite the following because of its ability to provide improved fault isolation and code changes. Jenkins helps automate the process of building, testing and deploying software applications.

Jenkins also provides a ready-to-use Jenkins server in a single, deployable package. Jenkins integrates well with GitHub to provide a fully automated and source code-controlled development and test system.

5. WildFly
WildFly is an open source version of the JBoss Java application server, which is part of the IBM Red Hat project community. WildFly offers connectivity, responsiveness and scalability, as well as provides memory management features to minimize the maximum distribution of heap memory. WildFly relies on the latest Java EE 7 specifications, which helps ease modern Java EE application development, without requiring a combination of various existing frameworks

This virtual appliance contains the latest version with web-based administration and full support for the Java language, which maintains third place behind Python and JavaScript on Stack Overflow's rankings of popularity. WildFly's use of the latest Java EE 7 specifications helps ease modern Java EE application development without the need for various existing frameworks.

Downsides of using free virtual appliances

Some enterprise admins might not like the idea of using free software. One real consideration is software support and it is less likely that admins will have access to a support service with free software if they run into problems.

Security is another challenge and requires someone familiar enough with Linux and Debian distribution to make any necessary configuration changes. This might drive usage to more of an internal-only deployment, but that doesn't mean admins can't use free virtual appliances at all.

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