I agree. Cisco already have a product here, that they could be selling. Unless the real motivation is to keep the money flowing in to the training rack rental companies. I personally like to have the virtualised environment on my laptop so I can use it when I get a chance, rather than having to book time slots. I also like to have it for testing deployment models.
As time moves on gns3 stays the same, and the gap between simulated and current physical hardware gets bigger. There are features that I want to play with that are only available on 15.2 like LISP, which you can't get on gns3. As time goes on the list will get longer. If Cisco provided virtualised environments for test and dev, I think it would greatly increase the quality of personal development and make for better network engineers. it would also give engineers an MSDN/VMware style dev environment to do work up designs prior to physical deployment. The only losers here would be a slight dent in the rack rental market, but the plus would be some very happy network engineers.
Since Cisco and VMware are such close partners I am surprised something hasn't been done in collaboration with them to provide a virtualised environment for testing. iOS VMware appliances for dev work, that would be great. Cripple them in some way to prevent production networking, like rebooting every x hours or packet throughput limiting.
People are already using IOS on the grey area of GNS3 and there are hooky versions of IOU floating around the dusty corners of the Internet, why don't Cisco just accept there is a high demand for this functionality, and bring it into their control, and provide their loyal supporters with an alternative to breaking the law to meet their needs.
FYI: The LISP engineering releases available through http://lisp.cisco.com are built on 15.1(4) and run very well in dynamips/GNS3. You can test the latest LISP features months before they are released in mainline code and plan your design around where LISP is going.
For a purpose I did some analysis of discussion ratings. I would like to share those numbers as they may interests someone.
I analyzed rating of discussions in LAN, Switching and Routing community.
Total number of discussions