By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-02-20 Print this article Print

VMware Workstation 5.5 is an excellent tool for creating and running virtual machines, with the best administration and setup tools of any virtualization product weve tested. eWEEK Labs thought highly enough of the previous version of Workstation, 5.0, to give it an Analysts Choice award, and we found Version 5.5 equally fit to wear that crown.

This latest version of VMware Workstation, which became available in December, adds support for 64-bit guest operating systems and now exposes up to two processors to guest machines. Workstation 5.5 is a desktop-oriented product, but the VMs that it produces may be used with VMwares complete product line, from the free VMware Player and Server products to the higher- performing—and decidedly more costly—ESX Server.

Workstation 5.5 will fit best in testing scenarios where developers or system administrators need to be able to run multiple operating systems or multiple versions of the same operating system, either separately or in tandem, for ironing out wrinkles on the road to deployment.

VMware Workstation 5.5 costs $189 for an electronic version and $199 for a boxed version. Thirty-day evaluation keys are available from the VMware Web site. Workstation 5.5 comes in Windows and Linux host versions, but you must choose between the two at purchase time. Upgrades from Version 5.0 are free, and upgrades from versions prior to that cost $99 for an electronic version and $129 for a packaged version.

We tested VMware Workstation 5.5 using the same Athlon 64/Windows Server machine with which we tested Microsofts Virtual Server 2005 R2. We also tested the product in its Linux incarnation on a dual-AMD-Opteron-based IBM eServer 325 running the 64-bit version of Red Hats RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 4. In fact, one of the features of Workstation 5.5 we appreciate the most is its support for both Windows and Linux as host operating systems, as well as its support for pretty much any x86-based operating system on the guest side.

Click here for eWEEK Labs review of Virtual Server 2005 R2. Workstation 5.5 supports 64-bit operating systems of the AMD64 or Intel EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) variety, albeit on a fairly constrained range of hardware. For AMD systems, 64-bit guest support requires Opteron chips of revision D or later. For Intel-based systems, only the newest, VT (virtualization technology)-enabled processors will support 64-bit guests.

Considering the somewhat complicated nature of machine virtualization, Workstation 5.5 sports an interface thats simple to operate. During tests, it took only a handful of clicks to create a new VM, and it was also very easy to outfit a new machine with a complement of virtual disks and peripherals.

How is virtualization changing the infrastructure landscape? Click here to read the Labs analysis. Workstation 5.5 let us adjust the amount of RAM assigned to each virtual instance, to set a limit on how much host machine RAM all instances can consume and to adjust the likelihood that the instances will dip into the host machines swap space for their memory needs. However, Workstation 5.5 does not offer any facilities for managing CPU priority among concurrently running machines—a higher-end feature that wed find useful in Workstation 5.5.

Workstation 5.5 boasts very good support for creating machine snapshots. The products Snapshot Manager allowed us to see the hierarchy of instance snapshots wed created and then, taking a given branch of our snapshot tree, to clone the snapshot into a separate machine. We could create linked clones, which contained only the changes we made since the point of cloning, or we could create full clones, which we could then move to be run on a separate machine.

Workstation 5.5 provides fairly little information about the VMs it is running, another feature you get from the higher-end virtualization products. Still, since your virtual instances are network-accessible, you can use standard monitoring and diagnostic tools to "see into" your virtual instances.

Workstation 5.5 is able to open Microsoft Virtual Server instances, as well as Symantecs LiveState Recovery Manager images. We didnt attempt a Symantec image import, but only the Windows version of Workstation 5.5 can open Virtual Server images. Whats more, the import worked only with Windows guest images.

We werent able to open the Debian instance wed created in Virtual Server Workstation, but one of the Windows Server instances wed created opened up without a hitch.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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