VMware: a No-Brainer

Review: VMware Server 1.0 lets users exploit system hardware-for free.

Based on functionality alone, VMwares VMware Server 1.0 would merit serious consideration for inclusion in any developer or system administrators tool kit. However, its VMware Servers price—free—that propels this product from merely worth having to practically must-have.

VMware Server 1.0, which replaces VMware GSX Server, enables computers running Windows or Linux to host multiple virtualized machines, complete with support for x86 or x86-64 operating systems, dual virtualized processors and a network-accessible management interface.

During tests, eWeek Labs found VMware Server 1.0, which was released July 12, to be extremely useful for development, testing and deployment of applications—be they stand-alone or part of a complete operating-system-to-application stack.

While companies could previously create and run VMs (virtual machines) for a low cost using VMwares $200 VMware Workstation, that product was ill-suited for deploying VMs, as it offered no support for headless configurations and no network-based management interface. For these features, users had to step up to VMwares GSX Server, a product for which VMware charged between $1,400 and $2,800 per server.

Fortunately for IT shops, the hardware virtualization landscape has changed quickly, and, in addition to the free VMware Server, administrators can also opt for Microsofts Virtual Server 2005 R2. Virtual Server is newly free and does about the same thing as VMware Server, although its limited, naturally, to Windows host machines.

While VMware isnt charging for VMware Server, the company does offer paid support contracts for the product, as detailed at www.vmware.com/support/services/Overview.html.
VMware Server 1.0 can be downloaded at www.vmware.com/products/server.

VMware seems to hope that companies that have gotten a taste of virtualizations benefits through VMware Server will opt to trade up to ESX Server and VMwares suite of Infrastructure add-ons, bolstering VM deployments with additional migration, high availability, management and other functionality.

We tested VMware Server on a white-box system outfitted with an Advanced Micro Devices 2.2GHz Athlon 64 processor, 1GB of RAM and Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition. We also tested the product on a dual-AMD Opteron server with 2GB of RAM running CentOS 4.3. VMware Server will run on basically any x86 or x86-64 hardware, but the most important hardware requirement for VMware Server is RAM. You need enough RAM for each concurrently running machine instance, so the more RAM available, the better.

VMware offers the Windows version of VMware Server packaged with a standard Windows installer. The Linux version is available as either an RPM (Red Hat Package Manager)—the format used by Red Hat, SUSE and other Linux distributions—or as a tarball, which may be installed on any Linux distribution, albeit outside of the distributions package management system. Wed like to see VMware add the DEB package format used by Debian GNU/Linux and Ubuntu Linux, particularly since Ubuntu is listed among VMware Servers supported host operating systems.

Wed also like to see VMware add a software updates repository for supported host operating systems. This would not only provide access to bug and security fix updates, but would also provide updated kernel drivers to match kernel updates in the products supported distributions. As things stand now with VMware Server on Linux, kernel updates require recompiling the applications drivers—a relatively trivial process, but an added management task that also necessitates the presence of a compiler and kernel header files, either on the VMware Server host or a separate machine set up for the task.

We could interact with VMware Server either through a Web administration interface or with a richer, thick-client application called VMware Console (for which theres a handy download link on the Web administration page).

We could use the Web interface to start, stop and pause our VMs; check on processor and memory load; and adjust configuration parameters (on stopped machines), such as memory size and MAC (media access control) address for our virtual network adapters.

However, unlike with the Web interface of Microsofts Virtual Server, we couldnt remotely control our VMs through VMware Servers Web interface, nor could we create new machines. We instead turned to the Console application, which we found well-suited to these control and creation jobs.

Still better suited to the task of VM creation is VMware Workstation, whose snapshot management capabilities we missed while working with VMwares Console and Web interface. We couldnt make snapshots of our running VMs at all from VMware Servers Web interface, and from the Console we could only maintain one snapshot at a time.

VMware Server also didnt offer us any options—from either the Web interface or the Console—for allocating CPU resources among our VMs, another operation that Microsofts Virtual Server Web interface does provide.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

Evaluation Shortlist

Microsofts Virtual Server 2005 R2

Competes directly with VMware Server, offering similar functionality and price but limited to running on Windows (www.microsoft.com)

VMwares ESX Server and VMware Infrastructure

Both of these products represent a step up from VMware Server, with bolstered management and performance, along with a fatter price tag (www.vmware.com)

Xen hypervisor project

Productized by XenSource and set to ship with a handful of Linux distributions, Xen hypervisor is an emerging alternative to the offerings of VMware and Microsoft (www.xensource.com)