VMware Expands Virtual Horizons

Workstation 4.0 supports more operating systems, lacks SMP capabilities.

VMware Inc.s Workstation 4.0 desktop virtual machine software provides a solid platform on which to run multiple operating systems.

In eWEEK Labs tests, VMware Workstation 4.0 showed it would be a good choice in environments where the ability to run multiple virtual operating systems in a single box can increase productivity while saving costs, such as with software development and testing, technical support, and training and sales departments.

VMware Workstation 4.0 supports more virtual operating systems—including Windows Server 2003—than did previous versions. Version 4.0 also offers file-sharing enhancements, improved media device support and a new ability to take snapshots of virtual machines (see screen).

VMware Workstation 4.0, which shipped last month, can be downloaded from VMwares Web site for $299. A boxed version with documentation is priced at $329.

Although the VMware Workstation application can save desktop management costs by improving hardware use, IT managers must consider the performance overhead required to run multiple virtual machines on the host system.

VMware Workstation runs on top of a host operating system and virtualizes guest operating systems within the host computer. The virtual machines function like separate computers, each with its own virtual processor, memory, disk, NIC, and networking and component devices. The virtual machine systems can be networked internally or bridged to the outside world via the host system.

Although VMware Workstation 4.0 supports a wider variety of Linux distributions as well as FreeBSD and Novell Inc.s NetWare guest operating systems, it doesnt support Mac OS, Solaris or OS/2. Sites running these operating systems should consider Connectix Corp.s $229 Virtual PC software, which allows them to run virtual machines on Windows hosts.

VMware has announced SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support for its server-side software, but Workstation 4.0 does not currently provide SMP support for virtual machines.

Installing VMware Workstation 4.0 on a desktop running Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition was straightforward and took about 5 minutes. We added several guest operating systems, including Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 8.0, Windows XP Professional and NetWare 6.0, with no problems.

We did run into slowdowns during operating system installation when we had other virtual machines running. To ensure stability, administrators should install virtual machines one at a time and make sure no others are running during the installation.

The snapshot feature allows administrators to save a point-in-time copy of the virtual machine to the host system. We tested the snapshot feature on the Red Hat Linux 8.0 virtual machine and could revert to earlier desktop iterations (see screen).

The new file-sharing capabilities let us easily transfer files between guests and hosts without the need to create a network share—a convenient feature. We easily dragged and dropped files from the virtual machine to the host system and vice versa, but we couldnt drag and drop files onto the virtual machines desktop, only into open windows.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at [email protected]