VMware virtualization – Where do I start?

Occasionally I get the question “Hey, I’m new to VMware virtualization. Since you are the expert, can you please tell me where to start?” All right, if you really want to get started, let me give you some guidelines. First you need a VMware virtualization layer. There are different options to choose from.

Desktop Products
If you have a PC, you could start with VMware Workstation. This product is designed to run on your PC. There’s no need to reinstall your PC as VMware Workstation installs on top of your Windows or Linux operating system. To learn more about its features you can go here.
If you are privileged and own a Mac, you can use VMware Fusion. VMware Fusion is like VMware Workstation but installs on top of Mac OS X. For a full set of features go here.
These desktops products are designed to run on workstations and laptops for development, testing and demos and are not to be used in production environments.

Server Products
If you have server hardware available, but you might just not want to immediately reinstall your server, than VMware Server is what you need. Just as Workstation it installs on top of a Windows or Linux operating system. However, you must use a Windows server operating system, but unlike the VMware desktop products, this product is FREE. To learn about its features go here
VMware Server is targeted for testing purposes and very limited production use. If you want to run it in a production environment I encourage you to run the also free ESXi if your hardware supports it.

If you want the Full Monty and have supported hardware, you can install ESX. This product is optimized for performance, but is limited in the hardware you can use. Be sure that your system is listed on the VMware Compatibility Guide, although there are some good blogs around about running ESX on budget hardware and whiteboxes:
http://ultimatewhitebox.com/
http://www.vm-help.com/Whitebox_HCL.php
http://www.techhead.co.uk/vmware-esx-whitebox-solutions-an-article-summary

VMware ESX comes in two flavours, VMware ESXi which is FREE and the full blown VMware ESX. ESX installs directly on top of your bare-metal hardware, but there is one caveat, ESX4 requires 64-bit hardware to run on. If you don’t have the required 64-bit hardware available you could try version 3.5 instead of 4.0. For a full set of features of ESXi go here and for ESX go here. VMware ESX is the one that is designed to run in production environments.

If you want to try out ESXi before reinstalling your server, you could create a bootable ESXi USB stick from Windows (http://www.techhead.co.uk/how-to-create-a-bootable-vmware-esxi-usb-pen-drive) or through the ESXi installer running in VMware Workstation (http://www.vcritical.com/2009/08/create-esxi-4-usb-flash-drives-with-workstation). Just put the bootable USB stick in your server and boot it.

How VMware virtualization works.
VMware virtualization lets you run multiple virtual servers (also called virtual machines) on a single physical server. All the resources of that single physical server are shared across the virtual servers that are running on it. The VMware virtualization layer allocates the physical resources dynamically and transparently to the virtual servers, so they have access to the resources they need when they need them.

What is a virtual machine?Virtual Machine
A virtual machine is a software implementation of a physical computer that can run its own operating system and applications. A virtual machine behaves exactly like a physical computer and contains it own processor, memory, hard disks and network cards (virtual hardware). A guest operating system, which is installed in the virtual machine, can’t tell the difference between a virtual- and a physical machine. Virtual machines offer a number of distinct advantages over physical machines:

  • Compatibility
    The guest operating system is presented standard x86 hardware. As a result, virtual machines are completely compatible with all standard x86 operating systems, applications and device drivers.
  • Isolation
    All virtual machines are completely isolated from each other and are unaware that they are running on the same physical hardware. This means that if one machine crashes, all others keep running.
  • Encapsulation
    A virtual machine is represented as a set of files. This makes virtual machines incredibly portable and easy to manage. You can move a virtual machine like any other software file.
  • Hardware Independence
    Virtual machines are completely independent from their underlying physical hardware. This means that you can move a virtual machine from one vendor’s physical box to another vendor’s physical box and no changes to the guest operating system are necessary.

I once read an article (I don’t know the exact source anymore) where a comparison with a movie studio set was made. The movie studio set is built to replicate a living room as realistically as possible. The set is built inside a large building where a lot of other sets are built too. But when on the set, it looks just like a real living room and anyone on the set just doesn’t know that in fact it’s only a movie set. Those that are outside the set can see both this set and any other sets that are in the building. VMware virtualization is the same thing, except with computers.

So now you know the basics. Go get the VMware virtualization layer of your choice, start building your first virtual machine and explore all the benefits that VMware virtualization has to offer.

Related posts:

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4 Comments on “VMware virtualization – Where do I start?”

  1. #1 Vladan
    on Aug 25th, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    I started a couple years ago with Connectix Virtual PC. Before it gots bought by Microsoft. Since then I followed the VMware way…. Through VMware Workstation and ESX Server… untill I becamed a vExpert… -:)

  2. #2 Arnim van Lieshout
    on Aug 25th, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Thanks for sharing Vladan!.
    Every expert once started as a rookie. I Guess most of us started with VMware workstation before moving on to ESX. So if you’re new to VMware hang on in there, all will be very clear and easy after all in the end.
    The workstation products are an easier start, because it is installed and used like any other application on your host operating system.

    Arnim

  3. #3 SparkyMaddy
    on Jan 13th, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Is it just me or does it seem odd that the VM server product is free but the VM workstation product isn’t free? You’d think it would be the other way around.

    I did check out he VMware Server product and it listed that it required Windows or Linux as a host OS. I downloaded and installed it on my Win 7 box. I opened up the documentation and was shocked that it says it requires Windows Server. (They left out the “server” part on the VMware website). Anywho, it looks like VMware Player is what I really need, but that’s only for non-commercial use and I’m testing these out at work. I guess MS Virtual PC 2007 if the best option since it’s free and will run on Win 7.

  4. #4 Pankaj
    on Mar 24th, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Thanks guys for this info!
    Sparkymaddy as u suggested for Virtual PC 2007 because it run on windows 7.
    Please confirm me if i download the VMware workstation will it not run on Windows 7 ultimate?

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