VMWare

February 25, 2001

Introduction

I have a friend who is a network engineer. He is also single and studying for his CCIE. I went over to his house a few months ago and he had a laptop running Windows 98 for his corporate network that dual booted into Linux, a Pentium machine running Linux for testing new kernels, a couple of 486 machines that ran FreeBSD and linux as comparison machines, and a Sparc running Solaris. Most of this was for experimenting and because he is a geek and can get away with it.

Recently I talked with him and he said that all those machines had been turned off and he was pretty much using a single latop machine. He had discovered VMWare and ran Linux as his main OS, with a Windows 98 virtual machine for Outlook (it is hard to beat Outlook), a FreeBSD virtual machine for some things, and a virtual Linux machine for testing.

What is VMware?

VMware is a technology that runs a software program that simulates a hardware environment. Inside this hardware environment, you can run any operating system that you choose, with access to most of the real hardware that exists on your machine. It is (IMHO) a really cool idea that allows you to run multiple operating systems simultaneously in a very safe environment.

VMware is made by VMware (as you might expect) and can be found at (not surprisingly www.vmware.com). They have a couple products, but the one that I used was the workstation for Windows 2000. I downloaded a trial version, got my 30 day key and away I went.

Evaluating

When I started the product, a wizard was run that asked what client operating system I planned to insall. The major OSes are include in a drop down plus an option for other. Once you select a system, you must choose a location for the virtual machine. Since this OS will actually run underneath the VMware system, it needs some disk space to use as its virtual disk. This is much easier than a dual-boot scenario where you have to partition your disk. Here, your main OS (in my case W2000 Pro) sees the virtual machine as a process and a file on the disk.

After selecting a location, you select whether this is a virtual disk or a partition. Since I am not an advanced user of this product, I went with a virtual disk and gave it a 1GB partition for a Win2K install. You then decide whether this virtual machine can see the CD and/or floppy disk. You can also allow the virtual machine to use the existing NIC in the machine. Once you finish configuring the option, you can launch your virtual machine.

This was a neat experience. It reminded me of the old 286, DOS days. A window appeared on my screen and started a POST sequence, counting memory, etc. This is a real, live generic computer that acts just like any other computer. I inserted a CD ROM and floppy disks and was able to install Windows 2000.

Once this system was installed, I got a DHCP address from my network, added the workstation to the domain, and had a fully functional W2K system separate and indistiguishable from my primary W2K system on the same machine. I even created a small web site and could access it from my main system as well as other systems on the network using the IP address of the virtual machine which was separate from the IP on the main system.

As a second test, I created two FreeBSD boot floppies, created a new virtual machine, and booted from the floppies. I then installed FreeBSD using the FTP method to download the OS from www.freebsd.org. It worked great and when I rebooted the virtual machine, it also appeared on my NT network as another host. Using a small Apache site, I was able to server web pages from my FreeBSD server which was running on my Win2000 Professional desktop!

Conclusion

This is an interesting product and one that I think works great. At $300 for a W2K host and $80 for a Linux host running only W98 or W95, this is a really inexpensive way to get a new machine and perform testing. I think I will even be able to convince my wife to find the $300 in my computing budget (Actually with my current budget of $0, this may be a battle; pray for me). While I performed some fairly simple tests, I had no issues at all. I could shut down and restart my virtual machines at will and experienced no side effects in my day-to-day work.

This software can also really help with testing. Imagine installing a W2K system as a virtual host, making a copy of the file from the host, and then installing software. If your system fails, you can delete the file and copy over your backup and have your test machine running. If you do not have time to get the system restored, you will still have your host system. Imagine, lowering your downtime substantially for $300!!!

This is a great product. Try it out for yourself and see. Let me know what you think.

Steve Jones
February 2001







The Network for Technology Professionals

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