VMware Workstation 5
Compelling Reasons to Upgrade
By Mike Riley
It s hard to believe that what began as an intellectual curiosity a few versions ago has become an information technology powerhouse with its most recent major release. If you read my previous review (located at http://www.aspnetpro.com/newsletterarticle/2003/05/asp200305mr_l/asp200305mr_l.asp), it s fairly obvious that I was impressed with VMware Workstation version 4.
The latest version, VMware Workstation 5, represents a milestone for the company, as it cements its product name and technical capability into the cornerstone of any serious x86-based computing enterprise. From help desk support and unit testing to application development and enterprise management, VMware s success was a primary reason why Microsoft bought VMware s competitor Connectix to embrace and engulf this fiscally and technically challenging opportunity.
Unlike a lot of other software products reaching maturity after their fifth major point release, VMware has continued to evolve substantially, giving current VMware users a compelling reason to upgrade. One of the hottest additions to VMware Workstation 5 is a Teams feature that allows multiple virtual machines to be connected to a virtual private network segment on the same desktop. Imagine running a sophisticated multi-tier, multi-platform application with fail-over, load-balance capabilities that could be brought entirely online with the single click of the pause/resume icon. Think of the customer demonstration or technical evaluation possibilities of configuring a grid of systems emulating seriously complex machine interactions, all within the boundaries of a traveling laptop. This feature alone is worth every penny of the upgrade, considering the savings in hardware costs, ease of configuration, and portability of the solution.
Figure 1: VMware Workstation 5 is loaded with new features, including the ability to manage multiple virtual machines as a combined team of systems running within their own private network.
An enhancement has also been made to the Snapshots feature, which now has the ability to capture an unlimited number of virtual machine states. This is a huge improvement, as it effectively turns VMware Workstation into a version control system for the guest operating system. Rather than backing up a multi-gigabyte virtual machine file every time a state change is made (such as installing new drivers or an ominous system service that worms its presence into the deepest recesses of the registry), the new multiple snapshot feature captures the delta between virtual machine snapshot states making rollbacks to previous instances a breeze. Want to know what Service Pack 1 does to a perfectly running Windows Server 2003, but dread the possibility of reloading the OS in the event of a meltdown? Take a snapshot and transform that apprehension into a comfortable compatibility testing opportunity. Besides Windows Server 2003 and XP, think of this as a System Restore functionality now available on the Windows 2000 Server and Linux operating systems!
But Wait, There s More...
Several other new features stand out as well. Templates can be used to create links to cloned virtual machines, allowing teams to share out VM configurations without copying the entire VM itself. This practice also allows the creation and maintenance of a virtual machine repository that can be linked to via a shared network drive, further minimizing distribution of heavyweight files. Isochronus USB support allows the interaction of host operating system-enabled USB devices, and a new command-line interface via the vmrun command opens VMware Workstation to the world of scripts for everything from automated testing scenarios to auto-launching of virtual machines when another might have crashed.
Performance continues to improve as well, this time most noticeably with more efficient memory utilization on the host system and vastly improved network performance within the virtual environment. This improvement makes it possible to more accurately measure real-world distributed network performance benchmarks within the same physical machine. Host OS support not only includes 32-bit versions of various Windows and Linux builds, but 64-bit versions, as well. Guest operating support has also been expanded to include the latest Linux releases from Mandrake, Red Hat, and SUSE, as well as the Java Desktop System and Windows Server 2003 running the SP1 beta. This release can even allow the recording and playback of a virtual machine in AVI format, obviating the need for desktop presentation capturing software on either the Windows or Linux operating systems. The potential training and marketing enhancements are immense.
Figure 2: The Clone and Snapshop features provide the ability to create version controlled changes to any virtual machine. Roll back to any previous snapshot or create a linked or full clone of a virtual machine at any time.
Because VMware also runs on various Linux hosts, it allows various other Linux or Windows guest operating systems to run on that platform. Not only does this bring a true Windows guest operating system hosted on a Linux system, but other Linux distributions as well. This provides a great way to test a new Linux distro for compatibility (or curiosity sake) without sacrificing a PC to do so. Blowing away a completely configured, well-tuned system just to test a new release will be a thing of the past. While testing the Linux version, I did have a compatibility problem with my Mandriva distribution that required a kernel recompile, but after that it was smooth sailing and provided the identical feature set to the Windows VMware counterpart.
It s obvious I m excited about VMware Workstation 5 and rightly so. If you have never experienced the power an x86 virtual machine can provide, VMware will blow you away with its near perfect, peppy emulation of the physical hardware equivalent. If you re already a satisfied VMware licensee, this upgrade is a must-have. Given all the 5-star features included in this release, I can t wait to see what VMware has in store next!
Mike Riley is an advanced computing professional specializing in emerging technologies and new development trends. He also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. Readers may contact Mike at mailto:[email protected].
Price: Electronic distribution, US$189; packaged distribution, US$199