Saturday, September 17, 2011

VMware Workstation 8.0 New Features

All of us eagerly awaiting VMware Workstations 8.0 could probably have guessed that its official release date was quite near given recent discussions about related VMware server products, like the blog I did just a couple weeks ago about VMware ESXi 5.0 New Features and vSphere 5.0 New Features.

There were hints of what to expect with the desktop applications aligned closely with the ESXi/vSphere products (VMware Workstation 8.0 for Windows and Linux environments, and VMware Fusion 4.0 for the Apple/Mac crowd). One obvious "hint" you may have noticed during the ESXi 5 / vSphere 5 release was the New (Version 8) Virtual-Machine format with 3D (Windows Aero) and USB 3.0 Support. And, from what I am seeing in the new Workstation 8.0 features, the interrelation between ESXi/vSphere and Workstation are perhaps closer than ever before; or that seems to be the strategy VMware is pursuing with some of the more substantial new features in VMware Workstation version 8.0!

New Features in VMware Workstation 8.0

IMPORTANT NOTE: a relatively modern 64-bit x86 CPU is REQUIRED on your host-system for this new version of Workstation! (i.e., EM64T Intel chips or AMD64)

Simple and Powerful Interaction with vSphere/ESXi 5.0

As VMware's web page emphasizes as a substantial new feature in Workstation 8.0: With Workstation 8 we have embraced the cloud. Workstation 8 can remotely connect to virtual machines running on vSphere, vCenter, and even another copy of Workstation on your network. That should surely get your attention if you are like me and run both ESXi (on a networked server) and Workstation (on my desktops) and hope for an improved way to utilize your virtual-machine infrastructure and investment.

Keep in mind, I am approaching this blog topic from the perspective of a software developer that uses a variety of development virtual-machines under both virtualization products (ESXi/Workstation) and this is not necessarily about best-practices or ideals for your virtualized production systems. I welcome the new features in VMware Workstation 8.0 that will simplify my use of both products, and one thing that Workstation 8.0 will allow me to do now is use this new Remote Connection feature (as an alternative to the vSphere client) to access my ESXi VMs and power then on/off, suspend/reset them, clone/snapshot them, mount DVDs/ISOs, and even alter their hardware profiels (e.g., memory, disk, NICs, etc). Being able to do this through a single UI (the Workstation 8 application) will certainly cut down on some redundancy/clutter on my development desktops.

This new Remote Connections ability will allow you (via the new Connect to Server feature) to connect to remote hosts running Workstation, ESX 4.x and later, and VMware vCenter Server. After you establish a connection to a remote host, all of the virtual machines (permissions taken into account) on the remote host are available to you in the virtual machine library. The connection-steps (to a remote ESXi server) are much like you would expect (i.e., not too different than the vSphere login):
  • File (menu), "Connect to Server..."
  • Provide the ESXi Host/vCenter IP address (as Server Name) and the associated user-name/password; then "Connect".
  • You may be presented with an information box about the server (security) certificate presenting some problems, and you can choose to "Always trust this host with this certificate" and "Connect Anyway"
  • ...from this point, you will see the VMs you have access to and be able to interact with them much like you would in vSphere client.

One thing I have found very annoying (with ESXi 4.x and Workstation 7.x) virtual-machines is that I have had no simple way to quickly change what VMware product I was running a particular Virtual Machine within (a situation most typically encountered when it turned out that I needed more *graphical* speed for some highly-interactice development application or such that ESXi was not particularly optimal for when using just a "console" view of the hosted ESXi VM).

So, if I had a VM that I was using on my ESXi server, and I suddenly wanted to host that VM within my VMware Workstation environment instead, my options were a bit limited: basically I found myself using the VMware Converter (most recent version being 5.0 if you wondered) to perform the moves and/or copying the various directories (of files making up the virtual-machines) around and then, worst of all, was the inevitable differences in VMware Tools versions that I would encounter, which, when updated, then would cause my development-VMs running MS-Windows (especially Windows 7!!) licenses to decide they were in need of "Activation" again! (the real issue here is how messed up this Microsoft licensing-mess is, especially when as a Microsoft ISV/Partner you are supposedly entitled to a fair number of installs and/or activations without issue, but those activation-counts can get consumed quickly if you are migrating VMs regularly and triggering their hardware-change-detection crap or whatever!)

Given that vSphere 5.0 included the new (Version 8) Virtual-Machine format with 3D (Windows Aero) Support, perhaps this will alleviate some of the bottlenecks I have seen with certain graphically-intensive development-environment UIs (though, most UIs run "acceptably" for me even under vSphere 4.0, some were lagging the response I can achieve on a local Workstation VM). But, what if I want to still move VMs between the various virtualization products for some reason?

Well, according to the release-notes: "Upload to vSphere: Workstation 8 enables users to drag and drop a VM from a user's desktop to VMware vSphere. (from what I can gather, this is being accomplished by essentially using the VMware OVF Tool — a command-line utility that allows you to import and export OVF packages to and from a wide variety of VMware platform products — behind the scenes). This feature allows users to deploy a complete application environment from a PC to a server for further testing, demoing, and analysis." OK, that is pretty cool! And, it is rather simple:

  • First, the VM you want to drag-and-drop to ESXi/vSphere must be powered down...
  • Next, drag (your local VM under "my computer" or whatever) to the target vSphere host-IP, which I have presumed you have remote-connected to already (and listed within same tree-view showing your available VMs)...
  • One you "drop" it (release the mouse button) on the target-host, you will be presented with an "Upload Virtual Machine Wizard" that will prompt you to choose the desired VM-name and datastore (on ESXi)...
  • ...the move-process will now run (though, some caveats may exist)...

What happens if you drag-n-drop a local VM to a vSphere server that is using a different version of VMware Tools (i.e., hardware profile)? Well, the process does apparently check for that condition and will warn you if the target-host is not compatible with your virtual-machine's current hardware (e.g. if you try to drag a Workstation 8 / virtual-hardware-version-8 VM to an ESXi 4.1 host that would not support this newest version of the virtual hardware).

Can you drag-and-drop an ESXi/vSphere VM to VMware Workstation 8? Good question! I have not found any official reference saying that you can drag and from VMware vSphere to Workstation. I am in the process of setting up some test VMs to play with different possiblities and test the limitations of all this. Again, one of my main concerns is that I do not trigger the darn Windows-7 activation and license crap every time I test this stuff, so I plan to first test this with some Linux VMs and other non-activation-infested OS options first and then try on my "real" development OS VMs in more detail. If anyone has fully tested whether Windows-7 (especially Pro, 64-bit) will trigger a re-activation when migrating between ESXi 5.0 and Workstation 8.0, please let me know.

Next, though I focused on ESXi hosts for inter-machine VM sharing, keep in mind that statement I first pointed out from the release-notes that clearly stated you can share remote connections with hosts running Workstation, VMware vSphere, and VMware vCenter(TM). VMware is pushing this ability as a way to allow VMs to be accessed by teammates, providing a quick way to test applications in a more production-like environment. This looks simple enough, as you just use the "Share Virtual Machine Wizard" and set permissions on the shared-VM. I don't have an ideal test environment where I can try this yet, but perhaps later.

New Virtual Machine Hardware Capabilities, etc.

To me, the biggest part of this Workstation 8.0 release is the new remote connections and vSphere interchange feature, but there are definitely some other new features worth mentioning. In summary, quoted from VMware's release info: "Improved Virtual Machine Capabilities: With support for HD audio with 7.1 surround sound, USB 3 and Bluetooth devices, Workstation 8 delivers new levels of virtual machine performance. In addition, improvements to virtual SMP, 3D graphics performance and new support for 64-GB RAM allows users to run the most demanding applications in a virtual machine.

That all sounds good to me. I definitely welcome any improvements to graphics-performance within my virtual-machines. In addition to software development and programming environments (which are becoming more graphically intensive all the time), I also run VariCAD within a VM (for 2D / 3D CAD work when I am visually brainstorming some new "invention" or whatever). Such applications can always benefit from optimization to the VM graphics drivers; hopefully this brings performance closer to "native" levels.

The USB 3.0 support is interesting, but I really do not care about the HD Audio features (I rarely listen to music on my computer) and I also do not use BlueTooth for anything currently. To me, the ability enable Virtual VT-X/EPT or AMD-V/RVI in the processor settings interface (allowing a guest can take advantage of these virtualization technologies) is more intereting, as it the ability to run 64-bit guest operating systems inside of vSphere running inside Workstation. I do find it a bit odd how VMware allows for 64GB RAM with Workstation while they rather "cripple" ESXi 5.0/vSphere 5.0 with their latest (and controversial) licensing scheme (which, if you did not hear, they did "give a bit" on, but it is still not as nice as what ESXi 4.x offered).

There are some really compelling new features in this latest release of Workstation 8.0, especially if you run a heterogeneous virtualization environment that includes ESXi 4.x / 5.x and/or vSphere 4.x / 5.x in addition to Workstation. If you need more details, I suggest going to VMware's website and checking out the various information they have online.