Review of VMWare’s free Hypervisor Esxi Server

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I wonder how virtualization will tie into Identity Management in the future? I believe Ash once said these virtual components and appliances may take on identities of their own.

At work, I was asked to setup a VMWare Server for testing. We decided to test out VMWare’s Hypervisor Esxi Server which we heard was now FREE.

So what’s a hypervisor? Think of it as an operating system which does nothing but run virtual machines. It directly utilizes the hardware resources of your server and does not run on top of an operating system. So the idea is to maximize performance of your VMs, and possibly being able to run more VMs on a server than before simultaneously.

Microsoft has their own hypervisor. I recently received an email about an event they are doing to push their virtualization products. VMWare is of course a major player and there are others as well.

So we were interested in VMWare’s hypervisor but our major concern was connectivity, both onsite and offsite.

I found out that SSH can be setup with a little bit of tinkering. Although According to the documentation the official way to connect (from vmware site) is through their tool called RCLI and SSH is there for tech support only, and maybe killed off in a future release:

Remote Command Line Interface (RCLI). Execute remote commands and scripts against ESXi hosts and virtual machines. Standalone ESXi licenses enable read functions with the RCLI.  A VMware Infrastructure license (Foundation, Standard, or Enterprise) unlocks the full suite of commands available in the RCLI.

There are 3 RCLI options

  1. RCLI Appliance (a ready-made downloadable VM appliance built on Debian Linux)
  2. RCLI for Windows
  3. RCLI for Linux

These three options bring the ability to run a subset of the commands available at the service console remotely without having to grant ssh access to the actual console. This RCLI interface provides the ability for users of VMware ESX Server 3i (hardware embedded hypervisor) to run the esxcfg commands. Further, this interface is the only interface that a storage VMotion can be invoked from.

The download is available for Windows and Linux. About SSH.. I was able to add a user through linux commands, BUT when I opened up the management tool that user does not appear. So its usage may be limited. The RCLI tool on Xsi only has Read Access, and does not have write access. According to this informative article.

I had to find out if our DELL SC 1430 would support it since it was not even listed in their documentation. I found out someone else was able to get it going. Another Issue I was having was getting the installation going. Thanks to this guy (watch him show off his server) I found out that one possibility could be that we have to use a raid controller instead of connecting the SATA drives directly and that could do the trick. But it turned out the hard drive I was using was bad.  But the SATA issue may be a problem for some (as seen in that video).

Then I was able to install, assign a static Ip, and configure it to allow SSH. I was able to ssh in but it just gives you access to console. So then I thought Lets Download the other connectivity tool from the vmware site and see what that does. I was avoiding downloading the tool because I knew it was only a trial and wanted to see if we could use this without resorting to using the GUI.

I quickly learned that there was no way to run a VM without it, so I had to install. The only way to get the VM in the proper format is through a VMWare Converter (Free) conversion. I tried to “convert” a VM  and in 45 minutes it was only 8% complete. So it would take a few hours. I don’t think its feasible to have to convert each one of these VMs, if its going to take this long. I was doing it over LAN, doing it through a USB drive would take twice as long. It said 5 hours remaining when I canceled it.

Another problem was the only hard drive it picked up on the server was the main one which esxi was installed on. So if you have multiple hard drives you can’t really utilize them. I have read it will recognize NAS drives, which automatically mirrors the drive. Our backup drive was a USB drive so things started to not look good.

Then I learned VMware Converter (free) is used to add VMs. The management tool only lets you add Virtual Appliances, but not Virtual Machines either via a URL or from a drive on your client machine. It does not let you add a VM directly through the management tool (That functionality is greyed out, must be a part of the foundation edition). It says 59 days remaining in the evaluation once you install. Also to delete or turn on the VMs you need the management tool (Vmware Infrastructure client). That was the clincher. Then I realized this was not going to work out for us.

The way these tools work is way too constricting and creates more hurdles than benefits for our intended purpose. Just installing Linux with VMware Server surprisingly gave us much more flexibility. Where we are now able to copy paste a VM and get cracking on it. We can also SSH into the machine, and even launch the gnome gui using NX Terminal Server Client. So with all that being said I wouldn’t suggest going with this option, unless you want to pay for the full blown version (support costs $500 - $600 / year).

If you want to know more about the differences between this free version and the full blown version check out this article.

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2 Oct 2008

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