VMWare Server 2: Worse Than Failure

OK, so this is hardly breaking news, but I thought I'd share this mini-rant with you now any way.

At work We deal with multiple operating systems (WinXP, Vista, Linux), and multiple programming environments. A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and do all my development work inside virtual machines. The advantage of this approach is that it's very fast to switch from one environment to another (much faster than a whole machine reboot).

There are two problems with this approach:
  1. Performance. Programming is a pretty CPU-intensive task. Well, compiling the code is anyway. Compiling our code base takes around an hour on a physical machine with top-of-the-line specs (this makes compiling the Linux kernel seem fast). On a virtual machine, that time doubles. This is an inescapable truth about software virtualization: there will always be some overhead.
  2. Hardware. The applications I program need access to physical hardware, over a variety of interfaces, including RS232, RS422, USB, Parallel, TCP/IP, UDP/IP and a few others besides. Any software virtualization package must be able to forward all these hardware interfaces through to the virtual machine.
In my experience, the only software virtualization package that meets requirement 2 is VMWare. I know I've raved about Virtualbox before, and I was very tempted to use it again now, but it lacks the hardware support I need.

So, VMWare Server it is then. The next question then becomes: which version? I've used version 1.x before, and it fulfilled all my needs at the time. However, I noticed that version 2 is now available. I thought "In software, bigger numbers are better, right?"

After downloading the sevrer, and registerring for a free license key, I spent a busy 30 minutes clicking through the ubiquitous license agreements and installation options (does anyone ever read these things?). Everything was installed. I went to fire the application up, only to have it launch Mozilla Firefox. What's going on here? Then it hit me: a wave of fear and horror. What were they thinking?

The managment interface for VMWare Server 2 is web based.

That's right... you want to use your virtual machine? You need to run a web browser. The interface is slow, the browser plugin that supports the interface is buggy... I could go on, but some other people have detailed the problems with the software far better than I ever could (Yes, I realise that link is talking about the beta release. Trust me, nothing much has changed).

Maybe I'm missing something, some gold nugget of understanding that would make Server 2 more usable for me, but right now I just don't get it. Why would you decide that the primary interface to a virtual machine should reside inside a browser? Browsers are notorious for implementing different standards, being generally slow, memory-hogging apps that occaisonally crash. Who in their right mind would want to use a browser for their virtual machines?

Until then, I'll stick with VMWare server 1, thank you very much.


DaveB said...

Are you sure you wouldn't be better off with VMWare Workstation for what you're trying to do?

Sorry ... a better question is, why did you choose to use Server, was it just the price?

Thomi Richards said...

Yup, price is a big factor. I have used workstation however, but I don't see a lot of difference between the two. Workstation supports USB2, whereas Server does not - that's not a huge reason fo rme to switch.

Are there any other features i should be aware of?

DaveB said...

I'm not sure. I just see server as something which would normally be running permanently managing several VM's which are more or less deployed. Whereas workstation I use to run up various machines with various network topologies (I wish there was a map for keeping my head together with more complex ones).

I don't use all the features, so really am not sure about it's benefits over server. But I'm loving the linked clone thing tho. Big space saving there (other's have that I think).

Snapshots are very very VERY handy (essential to me now) - If server does not do snapshots then it is worth paying for workstation for that alone.

I've just found this comparison . It looks as if server does do a snapshot but not multiple ones. I find that incredibly useful both for teaching and experimenting. Being able to do a series of things, go back, branch and try other things - then compare.

We've paid for an academic license so I don't get hit with the cost. But if you're using VMWare on your desktop, as opposed to really using it as a virtualised server, then I'd go for the workstation version if I had the dosh.

Anonymous said...

2 things :
- There is an option in the web interface to create a desktop shortchut to your Virtual Machine. This allows you to launch the virtual machine without going through the web interface.
- The final version is much, MUCH smoother than the betas.

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