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VMWare Player

November 21st, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been playing the past couple of weeks with VMWare’s new (and free!) “VMWare Player” product.

Essentially, it lets you “play” with, but not create, VMWare Virtual Machine images (and quite sneakily, it also works with Microsoft Virtual PC images).

What I’m having the most fun with though, is trying out different operating systems that I would not usually experiment with, due to the amount of time it would take to continually build the images, and the cost of the hardware. So far, I regularly download the latest builds* of Haiku, which is an open-source reimplementation of the still excellent BeOS, I have also attempted to use Syllable and Plan 9, and at the weekend I managed to successfully build a Fedora Core 4 image which I plan to use for development.

All this is possible as I found a website which tells you how to install an OS into an image using an ISO image for the CD drive, and a blank VMWare image (all perfectly legal!), and also a website which provides the blank VMWare image**. This way, although I’m not directly creating the image file, I’m can create installed images to my hearts content. One of my work colleagues also managed to find a website which lets you construct the configuration file in a nice, easy to use, web interface.

I must say, that running each “machine” is somewhat slower than you would expect from running it natively, but it’s something that I can live seeing as I cannot even begin to comprehend the complexity of what the software is doing.

Speaking of VMWare, I am quite lucky as I have recently had exposure to it (or at least, the one of the enterprise server editions) at work (all be it, from a “using” rather than an “administering” view point), and I am so impressed with what we can do with it at work. I initially had hesitations over its use, citing performance issues, but my worries appear to have been unfounded.

The greatest use we have of it so far, is with building servers for live installation environments. Due to the large world-wide nature of our company, we have installations throughout the world, and although the project that I work on has only just released to it’s fifth country, it means that we need at least 10 different testing servers, plus two servers for each live country.

Our new VMWare installation has changed all of that though. Instead, we have 10 test server images that we can start and stop on a whim, all on one piece of hardware. This means that, if a country requires a specific setup for their servers for testing purposes (e.g. They have a third server that we need to interact with), it’s not a problem to build an image of that server, and use this image as when it is needed. This has happened to myself in the past, where I needed a particular server just for one country – this setup allowed our administrators to create two extra disposable images just for myself.

We are also slowly merging the deployment of the two live servers (one database server, one webserver), into one server (plus back up servers), by using two VMWare images. The other advantage that we have is simple: if the physical hardware on one of the boxes fails, then we simply migrate the VMWare image onto a temporary server (e.g. our larger development server), and everything continues as normal (no change of IP addresses, etc).

* Make sure that you also download the configuration file “haiku.vmx” from here before you start to use the image.
** Ensure that you read the comment posted by James Rose, as this details a small error in the configuration file. The configuration file can be changed using any text editor.

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