A First Look at the New VMware Server 2.0 RC1 (and How it Compares to ESXi)

by [Published on 20 Aug. 2008 / Last Updated on 20 Aug. 2008]

Taking a look at the features and benefits of the recently released VMware Server 2.0.

Introduction

For many years, VMware Server has been VMware's sole FREE virtualization offering. VMware Server runs on top of the Windows or Linux operating system and is an excellent platform for server virtualization. Recently, it was announced that VMware ESXi Server will now be offered at no cost. Now, if you are looking for a powerful but free virtualization platform for your SMB (from VMware), you have a choice between VMware Server and VMware ESXi. With the release of VMware Server 2.0, there are many few features offered with VMware Server. In this article, let's find out what VMware Server has to offer and how VMware Server compares to ESXi.

What is VMware Server?

For those who do not know, VMware Server is VMware’s free server virtualization product that runs inside Windows or Linux. VMware Server’s main competition is Microsoft Virtual Server. However, with VMware ESXi Server now being free, customers now have a greater choice of free server virtualization products (we will talk about how VMware Server & ESXi compare in an upcoming paragraph).

With VMware Server, you can run multiple guest operating systems inside your host operating system. There are many combinations of how this can be done. For example, you could run Linux inside Windows Server or Windows Vista inside Linux.

Now let’s find out about the latest version of VMware Server…

What’s new in VMware Server 2.0 RC1?

VMware Server 2.0 RC1 was very recently released and, as you would expect with a new major revision, there are many new features. Here are some of those features:

  • Enhanced VMware Infrastructure (VI) Web Access management interface
    VMware has replaced the version 1.x “VMware Console” application with a new web-based interface. To me, this is good and bad. The older application console was very nice. It always worked, it was easy to use, and it was consistent. With the new web interface, you could have web browser issues, DNS lookup issues, Java issues, or you could have difficulty understanding where to click. I know that most every application is going to a web-based interface because it does have benefits but there are pros and cons to each. We will take a look at that new web-based interface in the next section.


Figure 1:
New VMware Infrastructure Web Access Management Interface

  • Independent virtual machine console
    To me, this is one of the best features. Instead of having to open the virtual machine console in your web browser (inside the VI Web Access interface), you can have a separate desktop icon for each of your guest VMs. You could also use this to administer VMs on other VMware Servers, across the network. Once you launch the console, you have control over the guest’s virtual devices. Here is what it looks like, once launched:


Figure 2:

New standalone console

  • Support for USB  2.0 devices
     
  • Remote Client devices
     

Not only can you connect virtual ISO files and physical drives from the VMware Server but you can also connect virtual and physical CD devices that are on a client system, managing a VM guest remotely. Thus, using the VMware client, you could connect your local CD drive to any server that you happen to be managing.


Figure 3:
Ability to access client and server CD devices

  • Ability to add new SCSI disks on the fly without shutting down the guest VM
     
  • Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) support
     

Previously, if you took a VM snapshot, it was possible that the data from an open application may not be valid. Now, with support for Microsoft’s volume shadow copy service (VSS), VMware will actually communicate with the Guest Windows OS and take a VSS snapshot of the virtual disk, inside the guest to ensure that all data is intact when a snapshot is restored.

  • Virtual Machine Communication Interface (VMCI)
     

This new interface speeds up virtual machine to host and VM to VM communication.

  • Automatic Startup of VMs
     
  • Support for Firefox 3 as a web browser
     
  • Link to Virtual Appliance Marketplace
     

With this link, you can quickly and easily download virtual appliance from the Internet and import them into VMware Server. In fact, the link should take you to a VMware Server only appliance download section.


Figure 4:
Link to the virtual appliance marketplace

  • 64-bit Guest OS Support
     
  • Increase Scalability
     

Support for up to 8 GB of RAM (up from 3.6 GB in Server 1.0) per virtual machine, 10 virtual network interface cards and up to two virtual SMP (vSMP) processors per virtual machine.

And these are just some of the feature that I found important. For all the VMware Server 2.0 RC1 features and the release notes, visit the VMware Server 2.0 RC1 website.

What does the new VMware Server 2.0 interface look like?

The new management interface for VMware Server 2.0 is certainly different than version 1.0 and it takes some getting used to. Let’s take a look:


Figure 5:
Inventory Screen in the new VMware Server 2.0 RC1 management interface

In Figure 5, above, you can see the new VMware Server 2.0 RC1 management interface. I pointed out a couple of areas that I noticed as being different. The first arrow points to the Datastores section. VMware Server 2.0 now uses datastores as a common store for virtual machines and images. The next arrow points to VMware Tips section.  This area is designed to upsell you to the VMwware Infrastructure Suite.


Figure 6:
Virtual Machines Gust Configuration

In Figure 6, above, you can see the guest VM status & configuration screen.  If you click on a virtual guest machine, you will be able to configure its devices, see its resource utilization, view a quick status screen, and issue quick commands for that server.

Is VMware Server ready for “prime time”?

So VMware Server 2.0 offers some great features but it is ready to be used in production? Well, there is a centralized management application for multiple VMware Server systems called VMware Virtual Center for VMware Server. Did you know that you can even purchase support for VMware Server? This makes VMware server a production-ready virtualization platform. But, is it the best virtualization platform? Now that VMware ESXi Server is free, you have an alternative. We will find out what the new VMware Server 2.0 looks like, then move on to how it compares with VMware ESXi Server.

How does VMware Server 2.0 RC1 compare to VMware ESXi Server?

You should keep the differences between VMware Server and VMware ESXi Server in mind. Now that these are both free you have a choice between them but these are also very different products. Let’s list out the unique qualities of each:

VMware Server 2.0

  • Runs on top of your current Windows or Linux OS. That means that you can keep all your existing apps and run VMware Server along with everything else you are doing.
  • While still having good performance, VMware Server’s performance is not as strong as ESXi because the Server runs inside your OS.
  • Can run on any hardware that your current Windows or Linux host OS supports.
     
  • Ideal for desktop virtualization and server virtualization for the SMB. Ideal for those who do not want have to go through the trouble of using a whole new OS for virtualization.

VMware ESXi Server

  • Runs on the bare metal server hardware. That means that you have to wipe out all of your apps and data on a machine and install ESXi.
  • Greater performance because it runs directly on hardware.
  • Able to run only on certain hardware.
  • Ideal for medium & large enterprise virtualization.

Conclusion

In this article, you learned about the new VMware Server 2.0 RC1 virtualization platform. We discussed the many valuable features of VMware Server 2.0 and you got to see the new management and console applications. Finally, we learned the difference between VMware Server and ESXi Server. VMware Server 2.0 is a significant upgrade from previous versions and an excellent desktop or SMB Server virtualization solution.

You can download VMware Server 2.0 RC1 for free at the following website: VMware Server 2.0.

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