Introduction to VMware Workstation 8

by [Published on 1 Nov. 2011 / Last Updated on 1 Nov. 2011]

This article outlines some of the big items in Workstation 8.

Introduction

Since its earliest betas, I’ve been running VMware Workstation 8 and have been itching to be able to share details about some of the truly progressive features that have found their way into this latest version of VMware’s desktop-based virtualizations platform. However, the non-disclosure agreement that governs beta participation has prevented me from doing so. This last week, though, VMware finally took the wraps off the product’s final release and what’s under the hood is pretty exciting stuff!

Drag and drop VMs to vSphere

Many people want to use VMware Workstation as a sandbox. This is good! However, in some cases, the result in testing is so good that having the ability to migrate a virtual machine into a production environment would be ideal and be the easiest way to accomplish a goal. VMware Workstation 8 simplifies this process by providing a drag-and-drop capability between Workstation and ESX, ESXi and vCenter. This feature leverages VMware’s OVF Tool to work its magic.

Remote management

With Workstation 8, you can remotely connect to virtual machines hosted on other copies of VMware Workstation on the network. Imagine the possibilities here with regard to a shared development environment; multiple developers can more easily share virtual machines among all members of the team.

Further, with Workstation 8, you can now connect to virtual machines that are running on vSphere either directly or via vCenter. This capability brings Workstation further into the realm of enterprise computing. From a vSphere/vCenter-connected copy of Workstation, you are able to perform some basic administrative functions of a virtual machine, such as modifying its settings.

Virtual VT-x/AMD-V support

This is, perhaps, one of the most substantial of the improvements that have been made to this product and place it in a class by itself. Although desktop virtualization products such as Workstation, Fusion, Oracle VirtualBox and Microsoft Virtual PC have long had a place in many a test lab, these products have been unable to run some key workloads. For example, an attempt to install Hyper-V on a Windows virtual machine running under VirtualBox results in failure; the Hyper-V role requires that the host hardware have enabled VT or AMD-V extensions.

VT-x, an Intel technology, and AMD-V, from AMD, have the same goal in mind – provide hardware-based processor extensions that enable and improve the performance of virtual workloads. Obviously, there is more to these technologies, but the point here is that, in the past, although a host processor might support VT-x or AMD-V, these extensions have not been exposed or available for use by a guest operating system. For example, although you might be able to install Hyper-V on a host machine, if you were to install Windows/Hyper-V as a guest running on a host, those extensions would not be available.

With VMware Workstation 8, this is all changed. Guest virtual machines running under Workstation 8 can have a feature enabled that allows them to make use of VT-x or AMD-V extensions, making it possible to, for example, run a Windows/Hyper-V virtual machine inside of a Windows/Hyper-V virtual machine or run 64-bit guest operating systems inside a vSphere instance that is running inside Workstation.

For testers everywhere, this is a significant enhancement. However, when you enable this feature, you’re warned that doing so will make this virtual machine incompatible with other VMware products that do not support this capability.


Figure 1: Virtualize VT-x and AMD-V

Many virtual machine hardware improvements

Previous versions of VMware Workstation already provided the ability to run a  number of different kinds of workloads inside the hosted virtual machines. However, “real” desktop workloads that required more substantial multimedia capabilities, enhanced graphics support and some other higher end features remained out of reach for Workstation.

Until now.

VMware Workstation 8 adds a lot of features intended to expand the portfolio of services that can be run on the platform. 

  • HD audio. In VMware Workstation 8, a new HD audio device compatible with the Realtek ALC888 7.1 channel high definition audio codec has been added and is supported by virtual machines running Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
  • Bluetooth. Many Bluetooth devices can now be paired with Windows guests.
  • USB 3.0. The major caveat here is that USB 3.0 is not supported – and should not be enabled – for Windows guests due to the lack of a generic xHCI driver. Linux guests running kernel version 2.6.35 or higher, however, can enjoy USB 3.0 support inside the virtual machine.
  • 64 GB RAM. A virtual machine can now support up to 64 GB of RAM, which makes it possible to run pretty significant workloads inside Workstation.
  • 8-way SMP. Add up to eight virtual processors to a virtual machine. This provides you with a great deal of scalability and helps cement Workstation’s place as a test bed for environments that you can eventually move to vSphere.
  • 10 network adapters. With ten network adapters in a single virtual machine, you’ll be able to connect to just about anything.

In the figure below, you can see a part of VMware Workstation’s new virtual machine wizard. When you create a new virtual machine and choose a Workstation 8 hardware compatibility level, you’re shown the limitations that are in place for this hardware version as well as a list of products that can consume this virtual machine.


Figure 2: Virtual machine hardware limits

Revamped user interface

If you’ve been a user of VMware Workstation for any amount of time, the first difference you’ll see when you start the program is the major overhaul that the interface has undergone. You can see the new interface in Figure 3.


Figure 3: VMware Workstation 8 interface

On the interface shown in Figure 3, you see that there are four tabs across the to of the main part of the window:

  • Home. The Home tab is selected in Figure 3 and provides you with a place from which you can manage most aspects of Workstation 8.
  • Shared VMs. Manage any shared virtual machines present in Workstation 8.
  • My Computer. On the My Computer tab, you can see the various virtual machines that are present on the local system. As shown in Figure 4 below, you can see your virtual machine inventory in a thumbnail view. In the screenshot, I’ve selected the small thumbnail view, but you can choose to view larger thumbnails or, instead, you can simply view a list of virtual machines.
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 x64. Individual virtual machines can show up in tabs across the top of the Workstation window. When you select a tab, the virtual machine’s desktop is displayed in the interface. You can see this in Figure 5.


Figure 4: Workstation 8 My Computer tab

Once you start using Workstation, you’ll see for yourself all of the changes that VMware has made to the product. As such, I’ll let you explore on your own from here further interface changes.


Figure 5: A virtual machine desktop

Virtual hardware compatibility

In Figure 2 earlier in this article, you saw a screenshot of the Create New Virtual Machine wizard that outlined the capabilities of a virtual machine created with the latest hardware level. In Table 1, based on the information in that wizard, I’ve put together a matrix that outlines the capability and limitations inherent in each virtual machine version. If, for example, you choose to create a new virtual machine based on Workstation version 5 hardware, you won’t get multiple monitor support and virtual machines will be limited to 3.5 GB of RAM.

Feature/Version

V. 8

V. 6.5 - 7.5

V. 6.0

V. 5.x

V. 4.x

Memory limit

64 GB

32 GB

8 GB

3.5 GB

3.5 GB

Processor count

8

8

2

2

1

# network adapters

10

10

10

4

4

Disk size limit

2 TB

2 TB

950 GB

950 GB

128 GB (IDE)/ 256GB (SCSI)

USB 2.0 support

¤

¤

¤

¤

Support for snapshots

¤

¤

¤

¤

Support for 64-bit guests

¤

¤

¤

¤

3D graphics acceleration

¤

¤

¤

¤

Cloning

¤

¤

¤

¤

Multiple monitor support

¤

¤

¤

Battery status

¤

¤

¤

VMCI support

¤

¤

¤

CPU hot plug

¤

¤

Device hot plug

¤

¤

Memory hot plug

¤

¤

LSI Logic SAS controller

¤

¤

Printer support

¤

¤

HD audio support

¤

Table 1: Workstation feature and version matrix

You may wonder why you would ever create a virtual machine based on anything but the latest virtual hardware version. The table shown in Table 2 explains the reason. If you need to move virtual machines between different products, including between different versions of VMware Workstation, you need to understand the virtual hardware versions that are available in different VMware products. So, if you create a brand new Workstation 8 virtual machine, you are limited to sharing that virtual machine with ESXi 5, Fusion 4.0 and other Workstation 8 instances.

Compatibility matrix

V. 8

V. 6.5 - 7.5

V. 6.0

V. 5.x

V. 4.x

ESXi 5.0

¤

¤

¤

¤

¤

ESX(i) 4.0

¤

¤

¤

¤

Fusion 1.1

¤

¤

¤

Fusion 2.x

¤

¤

¤

¤

Fusion 3.x

¤

¤

¤

¤

Fusion 4.0

¤

¤

¤

¤

¤

Workstation 4.x

¤

Workstation 5.x

¤

¤

Workstation 6.0

¤

¤

¤

Workstation 6.5

¤

¤

¤

¤

Workstation 7.x

¤

¤

¤

¤

Workstation 8.0

¤

¤

¤

¤

¤

VMware Server 1.x

¤

¤

VMware Server 2

¤

¤

¤

¤

ACE 2.5 - 2.7

¤

¤

¤

¤

ACE 2.0

¤

¤

¤

ACE 1.x

¤

GSX Server 3.x

¤

Table 2: Workstation virtual hardware product compatibility

Summary

There’s a whole lot of goodness to be found in Workstation 8. I’ve outlined some of the big items, but there is a whole lot more. VMware has certainly upped the ante with regard to desktop-based virtualization and embraced Workstation as a part of an enterprise portfolio.

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