Caption by: Roger Howorth
Launched in February and priced at around £700 (ex. VAT), VirtualCenter for VMware Server provides powerful management capabilities for virtual machines (VMs) running on virtualisation specialist VMware’s free server virtualisation offering, VMware Server.
VMware reckons that most VMware Server users are small or medium-sized businesses that don’t have in-house virtualisation specialists. VMware Server is free of charge and provides a solid platform for running VMs on Windows and Linux servers, but its management console is limited to basic functions and to working with only one VMware Server system at a time. VirtualCenter for VMware Server enables administrators to mix and match several server products from VMware and manage all their VMs from one application.
We tested VirtualCenter 1.4.1 for VMware Server on a desktop PC fitted with 1GB of RAM and a Pentium 4 processor. We installed VirtualCenter on the same system as VMware Server, but it could also be installed on a separate system and connected to one or more VMware Servers using a LAN. Installing VirtualCenter was pretty easy, with the entire procedure taking about fifteen minutes. Having installed and run VirtualCenter, it automatically found and listed the seven VMs that were already present on our hard disk. However, we needed to add our licence keys before we could use VirtualCenter to manage anything. Other licences can be purchased for managing systems running VMware ESX Server, VMware GSX Server and for using VMotion. However, VMotion is a feature of ESX Server so it cannot be used with VMware Server.
During the installation we needed to provide the name and password of a Windows account that VirtualCenter could use to interact with the host operating system. In addition to this, VirtualCenter uses Windows authentication to allocate permissions governing control over specific VMs. So all users must log into VirtualCenter using valid Windows credentials, and the range of VMs available to them could vary depending on whether permissions have been allocated. We did not test the permissions feature for this review.
At the top of the VirtualCenter display are four buttons that toggle the rest of the suite’s display between four modes. The most widely used of these modes would probably be Inventory mode, which allows administrators to work with farms of servers and VMs. The Inventory display has the popular left/right split, with a hierarchy of server farms and VMs shown in the left-hand panel. Items from the hierarchy can be right-clicked to get a menu of relevant options. Similarly, the right-hand panel displays further information and options for the selected hierarchy item.
For example, in the left-hand panel we selected a VM configured with Windows XP. This caused the right hand panel to display a summary of the VM’s configuration, plus buttons to power-on, suspend, reset, view console and edit the VM. We used the 'power on' button to boot the VM. Once it was running we right-clicked on the VM in the hierarchy and used the context-sensitive menu to select the option to install VMware Tools, a VMware software utility, into the VM. We then selected a tab at the top of the right hand panel to view the VM’s screen display. If we had more than one VMware Server on our network, we could also use VirtualCenter to migrate a VM from one server to another.
Of course, once you have a VM configured how you want it, you might want to make a cloned copy that could be used elsewhere in your organisation. VirtualCenter’s Template functions accomplish this, although unfortunately the VM must be powered down before a template can be created. It’s worth noting that the template feature in VirtualCenter is not the same as the linked-clone feature in VMware Workstation. Templates made with VirtualCenter are true, independent clones that use the same amount of disk space as the original VM. In contrast, VMware Workstation has an option to create a 'linked clone', which must be on the same file system as the original VM but which normally uses much less disk space than the original. However, compatibility between the various VMware products is fairly good, and we added a linked clone created using VMware Workstation to our VirtualCenter inventory without any problems. Templates are deployed using a wizard, which allows the administrator to select the server farm and other deployment details before creating the new VM.
VirtualCenter is focused on the management of VMs rather than the servers on which they run, so most of its functions are to create, start, stop, reconfigure and destroy virtual machines. Although these tasks can be performed interactively from the VirtualCenter window, they can also be scheduled to occur at other times. Administrators can view a list of scheduled tasks, plus of course add or remove their own, using the Scheduled Tasks mode and its New Task wizard.
The last of VirtualCenter’s major display modes is for listing events and warnings from VirtualCenter. This panel can also be used to export events to a floppy disk, and has a search option so administrators can home in on particular types of events.
VMware also offers a different version of VirtualCenter 2.0 for its Virtual Infrastructure range of high-end server virtualisation tools. The two versions of VirtualCenter do much the same thing, but VC2 has several features that are missing from VC 1.4.1, including High Availability, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) and VMotion. Companies would need to spend considerably more money on SAN infrastructure and high-end products from VMware to use these features.
Caption by: Roger Howorth
Caption by: Roger Howorth