I am currently evaluating VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, in order to decide which of the two products we will use for server virtualization in the future. This blog post is a report about my test of the VMware server beta.
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I installed the software within minutes. Basically, it is not more than clicking on the setup file. As I already know VMware Workstation well, working with VMware Server is easy. It has more or less the same user interface. However its main difference to the workstation version is that the virtual machine will continue running when you exit the user interface, the VMWare Server Console. Another important difference is that you can configure which virtual machines start when the host system boots up.
In my test, I used some of my Workstation 5.5 virtual machines. There's no need to convert them. However, if you want to upgrade from GSX Server 2, you have to convert them first to the format of VMware Server. Virtual hardware of GSX Sever 3 runs on VMware server according to the manual, but upgrade is recommended.
Unfortunately, one can't run GSX Sever and VMware Server on the same host. Originally, I was planning to start with VMware Server and switch to GSX Server, if problems come up. This is not doable without longer interruptions.
In my tests, I was mostly interested in performance and stability issues. I tested VMware Server on a machine with two Xeon 3.4 Ghz CPUs and 6 GB RAM. The host operating system was Windows Server 2003 Enterprise. My guest systems were Windows Server 2003 and SuSE Linux 9.0 and Windows XP. I assigned 2 GB RAM to the Windows Server and 1 GB to the Linux system and 1 GB to the Windows XP machine.
On the Windows Server, I installed a WSUS Server which also includes an SQL Server. I synchronized the WSUS database with Microsoft Update which causes heavy load on the SQL Server, the network interface and on the virtual disk. At the same time, I performed a file search on the Linux machine and played a little with the GUI on the Windows XP machine. The overall CPU load on the host system was between 40 and 60 percent. No problems were encountered during testing.
The results of the performance test are more or less what I expected and I was quite satisfied with it. I also tried to remotely control the virtual machine using VMware Server Console, and its performance was not satisfying at all. I ran the Server Console on a Windows XP computer. I had a switched 100 Mbit connection to the host system with VMware server. The GUI of the virtual Windows Server was quite sluggish, for example, when I dragged a window. It was even worse under Linux and Windows XP. I suspected that this is a bandwidth issue. So I tested the Server Console on my PC at home using a 6 Mbit DSL connection. The performance was so bad that remote control didn't make sense at all.
Of course, you can always connect directly to the guest system using its remote control features, i.e., RDP on Windows machines and VNC on Linux for example. But I wonder, why VMware offers a remote console with such a poor performance? Even if you have a 100 Mbit connection, using the remote control feature of the Server Console obviously causes a lot of unnecessary network traffic.
You can use the Server Console to configure or start the virtual machine though. With the Web interface, you can do more or less the same. I had a quick look at it too, and so far, I have no complaints here.
I didn't work with VMware GSX Server, the predecessor of VMware server, but I already knew that it lacked two interesting features of VMware Workstation 5. I am talking about the cloning feature and the ability to create multiple snapshots. I was a bit disappointed that VMware Server still doesn't have these features. I think that both are also important in a server environment. For example you could clone a virtual server to run some tests that you wouldn't like to do in a productive environment. Multiple snapshots are useful, if you want to go back to a virtual server's former state. Maybe you only realize weeks after that a certain update was responsible for a malfunction on a server. Virtual Server only allows you to create one snapshot.
VMware Server has some new feature compared to GSX Server, of course. It now offers two-way Virtual Symmetric Multiprocessing, it has experimental support for Intel® Virtualization Technology, and it supports 64-bit guest operating systems. I think, all three are interesting extensions of GSX Server.
Despite the poor performance of the remote control feature of the VMware Server Console, the beta of VMware Server made a good impression to me. I will test Microsoft Virtual Server these days and blog about it here.