Wednesday, December 5, 2012

VMWare Workstation under Linux....the heaven and hell in the same package

I'm a VMWare guy (still am).
I've been virtualizing infrastructures from 1999 on. Back then I had no "big time" enterprise server virtualization software, so I used VMWare Workstation, first under windows and then finally under Linux.
I've sicked to VMWare Server ever since the very first version and always under Linux...then ESX and ESXi came along and things got really serious. I absolutely love ESXi and I've tested in beyond the reasonable (or designed) usage, and it always surprises me.

VMWare workstation however has a different relationship with me. I love it just about as much as I hate it. Let me explain why: VMWare workstation is very UNsupported on Linux. It seems stupid that the very best product they have and sell (the ESX and ESXi) is Linux based and it is just flawless.
So VMWare Workstation works very very well under windows...witch kinda denies it's purpose on the first place! Why oh Why would I want to run a virtual machine built on top of a virtualization solution running under the worse O.S. when it comes to resource usage and management?
When it comes to Linux, VMWare Workstation has historical problems with the best O.S. when it comes to managing and using hardware resources...and that's a bad thing. You see, Windows runs better if virtualized under Linux... it's more stable and a lot faster; the opposite is not true at all.

So things loot like they've been inverted; The best implementation of VMWare Workstation is for the worse possible usage of that product. But this would be bearable if the Linux implementation was, at least, stable...but we're not that lucky.
I'm a Debian/Ubuntu user, than meant constant headaches up until version 7. Whenever I had a Kernel Update, I would have several hours of rebuilding the VMNet kernel modules so that VMWare workstation could run, and that was everything but easy. Some guys produced patches and workarounds, but they normally posted them months after my hell week. Having less and less time to spend over glitches instead of real work problems, I had to switch into the "don't upgrade the kernel until articles with the patches and solutions have been posted" mode.

Then things improved with VMWare Workstation 7 and it's perfect install routine. I though I was in heaven by then but this "honeymoon" was very short lasting. My laptop (obviously running Linux) uses an ATI graphics card...as a result, if I turned On the Virtual machine 3D acceleration, I get screen image corruption. Up till that point, I was blaming ATI on their bad drivers for Linux, as the dual screen functions are very unstable and often produce the same screen corruption I experienced in VMWare. Back home at the workstation with it's dual Nvidia graphics cards, Workstation 7 run smoothly with 3D acceleration.

Then VMWare upgraded to Workstation8. WS8 was an important upgrade as is allowed link to ESXi for usage of the virtual machines (not full management functionality, but at least I could use the machines)...you see, VMWare VSphere client (the management for ESX and ESXi) is windows only! So Linux users had to install a Virtual Machine with Windows and then install the management application (it's goofy to manage your server from a VM running on that same server, but VMWare is well known for leaving you to making goofy decisions for lack of support on the right platforms). But back to the WS7, still the same cool installer and improved performance but, the laptop continued to have real problems with 3D acceleration. At least the Workstation could still kick ass on 3D with the Nvidia cards.

Recently, VMWare upgraded to Workstation 9. I was thrilled to see the claims for better performance so I immediately tried it...and found HELL! You see, not only this one still doesn't work 3d on ATI cards, it crashed BADLY with my nvidia cards and 3D acceleration enabled.
So where does this leave us? VMWare is building worse and worse implementations of better and better products! WEIRD!

So why do I insist on running VMWare Workstation on Linux? Because I keep trying to find a good product and finally stick with it.

My advise to EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU out there is: Don't buy VMWare Workstation until you try EVERY function available...use the trial and test before you spend any money.
I mean it's good for office and simple tools, but forget running games or even 3D apps on it without these VERY BAD PROBLEMS solved properly.

Are there any other solutions out there? Sure!
VMWare workstation is not compatible with ESXi, so I can't just stage a machine with Vmware Workstation and then upload to ESXi, I have to use VMWare converter to convert the machine to ESXi. In that sense, why use VMWare Workstation at all?
Welcome to Oracle Virtual Box. Virtual Box, unlike VMWare Workstation, comes from Linux. The Windows implementation is not the prime development but rather the secondary.
Is it perfect? no... not as a good performer as the VMWare workstation, but at least it supports 3D without crashing! Bare in mind that the USB support for the community edition is quite bad, so I recommend you to download form the Website instead of installing through Software Center.

So... unless you want to use nvidia ONLY and keep on Workstation 7, just use Virtual Box and if you stage ESXi machines, don't worry as you would still need VMWare converter anyway if you were using VMWare Workstation.

Sorry VMWare... better start supporting Linux at least as well as you do Windows! It's not that difficult, just grab one or two geniuses you have working on the ESX team and learn from them.