When it comes to hosted virtualization from VMware Inc., your choices are dictated by price, features and the underlying desktop OS that will support the Type-2 hypervisor. You may have wondered about the differences between VMware's consumer virtualization tools. We did the homework for you to uncover the particulars of each tool and their use cases.
VMware is known for its ESXi bare-metal hypervisor, the basis of all vSphere and vCloud features. But VMware's Type-2 virtualization options are more varied. The common thread running through VMware Workstation, Player and Fusion is that they all accomplish virtualization on a desktop system. Considered consumer products, Workstation and its kin are also widely deployed by vSphere admins for test and development work, user support and troubleshooting.
VMware offers free trial periods for each of these products. Take advantage of trial periods to see if the platform meets your needs, falls short or presents options that aren't all that useful to you.
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What Workstation can do
With each new product version, VMware Workstation, while a Type-2 hypervisor platform, continues to integrate more with vSphere's Type-1 hypervisor. Consider purchasing the tool as an adjunct to your ESXi production environment. Admins can perform the following tasks:
- Move virtual machines (VMs) between Workstation and vSphere
- Offload VM testing from production into Workstation
- Mirror the production network on Workstation to test changes before implementing them
- Test out new OSes such as Windows 8 before a mass upgrade
- Create a home lab separate from production to evaluate new products or test failure scenarios
Just because Workstation is an established and fleshed-out hosted hypervisor platform does not mean that it is right for you. Workstation could overwhelm the hardware resources you have available or it might not virtualize the OS that you want to try. Though Workstation could meet all your requirements, you might be able to fulfill those needs with a free tool instead.
Workstation vs. Player
Player is a basic Type-2 hypervisor available for free as a standalone product or as part of Fusion Professional. Depending on what you expect to accomplish with your hosted hypervisor environment, you may be able to avoid the cost of Workstation by opting for Player. Player can't match Workstation's vSphere compatibility or host as many virtual cores, but it supports 64-bit VMs and virtualizes the latest OSes. If you need advanced features such as clones or multiple snapshots or a more detailed virtual network configuration, choose Workstation over Player. Note that Player and Workstation won't share a computing infrastructure; if you have Workstation already, you cannot -- and should not need to -- install Player on the same system.
The flip side to missing some advanced features and supporting fewer cores than Workstation is that Player has low installation requirements. Chances are that your existing personal computer setup can handle Player.
Workstation vs. Fusion
If you're a Mac user who needs to run Windows OSes, VMware offers Fusion and Fusion Professional virtualization platforms. Fusion and Workstation both support virtualizing Windows 8 and a range of other OSes, but Fusion supports Apple OSes (that Workstation cannot) such as Mountain Lion. Both of these Type-2 hypervisors offer mature features like Snapshot Manager; however, certain advanced Workstation functions, such as teaming, are not available from Fusion. Fusion Pro includes a copy of VMware Player, however.
VMware stuffed Fusion 5 with dozens of new features, and now users report faster operation and better Mac-to-Windows compatibility from the hosted virtualization tool. For example, when working with snapshots, use Snapshot Manager to see the tree-dependency snapshots, then back them up with the Mac-native Time Machine utility. You can virtualize Fusion to run as a VM on ESXi as well.