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The new vSphere Client ushers in the end of the thick client era

VMware has jettisoned the thick client in favor of the thin client with the HTML5 Web Client, removing Flash-related vulnerabilities and adding functionality.

One of the problems with running a non-Windows desktop was that you needed to run the vSphere Windows Client to...

perform key configuration tasks. Completing tasks such as setting up and configuring standalone ESXi or configuring a new VMware environment was impossible without the vSphere thick client. In addition, the free version of the vSphere Client did not offer scripting capability, which meant you'd have to have a Windows VM powered up for the configuration and setup of virtual machines.

VMware recognized this problem and has been busy building and testing a host-based Web Client to replace much of the functionality that the C# client brings. This new thin client is built on HTML5, so users won't have to deal with Flash plugin or other dependencies. While it isn't a replacement for vCenter, the new VMware HTML5 Web Client -- aptly named the vSphere Client -- is certainly an upgrade from previous web clients and is absolutely worth trying out, even if you only manage a single node.

To use the HTML5 Web Client, your ESXi host will need to be running ESXi version 5.5 or later. Be warned that as of now, this product does not have a warranty and is subject to continuous development, so use it at your own risk.

Laying the groundwork

To get started, download the fling installation file from the VMware website onto your local machine. Assuming you are using a Mac, we can use the inbuilt scp command to copy the installation VIB file to the data store on the host.

On your Mac, open a terminal window and navigate to the directory containing the downloaded file using the cd command. Enter the following command in the terminal window:

scp esxui-signed-4215448.vib root@esxihost:/vmfs/volumes/datastore1/

If you aren't installing on a completely standard ESXi host, you might need to change the data store name. Don't forget to substitute "esxihost" for the appropriate host name, either. Substituting for an IP address works just as well.

Preparing the host

The ESXi Secure Shell (SSH) server is not enabled by default; to enable it, log in to the console of the ESXi server. Go to the Troubleshooting menu and select "Enable SSH." The change should take place immediately.

Use your preferred SSH Client login for the standalone host. For the sake of this demonstration of a Mac installation, we will use the inbuilt client, accessible from the terminal window.

Open a terminal window and run the following command:

ssh root@esxihostname

This will be with the credentials of the "root" and whatever password was set when you installed the ESXi server. If you're running ESXi 6.0, you'll need to enable the bash shell after you've logged in. This is not necessary for ESXi 5.5. Enable the bash shell using this command:

shell.set --enable = True

Installing the HTML5 Web Client

The HTML5 Web Client comes packaged as a .vib file so it can be installed in the same way as any other VIB file using the esxcli software command. The full command is as follows:

esxcli software vib install -v /vmfs/volumes/datastore1/esxui-signed-4215448.vib

If the version of the embedded client has changed, you may find that the file name has also changed. Compare the command above with the version you downloaded and adjust as needed. At this point you can reboot the host. Log in to the Web Client using the following URL, replacing "esxihostname" with the appropriate name:

                https://esxihostname/ui

As you can see, the Client bears some resemblance to the vCenter Web Client with which we're already familiar. Now that you've installed the new Client, let's explore what capabilities it offers to administrators.

VMware ESXi Client host.
Figure A: VMware ESXi Client host.

Although the interface shown in Figure A may look quite basic, it actually packs a lot of punch. "Create/Register VM," for example, downplays what you can actually achieve; this feature can be used to create a new machine, deploy open virtualization format files or register other imported virtual servers.

In addition to these options there are other useful settings, including the ability to configure and add storage, fiddle with network components, change VMs and even get the console screen, as seen in Figure B.

Test VM console screen.
Figure B: Test VM console screen.

The vSphere Client is an excellent replacement for the thick client. Although the C# client is still in use, no more development time will be dedicated to it; it will soon be jettisoned in favor of a thin client. With the C# client on notice, it wouldn't be surprising if the new HTML5 Web Client was shipped out in the next major release of vSphere, featuring the embedded client with no thick client in sight. Admittedly, it has a few rough edges, but compared to the thick client, the thin client is a godsend for those on alternative OSes.

Next Steps

HTML5 Web Clients reign supreme in the mobile-dominated era

What makes for a good HTML5 client?

Tips for getting better performance out of the vSphere Web Client

This was last published in August 2016

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