VMware Server on Linux - Getting started guide

In the first of the VMware Server on Linux series, site expert Andrew Kutz explains the parameters of the guide and describes how VMware Server works.

Although VMware Server provides an easy and free solution to low-to- mid-range server virtualization, it is not

simple to configure it correctly, and the price for not configuring VMware correctly can be high. This guide provides instructions for installation and configuration with a focus on high security and maintaining a successful production instance of VMware Server on Linux.

This guide is designed for IT administrators new to VMware Server, not for people new to IT administration. Also, this is not a guide to getting started with Linux.

In this installment, I discuss the parameters of the guide and describe how VMware Server works. (For information on VMware Server on Windows please see my guide to Getting Started with VMware Server on Windows.)

In this series, I assume that VMware Server is being installed on a new or repurposed server. Also, I emphasize optimization of efficiency and security of VMware Server and the host operating system (OS). I include a section on installing a new OS (Ubuntu Linux 6.10 Server), so that we wouldn't be dealing with issues relating to older OS releases and their unique foibles and processes. Because VMware Server hosts many virtual servers, security is of paramount importance. Therefore, it is the goal of this guide to help the reader create a bastion host.

If a step in this guide is not possible for your particular situation because you cannot format the server you are working with and start over, then note the step for future deployments and move on. For instance, several steps can be accomplished, but will require retuning an existing configuration, such as the section that deals with implementing iptables.

I am aware that some of the steps that I discuss in this guide may seem out of order to veteran Linux administrators. For instance, I discuss installing ssh several steps before I detail how to configure and secure it. There is a method to my madness. I have attempted to separate this guide into distinct sections with regards to installation, configuration, and security. We all have our own preferred methods for installing a server, and this is just one approach. You can skip around if you that suits you. In this guide, a subsequent part will assume that you have performed the steps in a preceding part.

In this series, I rely on my own experiences in what works best and what does not. I often reference the 214-page VMware Server Administration Guide. It's well worth reading when you have a lot of time on your hands.

VMware Server: How it works
VMware Server is a hosted virtualization solution, meaning VMware Server is not installed directly on a bare metal server. Instead, VMware Server must be installed on a server's existing OS, such as Microsoft Windows or Linux. This is contrast to another one of VMware's server virtualization products, ESX, and the open source virtualization solution, Xen.

Because VMware Server is burdened with the I/O overhead of an existing OS, it is not as efficient as a bare-metal hypervisor. On the other hand it gains a broad driver compatibility since VMware Server can use every hardware device compatible with the host OS. This is opposed to a bare-metal hypervisor that typically only supports a limited number of devices since its control OS's kernel is not compiled with many device drivers in order to keep the kernel small and fast. Xen is special -- it is a bare-metal hypervisor, but it is designed such that it has broad hardware device compatibility since it relies upon driver domain OSes, typically the OS in dom-0, but not necessarily, to provide device drivers.

In part two of the series, we explore the components that make up VMware Server.

About the author: Andrew Kutz is deeply embedded in the dark, dangerous world of virtualization. Andrew is an avid fan of .NET, open source, Terminal Services, coding and comics. He is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) and a SANS/GIAC Certified Windows Security Administrator (GCWN). Andrew graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Ancient History and Classical Civilization and currently lives in Austin, TX with his wife Mandy and their two puppies, Lucy and CJ.

This was first published in October 2007

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