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Though useful in many situations, the free vSphere license falls short when it comes to cloning and deploying servers for quick deployment. The paid version of vSphere makes it easy to create a template from an existing VM with all the necessary customization already built-in and configurable through the deployment wizard.
Unfortunately, free vSphere lacks this functionality, though there are ways around this issue. Free vSphere does have the ability to deploy a machine from an Open Virtualization Format (OVF) file. And although it isn't possible to export a VM with the free vSphere license, it is possible to create a base image in VMware Workstation or other similar program virtualization platforms that support the export of OVF files.
In order to use the free vSphere license with Windows, run Sysprep before you export the VM in question. This essentially resets the configuration to regenerate unique machine IDs on reboot. Take care to release any Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) addresses before you deploy the server and to clean up any temporary or unwanted files before the export. This makes the export process more efficient and prevents any DHCP issues.
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The same can be done with Linux installations, but without Sysprep. Compared to manual setup and configuration, a Linux installation deploys VMs much faster and is less prone to errors. It also ensures that all VMs deployed are consistent. To export a powered-off VM in Workstation or Fusion, simply select Export to OVF in the File menu.
To deploy a VM from an OVF, select Deploy from OVF in the VMware host's web GUI. If there's an available DHCP server, the newly deployed VMs will pick up the DHCP address. This is easier than manually building several VMs. Finally, if you intend to deploy machines frequently, keep copies of the old OVF in case you need to redeploy them in the future. Free vSphere doesn't offer the easiest deployment methods, but it does provide a mechanism to deploy VMs consistently.
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