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Understanding VMware Workstation Pro
As a technology, virtualization creates a layer of abstraction between software -- such as operating systems (OSes), services and applications -- and the computing hardware that runs beneath. The abstraction layer is called the hypervisor, which also manages the virtual representations of hardware, including virtual CPUs, memory, storage, network adapters and so on.
Enterprise-class hypervisors, such as VMware ESXi, which is part of VMware vSphere, are classified as Type 1 (native or bare-metal) hypervisors because the hypervisor runs directly on the underlying computing hardware -- the hypervisor is effectively the server's OS -- and from there can create and manage virtual machines (VMs) and other virtualized computing resources.
Endpoint-type hypervisors, like VMware Workstation Pro, are classified as Type 2 (hosted) hypervisors because the hypervisor actually installs atop a host OS, such as Windows 10. This means the endpoint system needs its own OS first. Once Workstation Pro is installed, it is treated as just another application, allowing users to create VM and resources. However, each VM runs as an isolated instance -- just like its enterprise-class counterparts -- allowing users to install other OSes and applications within the VMs that are completely separate from the host OS. Users can also continue to use the endpoint system normally, installing and running conventional, nonvirtualized applications.
VMware Workstation has been updated and expanded regularly since its first release in 1999. However, the frequency of updates has accelerated dramatically with the broad adoption of virtualization. Workstation reached version 10.0 by late 2013 -- 13 releases with only a handful of major point revisions. After version 10.0, new features and capabilities started arriving far more aggressively, bringing 23 subsequent patches and updates leading to the 12.5.7 release in late June 2017.
Today, VMware Workstation Pro is primarily designed to create and manage multiple simultaneous VMs and can support large VMs using 16 virtual CPUs (vCPUs) and 64 GB of RAM -- a significant allocation of resources for any desktop-type computer. Workstation Pro handles 4K displays and offers USB support for smart cards and 3.0 devices.
Workstation Pro supports features like host/guest file sharing and employs 3D graphics under DX10 and OpenGL 3.3. Workstation Pro also creates and runs encrypted VMs, takes snapshots of VMs in operation for backup or cloning purposes, shares VMs and connects to other VMware platforms, including vSphere server and vCloud Air.
Workstation Pro requires a 64-bit Intel Core 2 Duo processor or AMD Athlon 64 FX Dual-Core processor or later, running at 1.3 GHz or faster, and a minimum of 2 GB memory, though 4 GB memory is recommended. These are the minimum requirements for Workstation Pro. Additional resources are necessary for the host OS, such as Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2016, as well as any VMs that are created. The number of VMs is limited only by the practical limit of computing resources available on the computer.
Each guest VM requires its own OS, and Workstation Pro supports more than 200 guest OSes, including Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10 and many versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu, RedHat, SUSE, Oracle Linux, Debian, Fedora, openSUSE and CentOS. It is possible to use a different guest OS in each VM because the guest OSes need not be identical.
VMware Workstation Pro uses
Workstation Pro enjoys a variety of nonproduction use cases. IT administrators may use Workstation Pro as a test environment for data center architectural design or configuration vetting, allowing IT staff to check and evaluate the impact of data center or workload changes without affecting the production IT environment. IT staff can test new OS features and functionality before rolling patches out to production VMs. Since Workstation Pro is compatible with vSphere, IT staff can also perform remote management from the desktop to the data center vSphere environment.
Software developers might also employ Workstation Pro to create and manage local test environments for software in development, allowing rapid prototyping and testing before committing builds to more expensive data center resources. Support for a wide range of guest OSes allows developers to test the same code base against multiple OS targets -- iOS, Android, Linux and so on -- and even cloud target instances. The speed and ease of creating and destroying VMs on the desktop allows Workstation Pro to easily fit into a DevOps or Agile development workflow.
Another popular use for Workstation Pro is to provide standardized corporate desktop or workload instances to employees, partners, guests, contractors or other users who might bring their own endpoint computers into the enterprise environment. For example, an outside contractor might download and use a VM containing a minimal, secure OS and applications from the enterprise. Similarly, students might download and use a VM containing a standardized school desktop and workloads.
Security is generally applied through policies. IT administrators can set and enforce policies that will limit the functionality of guest VMs. For example, a VM may be configured to disable file sharing, completely isolating the VM on a corporate or user-owned device.
Pricing and alternatives
VMware offers a free trial of VMware Workstation Pro 12.5.7 for Windows or Linux for testing and evaluation for download from the VMware site. A new license for the product is also available for direct purchase from VMware for $249.99, which includes 30 days of complimentary support. Additional support terms can be selected for additional cost.
VMware, Inc. offers a free, stripped-down version of the Workstation environment called VMware Workstation Player. Player allows for the creation and management of VMs but lacks many of the advanced features found in Workstation Pro. Player is free for noncommercial, personal and home use, but commercial organizations will require paid licenses to use Workstation Player.
Oracle VM VirtualBox 5.1 is VMware Workstation Pro's main competitor. Initially released in January 2007, the latest version, 5.1.26, was released in late July 2017. It is free, and there is an open source edition. Some experts argue that VirtualBox has a richer feature set, but many VMware administrators tend to prefer VMware Workstation Pro.