10 tips: Using VMware Workstation as an admin console

In this tip, Judith Myerson gives an example of a way VMware Workstation can be used as an administrator's console and 10 best practices for using it thusly.

Used correctly, VMware Workstation can be an intuitive, flexible administrator's console for communicating with...

and managing virtual machines and their guest operating systems. It can give a big picture of how the virtual machines and their guest operating systems are performing remotely, either individually or as groups against a committed set of service levels. Workstation also gives the administrators handy tools for backing up and restoring virtual machines and their guest operating systems and checking for possible security vulnerabilities and violations while the guest operating systems are running in the virtual machines.

In this tip, I'll give an example of a way VMware Workstation can be used as an administrator's console and 10 best practices for using it thusly.

Let's say that you are using VMware Workstation for remotely communicating with multiple ESX server host administrators. While you are in a Windows host, you are creating a virtual machine with Linux as the guest operating system. You have in place an instant messaging system that allows server host administrators to communicate immediately with you if there are planned or unexpected down times.

Your VMware Workstation is running on an 80MB primary physical disk inside your laptop, and an 120MB USB mass storage device is the portable second physical disk.

You partition space for Linux on the second physical disk. You already have non-Linux operating systems running as the guest operating systems, and you want to install Linux in the virtual machine.

Workstation tip #1
This is a cautionary note. When you are in the process of creating a virtual machine with Linux as the guest operating system, VMware will prompt you to unplug all USB network and devices, including the second physical disk. The solution is to partition space for Linux on the first physical disk before you try to repeat the process of creating the virtual machine. Make sure you have enough space on the disk.

Workstation tip #2
Do not use fdisk or a similar utility to create partition tables, even if it is in the guest operating system on remote VMware ESX servers while you are in the virtual machine on the console. After you add a virtual machine disk by using one or more partitions on a physical disk, never modify the partition tables by running fdisk in the guest operating system.

Workstation tip #3
Do not use fdisk on the host operating system to modify the partition table of the physical disk. If you do, you must recreate the virtual machine's physical disk. Corruption is possible if you allow the virtual machine to modify or create a partition on a physical disk that is simultaneously mounted under the host's operating system. That's because the virtual machine and guest operating system access a physical disk partition while the host continues to run its operating system in the same partition.

Workstation tip #4
Always make backup copies of all the files in your virtual machine's directory before you start a process like moving a virtual machine from one ESX server to another. Something could go wrong during the process.

Workstation tip #5
While a recording is in progress, avoid exiting Workstation and allowing the virtual machine to run in the background. Doing so might cause the virtual machine to crash. Always stop recording before sending a virtual machine to run in the background.

Workstation tip #6
On Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 hosts, you need to take a special step to disconnect USB network and storage devices from the host before connecting them to a virtual machine. Use the appropriate system tray icon to disconnect the device from the host. On Windows 2000, the icon is called Eject Hardware, and it is called Safely Remove Hardware on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Workstation tip #7
Do not shrink a virtual disk if the virtual machine has snapshots. To keep the virtual disk in its current state, use the snapshot manager to delete all snapshots. To discard changes made since you took a snapshot, revert to the snapshot.

Workstation tip #8
Check ESX server logs remotely to make sure only individuals with authorized privileges have access to the files in the virtual machines at appropriate levels.

Workstation tip #9
Do not delete a locked snapshot. If a snapshot has been cloned, it becomes locked. If you delete a locked snapshot, the clones created from that snapshot no longer operate.

Workstation tip #10
Do not enable shared folders. Enabling might pose a security risk because a shared folder could enable existing programs inside the virtual machine to access the host file system of a remote server without your knowledge.

These tips will help you avoid loss of time and grief in losing a virtual machine or critical data you have on your partitions. They will make your job easier in administering remote virtual machines from your VMware Workstation console.


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