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Build a VMware sandbox testing environment with Workstation

Using VMware Workstation to establish a testing environment for VMs is cheaper than consuming primary virtual resources, and it protects production hardware.

VMware Workstation enables IT administrators to build a VMware sandbox testing environment, which is significantly...

cheaper than consuming primary virtual resources.

VMware is most closely associated with its large-scale products, such as ESXi, NSX and vCenter. These products comprise the core of the modern data center and the cloud.

VMware Workstation stands out from VMware's crowd of products because of what it offers on the desktop. Workstation was originally an internal tool that helped VMware engineers test products nested on Windows or Linux without the need for extensive hardware.

Since its early days, Workstation has given testers the ability to test one or two reasonably sized VMs on the desktop. The focus has since shifted from type 2 hypervisors, which are built on an OS, to type 1 bare-metal hypervisors, which fit larger scale virtualization. IT administrators now use Workstation to create a VMware sandbox that enables them to cheaply test VMs on the desktop.

VMware sandbox testing environments offer significant savings

Developers always need test machines and environments. As applications continue to move toward horizontal growth rather than vertical, the demand continues to grow.

It's easy to get a few VMs or servers from an organization's primary virtual infrastructure if it uses VMware vSphere and vCenter. The challenge is the cost, not any technical limitations.

Virtual infrastructure based on premium hardware and storage isn't cheap. Using primary hardware resources and personnel for the creation of test and development workloads doesn't make business sense. Even with automation, continuous requests can drain resources.

With VMware Workstation, testers can have multiple VMs in a personal VMware sandbox and work in a multitude of environments without consuming expensive primary virtual resources.

VMware Workstation enables nested VMs

The increasing presence of solid-state drives (SSDs) in desktop workstations is creating a bright future for nested VMs. SSDs solve performance problems with nested VMs and I/O restrictions, which creates new use cases for VMware Workstation.

It's impractical to run an entire data center from the desktop, but admins can run enough hosts and other VMware products to create a sandbox testing environment to test new software versions, features or products.

VMware Workstation can nest or host VMware's ESXi products. It's then possible to have a virtualized ESXi host running on a desktop inside VMware Workstation. Beyond running a static ESXi host, admins can use that host to virtualize the other VMs inside it. This process is akin to virtualized nesting dolls.

It's impractical to run an entire data center from the desktop, but admins can run enough hosts and other VMware products to create a sandbox testing environment to test new software versions, features or products. This is significant because other applications in the data center use VMware infrastructure to create clones for application testing, but the overall VMware infrastructure is too expensive to clone for testing.

Test outside of production hardware

For many years, testing back-end infrastructure was impossible because the hardware was too expensive. As infrastructure gets more software-based, it has become practical to simulate more of it and to do so on the desktop.

VMware is rolling out new infrastructure features that interact with the hybrid cloud. It's now possible to test that linkage without having to be anywhere near the production environments. This ensures IT personnel are familiar with the processes before they use these features in production.

Deploying a product like vSAN isn't normally difficult, but it's risky for the first attempt to be on production hardware. A simple mistake could cause effects that IT personnel would have to troubleshoot on production equipment.

If managers or end users see any damage from a new deployment, management might quickly end new innovation efforts and create mountains of change control paperwork. The creation of a sandbox testing environment is critical, and yet organizations often overlook it due to the initial complexities and costs.

Nesting virtual products into VMware Workstation won't solve all of your upgrade and testing issues. It is, however, a solid first step toward establishing a VMware sandbox wherein it is safe to make mistakes and learning can happen outside of production. The end result is better-trained engineers, which means more uptime for the core infrastructure.

This was last published in May 2018

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