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Can the perks in Fusion 7 Pro persuade you to upgrade?

With Fusion 7, VMware split the desktop hypervisor product into a standard and a pro version. Should you get the more expensive professional version?

VMware released its latest iteration of the desktop virtualization offering for the Mac, Fusion version 7, in September 2014. For the first time since its 2007 debut, Fusion has been split resulting in a standard and professional offering. Let's explore the key differences between the Fusion 7 Pro and standard version .

Fusion 7 Pro is relatively expensive at $80 when you consider the competition from paid and free desktop virtualization products, such as VirtualBox and Parallels. Even an upgrade from Fusion 6 costs around $60. You can download a 30-day evaluation of Fusion 7 from VMware's site.

Purchasing Fusion 7 standard gets you none of the new functionality beyond optimization for the latest generation of Apple hardware, energy efficiency improvements and general guest improvements alongside support for Windows 8.1. Running Fusion 7 feels more efficient in terms of energy use. I was able to get a full evening's light use out of a mid-2014 Macbook Pro between charges. But the upgrade to Fusion 7 standard is not one I can really recommend for a busy VMware shop.

Package VMs into an OVF with Fusion 7 Pro

On the other hand, Fusion 7 Pro, as the name implies, has many new features aimed at developers and IT professionals. One of the features that was seriously lacking in previous versions of Fusion was the ability to export OVF files easily via the GUI. Even free desktop virtualization products could do it years ago.

OVFs are a neat way to package VMs ready to deploy from a single file. It is possible to give the user the files that make up the VM and import the machine. Giving customers or users a single OVF file that contains all the VM files is a simpler and more professional way to provide virtual machines or appliances. An ideal example of this is to export your VMs to external disk; if you ever need to restore a pristine copy of any of your VMs, it is as simple as importing the OVF from the disk.

Fusion 7 Pro features basic vSphere management

The big news with this release is that Fusion 7 Pro can manage vSphere environments, albeit in a rudimentary way. This is a handy feature. Fusion 7 allows direct VM manipulation, creation and console access using the native Fusion client. Performing changes using the client is a breeze compared to the pain of trying to use vSphere Web Client, or having Windows VMs powered on, purely to manage a small vSphere environment. This feature alone is probably worth the upgrade price. The management tool, however, is quite basic in some respects and is not a replacement for either the vSphere desktop client or Web client. For individual guest VM management and deployment, it is worth its weight in gold.

Building a private network gets easier

If you have a powerful Mac with lots of RAM you will be able utilize many VMs at once and create a private network. This is a new feature that may prove very useful to some. The ability to create additional private networks will mean an administrator can model complex real-world setups without being hindered by network issues. To be clear, this functionality did exist previously but setting it up required a lot of command-line interaction. Now, it is really straightforward and can be found hidden in the preferences menu.

Other notable improvements

Alongside these major changes are a host of smaller, but equally useful additions. Hotkeys can be defined on a per VM basis and inserted into a VM. A real-world example being the F11 button required to install VMware ESXi as a guest for testing purposes. Instead of trying to press F11 using multiple combinations, Fusion 7 Pro lets you click on the menu, select "Send Key" then F11. That's it. This is much less frustrating than how it works in version 6.

Fusion 7 Pro compared to similar offerings

So how does Fusion 7 match up to the alternatives? With this release, VMware added useful features that are already available elsewhere, such as Oracle VirtualBox. The same can be said of the networking side, with every other major desktop virtualization product providing comprehensive networking features. Although very good, in many ways Fusion 7 is a catch-up release. For VMware admins, Fusion is an obvious choice. One particularly useful feature is the ability to virtualize ESXi for test purposes. Doing this with other products, including commercial products -- such as Parallels -- is quite difficult if even possible.

If you don't need the VMware-specific items, you may well get away with VirtualBox. It is a free product so it costs nothing to try. However, if you work with VMware on a more in-depth level, you may benefit from Fusion 7's new VMware infrastructure-centric management features. If you do need such functionality and are going to buy Fusion, I cannot stress that Pro is well worth the extra outlay. The additional dollars will translate directly into time saved and happy administrators.

Is Fusion 7 Pro worth the price?

Overall, Fusion 7 Pro is a great product. It now has features that have long been desired. It stands out as one of those true worth-the-money upgrades rather than just the yearly release of the latest bug fixes renamed into a new version.

If you manage standalone ESXi hosts or small vCenter based environments using a Mac I can foresee this release being a very useful tool indeed, rather than having to use Web client if you own vSphere or another VM running the desktop client. For developers as well, the ability to export OVFs means they can easily maintain and provide VMs that can be exported into a single OVF file for a customer or other developers.

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