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Considerations when moving VMs from VMware Workstation to vSphere

There are some networking choices to ponder before importing a VM from VMware Workstation into vSphere.

VMware Workstation offers an option to upload virtual machines directly to vSphere. While pushing the buttons to do this is rather easy, making sure the VMware Workstation virtual machine also works in vSphere can be a challenge. This article will explain how an administrator can prepare the VM in Workstation to make sure it uploads smoothly to vSphere.

Check the networking

Before uploading a VM from VMware Workstation to vSphere, you should pay close attention to the networking configuration. The differences might seem so significant that it appears to be not possible to mirror the networking you want to use in vSphere when working in a VMware Workstation environment. But, depending on the kind of networking you are looking at, there are some options.

The most significant networking feature available in vSphere that's not in VMware Workstation is the virtual switch, which opens the way to more advanced network settings. Also, there is no distinction between the management network and the production network you normally see in a vSphere environment. There are good reasons why these features are missing.

An ESXi server in a vSphere environment typically has a minimum of at least eight network cards -- and, in some cases, even more. VMware developed Workstation to be used on desktop computers, which usually have one network card, or two if it's a laptop with an Ethernet network card and a wireless network card. Even with this limitation, VMware Workstation still has plenty to offer as a platform to prepare VMs for importing to vSphere.

Even if the physical host may have just one network card, you can easily create VMs that have several network cards. This allows you to set up an environment in which the virtual computer routes traffic from the physical network to where the host is connected to an internal host-only network, which allows you to emulate a setup where a DMZ is used.

VMware Workstation excels with its topology mirroring feature. If you're looking to play with advanced vSwitch features, including VLAN tagging, VMware Workstation is not ideal to use in a pre-production test environment. If, however, you're looking to understand and build a test networking topology, VMware Workstation is a great option.

Building adapters with Virtual Network Editor

To mirror network topologies, VMware Workstation offers three different kinds of network adapters, all of which can be created with the Virtual Network Editor. By default, three networks are created. As an administrator, you can add up to a total of 10 virtual networks. That means even if the host has one network adapter, you can have as many as 10 different network adapters in any VM.

Three choices for network interfaces

Two of the network types that are available in the Virtual Network Editor allow for a direct connection to the external network. These are the NAT and bridged network type.

The most open method is to provide VMs with a bridged network adapter. Using this, the VM is connected directly to the external network. The VM will get an IP address from the DHCP server on the physical network, so an administrator will need to make sure resources are available on the external network. If you use a network bridge on the network interface that connects your host to the Internet, the Internet provider has to be willing to hand out an additional IP address. This requirement limits the usefulness of a bridged network interface.

As an alternative, you can use the NAT network interface. This option works well if you don't manage the external network, and there is no configuration available to connect the VMs directly to the external network. One negative is that while using NAT you cannot access services on the VMs from the external network. NAT is also commonly used in corporate vSphere implementations to add an extra level of protection to services on the internal network which shouldn't be accessible from the outside.

The third network type is host-only. That means that on the host, the virtual network card is not connected to a physical network card. That means the host-only network card cannot be accessed from any machine outside of the host-only network.

This may sound like a limitation, but host-only networks offer some real benefits. You could configure one VM with a public network interface, which is connected to the external network by using NAT or bridged mode. On the other side of the virtual routing hosts, create one or more host-only networks, which reflect the internal company network, and even a DMZ network. To make that work, you need to configure routing processes on that VM to have it do the work that would normally be done by a virtualized router.

Other details to consider

After preparing networking in a way that also makes sense in the vSphere environment, you can upload the VM. Make sure it doesn't have any hardware references that can't be met on the vSphere environment. If your VM on VMware Workstation was connected to an ISO image, it cannot be moved as the path typically wouldn't match in the vSphere environment. It's a good idea to walk through the VM configuration to take out any of these subtle differences before starting the actual move.

To move the VM, make sure your VMware Workstation is connected to an ESXi server, or to vCenter Server and log in to that environment. This allows you to see the VMs on the VMware Workstation and the vSphere environment from one single view. Select the VM you want to copy over, then select Manage>Upload from the VM menu. Select the data store for the VM, and start the upload process.

Once uploaded, you can further fine-tune networking in the vSphere environment. Make sure the virtual network interfaces in use on the VM are connected to the virtual switch where you want to use them and you'll be ready to use the VM shortly.

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