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The mechanics of VMware Go

VMware Go uses several different components to manage your ESXi free edition virtual machines, including Clickonce and the VMware Remote Console, among others.

VMware Go is a free hosted management service intended only for the free version of ESXi. VMware designed it to make it easier for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to get started with virtualization. In this article, we'll talk about the parts that make up VMware Go, allowing it to do what it does.

VMware defines an SMB as a company with fewer than 1,000 employees and recognizes that these businesses have the same challenges as larger enterprises, but more constraints with IT staffing and resources. VMware Go which was announced at VMworld 2009 and is currently in Beta. Go is considered a cloud-based application. It was developed in partnership with Shavlik Technologies (who also provided VMware its Update Manager technology) and is a tool that provides assistance with a variety of functions including implementation of ESXi, physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversions and patching of ESXi hosts.

So why did VMware create Go? The official reason was to make it easier for people to get started with bare-metal virtualization at no cost using the free version of ESXi. What VMware hopes, however, is that once you get a taste of free ESXi you'll want to upgrade to the more featured paid editions. At VMworld this year Paul Maritz stated in his keynote that there were a large amount of downloads of ESXi, but unfortunately VMware has no idea what people are doing with those downloads. VMware Go gives VMware a chance to interpret how people are using free ESXi by offering a free management tool hosted in a VMware cloud.

With the usage information VMware obtains (by its users permission) it can help VMware better market its products, stay in touch with the customer in case there is an opportunity to upgrade them to the paid editions, and provide them with help or services by engaging a VMware Partner to assist them.

So what is VMware Go? Basically it's a user-friendly Web user interface (UI) hosted by VMware that interfaces with some existing free administration tools installed on a user's workstation to manage free ESXi hosts. One thing to note is that while VMware Go is only meant for the free edition of ESXi you can continue using it if you upgrade to some of the paid editions, such as Essentials. Go can also manage ESX hosts.

Go uses the following tools:

  • Clickonce application
    Clickonce is a Microsoft application that allows for application deployment on a user's PC with minimal interaction from the user. Since VMware Go is designed to be simple and easy to use it uses Clickonce to install the Remote Console, Power CLI, PowerShell and .NET Framework so the user has minimal prompts to respond to.

  • VMware Remote Console (VMRC)
    VMRC is a standalone VMware remote console application included with VMware Server 2.0 that is used to open remote console connections to virtual machines.

  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5
    .NET is Microsoft's software framework for Windows operating systems that includes a large library of coded solutions to common programming problems and an application virtual machine that manages the execution of programs written specifically for the framework. The latest version of the .NET framework is needed for these applications to work.

  • Microsoft Windows Powershell
    PowerShell is an extensible command-line shell and associated scripting language developed by Microsoft that can be used to help automate common administration tasks and also provide information about your VMware environment. PowerShell is commonly used for many different things in Windows environments but can also be used with VMware environments using VMware's PowerCLI, which provides PowerShell with access to the VMware advanced programming interface (API).

  • vSphere PowerCLI
    VMware vSphere PowerCLI is an add-on to PowerShell that lets you automate all aspects of vSphere management, including network, storage, VM, guest OS and more.

  • VMware VIX
    This is a virtualization API originally developed for VMware Workstation that allows you to manage and automate the OS guests inside virtual machines. This component is used to check the patch status of your virtual machines.

  • vSphere CLI
    The vSphere CLI is a command set that allows you to run common system administration commands remotely against ESX/ESXi systems. vSphere CLI commands are especially useful for ESXi hosts because they do not include a service console. This component is used for checking the patch status of your hosts and is installed on the fly if you try and check the patch status of an ESXi host.

  • VMware Converter Standalone
    VMware Converter Standalone is used to convert physical servers to virtual machines on your ESXi hosts and is installed on the fly if you choose the Copy Existing System option when adding a VM.

The Windows PC that you install the VMware Go components on acts as a proxy between VMware's servers on the Internet and the ESXi hosts in your environment. The ESXi hosts never communicate directly with VMware's servers and no server user IDs or passwords are stored externally. The communication between the PC and VMware is all over an encrypted secure shell (SSL) connection, and basic non-sensitive information about your ESXi hosts and VMs is stored in a Microsoft SQL database that is used in VMware's cloud.

Now that you know what VMware Go is, you might be wondering what it does. As I've mentioned already, this product is completely geared towards users new to virtualization; experienced users who are used to using the vSphere Client may find it difficult to use. VMware Go is not intended to replace the vSphere Client as it has very limited administration features. It can, however, help new users install and configure ESXi, as well as be used in conjunction with the vSphere Client to manage and administer hosts.

VMware Go performs a number of tasks to make management easier, including:

  • Scanning existing Windows servers to see if they are good ESXi candidates. Go uses WMI to check hardware requirements. It also checks to see if the server is on the ESXi Hardware Compatibility List (HCL). Neither of these checks will prevent a user from installing ESXi, however; they are simply recommendations.

  • Downloading the latest install ISO file for ESXi from VMware's website. It will also automatically burn the ISO file to a writable CD-ROM drive so it can be used in whatever server you want to install ESXi on to.

  • Discovering ESXi hosts so you can register and manage them with VMware Go, similar to how you register hosts with vCenter Server. Adding new VMs by using either VMware Converter, manually installing an OS or by downloading a virtual appliance.

  • Changing basic configuration settings on your ESXi hosts which include NTP time, root password and IP address.

  • Optimizing VMs by changing VM settings including resource settings.

  • Scanning ESXi hosts and virtual machines to see if they are missing any patches. Go reports on missing patches but does not apply them. A future release will also be able to scan powered off VMs.

Note one piece that is currently missing in the Beta is a mechanism to apply the ESXi free license key but this is expected to be added to it soon. By default ESXi uses an evaluation license that is good for 60 days, a license key must be used even for the free edition before the 60 days is up.

I wrote a series of articles a few months ago which explain how to do basically what VMware Go is doing here. In those tips I showed you how to take an existing Windows Server, convert it into a VM, install ESXi and move the VM back on to the server.

As I mentioned, VMware Go is currently in Beta. It is expected to reach general availability (GA) before the end of 2009. A word of caution: The Beta release has very limited operating system/service pack support for the Windows PC; currently only Windows XP SP3 and Windows Vista SP2 are supported, but Windows 7 and Windows 2008 are expected to be supported when it goes GA. I initially tested this on Windows Server 2003 SP2 and ran into problems with the Clickonce application not functioning properly.

Overall I found the VMware Go Web interface a bit confusing to use and very limited, but hopefully VMware improves it before it goes GA. If you do decide to give Go a try and want more features you can easily transition to the paid editions of VMware ESX without any major changes by simply changing your host's license keys.

Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forums and maintains VMware-land.com, a VI3 information site.

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