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What’s in your VMware toolbox?

Every administrator needs a VMware toolbox, a set of tools, documents and scripts for any crisis. With a well-equipped VMware toolbox, you’ll be the Bob Vila of your data center.

Every administrator needs a VMware toolbox to architect, implement, configure, document and troubleshoot his or her everyday work. In my bag, I carry a dozen or so USB thumb drives that contain software--installation programs, code snippets, utilities and even documentation that I may need at a moment's notice during a critical situation.

For administrators, toolboxes are an absolute necessity to get work done. I have toolboxes for VMware, Citrix Systems, Windows Server, Windows XP, Windows 7, EMC, Linux and many more. Let's take a peek into my VMware toolbox, and maybe you'll pick up a few ideas for your own.

Setting up a VMware toolbox
I have three environments for my toolboxes: I have a virtualized instance of Windows XP Professional and Windows 7 guests on a laptop and a bootable Windows 7 machine on a16 GB USB flash drive.

I carry separate Windows XP and Windows 7 guests because certain applications require specific OSes. These OS dependencies have decreased over the years, but they still exist for some applications. You may or may not need to do the same thing, depending on the number and complexity of your applications.

Frequently used programs in my VMware toolbox
In my VMware toolbox, there are these staples items:

  • PowerShell (versions 1 and2), PowerCLI(versions 4.0 and 4.1) and PowerGUI;
  • vSphere Client, virtualized through VMware ThinApp;
  • FastSCP from Veeam Software for secure-copy file transfers;
  • PuTTY for Secure Shell connections; and
  • NotePad++, which is a notepad and documentation tool that I also use for script editing.

You can run almost all these applications off a thumb drive through their own installation options, or if someone has already made them portable -- meaning that they can run off a USB stick or some other portable storage device.

But I have also tried running Windows XP from a bootable DVD (also known as Live XP) and Windows 7 machines from a thumb drive but I haven't really had success.

Other handy utilities in my VMware toolbox
My VMware toolbox contains many other tools. The following list is nowhere near complete, and it's ever-changing.

I have an obvious preference for free tools, mainly because I am cheap. But many of these free applications rival their commercial counterparts in every way.

RVTools is a simple and robust application that gathers a boatload of infrastructure data. It then exports the information as delimited files for further manipulation and analysis. With this tool, you can see all the infrastructure data without piecing it together within vCenter or running multiple scripts. I also virtualized RVTools on my thumb drive with ThinApp.

NetWrix VMware Change Reporter
This tool monitors events in vCenter. It consolidates them and allows for extensive reporting, including the "who" and "what" that occurs in an ESX or ESXi infrastructure.

VMware vCenter Converter Standalone
I don't use this utility a lot, but it really comes in handy for physical-to-virtual or virtual-to-virtual conversions. I haven't successfully made this application portable, though.

VMX TriLead VM Explorer
This program provides backup, disaster recovery and management capabilities for vSphere infrastructures. It's not free or open source, but it serves as a pretty good Swiss Army-knife-type of tool, and I use it quite often.

Quest vOptimizer Wastefinder 
Quest Software's vOptimizer Wastefinder is the free version of vOptimizer. It quickly analyzes disk alignment and other details for guests.

PowerCLI/Perl/vbScript snippets and scripts
I have accumulated a huge code collection over the years, and it continues to grow. The best part of PowerShell, besides PowerCLI for VMware, is that the community of scripters is very open and contributes a great amount of code snippets. There's really no reason to reinvent the wheel when creating scripts. Most likely, a script you need is already out there and reusable indefinitely.

VMware CPU Identification Utility
This tool should be considered a staple, because you frequently need to know your CPU registers and capabilities.

This application tests loads on your guests and checks Distributed Resource Scheduling cluster functionality and load performance. I use an older, free version.

This tool generates a Blue Screen of Death on Windows guests, which allows you to simulate vApp, Fault Tolerance and High Availability guest recovery. Crasher is no longer developed, and I could not find a download link for it. But I found similar tool called BANG!

VMware Labs Flings 
I have every fling, because they are pretty cool -- even if I don't use them on a regular basis. Flings are experimental, unsupported programs that VMware posts for developers. Onyx, for example, monitors network communication between the vSphere Client and vSphere Server and translate that information into PowerShell code. I also use IOBlazer frequently, which benchmarks storage stacks for multiple operating systems.

VM Advanced ISO
I use this big collection of tools that blogger Kendrick Coleman put together and recently updated. The utilities in the VM Advanced ISO optimize infrastructure performance and recover lost disk space, among other things. They are another must-have when working in different customer infrastructures.

Various free vendor tools
There are way too many free tools to mention. But vendors, such as vKernel Corp., Veeam Software Inc., Quest Software, Embotics Corp., PHD Virtual Technologies and SolarWinds Inc., have a multitude of free applications. Check out their sites for more information and downloads.

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