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VMWare 4 - Ouch!

I cannot believe the Chairman of the Board is pimping this thing already.  There are serious issues with this major release, and the natives on the VMWare newsgroup server are getting pretty pissed.

Item 1 - For _many_, the virtual machine doesn't see any floppy drives, a major hassle.  This one bit me.  Since Joel is such an enthusiastic supporter, I will leave it to him to mention the fix.

Item 2 - "Unsupported" versions of various Linux distros (including RH 9) require the kernel source to be installed to successfully install the VMWare Tools, which includes the faster X driver.  Or so I hear, too much negative karma for me to try RH 9 with this release, but the stink is loud and clear.

Joel?

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Monday, June 02, 2003

The floppy works for me and I don't use Linux VMs.

Joel Spolsky
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The idea of running VMWare as a server is an attractive one, however one must wonder about actual performance data.  I understand that hardware could be almost literally thrown towards the problem of server-demand, but when?? 

How many requests could your web/mail/etc server(s) handle on what hardware?

I found these numbers for ESX server an 8-CPU/16GB machine from IBM: ftp://ftp.pc.ibm.com/pub/special/serverperformance/x440VMwareCitrixBench.pdf

Pretty interesting.  The Max Connected Users was 1,312 split unevenly between 8 VMWare guest OSes.  About half that were Active Users.  On an 8-way cpu each OS has it's own processor.

Wayne
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The link was supposed to be

ftp://ftp.pc.ibm.com/pub/special/serverperformance/x440VMwareCitrixBench.pdf

Wayne
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

itrixBench.pdf


What's going on Joel?  I pasted it twice correctly.  That's the end of the string.

Wayne
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Actually, the whole VM server thing has been done before. Just take a (several million dollar) big iron type machine, and run several hundred copies of linux on it. Those old machines have very good systems for partitioning the memory, cpu, and disk resources so that each process (in this case a copy of linux) thinks it has a whole machine to itself. I think I read an article some time back where they used an ethernet interface to the IPC mechanism, allowing all of the servers to communicate easily.

Fun :)

Daniel Brooks
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The only problem is see is: what if the underlying virtualization layer has bugs? e.g. there might be an exploit in the low-level network driver before things even reach the VM layer.

Of course, given that most of the complex functionality would be implemented in the VM, the lower layers could be kept simple and designed under more scrutiny.

"VMing" might even break out into general desktop use. e.g. IBM already ships a "system restore" feature that brings its PCs back to a known-good state. Or, a conventional OS could be distanced more from the hardware, so that fewer things can go wrong if it crashes or is exploited. (I think IBM's big server machines already operate this way - the *standard* configuration is a low-level virtualization layer, on top of which you run one or more OS instances - things like network device and disks are abstracted from the OS just like VMWare)

Dan Maas
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

RE: Floppy drive problem

After 5 mins google:


"
Try exiting VMware completely, then adding the line:

floppy0.present = "true"

to your virtual machines config file, then restart VMware.
"

It works ;)

Apart from that "little" nuisance, there are other things which _are_ a plus:

- Remote Desktop Support: Now you can have VMWare installed on a server and control it using Terminal Services (or in a XP box) from any worsktation, no matter what OS is _in_ the VM.

- Debugging support.

- The new "Drag&Drop to the VM" feature is very handy to transfer file w/o having to set up networking and the like for a quick file transfer

It's true that the "vmware tools+linux" problem can be a PITA, but I hope that they'll release an improved version of VMWare Tools soon

As for Joel's suggestion of running serveral OSs in a big box, each on its own VM, I think it's called Server Consolidation, and IBM has been making big bucks out of it with its OS/390 and suchlike.

As a matter of fact, I'll probably be looking into VMWare's GSX Server, not for Server consolidation, but for SW Q&A. I'd like to set up some kind of "regression" / automated testing for the SW we develop at our company. At the moment, we are avid users of VMWare Workstation for testing and the like, but that still involves a huge amount of manual work. The neat thing about GSX is that (If I have my facts straight), it can be fully scripted so that, to the VM, things looks as normal events (mouse clicks, keypresses, disk insertion / removal).

It'll probably be a fair bit of work, but I'm thinking about developoing an automated test suite to make sure that the SW works ok. Anybody has any experience with something like that??

Just my 0.002

Javier Jarava
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Let me see... A layer above the OS for a pool where the server instances live...

Java anyone?

Ros
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

This company (http://www.johncompanies.com/) will give you a "dedicated" server for under $100/month.  The trick is that it is basically a virutal machine running on an enterprise class server.  It's a pretty neat idea with lots of good features.  Read their site for more info.

Unfortunately, they only run FreeBSD and Linux...

Ryan Mitchell
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

What about debugging support in VMware 4? I own a copy of VMware 3.1 and had no problems with debugging simple programs in Delphi on Windows XP.

Are there debugging problems with v3.1 that I'm not aware of?

Frederik Slijkerman
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Btw, I believe CMOS (pronounced see moss) in the context of Joel's article stands for complimentary metal oxide semiconductor.  I.e. the bios settings are stored in a CMOS device.

anonomo
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Speaking of Ghost, there is an application called vmDisk that converts VMWare machines to/from Ghost images.

While doing this, it takes care of things like replacing virtual by actual real drivers.

More info: http://www.codearts.com/products/vmdisk/

Note: I have not tested this application.

Bernard Vander Beken
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Wayne,

it looks like the automatic link only works with http, not ftp.

ko
Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Bernard - that looks like an interesting program.  I think it would be useful if you had to turn a virtual server into a physical one to get the better performance when needed.

I also wonder if hosting the virtual servers in Linux could provide better performance (if you tweaked Linux to take up the least amount of resources needed).  I'm not sure if the server product is for linux though.

ko - I don't mind that the link wasn't automatic but I read what I pasted before I posted and it was a complete url.  Somehow it got cut "trixBench.pdf" got cut off.  Wierd.  I think those numbers were indicitave of the Citrix product anyway :)

Wayne
Wednesday, June 04, 2003

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