Get IT Done: Create virtual machines for testing systems in VMware

Learn how to set up VMWare, software that lets you run virtual machines within an installed operating system.

As a technical consultant, I must stay current on a wide range of different technologies, including the multitude of operating systems on the market. Just to keep up with Microsoft, I need to run Windows 95, 98, NT4, 2000, XP, Windows .NET Server, and other permutations of the Windows operating system. I could keep about 10 spare computers on hand for testing or purchase additional hardware, such as swappable hard drive bays. Equipment costs can also run up the expense of testing Windows clustering.

To save money and run all of these operating systems and clusters, I looked into VMware Workstation. In case you've never heard of VMware, it is software that lets you run virtual machines within an installed operating system; you can be running Windows XP Professional and boot to a Windows 2000 Domain Controller in a separate window. You can even boot non-Windows operating systems, such as Linux and FreeBSD. The VMware technology is great, and I now use it extensively. Fortunately, the setup is fairly straightforward.

Test machine specs
The specifications for the machine that I used in this article are: 2-GHz CPU, 1.5 GB of memory, and two 80-GB hard disks. I wanted more than a gig of memory because each virtual computer runs 200 MB of memory. The main operating system on this computer is Windows XP, which is capable of running five VMware virtual machines concurrently, with all of them connected to my network and able to access the Internet as well as other network resources, such as file sharing.

Getting started with VMware Workstation
If you want to follow along with the steps that I'm going to demonstrate in this article, you're going to need a trial or licensed version of VMware Workstation. You can download a trial version here. When you run the executable, the installation will place VMware in the directory you specify and create VMware Virtual Ethernet Adapters. These adapters appear as network connections on your system, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
VMware Virtual Ethernet Adapters appear as network connections.

Now that you've installed VMware, let’s get started. Select Start | Programs | VMware | VMware Workstation to open the VMware Workstation window, shown in Figure B. This window allows you to create, suspend, and configure a VMware Virtual machine. Figure B shows my screen, with three virtual machines I've already created listed on the left.

Figure B
The VMware Workstation console lists all your virtual machines.

You need to be familiar with the following VMware menus in order to get started:
  • File—Allows you to create a new virtual machine.
  • Power—Allows you to power on, off, reset, suspend, send Ctrl-Alt-Delete, or grab a screen shot from a virtual machine.
  • Settings—Allows you to manage your virtual networks, preferences, and configuration of your virtual machine.

Now that we have discussed the basics of VMware, let’s walk through the installation of a virtual machine.

Configuring a virtual machine
For the purposes of our example, we're going to set up one virtual machine, a Windows 2000 Advanced Server domain controller. Once you have VMware Workstation opened, choose File | New | New Virtual Machine. You'll have the option of choosing a Typical, Custom, or VMware Guest OS Kit installation, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
The New Virtual Machine Wizard walks you through the process.

We'll choose a Custom installation for our example so that you can see the various available options. (You may find that you can use the Typical installation option when creating additional virtual machines.) Choose Next, and specify the virtual machine you want to install, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Select an operating system for the virtual machine.

Choose Windows 2000 Advanced Server and choose Next. On the next screen, you can choose the name of your virtual machine (Domain Controller in this case) and specify a location. Next, you can specify the amount of memory you want allocated to this virtual machine. I recommend a minimum of 128 MB memory per virtual machine. The more memory you allocate to virtual machines, the faster and more consistently they will run. Keep in mind that you must leave enough memory to run the actual operating system. If you don’t have enough memory on one computer for all the virtual machines you want to run, you can always install VMware workstation on multiple testing machines.

The next screen, shown in Figure E, allows you to configure network settings. For this example, you're going to choose Bridged Networking to empower the guest to access an external Ethernet network. Note that with this setting, you can either connect the virtual machine to a DHCP server or set the IP address manually.

Figure E
Select a networking option.

You're now ready to configure a disk on the next screen. You can choose one of three disk options, as shown in Figure F. For this example, elect to create a virtual disk and choose Next.

Figure F
Select a storage option.

The next window allows you to choose the size of your virtual disk. You have the option of adding disks at any time to configure software-based RAID configurations (I'll discuss this in my next article). Click Finish, and you'll have successfully created your first virtual machine.

Now you're ready to install the actual OS. In this case, you can install the OS by either placing the bootable Windows 2000 Advanced Server CD in the CD drive or using Windows 2000 Advanced Server boot diskettes. Once you have placed the appropriate diskette or CD in the drive, choose the newly created virtual machine and select Power On, as shown in Figure G. A powered-on machine will automatically boot to the CD or diskette. If you are booting to CD, make sure that you have this option enabled in your system's CMOS.

Figure G
Select Power On to start up the VMware virtual machine.

Once you have installed Windows 2000 Advanced Server, you can configure the OS just as any other Windows 2000 Advanced Server. You can run dcpromo to promote it to a Domain Controller (DC) and install DNS and WINS. Figure H shows Win2K Advanced Server inside a VMware virtual machine.

Figure H
Win2K Advanced Server inside a virtual machine

In this article, I've introduced you to VMware and have shown you how to create virtual machines. In preparation for the next article in this series, go ahead and install two additional virtual machines, connect them to your network, and join them to your virtual Windows 2000 Domain Controller that we created in the example above. You'll then be ready for my next article, which will discuss how to test and configure Windows clustering using VMware rather than having to buy $20,000 worth of equipment.

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