The ability to use virtual machines for testing or development has been available to Linux users for quite some time in the form of the commercial VMware Workstation, Xen, Usermode Linux, and other virtualization software. Recently, VMware released a beta of its VMware Server product, which is a freely available, albeit slimmed-down, version of its commercial server offerings (GSX and ESX server).
Using VMware Server is ideal for testing or remote access to systems that you may or may not need a GUI for. It's also ideal for running several different operating systems, or Linux variants, on a single piece of beefy hardware. Although it is still in beta, it's quite useable. The only caveat is, if you are currently using Workstation, both it and the VMware Server product cannot co-exist on the same machine.
To install VMware Server, you need to download three packages from the VMware download site (http://www.vmware.com/download/server/), particularly VMware-server-e.x.p-xxxxx.tar.gz, VMware-mui-e.x.p-xxxxx.tar.gz, and VMware-server-linux-client-e.x.p-xxxxx.zip, where xxxxx is the build number (as of this writing, it is 23869).
Create the directory /usr/local/src if it doesn't already exist and move these three packages there. Unarchive them using:
# tar xvzf VMware-server-e.x.p-xxxxx.tar.gz
# unzip VMware-server-linux-client-e.x.p-xxxxx.zip
To install, you will need a copy of the kernel headers or source code for your currently-running kernel, so be sure to install it from your vendor, who will likely have made it available as a kernel-headers or kernel-source package. Next, execute the installation as root:
# cd vmware-server-distrib
You will be prompted to answer some basic questions. For networking, you will probably want only bridged networking, unless you are testing it on a laptop. The vmware-install.pl script will automatically start vmware-config.pl, which is the system configuration script. Next, install the console. When you unzip the VMware-server-linux-client package, a few new archives become available, including VMware-server-console-e.x.p-xxxxx.tar.gz, which contains the console software.
# cd /usr/local/src
# tar xvzf VMware-server-console-e.x.p-xxxxx.tar.gz
# cd vmware-server-console-distrib
As before, selecting the defaults for vmware-install.pl should be sufficient. This is enough to get VMware Server up and running on the local system. If you want the Web-based management interface, untar and install the VMware-mui-e.x.p archive. To get started immediately creating your first virtual machine, however, execute:
When asked which host you want to connect to, pick the local host. This allows you to run VMware Server on another machine and control it graphically by remote, if you select the remote host. Once you're connected, you should see an interface very similar to that found in VMware Workstation, in which you can create new virtual machines, start and stop machines, and so forth.
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Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.