Virtualization is one of the most useful and important technologies to deploy right now. With it, racks of servers are being consolidated into beefy machines running virtual machines and users are able to experiment with and use multiple operating systems on a single computer.

A number of virtualization products exist for Linux including QEMU, VirtualBox, Xen and other open source implementations. On the commercial side, both Parallels and VMware offer commercial products, such as Parallels Workstation or VMware Workstation. VMware also offers a free server-oriented product called VMware Server.

VMware Server has recently undergone a significant upgrade, bringing it to version 2.0. If you have yet to upgrade from 1.x, or have never looked at VMware Server before, now may be a good time to do so.

VMware Server allows you to run multiple operating systems on the same computer, just like any other virtualization product. VMware Server 2, however, does things somewhat differently than other similar products. You can schedule when a virtual machine starts after boot, which allows staggering startup to avoid overloading the host CPU, and also schedule similar shutdown or suspend operations, staggering when the host is requested to shutdown or reboot.

One new feature in VMware Server 2 that is quite interesting is the ability to view the console of the virtual machine via a Web browser. This feature currently requires Firefox or Internet Explorer and is available for Linux or Windows browsers. The Web console for controlling VMware Server 2 is extremely impressive. Essentially, it duplicates what you would see for the management console of VMware Workstation or the old VMware Server and makes it available via any browser; the console, which allows you to view and manipulate the guest OS as if you were local to it, is the only part that requires Firefox or Explorer.

To begin with, you must sign up at the VMware site in order to download Vmware Server. When you are able to download the packages, you may opt to download an RPM package or a tarball archive, for either 32bit or 64bit systems. If you are using an RPM-based system, feel free to download the RPM; otherwise download the tarball.

When you have downloaded the appropriate package, make sure you have the Linux kernel headers and/or source files installed for your distribution. You will also need the same programs you would use to compile the kernel: gcc, make, and others. Typically, installing the kernel-source (or similar) package will bring these required tools in as dependencies, which are required to build the VMware kernel modules. With that done, install VMware Server using rpm or, with the tarball archive, using:

$ tar xvzf VMware-server*.tar.gz
$ cd vmware-server-distrib
$ sudo ./

The sudo command is usable with Ubuntu systems; for others, you may have to su to root first to run the installer script.

The install script is very straightforward. You will need the serial number you obtained during signup, and you will have to choose which user will be the VMware “user,” which is used to authenticate logins. If this is a single-user machine, you may opt to use your own username here.

Once the installation is complete, visit the Web console at or https://[IP_of_the_machine]:8333 and log in with the user you assigned during installation.

Note that with VMware Server 2, there is no local client. Even locally, you must connect to the Web server in order to configure and manage the system. Once you are in, you can create a new virtual machine, download a virtual appliance, or copy over a pre-existing virtual machine and begin using it.

VMware Server 2 is the next major step for VMware’s free server product and it provides some very welcome new features. The lack of a local console may be seen as a bit of a drawback for some, but the new Web console more than makes up for the lack, as it is very impressive. All in all, this is a welcome upgrade to VMware’s free server product.

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