Introduction to virtualization: Manage drivers with VMware Tools

Rick Vanover explains the importance of having the correct drivers for the hypervisor and how this is ensured by installing and updating VMware Tools.

In my first piece on the basics of virtualization, I explained how virtualization abstracts host hardware from the virtual machines, which is made easy through special drivers. These special drivers provide the virtual machine with the correct drivers for their hypervisor and allow some special interactions to occur.

For VMware environments, this is achieved through VMware Tools. VMware Tools is a package for many operating systems that will provide the correct interaction to the hypervisor. VMware Tools exists for all guest virtual machines that run on all VMware hypervisors: ESXi, Workstation, Fusion, Player and more. Each hypervisor has VMware Tools available to the guest virtual machine as an installable package, usually as a CD-ROM .ISO mounted as a virtual device.

Without the proper drivers installed, the operating system of the virtual machine will not operate correctly. Devices may not be discovered, their performance will be degraded, and interacting with the VM will be clumsy. The best clumsy example is interacting with the console video display of the VM; it will be difficult to seamlessly transition out of the virtual machine console.

To install VMware Tools, simply right click on the VM in the administrative interface and select the the option to install or upgrade VMware Tools as shown in Figure A below:


Installing VMware Tools functions much like any other application you’d install in Windows. VMware Tools exists also for Linux VMs, as well as effectively all other guest operating systems that are supported by each VMware hypervisor. Note that as new hypervisors are released, some operating systems are deprecated from support. A good example is Windows NT and older operating systems. Older hypervisors had support, and an installable edition of VMware Tools for those operating systems; however, they’ve since been removed. Some administrators hold on to the .ISO images of VMware Tools packages from older hypervisors (like VMware Server 2.0) for support of the older operating systems.

When VMware Tools is installed, you can see devices have a very VMware-focused look and feel to them. You also want to ensure that no devices have a question mark, red x, or yellow exclamation point assigned to them in Windows. Figure B below shows a virtual machine with VMware Tools installed on the system and the devices are very much VMware-specific:


Once VMware Tools is installed on the virtual machine (in this example, a Windows Server 2012 system), you'll see an icon in the system tray indicating that the VM has VMware Tools running. This is the easiest way to see if a VM is running correctly, in terms of VMware Tools interaction (Figure C).


If you don't see the icon, it’s possible that VMware Tools is not installed on the virtual machine. For Windows systems, you can also look for the VMTools service in the list of Windows services running. You can find more information on VMware Tools at VMware KB 340 and the VMware documentation center.

It’s also important to ensure that virtual machines keep VMware Tools up to date. This helps ensure that the newest hypervisor features will work correctly and keeps the administrative console clean of any warnings about tools being out of date.

What tips or questions do you have about VMware Tools? Share your comments below.