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May 23

The Future of VMware Server

There’s rumor on the streets that the VMware Server product is being discontinued. Unfortunately, there’s good reason for that rumor.

Here are a few signs. Like the one that VMTN user Borja Mari noticed the following text in a security advisory VMSA-2010-0007

“End of General Support for VMware Server 2.0 is 2011-06-30, users should plan to upgrade to the newest release of either ESXi or VMware Player”

Another uncomfortable sign is that there haven’t been any updates in almost 7 months as you can see on the download page where the last version is from 2009/10/26

Haven’t there been problem’s then? Well yes, there are serious glibc compatibility issues with recent versions of the supported OS RHEL and it doesn’t look like that will be fixed as it is known since RHEL 5.4 and we are now on version RHEL 5.5 . Another issue is security patch VMSA-2009-0016 from 2009-11-20, which has been updated for other products after that date, still has VMware Server listed as ”

patch pending

” for every problem it affects. Security advisory VMSA-2010-0005 even has ”

not being fixed at this time *

”  which then refers to a manual work around that can be applied to address the problem.

So does the security department of VMware make the product direction statements these days? What is going on?

It does indeed look very much that the product has been abandoned by VMware. VMware Server being a free product that doesn’t directly generate income is a reasonably valid excuse to provide less support. But what about the customers who bought support for VMware Server, the product might be free, but you can buy support for it…..

Telling users to use VMware Player or ESXi instead might be sufficient for some users, but I think that for most VMware Server users it is not going to be an adequate solution. VMware Server as a hypervisor type 2 product offers a number of extra features that are basically a mix of the features that ESXi and VMware Player offer. Using either product you will loose.

Here’s a list of features that are mutually exclusive.

ESXi only:

1. You can run your VM’s headless, without having to log in and you can autostart selected VM’s on boot

2. You can remotely manage your VM’s from a web interface (fat ESX)

3. You can remotely manage your host and VM’s via the VI SDK (perl/powershell/vimsh) and Virtual Infrastructure Client

VMware Player only:

1. You can continue to use your host, so you do not need an extra workstation as you would for ESXi.

2. Access to local hardware devices that are not supported by the virtualisation layer, or don’t provide the same level of functionality. Examples are that tape drive you want to use. Specific hardware devices that are not exposed to the guest like a TV-Card, unsupported SATA/RAID cards, USB devices wth USB Passthrough, Sound. Directly access your graphics card for multi-monitor/video support.

3. You can use the host’s features for local storage file sharing using NFS or Samba. Without having to add an extra virtualisation layer.

4. You can use software RAID (linux) and fake RAID (windows/linux) as it is supported by the host OS.

5. You can use the raw performance of the host’s disk subsystem, for example for that product that needs to be compiled from source.

With VMware Server you have all of those features (I’m sure I missed some) at the same time. Giving up on those isn’t always the best answer.

As it is now, I’m starting to have a problem advising people to use VMware Server as it appears to be abandoned by VMware. Without a good and viable alternative being available, it does mean driving those people to the competing type 2 hypervisors like KVM and virtualBox.

I think that VMware have forgotten that when people start using other products, it gets harder to make that new sale for a vSphere server when the client needs to scale out as now their VM’s are in another format.

Also with VMware Server having the complete vSphere automation support it is a good buddy for vSphere and as soon as you want the VM’s to move it is fairly easy to get your VMs moved either by hand or by using VMware Converter.

I for one would very much miss VMware Server if it is being discontinued.

Update: There’s an interesting thread about this over at VMTN

20 comments

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  1. Pablo

    Hi,
    i’m the Borja_Mari user from the vmware communities.

    Thank you very much for have mentioned me in your post! ;)

    And yes, i must agree that vmware server 2 is actually discontinuated and will be “officially dead” at 06/11 if nothing changes :(

    Like you have commented, actually it doesn’t exist a vmware product that totally replace the kind of features of vmware server.

    Regards,
    Pablo.

  2. jpo

    Hi,

    You should also check the note below the VMware Server table in the VMware Life Cycle Policies document: http://www.vmware.com/support/policies/lifecycle/general/#policy_server

    VMware Server was declared End Of Availability on January 2010. Support will be limited to Technical Guidance for the duration of the support term.

    Regards,
    jpo

    1. Wil van Antwerpen

      Interesting. I had just looked up that same page for an answer to a post in VMTN. But I missed seeing the end of availability quote on there. It’s strange that this has never been communicated back into the community somewhere. AFAIK there never has been a notification or post at the VMTN forum about this end of availability of the product. That’s just another nail in the coffin then. :(

      Thanks.

  3. Reindl Harald

    I love VMware-Server because it is a very good entry in server-virtualization and after two years running a really expensive bundle of hp pro liant with included ESXi i can say we never had migrated to thi infrastructure without playing some months at home

    Until a short time ago i used VMware-Server for some test machines at home on fedora 12 and needed to switch to VMware-Workstation because host os crashed

    The real point: There are usecases outside where ESXi can not be used because you need the host-system with some non-critical vm´s in background

    I´m sure VMware will kill possible customers in the future without let them playing with a free entry point in server virtualization

    Yes i know it means work to maintain the free server, but consolidate some of the thousand products would be a better benefit for custormers with the same workpay

    AND I HATE IT TO HAVE A SETUP RUNNING SINCE SEPT 2009 ON CENTOS 5.4 WITH THE GLIBC-TROUBLES AND A UPDATE TO 2.0.2 WHICH DOES NOT FIX THEM FOLLOWED BY HEAR SOME MONTHS LATER THAT MY SETUP HAS NO FUTURE – THIS IS SO POOR AFTER SOME MONTHS OF REALLY LOVE TO ALL VM-MACHINES :-(

  4. Robert

    If Server goes away, I will just about be forced to move on to something else. The same reasons that we chose Server are the gaps that will no longer have a product to fill them in the VMWare lineup.

    1) Same format virtual machines as other products in use here such as VMWare Player and Workstation – with no conversions necessary and no proprietary products such as converter to move them back and forth.

    2) Didn’t lose the host OS or any of its tools and additional functionality.

    3) I can manage it all completely from a linux environment… no windows only tools

    I would reluctantly give up item #2 if 1 and 3 were available in a product and would pay for it. But I cannot use ESX or ESXi when there are other products available that give me these items.

  5. Angel Lafuente

    VMware Server is a nice entry-level virtualization server solution for SMBs.

    When I talk to my customers about virtualization benefits, I argue that you can install a software (VMware Server) in your current server and start easily to virtualize another OS. They understand the classical stack: server + OS + software. That’s one of the reasons to recommend VMware for virtualization instead of Xen (despite it’s OSS).

    In a second step, if virtualization is right for them, they could choose ESXi as his IT base infraestructure instead of an OS. For example, when they buy a new server. VMware Server has provided confidence about virtualization in all our customers.

    Migrations are hard and have many hidden costs. It could nice for an IT geek, but not for a bussiness solution.

    Without an alternative, it would not be smart to close doors to potential customers. Migration to what? :(

    Angel

  6. Francesco

    I found this post from rhsoftware (http://communities.vmware.com/message/1540748#1540748) explaining correctly differences.

    The other alternative is a product like VirtualBox in HeadLess way, also if I don’t like scattered configuration/disks files and needs to register disks/dvds. But there are some other points that are interesting: multiple cpus, big ram, teletransport and growing speed.

    I loved VMware Server as it was until now as a great starting point for virtualization for SMBs,

  7. David Harrison

    The best thing about VMWare Server is that you can leverage the hardware and software RAID support within Ubuntu (or any other modern Linux distribution) to get businesses up and running with virtualisation without investing in new hardware.

    It would be a shame if VMWare Server were discontinued UNLESS VMWare were to significantly expand the hardware support of ESXi, which at present is its biggest problem.
    (This is especially true if you want/need to employ RAID on your server.)

    I guess we can take heart in the increased support Linux vendors and Microsoft are providing for virtualisation. If VMWare are not careful they could loose a lot of mindshare to these alternatives because they seem so focused on selling to top-tier enterprises.

  8. Greg

    One potential option for those wanting the headless aspect of VMware Server (using VMware Player) is in the forum post:

    http://communities.vmware.com/thread/270969?tstart=0

    I get the feeling that a lot of functionality us VMware Server users want is already in Player, it’s just unconfigurable/not directly accessible at the moment, etc.

  9. Wil van Antwerpen

    @Greg,

    Well it is a work around at best. Having a complete supported solution for running headless VM’s against a home grown scripted work around isn’t very satisfying for most businesses. Your home grown script is not tested against as many scenario’s.
    What -among others- is still missing here is a remote console and the ability to remotely manage your VM (start/stop/) Again you can script your way around it for a bit using vix and ssh, but it is the home grown vs. vendor supported discussion again.

    @Francesco, he has a number of good arguments and replies in that thread. As I’m not exactly sure which one you meant. I’ll take one of his posts here and quote him.

    So how will ESXi replace a hosted virtualization?

    * You need a second machine to control the bare-metal-host
    * You need windows to run viclient
    * You can not use sound
    * You can not use USB in the guests
    * You can not use rsync even if you hack the hypervisor for SSH
    * You can not use key-only-auth for SSH
    * You can not put it in the WAN because there are no firewall-rules

    ESXi is for running enterprise virtualization and no replacement for “my machine should run one vm in background”

    @Angel, Completely agreed. Workstation/Player is for IT geeks, not for normal businesses, they don’t want to go open Workstation/Player and have to start that essential VM again which is “just working” with VMware Server. ESXi is a product that companies who do not have virtual machines will not understand. They have to first understand the virtualisation concept.

    @Robert, you are not being forced, but I understand what you are saying. For the first time since 2 years I am indeed playing with VirtualBox again…

    @Reindl, completely agreed that Server fills a need and is a better entry point for many SMB companies as Workstation/Player ever will be.

  10. Francesco

    @Wil

    You have quoted the correct post. Thank you.

  11. Matthias

    We use vmserver2 on a WinXP 64-bit machine with an internal raid which gives space for a lot of VMs.
    And we have a whole bunch of them!

    We use them to store software development environments for our projects (OS with compiler, tools and all stuff which is needed to develop that specific project).
    Most of the VMs are switched off most of the time – they’ll be powered on if there is a pending support task to do.
    And we just copy over the files to a local machine (and using VMWare Player or Workstation) if deeper development has to be done.
    And it doesn’t matter wether the developer’s local machine is Windows or Linux based.
    All get good access to the VMs.

    We integrated the WinXP machine in our Samba Domain and are able to directly use all of our domain users and give them permissions to their VMs (or withdraw access).

    This all perfectly fits to our needs!
    We also tried ESXi but it was a hassle making it work on an “officially unsupported” machine.
    And even succesful install we were not able to use our LDAP / Windows Domain users, easily copy VMware Workstation VMs forth and back, integrate the machine in our backup (not the VMs, just the OS), …

    ESXi is just not what we want – it lacks too much features. And the commercial VMWare tools are all way to expensive for our small company,…

    So if VMWare don’t longer supports the vmserver, we’ve to look for other products – but currently I don’t know which fulfills our needs…
    It has to provide a server based solution (with possibility to integrate our network user) combined with the possibility to use VMs by a desktop solution and the possibility to easily copy VMs from server to desktop and vice versa)

    BTW, we choosed WinXP 64-bit as host system because we were unable to get it stable on an Ubuntu 8.04 linux with LDAP-users….

    With vmserver we’re able to use the

  12. ibsteve2u

    Hate to see VMWare Server go. I’m a developer, and the products I develop use USB heavily..devices more complex that HID.

    The VMWare server 2 environment is ideal for me. The ability to keep a “clean” copy of XP or whatever as a guest, snapshot it, do a test install, roll the guest VM back to “clean”, refine the installer, test it, roll back to snapshot…repeat ad infinitum…is a developer’s dream.

    To lose USB support in guest VMs….well, that forces me back to using “test” boxes, wherein I have to keep a “clean” XP or whatever install on a hard drive and use imaging software to roll that “clean” install onto the boot drive in the “test” boxes each and every test cycle.

    Using that truly “physical” method for the development/test/rollback/retest process quickly transforms “ad infinitum” into ad nauseum.

    And then there is the fact that you have to apply Microsoft’s unending stream of patches – and the patches from major software vendors for antivirus, office, etc. software – to your test environment to more closely simulate the end user’s environment rather than the “ideal conditions” environment…

    No biggie, when you’re updating a VM…a pain in the sitter-downer, when you’re forced to keep updating physical hard drives that are usually kept offline for safety’s sake.

    VMware appears to be receding from my future – and with it goes my ability to say “Sure, our software will run on a VMware guest – so if you use a VMware product, your support and installation costs will flatline.”.

    Oh, well…I guess I will update my VirtualBox software, and see what’s cookin’ there. And update some Linux boxes, and evaluate the state of kvm/qemu.

    And I will, of course, evaluate VirtualPC under Win7 as a development environment. Moving everything lock, stock, and barrel to Win7 is an iffy proposition. It is getting tough out; telling people that they should toss thousands of perfectly functional XP/2003 boxes ‘cuz they won’t run Win7…in addition to their expenditures for Win7…

    lollll…well, we’re not big enough to be that arrogant; that oblivious…not in an increasingly cost-constrained environment; not when I hear “Do you have a Linux solution?” ever more frequently. And I most definitely don’t want to contribute to “Well, we could afford the transition, if we offshore production.”.

    Better, for me, if I help businesses to do things cheaper, here.

  13. Bill Cattell

    I’d be really sorry to see VMware Server go. As an IT consultant to small and medium businesses I often go to customer sites to do complex software installations, server OS upgrades, etc. Running VMware Server at home allows me plan out the strategy to be used for a given project or plan.

    Having it on my laptop allows me to give more in-depth demos of network and software solutions involving web and email servers amongst others.

    Because of VMware Server’s technology it allows me maximum flexibility and minimum cost. Always a good thing in these days of cut-backs and penny pinching.

  14. xrvjorn

    A couple of use cases where VMWare Server does the job and ESXi doesn’t:

    Use case 1: I’ve set up a server for a freight company. All servers are virtualized. One of them runs a VDO-Siemens software that requires a USB copy protection dongle. If the VM doesn’t find the USB, the VDO software doesn’t run. Clear cut and simple.

    Replacing VMWare Server with VMWare Player and have some office clerk login and start all the VMs manually (and hoping that he/she gets it right) is of course begging for trouble.

    Use case 2: I’m copying VMs from a server running VMWare Server to a workstation running VMWare Workstation, fiddling with the machines, and then copying them back to the server again. It takes about 10 minutes/copy on a 1 Gb LAN. If the server runs ESXi, I need to use VMWare Converter, which takes TWO HOURS for the same operation!

  15. Christian Mohn

    Angel Lafuente has it covered his/her comment.

    VMware Server really comes through in those cases where you want to prove the point of virtualization to SMB clients. Most of those clients won’t have servers available, that are on the VMware HCL list, to get their toes wet with virtualization. Personally I’ve set up VMware Server for quite a few SMB clients, which later has turned into full fledged ESX installs over time.

    Abandoning the VMware Server product, would in my (not so humble) opinion be a very bad move by VMware, as I suspect that VMware doesn’t realize how much it helps the sales of vSphere licenses down the line. Sure, VMware Player and ESXi are in some cases just as valid install candidates, but Player doesn’t have a web interface and ESXi can be a pain to install on whiteboxes/unsupported hardware.

    VMware Server installs on everything, and just works well out of the box. It has a definitive place in the virtualization eco-system, and if it is abandoned I’m sure a lot of SMB clients will take a harder look at Hyper-V instead, as it installs on the Windows platform most SMB administrators are accustomed too. Don’t underestimate the power of familiarity.

  16. Christian Mohn

    There is another possibility here as well, VMware might just have something up their sleeve that we just don’t know about yet?

  17. Richard

    I use VMware Server at home currently with Windows guests on Linux, and am planning to do the same on Windows with Linux guests. I would really miss VMware Server if it’s cancelled… I do need sound support and to run other things on the system, so ESXi wouldn’t work, and I quite like the way I can script commands to control the VMs.

  18. Guest1218

    C’mon, what about Fakeraid, domain controller, shared disk space and firewalling u get with Ubuntu and Samba as a host for vm machines for a tiny office ?

    It’s a very bad move from vmWare that will frustrate many users, but they are too big to care.Hopefully a competitor will use that open door and hurt them in 5 years….

  19. heather

    Player does not have the features I need and I will not manage my virtual machines from a Windows Client. Period. Here it is, the end of the year and I haven’t seen anything from VMware. Im now looking into Virtualbox. Its the new VMware from what I hear at the office

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