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VMware Tests Major Update to Virtual Workstation Package

Over the holidays, VMware began beta testing Workstation 5, the latest update to the company’s five-year-old desktop virtualization platform.

Besides the usual improved performance and interface features expected in any major product update, Workstation 5 adds a new “teams” capability that lets administrators tie together groups (“teams”) of virtual machines and manage them as a single unit. The update also features an improved “snapshots” capability, experimental support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 beta and SuSE 9, and a utility that translates Microsoft Virtual PC virtual machines for use in Workstation 5.

VMware Workstation enables a user to concurrently run more than one desktop operating system and its applications on the same hardware, with each system and app appearing to have the exclusive use of the underlying hardware. The product’s aim is to streamline software testing, deployment and management for systems administrators and developers.

The new “teams” feature provides sophisticated capabilities for system managers. For instance, a team of desktop computers could be powered on or off at the same time by a single mouse click. In a different usage scenario, they might need to be started in stages so as not to overload network servers. Computers in different tiers of an application’s infrastructure could even be started in a programmably-staggered fashion in order to assure proper performance from, say, a large database.

Alternately, a software development lead might simulate an entire real-world testing environment using the teams capability. The virtual machines in a team can communicate with each other via what VMware terms “LAN segments,” which remain invisible except to VMs in that team.

Additionally, the improved “snapshots” capability has been expanded to let users take an unlimited number of snapshots of virtual machines, simplifying the process of changing among multiple configurations and aiding in software testing and debugging. The virtual machine converter, called VMware V2V Assistant, is available as a separately downloadable file.

Version 5 also features support for isochronous USB input devices like microphones and web cams, as well as for output devices like speakers or headphones. A new “movie” capability lets administrators record all activity in a VM as an .AVI file.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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