Supporting Your VMware Environment for Free

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NOTE: This post only deals with Free products, a full post on my preferred tools for VMware management will be uploaded soon.

One of the (many) major virtues of VMware virtualisation is the myriad of APIs that VMware issue as part of their product set, other companies we could mention are not always so keen to give away programming interfaces into their software when there is an opportunity for creating a monopoly around control of the environment as well as running it.  One of the bi-products of this well maintained API model is there are lots of vendors producing add-ons, tools, monitoring software and other pieces of software that compliment your VMware environment.  This competition between the vendors has lead to a two-tier product release from most of them – with them producing Free versions of the software as loss leaders into the commercial product.  If you know the tools and how to get them you can get a pretty good end-to-end service to support, monitor and maintain your VMware environment without spending a penny.  This guide gives some advice on how to get hold of some of the best tools without breaking the bank.

Hypervisors

We will start with the best free items – the Hypervisors.  Vmware offers two free hypervisor products, one Type 1 or ‘bare metal’ and one Type 2 or ‘Host Based’.

VMware Server is similar to Microsoft Virtual Server and is the Type 2 offering it offers a test bed over the top of your own OS – hopefully as you are reading this you will be aware of the product

ESXi is the best free product in this list, but there are some caveats to its use which are listed here.  VMware lifted a lot of restrictions in version 4, but you are still limited to using your licence key on up to 80 Physical Hosts (which is a huge amount).  Other restrictions lie in the fact that VMware prevent some vendors making their products available for the free version of ESX.

Assessment/Analysis Tools

Assessment and Analysis tools are fairly crucial in Virtual Migration exercises but there are rarely any free tools.  There are however, plenty of organisations that will perform assessments as a pre-cursor to you buying their other products.  One of note is Lanamark vReady.

Conversion Tools

Converting machines from Physical to Virtual (P2V), Image to Virtual (I2V) and Virtual to Virtual (V2V) are all essential activities when migrating a physical estate into a virtual one.  There are several good free tools available for this.

VMware Converter is one of the best known and most used, it is on the whole very reliable and supports a large number of source formats such as Convert other virtual machine formats such as Microsoft Virtual PC, Microsoft Virtual Server and backup images of physical machines such as Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery or Norton Ghost.  It can be downloaded here.

Vizioncore vConverter SC is the Free Version of Vizioncore vConverter.  The SC stands for ‘Server Consolidation’.  vConverter is a more generic product than VMware converter and supports Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix Xen and VMware as target hosts and boasts conversion without the need to reboot.  Full list of features is available here.

Backup and Replication Tools

There are few free tools available in this space that offer sufficient functionality to not have to buy a full product, but there are a number of tools offering a reduced set of functions that are useful.

Veeam FastSCP is a file copy tool that allows copying of large files between ESX hosts or from ESX to Windows or from Windows to ESX.  It is a very efficient tool for moving large files and can be used as a backup mechanism if used correctly (albeit with a much reduced feature set).

Trilead VM Explorer Free Edition is a limited version of the software supporting up to 5 hosts with a few limitations.  Trilead are not renowned for being a large company but I have used this software effectively a number of times for backup and restore of VMs and have never had too much trouble.

Management and Monitoring Tools

There are few free tools available in this space that offer sufficient functionality to not have to buy

VMware vSphere Management Assistant (vMA) is a now ciritical virtual appliance for any large installation, especially when running ESXi, the VMA provides a ready-built remote CLI for administering VMware Hosts.

Vizioncore vOptimizer WasteFinder is the free component of Vizioncore vOptimizer Pro, Wastefinder connects to a vSphere environment and identifies wasted storage and misaligned ESX servers.  As storage alignment is always the best way to speed up an ESX host – this is an essential tool that I personally always run after setting up a new environment.  Details on how and why can be seen at the following VMware Whitepaper

Veeam Monitor Free Edition is the free version of Veeam Monitor.  Monitor integrates with the Business View product from Veeam and also provides limited Storage Monitoring, Performance Monitoring, Hardware Monitoring, Capacity Planning and limited Alerting.  The full version also provides Performance history, Full storage monitoring capabilities, Trend analysis and capacity planning with scheduled reporting and allows Drill-down into a VM, ESX and vCenter for Windows and Linux process monitoring and management, Unlimited alarms and alarm modelling.

Veeam Business View is one of the more advance free tools out there and fills in an often missed correlation between business activity and function and virtualisation.

Veeam Root Access is more of a utility than a tool, but it allows for remote configuration of root access on ESX hosts.  As part of a more robust security standard root access should ideally be controlled in Virtual environments and this utility helps.

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