Opinion: VMware's install-everywhere routine frustrates users

Just because VMware installs on your whitebox system doesn't mean it will keep working

There are many posts on VMware Communities about VMware ESXi or VMware ESX running on a variety of nonstandard or noncertified hardware. The posts often focus on whether the VMware software will run on a particular setup.

Whitebox installs of VMware ESXi have risen to extremely high levels, especially since VMware made it available as a free download. But only a finite number of motherboards, Ethernet adapters and storage adapters will work with the software.

The golden rule has always been that if you want hardware that VMware will support, choose it from the VMware Hardware Compatibility lists (HCLs). VMware considers the HCLs to be so important that they are the first four documents found in support documentation about the company's products.

VMware is right that hardware selection is important. Whitebox installs of VMware ESX or ESXi do work, generally. But if the hardware is not listed on one of the HCLs, even hardware that does work initially is not guaranteed to keep working.

Major components aren't the only issue, either. Sub-systems have to be supported as well. Picking hardware that does not contain supported storage controllers, for example, is a good way to frustrate yourself and turn your virtualization server nonfunctional.

VMware could address this situation by fixing it so that VMware simply wouldn't install if it found an issue with one of the sub-systems. If the host server were running an unsupported storage adapter, for example, the installer should stop. Admins should be able to override the block if they want to use a valid revision that the installer doesn't know about. But the install process should at least point out that the underlying hardware is unsupported and that the software won't function.

This lack of warning gives people the feeling that everything will work which, with a whitebox system, is often not the case.

If VMware wants VMware ESX or VMware ESXi to be ubiquitous, then it must support everything out there. But that's not VMware's goal, or at least hasn't been its pattern until now.

If it won't run on everything, however, it shouldn't install on hardware that's not supported and on which it won't keep functioning. Such false installs just lead to frustrated administrators.

Virtualization expert Edward L. Haletky is the author of VMware ESX Server in the Enterprise: Planning and Securing Virtualization Servers, Pearson Education (2008.) He recently left Hewlett-Packard, where he worked in the virtualization, Linux and high-performance technical computing teams. Haletky owns AstroArch Consulting, providing virtualization, security and network consulting and development. Haletky is also a champion and moderator for the VMware discussion forums, providing answers to security and configuration questions.

This story, "Opinion: VMware's install-everywhere routine frustrates users" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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