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Running Ubuntu in VMWare

VMWare is a leading (if not the leading) virtualization solution. Unfortunately, it is also proprietary software, which means that distributions tend not to care too much about it (and in my opinion, rightfully so!).

My employer is one such company that uses VMWare, and it recently instituted a policy that all VMs must have VMWare Tools installed on them, which causes a number of problems for Linux sysadmins, such as myself.

  1. VMWare Tools is not Free software
  2. VMWare Tools is a pain to acquire: it’s not packaged in any distribution (due to the non-Free nature), finding it on VMWare’s site is a serious pain, and the version that VMWare server includes seems to be perpetually out of date.
  3. Installing VMWare Tools is not a fun experience. The installer requires you to figure out how to get the kernel sources, then compiles and installs some kernel modules, and throws a bunch of proprietary binaries all over your file system. Also, depending on what kernel you’re using, the modules may not compile at all, in which case you have to hunt down patches.
  4. Installing VMWare Tools on a bunch of servers is an even bigger annoyance, because there’s no real automated way to do it.

The solution to all of these problems is the open-vm-tools project. It’s packaged in Debian and Ubuntu, and by all means, should Just Work.

Here’s when things get really interesting. Open-vm-tools really does Just Work – if the packaging is done correctly. As it stands right now, the packaging just copies the kernel module sources, and you are expected to figure out how to compile and install them, and do so each time you change kernels. Thanks to DKMS, this could be done automatically.

In Ubuntu bug #277556, that’s exactly how it’s done. I’ve been using the PPA referenced in that bug on 5 servers for about 4 months now, and it works great. Installation? As simple as apt-get install open-vm-tools! Upgrade your kernel? Open-vm-tools recompiles automatically.

So for you all you Debian/Ubuntu users who run VMs on VMWare, take a look at this bug, and you should save yourself some serious time and effort.

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The Running Ubuntu in VMWare by Craig Andrews, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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  1. Steve Michael
    June 7th, 2010 at 14:01 | #1
    Thanks for posting this. I am trying to look into Ubuntu 10 with VmWare ESX and had a similar problem of supported kernels. Just a question though. Does DKMS automatically run when I would get a new kernel? So lets say I install the tools and then I upgrade the kernel from Ubuntu; will I need to do anything with the tools or this DKMS system?
    • July 26th, 2010 at 15:11 | #2
      That’s the big advantage of DKMS – it gets automatically run whenever you install a new kernel. That’s the reason why I pushed so hard for a DKMS-packaging of open-vm-tools.
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