For the longest time, I read about virtualization but never fully realized the benefits of that approach. Recently I did, and as such my company upgraded to a virtualization server running VMWare ESXi as the hypervisor. I have to say, I love virtualization now, and have no idea how I went without.
If you accidentally mess up those iptable rules and lock yourself out of SSH, you no longer have to call the hosting company at 2 in the morning and have them laugh at you (I swear, this never happened to me…). Instead, you open up the vSphere client and access the VM console directly (much like you would in VMWare Player, VMWare Workstation, or VirtualBox). Since it’s the same as being physically connected to the machine, it’s much harder to lock yourself out. You can even reboot into single user mode if need be – no need for a KVM switch.
You can have separate staging/prod environments easily, with no extra cost. You can create VMs just to test things and discard them when you’re done (You can do that locally of course). It makes backup & restoration far simpler.
The actual process of setting up and managing VMs couldn’t be easier either! If you’ve used VMWare workstation, the process is very similar to that (just with more cool options).
I will say this though. While the VMWare software is great, their website is not. Licensing terms are very confusing. I’ll straighten out a few things for those who may be interested.
VMWare ESXi is a bare metal hypervisor that is installed instead of an OS on your server. It supports SSH but only with a small subset of available commands. ESXi is free, but only for servers with up to 32 gb of RAM.
VMWare vSphere is the client you use to connect to your ESXi host and manage it. It’s akin to VMWare Workstation, but for servers. The vSphere client is free but only for managing 1 server. If you want to manage more from the same host you’ll need a VMWare vSphere license. To get started, I’d recommend the VMWare vSphere essentials kit. This kit gives you the ability to centrally manage up to 3 servers, and removes the limit of 32 GB of RAM. It also unlocks a few other goodies. The essentials kit is the cheapest available license and starts at $560 USD.
One more note is that if you only have 1 server and go with the free license, you’ll get a notice about being on a 60 day trial when you first connect to your ESXi host with vSphere. You need to register on the VMWare site and get a free license, and then enter the license key in your vSphere client. Yeah, not very intuitive, I know.
If you have any questions, or if anything here is wrong or has changed, please leave a comment below.