10 free tools to help with your virtualization environment

You don't always have to pay an arm and a leg to perform day-to-day tasks as a virtualization administrator. Check out these free tool offerings that VMware vExperts and virtualization administrators are using in their environments.

Good news in today's economic crisis: It doesn't take a large budget to stock your virtualization administrator tool belt with the proper utilities needed to arm yourself.  Sure, there are plenty of solutions and applications out there that cost money and do a fantastic job of helping you with your virtual environment; but not everything has to hit you square in the wallet.  There are quite a few free tools out there that can help you with your day-to-day job functions.

[ VMware finally announced a list of new features with VMware vSphere 4 | Read InfoWorld's full coverage of the VMware vSphere announcement. ]

Personally, I've always been a fan of free software tools that can help me do my job more efficiently.  And before the USB stick came along, I would carry these tools around with me on CD-ROM.  (No, I won't admit to using floppy disks, let's just leave it at CD-ROM, shall we?)

In order to find out what other VI admins are using in the wild, I spoke with a few recently named VMware vExperts to see what free tools made it into their utility belts.  I was lucky enough to catch up with folks like Rich Brambley, owner and author of the virtualization blog site VM/ETC, and Stephen Beaver and Jason McCarty, my co-authors of "VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center."

When I asked Brambley about using free tools as a virtual administrator, he laughed and said of course he does.  "If there are free tools that can help me with necessary VI admin and monitoring, why wouldn't I keep them in my toolbox?  Why wouldn't I introduce them to clients?"

He added, "Sure, there are drawbacks in lack of support and slower development cycles, but they often perform one task really well and that is usually all that is needed.  And that one task is usually a necessary function that is needed on a regular basis."

So what free tools do these VMware vExperts carry with them?  Tools like:

  1. mRemote -- This is a free, multitabbed, multifolder, remote desktop utility and connection manager.  It can be used to organize your personal or your client's virtual machine desktop connections.  It currently supports the following protocols: Remote Desktop (RDP), Virtual Network Computing (VNC), Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), Secure Shell (SSH), Telnet, along with a few others.  http://www.mremote.org/wiki/
  2. BGInfo -- Ever needed to click and jump through a number of different screens just to find out the important aspects of a machine's configuration?  Keeping track of this information with so many virtual machines can become a major chore.  BGInfo puts the vital server information on the desktops so that you always know which VM is which.   http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897557.aspx
  3. ESX Healthcheck Script -- This script automatically creates documentation for ESX hosts using HTML output that can be easily mailed to you.  Brambley says, "Don't let the name confuse you, this is a tool that documents the hardware configuration of VMware ESX hosts.  I use it for quick documentation deliverables." http://sourceforge.net/projects/esxhealthscript/
  4. Imgburn -- Virtual machines have virtual CD-ROMS, and they also allow the convenience of working with ISO copies of CDs.  You can use this tool to easily copy CDs and DVDs to the ISO format, build ISOs from files and folders, and also burn ISO images to CDs and DVDs. http://www.imgburn.com/
  5. Veeam FastSCP -- FastSCP provides a fast and secure way to manage files and bulk copy VMs across your VMware ESX environment.  A few of the vExperts said they originally used a different tool to perform this function called WinSCP.  Brambley said that FastSCP won him over because it could connect to multiple VMware ESX and ESXi hosts and transfer files between them all from one single interface.  Veeam also claims a performance boost of transfer speed when using FastSCP as well. http://www.veeam.com/vmware-esxi-fastscp.html
  6. Trilead VM Explorer -- VM Explorer is a management tool designed to ease management, backup, and disaster recovery tasks in a virtual environment.  Free for connecting to up to five devices, VM Explorer lets you manage ESX VMs without the need for VMware vCenter, can connect to Linux hosts running VMware Server, and includes an SSH-compatible terminal client so you can remotely connect to Linux or FreeBSD servers as well as the VMware ESX service console. http://www.trilead.com/VM_Explorer/
  7. Putty -- Putty is used for basic, remote SSH to the VMware ESX service console and Linux hosts.  Even with all other alternative tools on the market that enable SSH and Telnet protocols, this one still seems to stand out and remains a favorite with VI administrators.  http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/
  8. ConfigCheck -- This tool is used to assess the security of your VI3 environment configuration as compared to VMware's VI3 Security Hardening guidelines.  It provides an easy way to discover possible vulnerabilities in the virtual environment early on in the process.  http://www.tripwire.com/configcheck/
  9. WinMD5Sum -- Have you ever downloaded a software application or a virtual appliance and wasted a ton of time troubleshooting a problem only to discover that you had a corrupt or bad download in the first place?  It's a good practice to always start clean with verifying the download with MD5Sum where possible.  http://www.nullriver.com/products/winmd5sum
  10. VMware Converter -- Still running physical machines?  Well if you want to move them over to a VMware virtual machine, you can use VMware Converter to perform a quick and reliable physical-to-virtual migration.  And thank goodness the tool has been refined along the way to make this process as painless as possible.  http://www.vmware.com/products/converter/

Quite a list!  And that's only 10 of the most common free tools that many of these virtualization administrators leverage in their virtual environments.  What about you?  Care to share your list of free tools to help out other virtual admins?