What is VM tools in VMware?

VMware virtual machines (VMs) require additional software inside the guest operating system to improve performance and usability. This software is known as VMware Tools. Installing VMware Tools is highly recommended to enable various functionality and optimize the virtual machine.

What is VM tools in VMware?

Overview of VMware Tools

VMware Tools refers to a suite of utilities and drivers installed within the guest operating system of a VMware virtual machine. VMware Tools improves performance, management, and usability of VMs by enhancing the communication between the virtual hardware and guest OS.

Key capabilities provided by VMware Tools include:

  • Optimized virtual graphics – Allows the VM to leverage GPU hardware for acceleration. Enables high-resolution graphics, full-screen mode, and multi-monitor support.
  • Drag and drop – Allows dragging and dropping files between host and guest OS using the VMware vSphere Client.
  • Copy and paste – Allows copying and pasting text, images, and files between host and guest OS.
  • Synchronized time – Keeps the clock and time consistent between guest OS and host.
  • Thin provisioning tools – Supports thin provisioning to overcommit storage capacity.
  • Memory optimization – Improves memory management between virtual machine and host.
  • Scripting and automation – Enables CLI tools and scripts to automate VMware products.

Overall, installing VMware Tools provides a richer, more optimized user experience and enables tighter integration between the virtual hardware and operating system.

Why Install VMware Tools?

There are several key benefits to installing the latest version of VMware Tools in your virtual machines:

  • Enhanced performance – VMware Tools installs drivers that optimize and improve I/O, graphics rendering, memory usage, synchronization, and more to provide a performance boost.
  • Added functionality – Unlocks additional features like cloning, snapshots, drag and drop, copy/paste between host and guest, using the VM console, automated scripts, and more.
  • Improved management – Allows recording detailed metrics and health data for monitoring, troubleshooting, and managing the VM more effectively.
  • Increased security – VMware Tools has components that enhance security, improve patching, log events, and enable integration with security products.
  • Better availability – Having the latest VMware Tools aids with automated failovers, disaster recovery capabilities, and maintaining uptime.

Neglecting to install VMware Tools disables access to better performance, critical features, and heightened security – leading to a poor experience. That’s why VMware strongly recommends deploying VMware Tools.

How Does VMware Tools Work?

VMware Tools is a suite of utilities and drivers that gets installed directly inside the guest operating system running on top of VMware virtualization products like vSphere ESXi or Workstation Pro.

It works by establishing a high-performance communication channel between the virtualization layer and the guest OS using a virtual device driver. This allows various forms of integration and sharing of resources between the host and guest:

[Diagram showing communication between VMware Tools drivers, providers, and end user applications]

Some key components of how VMware Tools works:

  • VMBus Driver – The Virtual Machine Bus driver provides an interface for high-speed data transfer between host and guest.
  • Filesystem Drivers – Enable dragging and dropping files bi-directionally between host and guest.
  • VMMEMCTL Driver – The VM Memory Control driver contributes to managing memory utilization between host and guest.
  • VMci Driver – Allows inter-VM communication for clustering.
  • Providers – Offers additional services like time synchronization, heart beating, guest state information, scripting.
  • End User Apps – Applications inside guest OS to enable functionality like cloning, backup, console access.

This integration and communication channel is what unlocks many of the automation, management, and visibility benefits of VMware Tools.

What’s Included in VMware Tools?

VMware Tools is a suite of components that provides drivers, programs, scripts, and management agents to enhance the functionality of VMs on VMware platforms.

Key elements bundled in VMware Tools include:

Drivers

  • VMCI Driver – Virtual Machine Communication Interface for intra-VM communication.
  • VMXNET Network Driver – High performance network driver.
  • PVSCSI Driver – ParaVirtual SCSI driver for storage ops.
  • VMware Mouse Driver – Enables seamless mouse pointer integration.

Utilities

  • VMware User Process – Provides base functionality and acts as a client for other services.
  • File daemon – Handles file transfers between host and guest OS.
  • Time synchronization – Keeps system time accurately synchronized between guest and host.

Management Plugins

  • VMware Tools Service – Installs and updates VMware Tools components
  • Scripting Plugins – Implements CLI tools for task automation
  • VMware Tools Control Plugins – Allows stopping, starting, configuring VMware Tools

Guest Applications

  • vSphere Client Tools – Enables vSphere console access, powers on, inserts CDs.
  • VMware Tools UI – Graphical user interface to manage VMware Tools capabilities

So in summary – drivers establish communication channels, utilities enable features like copy/paste or time sync, management plugins provide automation and control, while applications unlock functionality for end users.

Installing and Upgrading VMware Tools

VMware recommends installing VMware Tools to enable guest OS optimization and take advantage of tighter integration capabilities.

The high-level process for installing or upgrading VMware Tools is:

  1. Mount the VMware Tools ISO image
    • Use the vSphere client and connect the Tools disk to the VM
  2. Log in and open a terminal/command prompt on the guest OS
  3. Navigate to the VMware Tools installer directory
  4. Run the Tools install command to launch the interactive installer
    • Example: vmware-install.pl on Linux VMs
  5. Reboot the virtual machine
  6. Verify installed version of VMware Tools

Detailed step-by-step directions are available in VMware’s documentation.

When new versions of VMware Tools become available, upgrading existing VMs keeps guests optimized for the latest host configurations. This involves a similar installation routine while the previous version is automatically removed.

Guest operating systems will prompt to upgrade tools when the host is running a newer version. Staying on supported, up-to-date versions of VMware Tools is recommended for performance, stability, and features.

Optimizing Your Virtual Machine

Once VMware Tools is installed, further optimizations can enhance virtual machine performance and efficiency even more.

Some key optimization techniques include:

  • Choose supported guest OS – Use VMware’s Hardware Compatibility Guide to select a compatible, validated operating system version.
  • Allocate appropriate resources – Plan vCPU, memory, disk provisions for your workload’s needs. Monitor to right-size.
  • Keep up with VMware Tools updates – Regularly upgrade to latest for access to new capabilities.
  • Determine necessary VM services – Disable unused services using OS experience optimization guidelines.
  • Use paravirtualized devices – ParaVirtual SCSI controller and VMXNET3 NIC provide better performance.
  • Leverage flash technologies – VMware vSAN, vFRC, vVOLs allow leveraging flash speed.
  • Distribute load across hosts – Prevent resource contention through DRS clustering.

Consult VMware’s performance tuning recommendations for further optimization advice based on your VM workload and use case.

Troubleshooting VMware Tools Issues

In some situations, you may encounter issues with VMware Tools needing troubleshooting or remediation:

  • Components not running – Use service control manager to check status and start stopped services.
  • Missing functionality – Reinstall tools installer to replace any corrupt or missing components.
  • GUIs not loading – Tools graphical tools failing to load typically indicates adriver issue.
  • Outdated version detected – Upgrade to the latest supported VMware Tools release.
  • Conflicts with other software – Some OS tools like backup can conflict – uninstall.
  • Performance issues – Rule out resource contention. Remove other drivers like graphics that may overlap.

Collect any error messages reported, VMware Tools logs, screenshots of failures, OS version details, VM configuration information. These help VMware Support diagnose and pinpoint the root cause of tools issues.

Conclusion

In summary, VMware Tools is an extremely valuable suite of utilities that enables guest operating system optimization, tighter integration between host and guest, and unlocked capabilities on VMware’s virtualization platforms. Installing VMware Tools delivers a superior level of performance, management visibility, availability, and user experience.

By understanding what’s included in VMware Tools, how it establishes integration, and following best practices like staying up-to-date on releases – you can maximize the benefits across your VMware vSphere environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the benefits of VMware Tools?
    VMware Tools provides many benefits like enhanced performance, graphics, and time synchronization. It also enables features like copy/paste between host and guest. Overall it optimizes Guest OS behavior.
     
  2. Do I need VMware Tools for VMs?
    Yes, installing VMware Tools is highly recommended by VMware for all VMs running on vSphere, Workstation, and Fusion hosts in order to get optimal functionality, performance and stability.
     
  3. Is VMware Tools free?
    Yes, VMware Tools is free software included with all VMware commercial products and any supported guest operating system can install it without needing separate licensing or purchase.
     
  4. What OS versions work with VMware Tools?
    VMware Tools is supported across hundreds of guest OS versions from legacy Windows releases to the latest Linux, Solaris, Netware, Darwin and BSD editions. Consult VMware’s Compatibility Guide for the detailed supported Products and OS matrix.
     
  5. Can I upgrade VMware Tools?
    Yes, VMware recommends keeping your virtual machines’ VMware Tools version updated to match the latest host update levels in order to benefit from continued guest OS optimizations in new releases. The upgrade process is straightforward using the VMware Tools installer.
     
  6. Where is VMware Tools installed?
    VMware Tools gets installed directly inside the guest operating system of a virtual machine. The VMware host prompts the guest OS to install Tools when an OS is selected during VM creation or through alerts about incompatible versions.
     
  7. Does VMware Tools enhance security?
    Yes, VMware Tools comprises drivers that enable deeper visibility and telemetry from guests, which has security benefits. Certain features also aid with vulnerability patching, SSL certificates, authentication, role based access control policies, and integrating with security products deployed inside VMs.
     
  8. What is the VMCI driver in VMware Tools?
    VMCI stands for Virtual Machine Communication Interface. This VMware Tools driver facilitates faster communication and data transfer between virtual machines on the same host as well as between guest and host. 
  9. How do I configure VMware Tools?
    Main configuration for core VMware Tools occurs during the interactive installation process. Upon completing Tools setup, individual components and scripts can also expose additional configuration options. VMware documents the available tuning knobs and settings to customize Tools behavior further.
     
  10. Why won’t my VMware Tools install?
    Some common install failures involve insufficient disk space, guest OS version mismatch, or missing dependencies needed to proceed with running the Tools installer. Checking these prerequisites before attempting reinstallation typically resolves the roadblock. Reaching out to VMware support can also help troubleshoot.
     
  11. Can I copy VMs without VMware Tools?
    Strictly speaking yes – but VMware strongly warns against powering on copied guest machines before reinstalling VMware Tools properly from scratch. Tools configures guests specifically to its host environment so cloning without reinstalling risks OS instability, data corruption and all sorts of problems. 
  12. What’s the VMMEMCTL driver?
    The VMMEMCTL driver is a component of VMware Tools focused on optimizing memory utilization between virtual machines and the ESXi host. By improving ballooning and idle memory taxing behaviors, it increases consolidation density while maintaining performance.
     
  13. How do I remove VMware Tools?
    First power down the VM to unmount VMware Tools components currently in use. Then locate any background services related to Tools using your guest OS toolkit and stop them. Finally launch the VMware Tools uninstaller executable, choosing to remove all elements before rebooting clean sans Tools.
     
  14. Does VMware Tools work on Hyper-V or VirtualBox?
    No, VMware Tools is designed exclusively for enhancing virtual machines hosted on VMware software like ESXi, Workstation and Fusion. Alternative hypervisors have their own similar OS optimization add-ons that should be installed when running guests on platforms like Hyper-V or VirtualBox for best results. 
  15. What TCP ports does VMware Tools need?
    While most VMware Tools communication leverages the VMBus driver, if firewalls filter virtual machine traffic, enabling bidirectional access for TCP ports 80, 443, 902, and 912 allows for proper tools functionality while restricting other unused protocols.
     
  16. Can I download VMware Tools separately?
    Yes, VMware makes installers for VMware Tools available for download to match specific ESXi host patch releases. Having offline bundles available enables installing tools even when hosts have quarantined networking – or patching guest VMs before updating hosts. 
  17. Where are VMware tools logs kept?
    The VMware Tools Service records detailed event logging reflecting component statuses, warnings about misconfigurations, and error messages for issues. These get placed on Windows machines in C:\ProgramData\VMWare\VMWare Tools\logs while on Linux these reside under /var/log/vmware-imc/.
     
  18. How does vSphere Update Manager handle VMware Tools?
    vSphere administrators can utilize baselines in VUM to identify outdated VMware Tools versions across VM guests, then leverage automated remediation to safely upgrade and patch VMware Tools across an entire vSphere environment from one interface.
     
  19. Can I schedule automatic VMware Tools upgrades?
    Yes, by enabling automated actions in vCenter Server, vSphere admins can trigger both alerts about outdated VMware Tools as well as invoke automatic reinstallation procedures during pre-defined maintenance windows so VMware Tools versions remain continuously updated.
     
  20. What VMware tool helps migrate VMs?
    VMware’s vSphere vMotion functionality for live VM migration depends on up-to-date VMware Tools being installed to enable the Guest Integration Services that seamlessly shifts workloads between physical hosts with continuous connectivity.

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