Managing VMware Workstation VMS Remotely with WSX


Traditionally, if you wanted to access your VMware Workstation virtual machines remotely, you would do it with RDP (for Windows VMs) or VNC (which works for all Workstation VMs). However, neither of those would give you remote power controls for the virtual machines. Thus, if a VM was powered off you couldn’t access it. Additionally, the VMs must be connected to the network to manage them remotely (not on a private network or behind NAT). If you did want power controls for the virtual machines, you could connect to the Workstation host computer using RDP (assuming it’s running Windows) or a tool like to gain that access. Still, none of these solutions are ideal and, for that reason, VMware has recently released their new WSX – a HTML5 browser-based GUI for Workstation 9 virtual machines and ESXi hosts.

Introduction to VMware WSX

The new WSX is a free solution but it does require that you are running VMware Workstation, version 9 on your computer. Workstation 9 and WSX are compatible with both Windows and Linux host operating systems. WSX is small and an easy installation that very quickly gives you a great web-based graphical interface for your Workstation VMs – allowing you to control their power (power on / off / resume) and access the virtual machine control of each. Thus, you don’t need RDP, the OS doesn’t have to be installed, and the VM doesn’t need network access. WSX is not a full replacement for the Workstation GUI as WSX only provides the controls mentioned, not the ability to create new VMs or edit the virtual hardware configurations of your VMs, for example.

I was initially surprised when I first tried WSX that with WSX you gain remote power controls and console access to virtual machines that are running on VMware vSphere / ESXi hosts. Those VMs aren’t running on Workstation and they aren’t running on the host operating system that is running WSX. Thus, WSX can give you remote control of your ESXi VMs – at no cost, through a web interface, as long as you are using Workstation.

Downloading WSX

To download VMware WSX, you’ll need a free VMware account as you’ll have to login. If you don’t have one, they are easy (and free) to create. You can download WSX from the same place that you downloaded VMware Workstation so it’s easy to find. While WSX doesn’t have a license, it requires that you are running VMware Workstation (which does have a license). If you don’t already have VMware Workstation 9 running, you can download it and use it at no cost for 30 days at the “Try Workstation” website.

VMware WSX is available in a Windows installer, Linux 32 bit, and Linux 64 bit.

Figure 1:
Downloading VMware WSX

I downloaded the Windows version of WSX (which is both 32 and 64 bit compatible).

Installing WSX

Once I downloaded the ~10MB VMware WSX, I was ready to install.

Figure 2:
VMware WSX Ready for Install

Upon executing WSX, the installer began.

Figure 3:
WSX Installer

From here, I went through the installation process, taking all the defaults. Initally, I accepted the end user license agreement.

Figure 4:
Accepting WSX EULA

Next, I accepted the default for the WSX port number to connect to WSX. That port number is 8888. Thus, to connect to the WSX web interface (based on the default port number), you would connect to http://localhost:8888 but only if you were using your web browser on the local computer (running WSX). If you were across the LAN, you would have to know the IP address or hostname of the computer that is running Workstation and WSX.

Figure 5:
Default WSX Port Number

Next, I clicked Install to begin the WSX installation.

Figure 6:
Beginning WSX Installation

As WSX is such a small installation, it only took a couple of minutes to install.

When the install is completed, you’ll see the message

Figure 7:
WSX Installation is Complete

From here, you’re ready to start administering your Workstation WSX.

Managing VMware vSphere with WSX

When you first point your local web browser to http://localhost:8888, you’ll be prompted for a username and password. That username and password is going to be the username and password that you installed WSX under (or I believe that any administrative user name and password will work).

Figure 8:
Logging into WSX

Once logged into WSX, you’ll see a sort of virtual machine library on the left. However, by default you may not have any VMs.

Figure 9:
Welcome to WSX

You’ll see the Shared VMs option (which would be for local VMs in Workstation). What I very quickly found out is that you can Add Server. What’s that mean? What kind of server? I was wondering the same thing until I clicked on it and found out that WSX can manage VMware vSphere / ESXi host virtual machines – either standalone or as managed by VMware vCenter.

In this case, I’m going to connect to an ESXi host (not vCenter). To connect WSX to an ESXi host, click Add a server and enter the hostname of your ESXi server, as you see in the graphic below.

Figure 10:
Adding a Server to WSX

Next you’ll be prompted to provide credentials to access the ESXi host (likely your root username and password).

Figure 11:
Logging into the ESXi Host

From there, you’ll see the VMs running on the ESXi host.

Figure 12:
VMs Running on ESXi, Seen Through WSX

You can now access the console of each VM and control its power.

Figure 13:
Console Access to VM Running in ESXi

As you can see, I can access the VM’s console, I see its CPU and memory configuration, and I can power it off or suspend it.

Managing VMware Workstation VMs with WSX

To access VMs running in Workstation, just as we did with the ESXi host, you’ll first have to use the Workstation option to Share the VM. This is easy to do. Simply drag and drop the VM to the Shared VMs folder in the Workstation inventory tree. When you do so, this will automatically bring up the Share a Virtual Machine Wizard.

Figure 14:
Sharing a Virtual Machine

From here, you’ll just need to answer a few basic questions.

You’ll have to specify 1) what you want the name of the VM to be once it is shared and 2) if you want the VM to be moved or copied to the share area. You can take the defaults (to move the VM), as I did, without hurting anything.

Figure 15:
Sharing a VM – Transfer Type

When the sharing is completed, you should see the results in Figure 16, where the VM is now in the shared folder.

Figure 16:
Sharing a VM Results

With the VM successfully shared, you should now be able to access it using WSX.

If we go back to the WSX web interface and you click on Shared VMs (localhost), you should now see your shared VMs (I shared a few more VMs than just one for demonstration purposes).

Figure 17:
Workstation Shared VMs Through WSX

If you click on any of the VMs, you should see the same interface we saw when we remotely accessed our ESXi server VMs.

Figure 18:
Accessing a Shared VM Through WSX

In figure 18 above, you see me remotely accessing the Windows Server 2012 VM that we shared.

For more information on WSX, see the VMware Workstation WSX Community.

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