Jumping into VM’s and Whats the difference between ESXi and VM Workstation

I’ve been wanting to get into VM’s for awhile no but really didn’t have a use and when I don’t have a use, I usually don’t have time. Since I want to start to play with security/hacking software, I now have my use. Looking at many of the walkthroughs for some of the security classes, they want you to try things on Kali linux, linux and windows, so lets setup a couple VM.

My first thought was LETS BUILD A LAB! Since i’d like multiple OS’s and one maybe the attacker and other the attacked, I’d go for 2 VM machines. (2 refurbed i5’s from Frys with 16 gig of ram added and a 1 TB drive to replace the current Win10 drive) Even though these are VM’s, I’d still like to see what’s going on with them at all times, so lets add a monitor to each of them. I have a couple machines already setup in the house, so the only place I could add the extra 2 machines and be connected to the wired network was to add them with an existing desktop I had running. Which make you end up with something like 2×2 monitors, as shown in the image, with a KVM to control the mouse and keyboard.

Looking up VMware, I noticed there were a couple options, VM Workstation or Player which runs as a program on your existing OS or ESXi that is more or less the OS. This decision took a lot longer than it should have because my first instinct is that it would take alot more resources to have windows or linux as your OS and then run the VM software and then have vm’s of linux and windows. While my instincts were/are correct, the more I read, the more I found people saying that ESXi is only for server grade hardware and it probably wouldn’t work. But in contrast I also found others that say the run ESXi on workstation hardware.. What to do… I guess we find out for ourselves.

My machine was ready, I booted from the usb with ESXi on it and all seemed fine, until I received an error that these machines either could not do virtualization or it wasn’t turned on in the BIOS. Luckly a 5 minute search and I was changing a setting in the BIOS and off to finish the install. Here where I ran into a small problem, lets look at the image again, my thought was to have the top left monitor VM machine 1, top right VM machine 2 and the 2 bottom monitors are my regular machine. After installing ESXi, all I saw on the screen was a message about connecting to this machine with a browser at this address. Through all my reading, you learn that ESXi is a type 1 hypervisor, which means it’s installs on a blank machine and is it’s own OS and workstation/player is a type 2 and installs over another OS, what they don’t tell you is ESXi is made to be sitting in a server room somewhere and isn’t made to have it’s own monitor, t\so the machine itself shows nothing… there goes my plans.

Lets rethink this, If I still want to show the VM machines on their own separate monitors, how can I do this? Luckily my main machine (the 2 bottom monitors) has a Nvidia 1080 ti in it, which I can connect 4 monitors to, this means I can still drag the VM to the monitor of my choice and still see what’s going on, better yet I can see on 2 monitors, 2 different OS’s from the same machine. I can also now move the host machines somewhere else and they don’t have to be within reach of the monitors or KVM switch. Win Win!

Just to go a bit further, I installed VM tools on each OS (Kali, Ubuntu and Windows 10) I also setup a backup schedule using Veeam, this way if I destroy the VM some how, I can just bring it back up (yes i’m also using snapshots)

TLDR: While ESXi runs as it’s own OS and may take less resources, it is made to run in a data center so it doesn’t use a monitor and shows nothing on the host machine (it does show some settings and logs, but not the VM you’re using) This worked great for me but Your Mileage May Very.