If you have a powerful host computer with multiple virtual machines at your home or office, you can simply share those VMs via the network with others. Instead of copying and migrating virtual machines to different computers or access them via the standard RDP protocol over the network, we can leverage the built-in VMware virtual machine share feature.
This guide shows how to enable VMware workstation server and share virtual machines from the host computer which is Windows 10 in this case. Then other users can access them from remote workstations through the network. Virtual machine sharing in VMware workstation is called ‘Shared VMs’ and it is a built-in feature without additional installations.
Also, once we enable this feature and share a VM, the VMware Workstation called as ‘VMware Workstation Server’. You can create multiple users and assign different access levels for shared VMs. According to VMware, up to 100 remote users can connect to a single shared virtual machine at a time. It is really a great feature when it comes to production or testing environment.
The process involves two major steps:
- Enable VMware server on Worskatation – This is a one-time initial setup
- Share the particular VM
Step1: Enable VMware Workstation Server
Where ever you are having the VMware workstation either on Windows, Linux or macOS, we must enable the server feature. It has a few initial configurations.
1) Launch the VMWare workstation program.
2) Click on ‘Edit’ and ‘Preferences’ from the menu.
3) In the ‘Shared VMs’ field, mostly you will see the below screen. It indicates that the server (VM share) feature is not enabled yet.
4) You must have administrative privilege on the Windows 10 computer to proceed further. Click on ‘Change Settings’ and ‘Enable Sharing’ as shown below.
Unfortunately, I got the below error. You may not get this error most of the time.
Here is the Error: Failed to configure the Workstation Server
While enabling the VMware workstation share feature, I got the below error.
Basically, there is a Windows service called ‘VMware Workstation Server’. It should be running to make this setup work. Even though it was set as ‘Automatic’ service to start, but it was not running in my case.
If it is not running, we can manually start the service. But if you get the above “Failed to configure the Workstation Server” error message, I’m sure even the particular Windows service can’t be started normally. As you can see, when I tried to start the service, it gave me below error message.
After several attempts, I found out that Antivirus of the computer causing this service start issue. Here are the steps you can follow step by step.
- Change the HTTPS port to another random port number.
- Update the VMware workstation to the latest version.
- If you already have the latest version, repair the installation from the control panel. You need to restart the computer to take effect.
- If the above steps do not help, disable the Antivirus of your Windows 10 computer. I had to disable my BitDefender protection to make it work. After disabling the AV, we need to repair/reinstall VMware workstation again.
Once the VMware Workstation Server service started and enabled successfully, we can proceed to the next step to share the virtual machines.
Things to Know
- The particular virtual machine should be powered off while sharing.
- There is a ‘Shared VMs location’ on the host computer which will keep all files and folders of shared VMs.
Make sure the above location has enough disk space. Because when we share a VM, its all files will be moved to this location.
- We can share the VMs in two ways.
a) Move the original Virtual Machine (Sharing the original VM). In this case, the particular machine will be moved to shared VMs location. You will not have a base/original copy of VM.
b) Make a full clone of VM and share it. In this case, the system will create a full clone, move the cloned VM to the shared location and share it with others. This could be the safest way if you need to keep a copy of the original VM. As you are aware, once it is shared and others started accessing over the network, many things will change inside the guest OS.
- If a virtual machine has linked clones, we can’t move the VM and share it directly. We can only share by creating the full clone.
More useful and important information about sharing virtual machines in VMware workstation is available here at the official site.
How to Share a Virtual Machine in VMware Workstation
1) Make sure that the virtual machine sharing is enabled and running properly. By default, this option works through 443 (https) port, so your computer firewall or any other firewall/anti-virus programs should allow incoming https (443) port traffic. If you have changed this port during the configuration, make sure proper network/firewall exception given to that port number.
2) Right-click on the virtual machine you would like to share and select Share under Manage option as shown below.
3) Next option is to select whether you like full or clone move, select the appropriate option.
In this example, I moved an entire VM without cloning, and it consumed around 8GB disk space for all files.
Once VM is shared, it will be listed under ‘Shared VMs’ as shown below. Also, one more new view will appear right side of the screen to show the command tasks initiated by remote users (Similar to vSphere hypervisors).
4) We can manage the permissions of the shared virtual machines under ‘Permissions’ (Right Click on Shared VM –> Manage –> Permissions). There are few pre-made permission Roles available to assign users. The local (or domain) Windows users or groups can be added to users list from the host computer where VMware workstation is running.
By default, the users in Administrators group of the local computer has full permission for shared VMs.
Basically, that is the main requirement from VMware workstation which is hosting shared virtual machines.
Access Shared VMs from Remote VMware Workstation
In this example, I will be accessing the shared VM from another laptop which is having VMware workstation that is connected to the network.
5) Make sure that the network connectivity is available between the host (which is having shared VMs) and the remote computer (from where you are trying to access shared VM). Ping network command is handy in this case.
6) On the remote workstation, select ‘Connect to Server’ as shown below.
7) Type the IP address or hostname (if it can be resolved) and user name with the password of the target host. I have typed my Windows user name and password of the host computer which is having shared VMs.
If the network communication, VM sharing setup and firewall configurations are done properly, you will get a prompt to accept/ignore the certificate message. You have the option to remember the user name/password in the next screen.
8) Once the authentication is succeeded, you can see the shared VMs under the new tab with the host’s IP or PC name. The main screen will give basic information about the available physical recourses of the host computer. It will be easy to understand the available (or free) hardware resources before powering on any VMs because the virtual machine will be running from the original host, not from the remote host.
Depending on the permissions and access levels, you can play around with the shared VMs from the remote computer.
I hope this guide would have given some basic information about how to share virtual machines in VMware workstation server on Windows 10 computer and access it remotely. The similar steps should be applicable if you are performing the same steps from Linux or macOS computers.