Company: Artwork Systems Nordic A/S (AWSN)
Software: VMware vSphere
Hardware: Apple Mac Pro

[William] - Hi Mads, thank you for taking some time this morning to share with the community your past experiences managing a VMware and Apple OS X environment. Before we get started, can you introduce yourself and what you currently do?

[Mads] - My name is Mads Fog Albrechtslund, and I currently work as a vSphere Consultant for Businessman A/S Denmark. The reason for my current employment, is primarily a Mac based vSphere project I did at my former employer, Artwork Systems Nordic A/S also in Denmark. Before I became a vSphere Consultant, my primary job function was as a Mac Consultant, in which I have several Apple related certifications.

[William] - Could you describe what your vSphere project was about?

[Mads] - The vSphere Project, was that of virtualizing and consolidating the infrastructure of Artwork Systems Nordic A/S (AWSN). AWSN is a reseller of hardware and software to the graphical industry, thereby running a lot of Apple systems and software that require Mac OS X underneath.

When I started at the company in early 2009, there were around 8-10 servers, and only 9 employees. Every server was just a desktop Mac or PC, running multiple services at once, trying to use the hardware at best. I started by consolidating and somewhat standardizing all these machines, into a Rack cabinet.

But I still wanted to make it better, more flexible and faster to deploy new OS'es when they are needed. I also wanted to move away from running multiple services on a single OS. I started looking into virtualization around late 2010, before VMware even made vSphere compatible with the Mac's. And we started working with a competitor of VMware, which at the time was about to release a bare-metal hypervisor that was compatible with Mac hardware.

We invested time, money and hardware in that initial project, only to around 6 month later to find out that the vendor would drop that bare-metal software again.

[William] - Ouch! I guess that is one of the risks when working with a new company/startup. So what did you end up doing after the company dropped support for bare-metal support?

[Mads] - So when VMware release vSphere 5.0 which was compatible with Apple hardware, I asked my boss to try again. He said "Sure, go ahead…. but we don't have a lot of money to do this with". So I needed to make this project as cheap as possible.

What I ended up with was 3 Mac Pro's (2x 2008 and 1x 2009), which I got almost free from a customer, extra RAM (32GB in each Mac Pro), extra NIC's (4 NIC's in each Mac Pro), a Synology RS812+ NAS and VMware vSphere Essentials bundle.

Here is a picture of the 3 Mac Pros:

[William] - I too remember when VMware announced support for Apple Hardware with vSphere 5.0, that was a huge deal for many customers. Were there any performance or availability requirements that you had to take into considerations while designing this solution? Did all Virtual Machines run off of the NAS system or was it a mix between local and remote storage?

[Mads] - All VM's ran off the NAS over iSCSI. I did consider the availability of that design, but given the constraints of the money of the project, there was not much of a choice. I did not want to run the VM's on the local disks inside each Mac Pro, considering that if one Mac Pro died, I would not easily have the possibility to power-on that VM on another Mac Pro.

The performance of the NAS was not great, but good enough. After I left, the NAS was upgraded to a Synology DS1813+, and then using the old Synology RS812+ as a backup destination. The load on the VM's was light, as there only was 10 employees in the company, and most of the VM's was only for testing or designing solutions for the customers.

[William] - What type of Virtual Machines and applications were you running on the Mac Pros?

[Mads] - The 3 Mac Pro's are running around 20 VM's, where most of them are either OS X based or Linux Virtual Appliance's. My plan was to do one service per OS, to keep it as simple as possible. Almost all the OS X based VMs are running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Some of them are just plain Client installations, but most of them have the Server app installed, to run Open Directory, DNS or File Server.

The Client installations are running specific software that the company sells, like graphical processing software from Enfocus or FTP software from Rumpus. There is also an older OS X based VM, running Mac OS X Server 10.6, which runs a special graphical procession software called Odystar from a company called Esko. This software only exist on Mac OS X, and it also requires a HASP USB dongle for its license. Most of the VM's are configured as low as possible, which for most is 1 vCPU and 2GB ram.

The Mail server for the company, is based on Kerio Connect software, which is also something that the company is a reseller of for its smaller graphical customers. That software exist either as a virtual appliance, a Windows install or a Mac based install. We ended up with choosing a Mac based installation, because we knew it better.

[William] - How did you go about monitoring the Virtual Machines as well as the underlying hardware? Any particular tools that you found worked well for your organization?

[Mads ] - We did not do much of monitoring, of neither the VMs or the hardware. I was onsite, and sitting almost beside the rack most of the time, so if there was any trouble either physically or virtual, I could fix it fast. I had configured email reporting in all the solutions that gave the option (vCenter Server, Synology NAS and some of the applications).

[William] - I know you had started this project back in 2010 and there was definitely a limited amount of hardware options to run Apple OS X VMs. Today, there are a few more options and if you were to do it again, would you have done anything differently? Would you still consider the Mac Pro (Tower) or look at potentially the newer Mac Pro (Black) or even the Mac Mini’s?

[Mads] - We did start out by looking at the Mac Mini's, but considering that we could only run 3 hosts because of the vSphere Essential license, we needed to get more RAM in each host, than the Mac Mini's could provide. The Tower based Mac Pro is still the best option for this installation, given that it is available for a reasonable price, runs more than 16GB ram and you can get 2x CPU sockets in each host.

The new black version of the Mac Pro, is especially not a good fit, primarily because of the price and because of the dual GPU's and only 1 CPU. I would love a Mac Mini with 32GB ram, that would properly fit perfectly, considering the advances in CPU technology over the 2008/2009 CPU's in the Mac Pro's currently running the environment.

[William] - Mads, thank you very much for spending your morning and sharing with us your experiences with running vSphere on the Mac Pros. You have provided a lot of good information that I know will surely help the VMware and Apple community. One final question before I let you go. Is there any tips/tricks you would recommend for someone looking to start a similar project? Any particular resources you would recommend people check out?

[Mads] - First of a big thanks to yourself, for provide great content on I have also provided my own experiences both on my personal blog and on businessman's company blog

On my own blog, I have written about issues with screensavers in Mac OS X VM's and I have also written a long blog post about how make a never booted Mac OS X template VM, which don't have any UUID's set.

If you are interested in sharing your story with the community (can be completely anonymous) on how you use VMware and Mac OS X in Production, you can reach out to me here.

2 thoughts on “Community stories of VMware & Apple OS X in Production: Part 5

  1. If the current Mac Pro Black is ‘especially not a good fit’. What hardware should I be running to virtualize OSX? I prefer something off the shelf.

    • “especially not a good fit” will be something folks need to determine, in Mads case it was not a good fit for the reasons he listed above. However, I do know many customers liking the new Mac Pro Black and intend on using it when vSphere is supported on that platform, especially with the enormous amount of resources it can support. To answer your question, the only other “supported” platform would be the older Mac Pro to run vSphere.

      Mac Mini is an option but would be an unsupported route, but as you can see the last couple of community stories have customers all leverage Mac Mini for the various benefits. You can also just run VMware Fusion on ANY Mac hardware and virtualize OS X that way as well.

Thanks for the comment!