The ‘halo’ effect caused by the success of the iPhone and iPad has attracted many business users to Apple’s Mac computers in recent years, while the advent of BYOD has also made IT departments more flexible when it comes to accommodating non-Windows devices. However, many organisations still need to run legacy software that was originally written specifically for Windows – or even DOS. This has led to an increasing use of virtualisation software that allows Macs to run this legacy software, and one of the leading options for business users is VMWare’s Fusion, which has recently been upgraded to version 6.0.

Fusion Confusion

There are two versions of the program currently available. The standard Fusion 6 costs just £33 (ex. VAT) and is aimed at individual users and small businesses, while Fusion 6 Professional includes additional features designed for IT departments that need to deploy the software to larger numbers of users. Fusion 6 Professional costs (£86.04 ex. VAT, per user), although there are additional pricing and support options available when purchasing 10 or more licenses.

Many of the new features in version 6.0 are essentially technical updates that are common to both versions of the program, including support for Mavericks – Mac OS X version 10.9 – and Windows 8.1. As well as simply creating virtual machines that run Windows 8.1, Fusion also allows you to place ‘modern’ (Metro) apps in the Mac Dock or Launchpad so that you can launch them instantly.

Your virtual machines can also make use of new features in Mavericks, such as its improved support for multiple displays. There’s also support for Apple’s AirPlay streaming technology, which will allow you to display your virtual machines on an external TV or monitor via one of its Apple TV set-top boxes.

You can also create virtual machines that run Mavericks itself, which will be useful for developers who want to test software on a virtual machine without compromising the Macs they rely on for work. And, in anticipation of the new Mac Pro workstations that Apple is planning to launch early in 2014, Fusion now allows you to create virtual machines that utilise up to 16 virtual CPUs, 64GB of memory and 8TB of disk space.

This will allow designers to create virtual machines capable of running demanding 3D graphics applications, such as AutoDesk, that are beyond the capabilities of the iMac, which is currently Apple’s top-of-the-range desktop system.

Machine Management

These are all basic features that are included in both versions of the program, but the new Fusion 6 Professional also includes a number of additional features that will prove useful for IT managers in larger organisations.

The focus here is on security and managing the deployment of virtual machines to multiple users. To enhance security it is now possible to disable certain features, such as the ability to copy text or other data stored on a virtual machine and then paste it into applications running on the host Mac. You can also set an expiry date for a virtual machine, or use the new ‘single virtual machine’ mode that prevents users from creating additional virtual machines with their copies of Fusion.

Once you have configured a virtual machine with the applications and features you require you can then speed up deployment by using the new ‘clone’ option that allows you to quickly create multiple, identical copies of that VM. This allows IT managers to quickly create a standardised virtual machine with a specific set of applications that can then be rolled out to all users within their organisation or department.

It is also possible to create ‘linked’ clones of a virtual machine on a Mac. Rather than copying the entire virtual machine – which may include a virtual disk that is dozens of gigabytes in size – the linked clones share some of that virtual disk space in order to reduce the total amount of disk space used on the host Mac.

Virtualisation Strategy

These are all useful features, and will certainly make it easier for IT managers to roll out and manage virtual machines to multiple users. However, we did find that VMWare’s documentation was often rather vague, especially when describing new features such as linked clones, and people who are adopting Fusion for the first time might struggle to figure out how all these options work.

Fortunately, Fusion is just one product within VMWare’s wider range of virtualisation tools – which, of course, also includes VMWare Workstation for Windows and Linux – so most IT managers who are likely to employ Fusion should already be familiar with the program’s core features and concepts.

With that in mind, Fusion 6 Professional also includes a license for the VMWare Player, which allows users of Fusion on the Mac to run virtual machines that were created on other platforms with VMWare Workstation. Think of it as BYOVD – ‘bring your own virtual device’.

Fusion supports dozens of other host operating systems as well, allowing you to create virtual machines that run DOS, Linux and Netware, and many others, and there’s a 30-day trial version of the software so that you can test it to see if it meets your needs.

Virtually Perfect

Any organisation that needs to run legacy Windows software on Apple Macs should consider Fusion 6 Professional. It’s not the only virtualisation tool available for Macs – and its main rival, Parallels Desktop, recently received an upgrade of its own – but its focus on the needs of IT managers, and its place within the wider VMWare portfolio, makes it the best choice for those that need to fit Macs into their existing virtualisation strategy. [4/5]