It is already evident that processors based on the ARM architecture are gradually becoming a part of everyday life. They are being adopted by corporate infrastructure administrators for specific equipment and by regular users. All of this is thanks to Apple Silicon-based computers with M1/M2 processors (primarily MacBooks).
This article explores three key initiatives by VMware in this field that enable the support of ARM-based device infrastructure. We will also look at the future prospects.
1. VMware is promoting the ESXi Arm Edition hypervisor
On the VMware Labs website, recent ESXi Arm Edition 1.12 product update was released in March of this year. Recall that this solution is a hypervisor for ARM architecture based on the ESXi code (which serves as the foundation for architectures like Raspberry Pi and many IoT devices). In the future, applications in solutions like Project Monterey will be possible.
The project’s history goes like this – a group of engineers within VMware decided to port ESXi from x86 architecture to ARM. Subsequently, enthusiasts within the company facilitated the coordination of innovations in the hypervisor, aligning the x86 version with the ARM version.
Nowadays, many users deploy test environments of ESXi Arm Edition specifically on Raspberry Pi computers.
Project Monterey is a revamp of the VCF architecture to enable native integration of new hardware capabilities and software components. For instance, the new SmartNIC hardware technology provides high performance, zero-trust security and simplifies operations within the VCF environment. Thanks to SmartNIC technology, the VCF infrastructure will support operating systems and applications running on bare metal (without a hypervisor and independently from it).
Essentially, SmartNIC is a specialized network adapter (NIC) with an onboard CPU module that offloads the main functions of management services (specifically storage and network operations, as well as host management). Since the SmartNIC architecture primarily relies on ARM processors, VMware is developing a special edition called ESXi ARM Edition to run the hypervisor with these cards. ESXi ARM Edition is currently in the Tech Preview phase but will be further developed into a fully-fledged enterprise product.
In the latest version of the vSphere 8.0 platform, VMware has also introduced ESXIO components to ensure the functionality of Project Monterey and SmartNIC technology, as well as to provide support for the ARM architecture.
2. Official support for Windows OS virtualization in Fusion 13 on Apple Silicon architecture macOS platform
In the latest version of the VMware Fusion 13 desktop virtualization platform, the support for Windows operating systems as virtual machines on Apple Silicon-based macOS computers (currently using M1/M2 processors) was announced, among other new features. This support was initially introduced in the first preview of VMware Fusion on the Apple Silicon hardware platform.
Back in the fall of 2020, VMware engaged in collaboration with Apple and Microsoft and also announced the development of the Fusion platform for M1 processors, despite the challenges posed by the internal development team’s separation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, VMware has enhanced the Fusion product, and now it runs on M1/M2 processors, supporting the new Windows 11 ARM version as both host and guest. However, Windows Server operating systems are currently unsupported by Apple Silicon architecture.
To ensure support for Windows 11, the virtualization platform requires Trusted Platform Module (TPM) support. In the latest release of Fusion, some features were added to the Virtual TPM module (vTPM). Notably, vTPM incorporates the Fast Encryption mechanism, which encrypts only critical parts of virtual machines and their local storage, significantly boosting VM performance without compromising security.
By the way, Fusion 13 comes as a single binary package, packaged in a DMG, which can be installed on both Apple Silicon and Intel Macs, allowing you to download just one distribution for any device.
Not long ago, Microsoft made an official statement regarding the support of Windows as a guest system on ARM architecture, which is the foundation for Macs with M1/M2 processors (the support is announced for various virtualization platforms, including Parallels Desktop).
Furthermore, VMware is collaborating with the ARM, Inc. consortium to certify its products, and VMware Fusion 13 is already included in the Arm System Ready certification program. This program ensures hardware compatibility at physical and virtual levels for various software running on computers with ARM-based processors. The official certification document is available here.
3. How VMware Horizon Client for Mac supports MacBooks with ARM processors
In 2021, the release of the first MacBook Pro with a processor designed by Apple (M1) was announced, marking the beginning of the transition of Mac devices from the Intel x86 platform to ARM architecture. Apple claims that the ARM-based MacBook is equipped with the fastest CPU core and the most powerful integrated graphics, resulting in significant boosts in power and performance. The following year, at WWDC, Apple announced another ARM processor – the M2.
While Apple was implementing its ARM chips, it also introduced the Rosetta project for existing applications. Rosetta is a dynamic binary translator developed by Apple for macOS. It allows users to gradually transition to the new hardware by automatically translating x86 software. In 2020, Rosetta 2 was announced, which enables Intel-based applications to run on Macs with M1/M2 chips.
For end users running Horizon Virtual Desktops and Mac apps, ensuring that the client is fully compatible with the operating system is important. Previously, Horizon for Mac client used Rosetta emulation to support virtual desktops on MacBooks with ARM processors. However, Horizon 2212, released in late 2022, introduced native client support for ARM-based Macs.
In addition, with the release of the latest version of Horizon 2303 client, key Horizon features now natively support ARM, including the Microsoft Teams optimization package and the VMware Blast codec, which provides improved performance. In VMware tests on Blast Codec, ARM CPU usage in native mode for Horizon Client is about 15% lower than in Rosetta emulation mode.
The Horizon client has a universal binary file for macOS, which can run natively on both Apple Silicon and Intel-based Macs, as the universal build includes executable code for both architectures and does not require Rosetta.
To determine if your Horizon Client application is running natively on ARM and not using Rosetta emulation, follow these steps:
- Select Horizon Client from the Applications in Finder.
- In the “File” menu on the menu bar, choose “Get Info”.
- If the “Kind” section shows “Application (Universal)”, it means the application supports both Apple Silicon and Intel processors and automatically installs the native version.
- If you want to run Horizon Client for Apple Silicon with Rosetta emulation, you can check the “Open using Rosetta” option.
Summing up the above, VMware does a lot for the promotion of virtualization technologies on the ARM architecture, adhering, of course, to its own goals. The main initiative here is the ESXi Arm Edition hypervisor, which will undoubtedly find its place in the future, not only for Project Monterey and SmartNIC.
The slow progress in this area in 2020-2021 was due to a loss of team communication during the lockdown period. Now when everyone is returning to normal work, the result is evident – Microsoft and Apple have already joined the process.
It is clear that many VDI users use Mac computers based on the M1 and M2 processors, which have already firmly established themselves in the market – and VMware will undoubtedly support such use cases in the future.
And finally, I hope that new products and technologies related to the ARM architecture will emerge, they are gaining popularity and sometimes showing impressive results.