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After struggling with finding the "best" way to install VMware Tools on our Debian virtual machines, I think I found the secret recipe.

We have starting using more Debian virtual machines at work on ESX 4.1 update 1 servers, but even with the latest VMware Tools we noticed that the Host Memory usage in Virtual Center was staying as high as the memory that was allocated to that virtual machine and not coming down like on Windows systems.  So today while running "aptitude full-upgrade" on one of our Debian systems, I saw a recommended package called firmware-linux-free.  Since this was a new test system, I decided to give it a shot.  That package made a lot of difference in our infrastructure.  We also found a hidden gotcha - we had to POWER OFF the VM before the changes would show in VMware Virtual Center.  A reboot from inside the VM would not show any changes in VMware Virtual Center.  I have attached a before an after screenshots from Virtual Center of several test virtual machines that we have applied this on.

Before applying firmware-linux-free:
After applying firmware-linux-free:

This has freed up large amounts of RAM on our VMware ESX servers.

Now some technical notes:
VMware ESX 4.1.0 build-348481
Virtual machines are:
  Debian 6.0.4 with kernel 2.6.32-5-686 and VMware Tools 8.3.7.
  Debian guest VMware Tools install process:
    # As root perform:
    aptitude -y install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential psmisc
    # Install VMware tools:
    mount /dev/cdrom /media/cdrom
    tar -zxvf /media/cdrom/VMwareTools-*.tar.gz -C ~
    umount /media/cdrom
    cd ~/vmware-tools-distrib/
    # Answer all questions with default option.

    # Then we discovered firmware-linux-free package
    aptitude y install firmware-linux-free
    # IMPORTANT the host mem will only release after a full poweroff, not a reboot.

    # To see the version of VMware Tools that you are running:
    grep buildNr /usr/bin/vmware-config-tools.pl

We also tested and saw memory improvements using open-vm-tools.
I hope this helps other Linux admins using Debain virtual machines.  I have not found the equivalent for our Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) or CentOS systems.  They still consume equal Host Memory to their allocated VM memory and do not let it go.

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Comments about this article
RHEL and CentOS 6 have kernel-firmware like Debian
writen by: kenlcochran on 2012-04-19 15:51:07
I found that if I use version 6 of RHEL or CentOS as a VM, load VMware Tools, confirm that the kernel-firmware package is installed, then poweroff the VM - I do get lower Host Mem usage. The kernel-firmware package is not available for RHEL 5 or lower.
RE: RHEL and CentOS 6 have kernel-firmware like Debian written by kenlcochran:

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