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TechAdvantage 2011 – Installing ESXi 4.x

Introduction

There are several howto’s out there on how to install ESXi.  There are even ones that are specific to your particular hardware if you search enough.  Instead of reinventing the wheel here, I’m going to share the checklist that I put together during our disaster recover exercise.  Following my internal documentation, I will include some links and videos that I thought will be helpful.

Building the ESXi Host

The host is the machine that will house all of the virtual machines hereby referred to as guests. Traditionally, you would refer to a guest as a server.  Because you are already using traditional hardware to software provisioning (installing Windows or other OS on top of a piece of hardware), you probably have plenty of hardware laying around the shop in support of your cooperative mission to keep all of those physical servers up and running, right?  Go pick one.  I’ll wait…

VMWare has a restrictive hardware compatibility list (HCL).  I’m sure that VMWare is anticipating that if you are going to use their product, you will use it on enterprise-grade hardware.  The system requirements and other bookmarks related to VMWare are listed on my constantly updated Delicious bookmarks page.

So, you now have picked out your host iron; now you need to prep the box for the hypervisor.  Make sure that you have all BIOS and firmware updates loaded on your host before proceeding.

Storage Provisioning

There are several storage options that ESXi can use: DAS, SAN, iSCSI, NFS to USB and SD (boot only).  I like using DAS because it is cheap, as fast as you configure it, resilient, and easy for people to understand.  You are probably using DAS right now on your physical machines if you follow best-practice.  That Promise, Siig, or PERC card in your host server hardware provides DAS which can be provisioned to provide access to storage to house your virtual machines.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I will focus on DAS.  Later I will show you how to configure an iSCSI appliance called Openfiler that can serve iSCSI storage target datastores to your ESXi host.

Direct Attached Storage (DAS) a.k.a. RAID

I have my own way of setting up my drive arrays.  I am not saying that my way is better than yours – you can provision your storage hardware as you see fit.  Depending on my storage requirement (more space or more performance), I configure all of the drives on a single RAID 5, 6 or 10 container.  Personally, I like for large (up to 2TB) fault-tolerant LUNs to be presented to my ESXi host.  While this might not be optimal for environments with a high I/O performance requirement, it works well for my cooperative and is a lot less confusing to configure.  The hypervisor will partition this large chunk of physical space to other guest virtual machines later.

My host is a Dell with a PERC. I configured all my drives in a RAID 5 container.  PERC controllers have just about the same interface between firmware releases.

Video of how to configure a PERC for RAID 5.

Download

You will need to download a boot image from VMWare for your target host machine.  Use a browser and go to vmware.com.  Register at the site and download the latest ISO image of ESXi.  The free license key will be e-mailed to you separately.  Keep this e-mail and save your license numbers somewhere.
There are several versions of ESXi available for download on VMWare’s website. Some images contain customization hardware options.  For instance, if you are installing this on a Dell, you can download the Dell extension customizations for your ESXi hypervisor.  This custom image comes with drivers specific to your hardware which allows you to monitor the server hardware from vSphere.  You will be able to access the RAID controller cards, chassis intrusion alarms, temperature, and other neat things that are specific to your host server hardware.  You can also download the hypervisor directly from the server manufacturer’s support site.  http://Support.dell.com allows full ISO downloads of the hypervisor software and so does http://hp.com/go/foundation

Reading about the hypervisor installation options on your server manufacturer’s website, you may find that you can install the hypervisor on USB drives or SD cards.  These are nice to research because the ESXi installation will not require reservation of space on your datastore that is primarily intended for use by the guest VMs.

Burn a bootable ISO

Now that you have the downloaded the ISO, you will need a CD burner to create the boot image.  I used ISO Burn to accomplish this task.  After creating your boot image, insert it into your target server and power it up. Be sure to boot off of the CD.

My Checklist

When we were doing this a year ago, we compiled several checklists along with a flowchart.  The flowchart was a one-size-fits-all reference to system recovery. Each block on the flowchart pointed to a checklist. Some of the steps in this checklist are no longer necessary because the new versions of ESXi have options in the menu for enabling SSH. We still use an older version of ESXi so we kept this checklist.

Installing a replacement ESXi Server

Items needed:

1)      Server with enough disk space and 2GB RAM minimum

2)      ESXi boot image for target brand machine
Note: ISO images for HP, Dell, and generic server are located on the Backup drive

◊          Boot the server from the appropriate ESXi CD

◊          Follow the on-screen installation instructions for ESXi

◊          Configure the network

1)      Press F2

2)      Select Configure Management Network and press Enter

3)      Select IP Configuration and press Enter

4)      Select Set Static IP address and network configuration

5)      Use the following IP address information:

IP Address: [private ip goes here]
Subnet Mask: [subnet mask goes here]
Default Gateway: [private ip goes here]

◊     Configure ESXi for remote access

1)      Press ALT+F1

2)      Type unsupported and press Enter

3)      Password is blank

4)      Using vi, edit /etc/inetd.conf by removing the hash symbols (#) from the all entries that begin with #ssh. Hint: vi /etc/inetd.conf Enter/#sshEnterxâx:wq!
Note: use the vi command reference for information on how to use vi.

5)      Type /sbin/services.sh restart Enter

◊          Extend ESXi performance counter data

1)  Using vi, edit /etc/vmware/hostd/config.xml Change the portion in bold from false to true:
<historicalStatsEnabled> true </historicalStatsEnabled>
Hint: vi /etc/vmware/hostd/config.xml Enter/> false <Enter xxxxxitrueESC:wq!

◊         Reboot ESXi

Helpful links

Of course, there are my Delicious Bookmarks

Guide to installing VMWare ESXi 4.0 step-by-step

VMWare Hardware Compatibility list

If you just want to play, ESXi does not have to be installed on a big honking server.  The guys at HAK5 describe a minimalist approach to virtualization in this video.  This still applies to installing on “real” server hardware. Click here to skip directly to the good stuff.

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