Update June 2012. I had to rebuild my VMware host after the hard disk failed. Check out my post on that task for more information: How to set up a windows domain with clients on a virtual server using vmware
Here are my notes on building a VMware ESXi box with an MSI P6N with a Fujitsu Siemens MS-7350VP motherboard, a low cost entry into computer virtualization.
Background on computer virtualization
Computer virtualization is a way to run multiple “virtual” computers on one physical computer. The benefits include server consolidation, running multiple different operating systems concurrently and research and development of operating systems and upgrades. For example if you wanted to run Windows Server and Linux and experiment with Windows 7, you could do that all on one PC using virtualization.
The software that enables the virtual computers is called a hypervisor. The hypervisor can run on the physical computer (bare-metal) or on the physical computer’s operating system (hosted).
Examples of bare-metal hypervisors are VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V.
Examples of hosted hypervisors are VMware Server, VMware workstation, VMware Fusion (for Mac), Microsoft Virtual Server, Microsoft Virtual PC, and Parallels (for Mac).
For more on hypervisors, see the entry “hypervisor” at wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypervisor
Choosing a hypervisor
I chose to build a virtual server platform using VMware’s ESXi so that I could experiment with multiple operating systems on one physical computer. This product is free with registration. Although it is designed for business class servers with RAID, SAN and high end NICs it will run on some lower end PC hardware.
For more on VMware ESXi visit www.vmware.com/products/esxi/
For more on lower end hardware compatibility and installing on lower end hardware visit www.vm-help.com
Finding a box to install VMware ESXi on
I registered at the VMware site and downloaded the ESXi product and burned a bootable CD of the product. It installed easily on a legacy HP Proliant server with RAID. But I wanted to install it on one of my white box PCs. After failing to install on some lower end PC hardware, it successfully installed (recognized the disks and NIC) on my MSI P6N motherboard based PC.
I attribute the successful installation to the nForce 650i SLI northbridge chipset of the motherboard. The SATA hard disk and the on board NIC were recognized by the VMware ESXi install program and ESXi was up and running, but with 2 issues: the on board SATA RAID function was not recognized and ESXi could not see the local CD drive (Host Device: No Devices available). Not having a local CD/DVD drive could be a show stopper, (how do you install software?) but there is a work around – see below.
Using VMware ESXi
Here’s a quick orientation to using the VMware ESXi server:
First you’ll need to download, install and run the VMware Infrastructure Client from your newly booted server to your Windows PC client, the instructions and IP address are on the console. The username is “root”. Install OSs or download virtual appliances.
Keystrokes of interest:
Ctrl-Alt to release the cursor from the VMware Infrastructure Client window until you install the host extensions.
Ctrl-Alt-Insert to send a Ctrl-Alt-Del to the operating system
“No CD device available” workaround – installing an OS when your VMware ESXi virtual server does not recognize the local CD/DVD device – rip the OS image of the install disk, upload it to your server and install from it. Details:
1. Use software (ie Nero) to rip the OS image from the install CD/DVD of the OS you wish to install to an .iso file.
2. Upload the .iso to your server: server > configuration tab > storage > right click datastore > Browse Datastore > upload icon > Upload File … > select your local .iso file
3. Configure your local machine to boot from the .iso file: when you are creating your virutal machine, properties > hardware > CD/DVD Drive 1 > radiobutton Database ISO file > browse > select file > check the Connect at power on box.
4. Start your VM.
The VMware ESXi site www.vmware.com/products/esxi/ has a wealth of information about the product including specifications, documentation, video and community board.
A good “unofficial” support site is www.vm-help.com
A good overview of the product can be found at wikipedia