Fun with VMware ESXi

Day one of playing with bare metal hypervisors, and I’m already having a blast.

I decided to try ESXi first, since it was the closest relative to what I’m running right now.

Straight out of the box, I run into my first error. I’m installing on a Dell Poweredge 1950 server. The CD boots into an interesting initialization sequence. The screen turns a featureless black, and there are no details as to what is going on behind the scenes. The only indication that the machine isn’t frozen is a slowly incrementing progress bar at the bottom. After around 20 minutes (I’m guessing the time it takes to read and decompress an entire installation CD into memory), the screen changes to a menu asking me to hit R if I want to repair, or Enter if I want to install. I want to install, so I hit Enter. Nothing happens, so I hit enter again. And again. And again. It takes a few more times before I realize that the “numlock” light is off. Curious, I hit numlock and it doesn’t respond.


I unplug and replug the keyboard in. Nothing. Move it to the front port. Nothing. I reboot and come back to my desk to research. Apparently, I’m not alone. Those accounts are from 2008. I downloaded this CD an hour ago, and it’s 3.5 U4 (the most current 3.5x release). It is supposed to have support on the PE1950, but if the keyboard doesn’t even work, I have my doubts.

Lots of people have suggested using a PS2 keyboard as the accepted workaround, but in a similar tone to most of my problem/solution options, this server has no PS2 ports.

I’m downloading ESX v4 now. I’ll update with how it goes, no doubt.

  • Reamer77

    I'm having all sorts of fun with ESXi right now… pause… not.

    My department has the full blown ESX with Virtual Center, but this project we're "consulting" on is going quite a bit cheaper with standalone ESXi servers.

    Lemme know if you've got any questions, although I'm running it on HP hardware. Supposedly, downloading and importing the VMware RCLI Applicance is useful, but I haven't investigated additional functionality that it offers.

  • David

    Yeah I know it's all worth nothing, but I got ESXi 3.5 U4 into a Dell P/E 1950 without trouble. Honestly I had more trouble downloading the image than installing it.

    Don't remember having to do anything weird to it, either.

  • Matt

    @Reamer77 – Thanks, I'm sure I'll take you up on that.

    @David – That sort of makes me wonder what the difference is. The 1950 seems to have a few versions. I seem to have the straight 1950, but there's also something like the 1950 III. Did you have the normal one, too?

  • Jim B.

    Any chance your 1950 is attached to a SAN? I've seen the esxi installer stall forever if I forgot to shut the fibre switch ports.

    Also, any chance you use cobbler/kickstart and could reproduce my fun :)

  • Matt


    Interesting thought, but no, it's a standalone machine at the moment. Not even a network cable plugged in. Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

  • JR

    I was doing a similar experiment yesterday with ESXi on my HP ML115 G5. The only possibly useful comment I could make is that on my hardware, ESXi 3.5 was a fiddle to install, but 4.0 installed like a dream.

    Hopefully you'll find 4.0 easier.

    What other hypervisors are you planning on looking at?

  • Matt

    JR: I'm hoping so too, thanks! I'll write an update to let people know how it goes.

    I'm also looking into HyperV and Xenserver.

    Incidentally, Xenserver installed flawlessly, though I haven't had a chance to play with it yet.

  • Chris Wilson

    I've installed ESX and ESXi on all kinds of hardware, from desktop systems up to PE6950s and from local storage through to FC SANs. Only thing I've not installed it on yet is a blade…

    That said, I've never had an installation fail like you have! I've had a couple of PSODs but never a blank screen, how strange…

    If you have PXE running you can boot ESXi from that, might eliminate the local media as the source of the problem.

    As a side note, ESXi4 appears to have a couple of bugs with iSCSI, so if you are planning on using it its worth bearing in mind.

  • Sam Powers

    I've been using VirtualCenter and ESX 3.5 since 2007 on a IBM x3655 with Netapp NFS datastore and liking it quite a lot. The only thing that bothers me is that the VirtualCenter client, while it does have all of the features in the world, is quite a bit too slow for the hardware we're running it on.

    This summer, since our VMW licensing is coming due, we're taking the opportunity to evaluate XenServer. It installed flawlessly and makes vmware look like a real tortoise in comparison, with the added benefit of being able to work with any networking or storage gear that Linux can handle. Honestly, we wouldn't have looked at anything else, except XenServer isn't going to cost us anything unless we want commercial support.

    If you set up a xenserver pool and decide to upgrade from 5.0 to 5.5, make sure you upgrade the pool master *first*, though, or else you will be confused to find that the upgraded host forgets its identity post-upgrade. In this case, it's dead simple to back out the upgrade and start over. Very well thought out.

    Does anyone have any HyperV impressions? We haven't looked at it and I'm not sure we will, but since we're a school district we get some insanely anti-competitive deals on microsoft software, so maybe it could save us some money.

  • Matt

    Sam: Thanks for sharing. I'm temporarily putting off the virtualization testing until I can get a Windows image solution setup.

    I did come across this, which you may find interesting:

    Microsoft is apparently offering free HyperV training. Hopefully it'll last longer than their "free" technet subscriptions a while back

  • MAS

    Just sharing the subject with you guys, Although we haven't impelemented any virtualization solution yet, but the subject is interesting to me personally.

    I downloaded ESXi to evaluated but still waiting a chance, I have no extra hardware in my lab to install it maybe i'll try it on a virtualbox if it's possible i don't know yet.

    althoug Hyper-v is grabbing attention i can't see it's that powerfull comparing to other vendors, specially when it's only work on 64bit.

    I keep following great people like you to stay on the edge :-)

  • MAS: That’s very kind of you to say, thanks! I’m really glad you follow the blog. The absolute best part are my readers, who add so much to it. I’m very thankful to have all of you :-)

  • Try creating an ESXi USB key to bypass the install process. This page has a decent walkthough — ping me if you need more info.

  • Alonzo

    Just following and wanted to add my 2 cents. Ive run XenServer and can’t stop singing it’s praise. The point behind virtualization, beside the obvious that have already been stated in this thread, is speed and easy of provisioning. Getting a server up and running in as little time as possible is what I’m looking for. Sam has it spot on, XenServer is fast, easy and has a wide berth of network protocols that it supports. I’m currently testing VMWare’s ESXi. Have to say that I’m to that impressed. My first attempt at install went wrong, had to turn on the virtual support in the BIOS. after that it’s runs ok, a little slow for my taste. The big issue is NFS, still haven’t figured out exactly how esxcfg-nfs is supposed to work. The list of options are small and the syntax not that complicated but it not working. Beginning to think that it maybe a licensing issue. All I want to do is mount and NFS share (read-only) so I can store ISOs to build VMs with. Do this with XenServer was scary easy, I didn’t think it work at first. Well keep having fun and playing.