Getting Started With Virtualization (Using VMware ESXi) - Part 0 (Quickstart)

Date August 26, 2011

I'm working on a series of blog entries, Getting Started With Virtualization (Using VMware ESXi), but before I dig into the background and the details, I wanted to give you something to get yourself started. I know that you, as a sysadmin, want to try before you read instead of after. To help, I'm writing this quickstart first.

  1. Get ESXi
  2. ESXi is a commercially licensed VMware product, even if there's a free license. You're going to have to register, so go to VMware, register for a free download (ESXi 5.0 is the newest, but 4.1 is the latest stable that most places have in production), and get your license. Also, while you're there, make sure to pick up a copy of the vSphere client.

  3. Install ESXi
  4. To install ESXi, you need a supported platform. Because there's a relatively restrictive set of supported devices, you need to make sure your hardware is on the HCL. I've also found this whitebox HCL by very useful.

    If you don't have a piece of hardware to install on, don't fret. It's a poorly kept secret that ESXi can be installed inside of VMware Player (free) or VMware Fusion ($$$).

    You'll also need a Windows machine to install the vSphere Client on.

  5. Configure ESXi
  6. ESXi installs quickly, mostly because it's a CD ISO that only takes up a couple hundred megs. Generally speaking, most of the options you'll be given will make sense to you. If you're installing on a machine connected to SAN storage, I'd recommend unplugging from the SAN until the machine is configured. The setup is straight forward, but screwing up and wiping out a LUN by accident is no one's idea of a good time.

    Most of the questions you'll be asked you should probably already know the answer to. The only real piece of terminology you may not know is "datastore", which is a piece of accessible storage. It can be anything from a full disk to a partition to an NFS share. If you are asked which datastore you want to install on, it'll probably be the one that looks like your system disk(s). (Incidentally, if you have fake RAID (i.e. on-motherboard SATA RAID or the like, you'll probably see two system disks rather than one mirrored set. That's just because you don't really have hardware RAID, and ESXi doesn't support software RAID).

  7. Set up VMs
  8. At this point, you should have ESXi booted up and configured on the network. Install the vSphere Client on a Windows machine and connect it to the IP you gave the ESXi machine. It should load and look something remotely like this:

(compliments of

Double click on VMs and Templates at the top and you should be taken to a screen that looks much more like this:

(Image courtesy of Tech Target)

...only you won't have any VMs listed on the left. So you've got to add some.

Before you do that, though, it helps to have an installation source, like a CD image. Assuming you've already got your favorite ISO handy, go pick up a copy of Veeam FastSCP, and use it to put the ISO onto the ESXi server.

Now you're ready to create a new server, so right click on the server's IP in the top left corner and follow the instructions for making a new VM. It'll ask all of the details about the software you're going to install (and don't lie - it uses these selections to specify virtual devices and settings assigned to the resulting VM), then it'll finish, leaving your VM created, but powered off.

Before you go and power it on, click on the machine, then on the "Configuration" tab. Under storage, you can assign an ISO file to the VM's CD-ROM. Give it the ISO that you transferred over using FastSCP, then right click on the machine and hit "Start".

There will be a little icon in the bar at the top that looks like a monitor with an arrow pointing out of it. Clicking this button launches the remote console in a pop-out window. Use this to configure the VM.

Inside the VM, install the OS like you normally would. Once you click in the console window, you'll notice that it eats your mouse pointer and keyboard. To release it, hit ctrl-alt at the same time.

After installing the OS, you'll need to reboot the VM. After it comes back up, take the time to install VMware Tools by clicking the VM menu in the console screen, going to Guest, then clicking "Install/Upgrade VMware Tools". This enables you to do useful things like pause the VM, as well as not have the mouse cursor be trapped in a GUI environment on the guest.

This should be enough to get you playing with VMware this weekend. Next week I'll work on getting some entries out that explain some of the backend things, and show some more useful features that are possible when you start putting vSphere in production environments.

Until then, good luck and have fun!