Playing with ESXi

I had to test out a desktop virtualization product (Pano Logic) this week and as part of theĀ installationĀ I needed a VMware ESX base system. I’m a huge user of their Workstation product, but I had never used the ESX line since it used to be so expensive and required certified hardware. Things have changed though and it’s now possible to download a copy of ESXi for free and to run without a dedicated SAN.

One of the difficulties with VMware is that their acronyms can be very difficult to wade through. ESXi is what they refer to as a hypervisor. This essentially is a very cut down operating system that is designed to only run other Virtual Machines. There are some requirements to running ESXi, I had to go through 3-4 servers before I found one that the installer had all of the drivers. I finally got it to run a server I had picked up from Penguin Computing (2x dual core Opteron with 4Gb mem and 250Gb hard drive).

Once I found a server that worked, the system installed quickly. The next problem was that you need to download the vSphere client to administer the server which is windows only (there are command line clients for other operating systems, but I wasn’t ready for that yet). I didn’t have a windows box laying around (all linux and mac), so I had to launch a WinXP VM in workstation on my linux desktop to administer my ESXi server. Amazingly everything worked great.

The next issue that I ran into was that I already had a large number of VMs created that I was using on workstation, but I couldn’t see how to get them on to the ESXi server. In the vSphere client there are clear instructions on how to create a new VM or download an appliance, but not how to import an existing VM. It turns out that VMware has a very simple way of doing this using the VMware Converter. This product works as a switchboard allowing you to convert or move VMs from one place to another, a really handy tool.

Overall ESXi is a great tool for running a whole bunch of server VMs. VMware offers a huge number of management products in the vSphere product line for managing load and moving VMs in a datacenter. But if you just need to run a few VMs on a single server I would definitely recommend looking at ESXi.