Since I spent many hours on finding proper motherboard with rest of needed components to get my lab working with VMWare ESXi I decided to write this post to make people find easy way to build ESXi 5.5 lab. The purpose for lab was to pass VCP-510 exam first, so I bought pretty old Dell T300 with one 146Gb HDD and 6GB of RAM. It was enough for learning basic vmware stuff. I added 4 GB of RAM a bit later, but for large environments such as Active Directory with other services it was not enough dough. I started googling for a cheap way to have another one box to install ESXi or Hyper-V ont it. Expectation was pretty simple. Run ESXi 5.1 and Hyper-V 2012 R2 on it. My choice was as follows:
- Motherboard – ASRock Z87M Pro4.
- CPU – Intel i5-4440 with 4 cores and EPT allowing to have nested VMs.
- NIC – TP-Link PCI-e TG-3468 (this is RTL8168 based, works on ESXi 6.0)
- Storage is Kingston SSD V300 120GB with write speed of 450Mb/s but it is your choice what you will put here.
- RAM is 8GB@1600Mhz. The more the better.
- The rest doesn`t really matter, get equipment that will meet your demands.
All components are “ESXi 5.5 friendly” except for onboard NIC, TP-Link NIC and DirectPath I/O is not supported by default, you have to enable VT-d in BIOS under Advanced -> Chipset Configuration -> VT-d. In order to use TP-Link NIC and therefore install ESXi you need to have either drivers injected to standard 5.5 ISO file:
- Get ESXi Customizer from V-front.de.
- Get VIB file from here, or originally posted here.
- Unpack ESXI Customizer and run it.
- Build you custom ISO and burn it or use Rufus tool to make bootable usb drive. ESXi Customizer is so simple and intuitive that I believe it doesn`t need explanation how to use it.
- Install ESXi and have fun.
The second solution is to find suitable NIC here and install it on your system instead of TG-3468.
Motherboard integrated NIC which is Intel i217-v seemd to work fine for some time. When I mean fine it means I had no problems with it. ESXi 5.5 doesn`t recognise it as a NIC, so this is basically PCI device. But at some point later when I passed through it to Win 2012 VM I got sweet “(503) Server unavailable” message from Vmware after restart. Fresh install of ESXi doesn`t change this behaviour at all. After disabling Intel NIC in BIOS vmware works normally. I found out that hostd couldn`t start normally with this NIC being enabled:
I found there is a package of Intel NIC drivers for ESXi 5.5 available here:
Follow these instructions to get your NIC working:
- Download the drivers, put them on a datastore on te host.
- SSH to the host.
- Type “esxcli system maintenanceMode set -e true“
- “esxcli software acceptance set –level=CommunitySupported”
- “esxcli software vib install -v /vmfs/volumes/your-datastore/net-e1000e-2.3.2.x86_64.vib”
- ESXi should inform you that some drivers were updated. Reboot the server and exit the maintanance mode.
This white box was some about 1800 pln, which is about 430 € at the moment of writing and I bought it in november 2013.
In addition this lab works well with Windows 2012 Server R2 so you can have either ESXi or Hyper-V at the bottom of the infrastructure. The only thing that makes me feel upset me is that I couldn`t make WOL functionality working.
So this is it. One is Dell T300 with Xeon X3363, 146GB HDD, 10GB RAM, second one is described above. I have network switch Tp-Link TL-SG1008D to get it all connected, and Workstation 9 on my laptop to have one VM extra to it.