ESXi 5.5 and 6.0 White Box

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:

  1. Motherboard – ASRock Z87M Pro4.
  2. CPU – Intel i5-4440 with 4 cores and EPT allowing to have nested VMs.
  3. NIC – TP-Link PCI-e TG-3468 (this is RTL8168 based, works on ESXi 6.0)
  4. Storage is Kingston SSD V300 120GB with write speed of 450Mb/s but it is your choice what you will put here.
  5. RAM is 8GB@1600Mhz. The more the better.
  6. 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:

  1. Get ESXi Customizer from V-front.de.
  2. Get VIB file from here, or originally posted here.
  3. Unpack ESXI Customizer and run it.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

hostd cant start I will try to do some research and edit this post if I find something useful to avoid the problem.

[UPDATE] 2015-01-26

I found there is a package of Intel NIC drivers for ESXi 5.5 available here:
https://my.vmware.com/en/web/vmware/details?downloadGroup=DT-ESXI5X-INTEL-IGB-5051&productId=327#product_downloads

Follow these instructions to get your NIC working:

  1. Download the drivers, put them on a datastore on te host.
  2. SSH to the host.
  3. Type “esxcli  system maintenanceMode set -e true
  4. “esxcli software acceptance set –level=CommunitySupported”
  5. “esxcli software vib install -v /vmfs/volumes/your-datastore/net-e1000e-2.3.2.x86_64.vib”
  6. ESXi should inform you that some drivers were updated. Reboot the server and exit the maintanance mode.

Pictures soon.

[/UPDATE]

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.

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