ESXi on DELL Poweredge T105 with upgraded VMworld Europe’s usb stick

I like it when two things come together.

A while ago I posted a link to an article about creating your own ESXi usb-stick. There are several people around who have written something about this subject. Not much people around though, who had problems with the procedure that was described. It looks like a lot of people copied each other because in many of them a step was missing (not a very important step but hey it shows how data is copied around). So lets start describing my little experiment.

The experiment started with the purchase of a server for testing at home. I came across a server in the DELL PowerEdge range. Now you probably think that I’m loaded with money to be able to buy a Poweredge server. Wrong, some time ago DELL had a promotion I took advantage of. I purchased a PowerEdge T105, a starter model which can be placed underneath your desk. The model is very silent; my laptop makes more noise. For about 150 Euros (shipping included) I ordered myself a genuine PowerEdge with a AMD Opteron processor. All parts I selected were the minimum possible because I found out it is cheaper to buy them separately.

After a couple of day’s and two unsuccessful delivery attempts I received my Server. After checking the system with a live-cd of Ubuntu (worked perfect), I gave it a try with ESXi of the VMworld Europe USB memory stick (the one every attendee got). ESXi started but was very limited, no network was found because the onboard nic (Broadcom) was not recognized and besides the lack of network capabilities also local storage was unavailable because it did not recognize a compatible SATA controller.

After googling on this problem I found out more people suffered from this problem (after all the product as a system is not on VMware’s HCL). I gave it a rest and installed Ms Windows 2008 on it.

A couple of weeks later VMware announced the new pricing of ESXi (free!). I decided to give it another try but now with the 3.5 update 2 version of ESXi. In order to do that I needed to upgrade my VMworld Europe version of ESXi with the latest version available. Now we reach a point where I got a bit frustrated because the method to build your own USB-stick with ESXi which was everywhere described did not work for me. When trying to write the image to the usb-stick I repeatedly got an empty error message in winimage. I kept trying until I found out the problem was some sort of a protection issue with the current data on the stick.

The solution of this issue was fairly easy, just clean up the entire usb-stick (after backing up the current data, yes reading wasn’t an issue, only writing). To do so I used a utility I already had installed by Western Digital which normally is used to write zero’s to a external harddrive. After I cleaned the stick (no partitions left on the stick) I was able to write the image to the stick.

Next step of course was testing the ESXi 3.5 Update 2 with the PowerEdge T105 server. I plugged the stick in one of the slots on the back of the T105 and fired up the BIOS-utility and changed some settings in order to boot from the usb-stick. While I rebooted the system I kept my fingers crossed. The system booted from the stick and ESXi was started. Looking at the monitor I could not believe my eyes, it worked! I now have a system running ESXi with network connectivity and using local storage.

Now I even think of buying a second T105 to be able to use vMotion and other features at home.

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