NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2

DHBOXDC3217IYE

As I confirmed in my recent post, it is indeed possible (and I would now say highly recommended!) to install ESXi onto an Intel NUC DC3217IYE. This article will confirm the process for achieving this. The method I used is one of many possible, but that which I found to be the simplest, based on the tools I had to hand.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that most ESXi features are supported on the platform, including FT. The key features not supported are VMDirectPath I/O, and DPM (due to the lack of iLO / IPMI). They do support WoL so you can manually bring nodes online as required, using any standard WoL tool.

I am currently investigating possible options for additional NICs, and it seems that most of the Mini-PCIe NICs are based on a Realtek chipset which is fully supported in ESXi, so happy days! I will post further updates on this subject should I go ahead and expand the NUCs with extra ports.

Requirements

  • A USB Stick. This should work on anything over 1-2GB but personally am using 8GB PNY Micro Sleek Attache Pendrives as they’re tiny, so less likely to catch on anything as they stick out the back of the NUC box, and they cost less than £5 each.
  • A copy of VMware Workstation 8 or newer.
  • ESXi-Customizer (created by Andreas Peetz)
    http://v-front.blogspot.com/p/esxi-customizer.html
  • The ESXi driver for and Intel® 82579V Gigabit Ethernet Controller (created by Chilly)
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/27246203/E1001E.tgz

Process Overview

  • Install the RAM into your NUC (I maxed mine out with 2x8GB sticks).
  • Create a customised ISO with the additional Intel driver.
  • Install ESXi to your USB stick using VMware Workstation and the customised ISO.
  • Plug in your NUC, insert the USB stick, boot and go!

Detailed Steps
I wont go into the detail of installing the RAM, suffice to say you unscrew the four screws on the base of the unit, carefully take it apart, install the two SODIMM modules, ensuring they click firmly into place, then screw the unit back together… simples!

Part One – Create the Custom ISO

  1. Run the ESXi-Customizer-v2.7.1.exe (latest version at time of writing).
  2. This will extract the customer to the directory of your choosing.
  3. Navigate to the new directory.
  4. Run the ESXi-Customizer.cmd batch file. This will open up the GUI, where you can configure the following options:
  • Path to your ESXi Installer
  • Path to the Intel driver downloaded previously
  • Path where you want the new ISO to be saved
  1. Ensure you tick the Create (U)EFI-bootable ISO checkbox.

This will output a new custom ESXi installer ISO called ESXi-5.x-Custom.iso or similar, in the path defined above.

Part Two – Install bootable ESXi to the USB stick.
I stress that this is my preferred way of doing this as an alternative is simply to burn your customised ISO to a CD/DVD and boot using a USB DVD-ROM. That would however be a whole lot slower, and waste a blank CD!

  1. Plug your chosen USB stick into your PC.
  2. Open VMware Workstation (8 or above), VMware Fusion, or whatever you use, ideally supporting the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI option (allowing you to nest 64-bit VMs).
  3. Create a new VM, you can use any spec you like really, as ESXi always checks on boot, but I created one with the same specs as my intended host, i.e. 16GB RAM, single socket, 2vCPU cores. This does not require a virtual hard disk.
  4. Once the VM is created, and before you boot it, edit the CPU settings and tick the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI checkbox. This will reduce errors when installing ESXi (which checks to ensure it can virtualise 64-bit operating systems).

  1. Set the CD/DVD (IDE) configuration to Use ISO image file, and point this to the customised ISO created earlier.
  2. Once the above settings have been configured, power on the VM.
  3. As soon as the VM is powered on, in the bottom right of the screen, right click on the flash disk icon, and click Connect (Disconnect from Host).

  1. This will mount the USB stick inside the VM, and allow you to do a standard ESXi installation onto the stick. At the end of the installation, disconnect the stick, un-mount and unplug it.

Part Three – Boot and go!
This is the easy bit, assuming you don’t have any of the HDMI issues I mentioned in the previous post!

  1. Plug your newly installed USB stick into the back of the NUC.
  2. Don’t forget to plug in a network cable (duh!) and keyboard for the initial configuration. If you wish to modify any bios settings (optional), you will also need a mouse as the NUC runs Visual BIOS.
  3. Power on the NUC…
  4. Have fun!

That pretty much covers it. If anyone has any questions on the process, please don’t hesitate to ask!

References
Thanks to Ivo Beerens who originally detailed the ISO customisation process here:
http://www.ivobeerens.nl/2011/12/13/vmware-esxi-5-whitebox-nic-support/

Other parts of this article may be found here:
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 3
VMware vSphere NanoLab – Part 4 – Network and Storage Choices

30 comments

  1. Hi Alex,

    Excellent article. I was curious to see how the processor performs with regards to vCenter and SSO. I currently have 3 x HP N36L Micro Servers and although they are excellent price and power wise I find the CPU struggles with some tasks. I was either thinking of purchasing a few more smaller, more powerfull server which the NUC looks ideal for or 1 big server and nest ESXi hosts. So, how do the CPU’s perform and what is the power consumption like?

    Thanks

    Michael

  2. Hi Michael,

    I haven’t actually confirmed the power consumption myself as yet (will do this weekend) but other people have done so and have seen power consumption of just 6-11 watts at idle, rising to ~35 watts under high load.

    According to cpubenchmark.net, the CPU in the NUC is almost twice as powerful as that in the N54L (the latest in the MicroServer range), and about 3 times as good as the N36L.

    I don’t foresee nesting as being an issue, and that is precisely how I plan to use my lab. I will be testing nesting of AutoLab on my platform this week.

    I have lots more info on the NUC boxes themselves in part one of my article:

    http://www.tekhead.org/blog/2013/01/nanolab-running-vmware-vsphere-on-intel-nuc-part-1/

    Cheers

    Alex

  3. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the article. This helped tremendously when trying to get this to work for a business application we were using. Fantastic write-up!

  4. [...] Earlier parts of this article may be found here: NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1 NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2 [...]

  5. [...] parts of this article may be found here: NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2 NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part [...]

  6. [...] found some good instructions how to get ESX5.1i running on the NUC here (thanks to [...]

  7. Mark says:

    Hi Alex,

    brilliant series of articles. When my NUC arrived I had ESXi and my first vm running in under 1h, based on your clear instructions. Thank you!

    Just here to confirm that my NUC DC3217IYE is running happily with a Kingston HyperX 16 GB DDR3-1600 Kit (KHX16S9P1K2/16, Genesis PnP). I also encountered the F2-BIOS/HDMI problem, which I was able to solve with a HDMI-to-DVI adapter which I had lying around and connecting the NUC to a regular computer monitor. No problems after that.

    I saw somewhere that the i5 version will come out in April, can’t wait!

    Thanks,
    Mark.

    • Thanks! Tempted to buy a pair of the i5 NUCs later too, once the price drops a bit. Theyll be good to use as a different “site” in SRM, Veeam etc, and for doing more high CPU tasks, like media transcoding etc. Exciting times in miniature computing… :)

  8. [...] Alex Galbraith recently posted a two-part series on what he calls the “NanoLab,” a home lab built on the Intel NUC (“Next Unit of Computing”). It’s a good read for those of you looking for some very quiet and very small home lab equipment, and Alex does a good job of providing all the details. Check out part 1 here and part 2 here. [...]

  9. [...] of this article may be found here: NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1 NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2 NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part [...]

  10. [...] Alex Galbraith recently posted a two-part series on what he calls the “NanoLab,” a home lab built on the Intel NUC (“Next Unit of Computing”). It’s a good read for those of you looking for some very quiet and very small home lab equipment, and Alex does a good job of providing all the details. Check out part 1 here and part 2 here. [...]

  11. Happy One says:

    I CAN’T thank you enough. this was so timely as my old servers started to act up and frankly i think i am tired of great. but USED hardware. Anyway, i wanted to let you know that with ESXi v5.1 you can’t use the TGZ provided above, but a VIB instead.
    Through Googling around I found a post at http://notes.doodzzz.net/tag/intel-82579lm/ which had a link to a ready to use VIB for the Intel® 82579V Ethernet Card. It is located @ http://www.vm-help.com/forum/download/file.php?id=939
    I used it with ESXi Customizer and worked like a charm.
    Thanks again

  12. Matt says:

    Thank you so much for the tips. This is an amazing article. I needed a little piece of advice. What tool do you suggest so that I can only install from USB and use an installed SSD in the msata slot. I am trying to use linuxlive and unetbootin but I get an error on both when trying to use the ISO after the customizer kicks it out. Let me know what you think.

  13. […] For me, this makes it more attractive than the Intel NUC, which needs some hackery to get the driver installed. I’m not lazy; I’m […]

  14. Fredrik says:

    Is VMDirectPath I/O a lost cause?
    Have you read anything about the newer models?

    Something I was thinking of doing is to hook it up to an external drive case and run a VM with nexenta and give the USB3 buss to this VM. This way I could have a nice ZFS san.

  15. Joe says:

    Thanks again for this guide! I just got the DC53427HYE, created a custom ISO with 5.1 U1 + 82579M Intel NIC driver. After installing onto USB (love the Pny!) onto the NUC, ESXi pops up an ‘vmfs3 failed’ message, as well as the ‘no compatible adapter found’ message.

  16. VMware Guy says:

    Any updates on adding/testing additional network adapters? Would like to add another nic.

  17. Jeff says:

    I don’t understand where you get the ISO from. Where in workstation 10 do you create an ESXi ISO? I’m assuming that as you state the requirements being vmware workstation 8 or newer. No mention of a ESXi ISO and where to get it.

  18. Danny says:

    DUDE THIS IS FRICKEN AWESOME! If only I can get my thunderbolt ethernet working then I would be set. Has anyone solved this?

  19. landski says:

    I couldn’t get “Part Two – Install bootable ESXi to the USB stick” to work. The NUC would not get assigned an IP address. Probably I configured the VM wrong.

    I went out and bought a USB CD-drive (Samsung SE-208) for 25 euros. Burned the same ISO and installed on the NUC without any problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: