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

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