Home > VMware, VMware ESXi > Setting up ESXi 5.1 on a 2011 Mac Mini Server

Setting up ESXi 5.1 on a 2011 Mac Mini Server

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is virtualizing my home server setup, as well as making it easier to stand up (and take down) test servers as needed.

I’ve been doing a lot of work with VMWare Fusion on my Mac and could have gone that way, but I wanted to do the virtualization with VMWare’s free ESXi software. I hadn’t previously set up a dedicated hypervisor, so I wanted to learn how to do that.

I have a 2011 Mac Mini Server, which is fortunate because setting up ESXi on that Mini model has been well-documented in a number of places. The latest available version as of this date is ESXi 5.1, so I decided to install that. After some work, I now have ESX 5.1 running on my Mini Server. See below the jump for the details.

One thing to keep in mind is that ESXi is not officially supported on the Mac Mini. It works, but getting it running will take some work. Specifically, you will need to add the following ethernet driver to the ESXi install ISO file:

VMware ESXi 5.0 Driver CD for Broadcom NetXtreme I Gigabit Ethernet including support for 5717/5718/5719/5720

The way I found out that this driver is needed is that I first tried installing the stock ESXi 5.1 install without slipstreaming the driver into the installer ISO. What happened? Everything installed fine, but networking didn’t work.

Building the ESXi installer

For the second round, I started up a Windows 7 VM and downloaded a copy of ESXi-Customizer  as well as a copy of the following files from VMWare’s site:

VMware-VMvisor-Installer-5.1.0-799733.x86_64.iso

VMware ESXi 5.0 Driver CD for Broadcom NetXtreme I Gigabit Ethernet including support for 5717/5718/5719/5720

Once I had the VMWare installer files downloaded, I then used ESXi-Customizer to slipstream using the following procedure:

1. Launched ESXi-Customizer by double-clicking on the ESXi-Customizer batch file script.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.34.05 PM

2. In the Select the original VMWare ESXi ISO: section, selected VMware-VMvisor-Installer-5.1.0-799733.x86_64.iso

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.34.35 PM

3. In the Select an OEM.tgz, a VIB file or an Offline Bundle: section, selected tg3-3.123cv50.1-offline_bundle-841079.zip (corresponds to the Broadcom ethernet driver.)

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.35.05 PM

4. In the Select the working directory (needs to be on a local NTFS-formatted drive): section, selected the Documents directory of my account.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.35.21 PM

5. Checked off the Create (U)EFI-bootable ISO (ESXi 5.0 only) checkbox, in order to enable the new ISO to boot the Mini.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.35.32 PM

6. Clicked the Run! button.

I received a warning that the (U)EFI-bootable ISO could not be further customized. That was fine, so I clicked the OK button.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.36.28 PM

ESXi-Customizer went to work and prompted me about replacing the ethernet driver. I wanted to do this, so I clicked the Yes button.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.36.39 PM

Once finished, the newly-created ISO was available in my account’s Documents directory as an ISO file named ESXi-5.x-Custom.iso.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.36.44 PM

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.36.55 PM

My next action was to copy the ISO file from my Windows VM back into my Mac. From there, I used Disk Utility to burn the ISO file to a CD.

Installing ESXi 5.1 on the Mini

From there, I hooked up an Apple USB SuperDrive to the Mini, popped the newly-burned CD in and rebooted the Mini. When rebooting, I held down the Option key to allow the various boot drive options to appear, then selected the CD. The CD showed up with EFI Boot and Windows partitions, so I selected EFI Boot.

NOTE: All screenshots of this process are from ESXi running inside of VMWare Fusion, but the Mac Mini install process was identical.

Once booted from the CD, I was asked to select the ESXi 5.1 installer. Once selected, the ESXi installer boot process began.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.54.39 PM

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.54.56 PM

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.55.18 PM

1. When asked to begin the installation process, I hit the Enter key.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.57.45 PM

2. I hit F11 to accept the license agreement.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.57.52 PM

At this point, the installer took a few minutes to scan the machine.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.59.13 PM

3. Once scanning completed, I was asked to select the drive I wanted to install on. I selected the drive I wanted and hit the Enter key.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.59.49 PM

4. I selected US Default for the keyboard layout.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.59.58 PM

5. When prompted, I set a password for the root account. This is the user account that you’ll initially use to log into your ESXi server.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.00.18 PM

At this point, the installer took a few minutes to scan the machine again.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.00.24 PM

6. The installer then confirms that you want to install using the options you’ve selected. You’re also warned that the disk will be repartitioned.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.04.31 PM

NOTE: Repartitioning will wipe everything on the drive. If you have data you need to get off of this drive, hit the Escape key to back out at this point.

7. ESXi 5.1 will then install. When finished, the installer will request that you remove the installation disc and then reboot. Once you’ve removed it, hit the Enter key to reboot.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.04.39 PM

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.07.35 PM


Booting ESXi 5.1 on the Mini and changing network settings

On reboot, the Mini should now boot from the newly-created ESXi boot drive. Once up at the server display screen, you should see that it’s picked up a dynamic IP from your DHCP server and has the hostname of localhost.

Here’s how to change to a static IP and a new hostname:

1. Click the F2 key.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.09.25 PM

2. Log in as the root account, using the password you set during the install process.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.09.38 PM

3. You should be now at the System Customization screen. Select Configure Management Network.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.09.51 PM

5. In the IP Configuration settings, Select Set static IP address and network configuration: and hit the space bar to make that option active.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.10.08 PM

5. Set the static IP, subnet mask and gateway address.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.10.30 PM

6. In the DNS Configuration settings, set the address(es) of your DNS server(s) and also set your desired hostname. In my case, I set a fully qualified DNS name.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.11.16 PM

7. In the Custom DNS Suffixes settings, you may need to set a DNS suffix. In my case, my domain was already filled in.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.11.39 PM

8. Once you’ve made all of your changes, hit the Escape key to exit back to the System Customization screen. You’ll be asked to confirm the changes you’ve made to your network settings and warned that there will be a brief network outage for the ESXi server and any VMs running on it. Hit the Y key to apply the new settings.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.11.50 PM

9. At the System Customization screen, you should now see your static IP and hostname displayed under Configure Management Network.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.12.09 PM

10. Hit the Escape key to exit to the server display screen. It should now be displaying your hostname and your static IP address.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.12.25 PM


Logging to your ESXi server

To log into your ESXi server, you will need to have access to a Windows VM or a Windows PC.

1. Install the vSphere client on the Windows box.

2. Launch the vSphere client and enter the following information:

IP Address / Name: IP or DNS address of your ESXi server

User name: root

Password: the password you set during the install process

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.16.08 PM

3. You’ll be warned that an untrusted SSL certificate is installed. Click the Ignore button.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.16.13 PM

If everything worked right, at this point you should be in! You’ll be warned that you’re using a 60 day evaluation license.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 7.16.29 PM

If you have a VMWare account, you can log in to the VMWare website and download a free ESXi license to use with your Mini ESXi server.

Wrap-up

Overall, once I got all the pieces I needed, I found the installation and network configuration process to be fairly intuitive (which is not something you can say for all enterprise-grade software.)

There were two main issues I ran into. The first was the Broadcom network driver, which the stock ESX 5.1 install does not include. I was able to fix that by slipstreaming the driver into the ESXi installer.

The second problem was outside the ESXi server and was an issue I had with my 2012 Airport Express. Here’s the details on this issue:

I have my boxes in a couple of places. The first location is over by my TV, where the cable modem is. I have a TiVo, a home theater Mini and my main 802.11n dual-band wireless access point located there.

My office is in another room. The machines there are hooked into a gigabit switch and use an Airport Express connected to the switch to act as a wireless bridge back to the internet connection provided by the cable modem. After I set up two VMs on the ESXi server, there were now three IP addresses associated with the Mini. The Airport Express started only accepting two IP addresses from the ESXi Mini, and dropping the other.

I was able to identify the Airport Express as the problem because I could ping the third address from other machines located on that same switch. After trying to fix it a few ways, the ultimate fix was to get the Airport Express out of the loop. I did this by relocating the ESXi Mini to be stacked underneath the home theater Mini in the TV cabinet. Once the Airport Express was no longer providing the network connection, the ESXi server’s three IP addresses were all available.

Categories: VMware, VMware ESXi
  1. January 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Great write-up, Rich. I’m wondering if any visitors to your blog have successfully done the same with a 2012 mini yet and can confirm if the drivers that are available for the Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter still work?

    • January 25, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      I’ve been running this setup for a while now and it rocks. For others, you’re beat off following the hardcore VMware folks (@brianlam for example) on twitter etc.

      Curious to see if MacMiniColo with start offering this kind of configuration.

  2. Chris Dawe
    January 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Rich,

    A somewhat ignorant question as I consider trying this on my test server (which happens to be this model): does the system make any allowance for mirroring the drives in the machine?

    best regards,
    Chris Dawe

    • January 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Chris,

      To the best of my knowledge, ESXi does not support software RAIDs. If you need RAID capability, I recommend setting up a RAID’d NAS and then using NFS or iSCSI to mount the RAID as ESXi-accessible storage.

      • Chris Dawe
        January 25, 2013 at 8:37 pm

        Fair enough. Thanks for your reply.

      • January 25, 2013 at 8:39 pm

        I’ll confirm that. Software RAID is not a possibility for VMFS volumes. But… There are are options. One trick I’ve used for building robust standalone ESX appliances is to install a Solaris (or Linux, or FreeNAS or whatever) that supports software RAID and then to use the VM to republish the disks back to the ESXi server via NFS or iSCSI.

        If you use a ZFS based appliance, you can them simplify your backups by replicated the zfs volume across the network to another machine with ZFS capabilities.

      • Joe Carroll
        January 31, 2014 at 12:39 pm

        Erik :
        I’ll confirm that. Software RAID is not a possibility for VMFS volumes. But… There are are options. One trick I’ve used for building robust standalone ESX appliances is to install a Solaris (or Linux, or FreeNAS or whatever) that supports software RAID and then to use the VM to republish the disks back to the ESXi server via NFS or iSCSI.
        If you use a ZFS based appliance, you can them simplify your backups by replicated the zfs volume across the network to another machine with ZFS capabilities.

        This sounds like a really interesting, although potentially complex setup! Do you have a link to a blog post or other resources documenting how to achieve this, Erik? Some more implementation details would be very welcome.

      • January 31, 2014 at 12:50 pm

        As it happens, I just bought a colocated Mac Mini with ESXi installed and I’m in the process of writing up an article on how to set it up with an IPSec tunnel and then ZFS storage for reliability and simplified backups.

    • Sam
      January 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      I have set up Software RAID volumes under Mac OS on an ESXi host. Just create two virtual disks of identical size in each datastore, and connect them to the guest OS. Then create them as you normally would.

  3. January 26, 2013 at 7:28 am

    I assume ESXi takes the entire hard drive partition and runs fully with its own Linux based OS, but Workstation runs on Windows or other OS. So Workstation is more resource intensive?

    Please let me know if this is incorrect or other input anyone has. Thank you

  4. melmaninga
    January 29, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Great notes and great site!

    Can you get a OS X Client virtual machine on ESXi to Netboot?

    I know VMWare Fusion 5 has the capability, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a completely virtualised home lab sitting on the ESXi host?

    • melmaninga
      April 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      FYI While I can’t seem to get a ESXi VM to NetBoot, I have opted for simply creating a template VM in ESXi with a DeployStudio bootable external drive as one of the virtual disks and a blank HFS formatted virtual disk as another.

      The advantage of this scenario is that client and server testing all happen on the ESXi host. Super speedy for testing deployments and builds, and a bit more robust because it is completely self-contained; only the ESXi host is required. (Don’t forget to choose an IDE controller when adding the boot disk for the VM so DeployStudio will see it.)

      • fracus
        May 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

        Are you able to give a walk through on how you set up Deploy Studio on your ESXi server?

  5. MacValley
    April 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Great tutorial! However, I had to use the ESXi Customizer a tiny bit different. I downloaded the driver as per the link stated. I copied the MD5 checksum from VMware’s site, and calculated it once downloaded, and that was a perfect match. The instruction says that I should browse to the location of the downloaded zip file. Then I run the customizer but at the end I get a fatal error saying that the file is corrupt! Rubbish, can’t be, the checksums match. Instead I use the approach to manually unzip the downloaded file, and in customizer I then browse to the VIB file instead. I guess that that is what the script does anyway. Run again and this time I end up with a customized iso. I go ahead as instructed, and finally I get a fully working machine. Amazing. I have some experience with ESXi 5.1 before, but that is on an old Windows platform with a weaker CPU, less memory and a huge old fashioned case. Now I have a Mac Mini i7 with 16 GB of memory. Yes, I can confirm that 16 GB really works, I bought Cruzial chips that were officially supported for the mini. Works like a charm!

  6. Chris Dietrich
    April 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Awesome article!
    This also works on a Mid-2011 iMac by the way.

  7. April 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Can I ask a rather stupid question. Once you have your ESXi Mac Mini setup can you then setup a virtualised Mac OS inside the hypervisor.

  8. Pekka
    May 7, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Sweet, in 5.1 Update 1 ethernet works as is.

  9. fracus
    May 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Can anyone explain how to boot into Deploy Studio on their ESXi server. I would like to get this setup so I can start using our test images instead of having to manually install the OS from an ISO file. I know VMware Fusion does it but I’d rather use ESXi.

    • fracus
      May 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      After spending hours of testing I originally failed getting the VM to boot into Deploy Studio (from System Preferences/Startup Disk, command line, creating a Deploy Studio ISO file). I was about to give up but before I tried the following and it worked so here you go for those wanting to use Deploy Studio on their ESXi server:

      - Created a new VM,
      - Added a second hard drive (5GB),
      - Installed a fresh 10.8.3 (this is just the OS I used) ISO on the primary hard drive (20GB),
      - After getting past the welcome screen/introduction questions I went to Disk Utility to make 1 partition on the 5GB drive,
      - Downloaded/installed the latest Deploy Studio (v1.6),
      - Used Deploy Studio Assistant to “Create a bootable external drive (Thunderbolt, Firewire & USB)” on the 5GB (second hard drive)
      - After its completed go to System Preferences/Startup Disk and select the “DeployStudioRuntimeHD” device,
      - If all goes well it will boot into your Deploy Studio where you can use any workflow you have created.

      Helpful tips:
      - If your VM keeps booting into Deploy Studio change the startup disk to the other hard drive from the Utilities drop down menu while in Deploy Studio.
      - To create additional VM’s like the one explain above, go into the datastore, find the name of your VM and open the folder, locate the 5GB hard drive (.vmdk file) you created Deploy Studio on, create a new folder in your datastore called “VMDKs” and copy that file into the folder. When you go to create a new VM, when adding the second hard drive instead of selecting “create a new virtual disk” you will choose “use an existing virtual disk”, then select the file you just copied into your VMDKs folder. This will basically skip the whole downloading/install Deploy Studio on the second hard drive step (little bit of a time saver).

      • melmaninga
        May 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm

        fracus,

        A bit of a late of a reply, but that is actually what I did! Sorry, I was on holiday and I could’ve save you hours, but the process is sometimes half the fun, right? (NOT!)

  10. Garry
    May 18, 2013 at 6:33 am

    Do you know if the Promise Pegasus R6 Thunderbolt array is visible to ESXi to use as Storage?

  11. Joe Carroll
    January 31, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Erik :
    As it happens, I just bought a colocated Mac Mini with ESXi installed and I’m in the process of writing up an article on how to set it up with an IPSec tunnel and then ZFS storage for reliability and simplified backups.

    Excellent—looking forward to reading it. Please remember to post the link here when you’ve published it.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers

%d bloggers like this: