Tag Archives: Installation

Creating an Automated ESXi Installer

Back in the summer, I saw Stu’s Post about automating the installation of ESXi. I was reminded again by Duncan’s Post. Then, I found myself in a situation when a customer bought 160 blades for VMware ESXi. With this many systems, it would be almost impossible to do this without mistakes. I took the ideas from Stu and Duncan and created an ESXi automated installer that works from a PXE deployment server, like the Ultimate Deployment Appliance. I took it a step further and added the ability to use a USB stick or a CD for those times when PXE is not allowed. The document below is a result of it.

This is a little different than the idea of a stateless ESXi server, where the hypervisor actually boots from PXE. This is the installer booting from PXE so that the hypervisor can be installed on local disk, an internal USB stick or SD card. You could also use it for a “boot from SAN” situation, but extreme care should be taken so you don’t accidentally format a VMFS disk.

As always, if anyone has comments, corrections, etc., please feel free to post a comment below.

The document can be found here -> Creating an Automated ESXi Installer

Summary

The ability to use an automated, unattended installation routine for a hypervisor is necessary whenever it is deployed to multiple systems or is done frequently. Automated installations help avoid a misconfiguration caused by human error, which become common when repetitive tasks are performed.  Because the “traditional” version of VMware ESX Server contains a Red Hat Linux based console operating system, we have been able to leverage kickstart scripts for automated installation. With the ESXi hypervisor, much of this functionality is not available because of the smaller footprint.

This document explains how to set up ESXi with little intervention. The modifications explained here can be used to deploy ESXi using a PXE server. In our examples we will use the Ultimate Deployment Appliance, but these methods will also transfer to such commercial packages as HP Rapid Deployment Pack, Altiris, or even a home grown PXE server. The modifications can also be used for deploying ESXi using a USB stick or a customized CD.

Requirements

  • ESXi Server Installable The ESXi CD image can be downloaded from the VMware site, however using a systems management and monitoring server, such as HP SIM or Dell OpenManage is highly recommended. Since there are usually vendor specific CIM providers to enhance the monitoring capabilities, some vendors will provide a customized CD image with the CIM providers. These additional CIM providers will also allow for more information to be displayed in the hardware sections of the vSphere Client. A search for “ESXi” on the HP and Dell sites produced links to the latest customized images.
  • Deployment Server A deployment server will allow for a controlled, automated installation of the ESXi Server software. The ability to handle multiple operating system installations is also desired. The ability to provide PXE and DHCP services is required as well. Most times, the deployment server will be running PXE services and TFTP. The DHCP services may be running on a different server in an enterprise. This document does not explain how to set up a separate DHCP server. For this document, we will be using the Ultimate Deployment Appliance (UDA) version 2.0 (beta).
  • Virtualization Software The UDA runs as a “Virtual Appliance,” which is a pre-configured virtual machine. It will run under VMware ESXi (available as a free or licensed instance), VMware Workstation (available for purchase), VMware Player (free) or VMware Server (free). In this document, VMware Workstation is used.
  • Optional software Although no additional software is required when using the UDA, you will need additional software if you plan on using a USB stick or if you plan on creating a customized CD image:
    • VMware Converter If you plan on using ESXi or Server to host the UDA, VMware Converter can be used to import the virtual appliance.
    • Syslinux In order to make a bootable USB stick, you will need the syslinux utility. This utility is available for Linux and Windows. The UDA does not include it. As an alternative, you can use the unetbootin utility.
    • CD Imaging and Burning In order to create a bootable CD image, you will need software to create the CD image (mkisofs) and then software to burn the image to the CD media (cdrecord). The cdrtools project includes versions for Linux and Windows. Most Debian versions of Linux, such as Ubuntu, come with the cdrkit, which uses genisoimage for imaging and wodim for burning.
    • Linux Desktop If you look at the contents of the ESXi CDs using Windows (Windows 7 was used), you may see all of the files listed using all capital letters. Since the ESXi software is based on Linux, all file operations are case sensitive and expect the files to be all lower case. This may cause errors when attempting to create the automated installer. For this reason, a Linux desktop is recommended. For most of the operations, UDS may be used. The only missing software on the UDA is syslinux. For a feature rich Linux desktop, Ubuntu is recommended. A few pre-configured Ubuntu Desktop virtual appliances are also available.

Conclusion

Once you have a hypervisor installed you will need to configure the server and add it to vCenter in an automated fashion. Look for a future doc covering this. For now, check out these resources for post install configurations:

http://communities.vmware.com/docs/DOC-7364

http://communities.vmware.com/docs/DOC-7511

http://communities.vmware.com/docs/DOC-8170

vSphere 4.0 Quick Start Guide Released

The vSphere 4.0 Quick Start Guide: Shortcuts down the path of Virtualization has finally arrived!

I received a pre-release edition of the book at VMworld 2009. This guide has a great selection of shortcuts, tips and best practices for setting up and maintaining vSphere 4. I would be an excellent addition to any VMware administrator’s bookshelf. The book’s size also makes it a great reference for consultants as well. It will easily fit into your backpack.

It was authored by the following geniuses from the community:

Shows these guys some love and pick up a copy to support their efforts.

vSphere Install and Upgrade Best Practices KB Articles and Links

So, I use NewsGator to aggregate a BAZILLION feeds from several sources, blogs, like this one, actual news feeds and a bunch of VMware feeds. The VMware feeds are from the VI:OPS and VMTN forums. The VMTN forums allow you to create a custom feed by selecting the RSS link at the bottom right of each page or you can get a feed from a specific section of the forum by clicking the link on the bottom left of a list. On of the custom feed options is to get a feed of the new KB articles.

VMware has released quite a lot of new KB articles surrounding vSphere. They just released nice best practice guidelines for installing or upgrading to ESX 4 and vCenter 4. They are short and to the point. There is also a nice article covering best practices for upgrading an ESX 3.x virtual machine to ESX 4.0. One thing I noticed, but never thought about is this :

“Note: If you are using dynamic DNS, some Windows versions require ipconfig/reregister to be run.”

Eric Seibert over at vSphere-Land posted a nice set of “missing links” for everything vSphere. This is a nice, comprehensive set of links to evetrything you need for vSphere upgrades or installs.So, go check that out as well.

Installing VMware ESX 4 in Text Mode

There are many reasons to install VMware ESX in text mode. The main reasons I use text mode are that it seems quicker for me and text mode responds better when using remote console connections, such as iLo, DRAC or console over IP. Previous versions of VMware used a text mode that incorporated Anaconda and was very similar to the text mode for RPM based Linux distributions. The new text mode in ESX 4 is VERY rudimentary when compared to the earlier versions. Hoever, it performs very well and is fairly straight forward to use.

The text mode installer uses simple lists of choices. Usually, 1 is for continue or to answer yes. Some items will have more than one choice. Here is a screenshot:

esx4-001-2009-04-27-173430

The console OS truly appears as a VM in this version. You must create a datastore and then a VMDK that represents the COS. A disk of sufficient size will be required for this. My first attempt, using an 8GB disk failed. My second attempt, using a 10GB disk was successful.

You can download a doc outlining text mode installation HERE.