ESXi 4.1 Unattended Installation an Overview

Update per April, 28th 2011.

I do like to keep my posts up-to-date. This post would not be complete without mentioning VMware Labs fling, the  PXE Manager for vCenter .

VMware PXE Manager is a management tool that supports automatic PXE boot (network boot using PXE) and automatic customization of large numbers of ESXi systems,

Other features are :

  • Automated provisioning of new ESXi hosts stateless and stateful (no ESX)
  • ESXi host state (firmware) backup, restore, and archiving with retention
  • ESXi builds repository management (stateless and statefull)
  • ESXi Patch management
  • Multi vCenter support
  • Multi network support with agents (Linux CentOS virtual appliance will be available later)
  • Wake on Lan
  • Hosts memtest
  • vCenter plugin
  • Deploy directly to VMware Cloud Director
  • Deploy to Cisco UCS blades

This fling is accompanied by instructions and two videos. The first one shows you how to install PXE manager and the second one shows you how to install a stateless ESXi server.

Introduction

Maybe it is because of my Linux background, one subject that always intrigues me is scripting. When work becomes routine, it is time for a script. Some time ago, I got involved in deploying VMware ESX 3.5 (Classic) and I had a nice time writing kickstart scripts. Especially the %post part was fun.

Then VMware announced ESX 4.1 will be the last version with the “Classic Console”, all future versions will be based on ESXi. At that moment I decided to say “Goodbye  to the Console (and all the benefits)” and to concentrate on ESXi and meet the challenges that come with something new. The first one: Deployment.

VMware guide ESXi Installable and vCenter Server Guide presents an Installation overview. In this post, I will focus on scripted installation by means of PXE boot. Starting on page 25, the complete preparation, all the aspects and a lot of references.
Final conclusion: It is a lot of work to build your own deployment environment. The good news, other people have done a very good job, the question is which way to go?

UDA

The first solution is “the Ultimate Deployment Appliance”, short UDA, created by Carl Thijssen, http://www.ultimatedeployment.org/ .

UDA Supported OS

UDA

The UDA enables you to deploy not only VMware ESX, but also Microsoft Windows, Solaris and different Linux flavors. UDA Build 17 supports VMware ESX 4.1 and ESXi 4.1. The appliance includes all the building blocks you need. After downloading, you can import the UDA on a ESX host. Configuring the UDA is easy, after a few steps, it offers a nice webinterface which guides you through the whole process.

The great Mike Laverick, who is also responsible for the support of VMware in the UDA, published a Quickstart Guide and Template examples on his website.

Kenneth van Ditmarsch even added some extra functionality to UDA in this article.

EDA

It would be unfair not to mention another Appliance that in my opinion has a lot in common with the previous one; the ESX Deployment Appliance  (EDA) created by Herco van Brug, which can be downloaded from this location. Do not forget to download and install this patch if you want to deploy VMware ESX 4.1. On the Downloads page, you will also find instructions about the installation and configuring the EDA.

Windows

The UDA and EDA are both Linux based appliances. Some people are more comfortable in a Windows environment, so let’s have a look how to deploy VMware ESX in a Windows shop.

The already mentioned Kenneth van Ditmarsch published on his blog “Virtual Kenneth” a very nice tutorial how to setup a deployment environment on a Windows 2003 server with IIS. If you want to build your own environment on a Windows 2008 (R2) server, please read the Responses!

I started with a  “No more Console”, one exception: Paul Davey published a very nice paper on the Xtravirt website. After registering, you can download the E-Book “ESX4 – The Ultimate Guide” and Bonus material. The E-book goes into detail how to deploy ESX4 with Microsoft’s WDS (Windows Deployment Services), it is a recommended reading.

Fling

The most curious deployment solution at this time imho has escaped from the VMware Labs. It is called “VMware Auto Deploy” and is the work of three guys named Timothy Stack, Greg Hutchins and Patrick Devine.

It is also a Linux based Appliance with some added components. At first reading I was not very interested because it seems much like the other appliances using PXE-boot, DHCP and so on, but it used Host Profiles to do the configuration of the newly installed ESX host.

But here comes the big difference: all other solutions actually install VMware ESXi on local disk (unfortunately not on embedded USB devices L), but the VMware Auto Deploy appliance does not need local disks, it does a stateless install of ESXi, puts the ESXi host in a cluster and configures the ESXi host with a little help from the Host profiles. It also means that after a reboot the ESX host has to go through the whole process again.

To conclude this post, I am sure there are a many more brilliant solutions, I presented just a few. I am glad to receive feedback and suggestions on this subject and hoped you enjoyed reading this one.

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One Response to ESXi 4.1 Unattended Installation an Overview

  1. […] ESXi 4.1 Unattended Installation an Overview […]

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