Tropical Software Observations

18 March 2009

Posted by Bacchus D

at 4:26 PM



VMware ESXi For Cheapskates

I've finally had it with Xen. We've been using it for QA and infrastructure hosts for a couple of years now (after a brief, bizarre detour with Solaris containers) with pretty good results. But after discovering Xen support had been dropped from the latest version of Ubuntu, I tried out KVM only to discover that its client tools are currently dribbly pieces of poo. I'm sure there's a clever way to compile your own kernel with the Xen patches to create some sort of frankenstein hypervisor, but really all I want is just the thinnest layer possible on top of bare metal in order to run some Linux VMs. Not really all that much to ask for.

Most of the software we use at Favorite Medium is open source so I, too, was surprised when my search led me to VMware. They recently made ESXi, the smaller and somewhat crippled cousin of ESX, free so I decided to try installing it on a $600 machine that formerly ran Xen in another life. This host is known around our office as 'pike' and is named after Rob Pike for no particular reason.

After burning the ISO image to a disk and booting up pike, I immediately ran into problems. First it was the ethernet card. Apparently ESXi has a fairly limited HCL and our crappy D-Link NIC was not on it. A quick trip to the local IT graveyard and I was back in the office with two replacements: an Intel PRO/100, and a Broadcom gigabit something or other. $12 each.

The Broadcom NIC worked perfectly but then the installer complained about the disk controller. Our super cheap Gigabyte motherboard (G31M-SL2, if you must know) uses a cruddy SATA controller that, again, isn't on the ESXi HCL. Note that if you're trying this on consumer-grade hardware you'll likely run into the same problem as well. Now the installer probably ought to handle the condition more gracefully but instead it just stops cold with an ominous "The installation has encountered a fatal error" message. Not to worry, a quick one line edit of a Python script fixed the problem. Check out the detailed procedure here.

Never thought I'd say this but...VMware, lovin' it!


Unknown said...

Being a Xen user, you didn't look into the free version of XenServer? Same performance as the Xen you're used to and much better management tools.

Rich said...

XenServer is free, but you need 64 bit hardware. Sounds like ESXi was the right choice.

Bacchus D said...

We used Xen for 2 years but on Debian and Ubuntu with the custom kernels and it was fine for what we were doing. When I last checked, XenServer had announced a free version but it wasn't actually available for download. That may have changed since early March, I haven't checked back recently. VMware's limited HCL can be a real headache, though.