How to install ESXi 5.5 Patch03 on the new Mac Pro 6,1?

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I have received several questions from customers asking how to go about installing the latest ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 on the Apple Mac Pro 6,1. Luckily, I was able to borrow one of the Apple Mac Pro 6,1 we had within VMware Engineering for a couple of days to document the process.

Step 1 - A prerequisite that must be met prior to installing ESXi is to have the Apple boot ROM update on the Mac Pro 6,1 running on MP61.0116.B05 or higher. This great piece of tidbit came from Josh who discovered issues while trying to install ESXi and found out this was a requirement after opening a case with Apple Engineering. It turns out that there is not an EFI update and the ONLY way to update the boot ROM was to install Yosemite (OS X 10.10) as it contains an update which can be applied to the Mac Pro. Thanks Josh for sharing this tip with us!

You can check the boot ROM by either following this Apple KB here or by running system info with an OS X image on a bootable USB device which is what I did to verify as seen in the screenshot below.

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Step 2 - Once you have met the prerequisite, you will need to download the offline bundle for ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 which contains the Mac Pro 6,1 enablement along with other bug fixes. You can do so by going to VMware Patche portal and under ESXi, you should find ESXi550-201410001.zip at the very top.

Step 3 - Next you need to convert this offline bundle into an ISO image that you can load onto a USB device, this is the simplest way to install ESXi. To do so, you will need a Windows system as it uses a tool called VMware Image Builder which is only available for Windows. Image Builder is part of the PowerCLI toolkit which can be downloaded here.

Step 4 - Once PowerCLI has been installed go ahead and launch the it and we are ready to start authoring our ISO image

Step 5 - Add ESXi offline bundle that we download by running the following command:

Add-EsxSoftwareDepot ESXi550-201410001.zip

Step 6 - You will need to select the particular ESXi Image Profile to create your ISO image from, you can view the four Image Profiles by running the following command:

Get-EsxImageProfile | format-wide

Step 7 - You will want to select the one that contains the all patches including security and VMware Tools called ESXi-5.5.0-20141004001-standard by running the following command:

New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-5.5.0-20141004001-standard" -name "ESXi55u2-p03" -Vendor virtuallyGhetto

Step 8 - We now need to export the Image Profile we have selected to an ISO by running the following command:

Export-EsxImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi55u2-p03" -ExportToISO -filepath C:\VMware-ESXi-5.5u2p03-Mac-Pro-6-1.iso

Step 9 - Once the ISO has been created, you can now create a bootable USB containing your ESXi installation. I like to use Unetbootin but there are several other tools you can use, select whichever one you are comfortable with.

Step 10 - Plug the USB device into your Mac Pro and make sure to hold down the "ALT" key so you can select the device to boot from and you can start your ESXi installation as you would normally.

Here is a screenshot of the Mac Pro running the latest ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 release:

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I know there were a couple of questions from folks asking whether the Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter would be recognized by ESXi on the new Mac Pro 6,1 and I can confirm, it does as shown in the screenshot below:

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The Mac Pro 6,1 has two on-board Ethernet ports and comes with 6 x Thunderbolt connections, so you can connect quite a bit of networks if you need to.

If you have made it this far and realize you rather not go through that long process (which is quite short actually), then I you will be quite happy to see that I have done the hard work for you and have created an ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 ISO which you can download here. Hope you enjoy your new Mac Pro and running ESXi on top of it!

Automating the silent installation of Site Recovery Manager 5.8 w/Embedded vPostgres DB

Last week I had a nice email exchange with Ben Meadowcroft who is the Product Manager for VMware's Site Recovery Manager. While chatting with Ben, I learned about new feature that I was not aware of in the latest SRM 5.8 release which now supports an embedded vPostgres database. Not only does this greatly simplify the installation and not requiring an external database like Microsoft SQL or Oracle, it is also on par in terms scalability with the external databases which is great for customers. I definitely like this improvement in the SRM installation and making it easier to evaluate and POC without requiring a large resource footprint.

In addition to new database feature, I also learned that SRM supports a silent mode installation which I was not aware of before either. I figured this might come in handy for those needing to automate an SRM deployment given you will need at least two installation: one for the protection site and one for the recovery site. I did not see much documentation on this topic and it has been awhile since I have played with SRM, I thought this would be a good opportunity for some automation goodness as well as checking out some of the new SRM 5.8 features including VSAN support as well as the new vSphere Web Client integration.

In my lab, I wanted to run the a minimal setup and the least amount of Windows :) With that, I was able to use two VCSA, 2 SRM hosts running on Windows 2008 R2 and six Nested ESXi hosts as shown in the diagram below:
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To perform a silent installation of SRM, you need to specify a list of 35 parameters to the actual executable which is quite daunting and can also be quite error prone. It actually took me a few tries before I was able to get it working and I wanted to make easier so that anyone can just consume it. I decided to create a simple Windows batch script called install_srm.bat which wraps all the required parameters in a set of variables that can easily be modified by anyone. Out of the 35, only 31 of the parameters can be edited and of those only 15 is really required to be tweaked (which is clearly noted in the script) but also shown below:

  • SRM_INSTALLER - The full path to the SRM 5.8 installer
  • DR_TXT_VCHOSTNAME - vCenter Server IP/Hostname
  • DR_TXT_VCUSR - vCenter Server Username
  • DR_TXT_VCPWD - vCenter Server Password
  • VC_CERTIFICATE_THUMBPRINT - vCenter Server SSL SHA1 Thumbprint
  • DR_TXT_LSN - SRM Local Site Name
  • DR_TXT_ADMINEMAIL - SRM Admin Email Address
  • DR_CB_HOSTNAME_IP - SRM Server IP/Hostname
  • DR_TXT_CERTPWD - SSL Certificate Password
  • DR_TXT_CERTORG - SSL Certificate Organization Name
  • DR_TXT_CERTORGUNIT - SSL Certification Organization Unit Name
  • DR_EMBEDDED_DB_DSN - SRM DB DSN Name
  • DR_EMBEDDED_DB_USER - SRM DB Username
  • DR_EMBEDDED_DB_PWD - SRM DB Password
  • DR_SERVICE_ACCOUNT_NAME - Windows System Account to run SRM Service

Note: To retrieve the vCenter Server SSL Certificate Thumbprint, you can either view the details using a regular web browser as shown in the screenshot below

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or you can run the following command on a UNIX/Linux using the openssl utility to extract the thumbprint:

echo -n | openssl s_client -connect [VC-IP-ADDRESS]:443 2>/dev/null | openssl x509 -noout -fingerprint -sha1

Depending on the number of SRM installations you require, you will need to modify the script to perform those additional deployments. As you can see below, I have my two SRM sites implemented. I have also gone ahead and paired both my SRM setups as well as deploy and configure the vSphere Replication 5.8 using the vSphere Web Client. I definitely recommend checking out the latest SRM 5.8 release if you have not already and you may also want to consider using the embedded vPostgres database for future SRM installation to help simplify the deployment and management of SRM.

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For those of you who are interested in the variable mappings to the SRM UI installer (which is pretty straight forward), I took screenshots of each step and mapped them for your convenience.

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ESXi Support for 2014 Apple Mac Mini 7,1

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I have received a number of inquires asking whether ESXi can be installed on the latest 2014 Apple Mac Mini 7,1. Unfortunately, some early reports have indicated issues trying to get the latest version of ESXi installed on the Mac Mini and the results are also the same using old releases of ESXi as well. As of right now, VMware Engineering is unable to comment on the issue until they can get their hands on a the latest Mac Mini in house for investigation. If you happen to own the latest Mac Mini and live in the Bay Area and wish to help expedite the process by donating your system for testing, feel free to drop me a note. I will update this blog with new findings as they are made available regarding ESXi and the new Mac Mini's

In the mean time, if you are looking to purchase a Mac Mini to run ESXi, I would highly recommend you take a look at some of the platform changes here and here before deciding to purchase. The most significant change in my opinion is the removal of user replaceable memory with soldered in memory! This means that you will NOT be able to upgrade the units after purchasing and you will need to max out the configuration during the initial purchase with Apple. This is one of the unfortunate changes to the Mac Mini platform and I personally would recommend looking at the last release of the Mac Mini's (Late 2012) which will provide the most bang for the buck. For the old Mac Mini's you will most likely have to look on eBay or even Amazon as they are no longer sold by Apple or their retailers.

Disclaimer: Running ESXi on an Apple Mac Mini is not officially supported by VMware, please use at your own risk

A killer custom Apple Mac Mini setup running VSAN

*** This is a guest blog post from Peter Bjork ***

The first time I was briefed on VMware VSAN, I fell in love. I finally knew how I would build my Home Lab.

Let me first introduce myself, my name is Peter Björk and I work at VMware as Lead Specialist within the EMEA EUC Practice. I fortunately have the opportunity to limit my focus on a very few products and truly specialize in these. I cover two products; VMware ThinApp and VMware Workspace Portal and one feature; the Application Publishing feature of VMware Horizon 6. I’m an End-User application kind of guy. That said, you should understand that I’m far from your ESXi and vSphere expert. If you want to keep up with the latest news in the VMware End-User Computing space make sure to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @thepeb. When I’m not a guest blogger, I frequently blog on the official ThinApp and Horizon Tech blogs.

In my role I produce a lot of blog posts and internal enablement material. I perform many tests using early code drops and on a daily basis I run my home lab to deliver live demos. I need a Home Lab that I can trust and that supports all my work tasks. I started building my lab many years ago. It all started with a single mid tower white box, but pretty soon I ran into resource constraints. I started to investigate what my next upgrade would look like.

I had a few requirements:

  • Keep the noise down
  • Shouldn’t occupy that much space
  • Should be affordable
  • Modular, I do not have money to buy everything upfront so it should be something I could build on top of.
  • Should be able to run VMware ESXi/vSphere
  • Should be cool

Being an Apple junky for many years, my eyes soon fell on the Apple Mac Minis and I stumbled over this great blog by William Lam that you are reading right now. At the same time I started to hear about VSAN and my design was pretty much decided. I was going to build a Mac Mini cluster using VSAN as storage. While I have Synology NAS I only use it for my private files. It is not used in my home lab and for reasons I can not really explain I wanted to keep it separate and use a separate storage solution for my home lab.

Now that I have decided to build my home lab, I went and bought my first Mac Mini. To keep cost down I found two used late 2012 models with i7 CPUs. Since VSAN requires one SSD and one HDD I had to upgrade them using the OWC Data Doubler Mounting Kit. I also upgraded the memory to 16GB RAM in each Mac Mini. This setup gave me some extra resources and together with my old Tower Server I could start building my VSAN Cluster. I started with the VSAN beta. I quickly realized that VSAN didn’t support my setup. I waited for the GA release of VSAN and on the release date I decided to go for a pure Mac Mini VSAN setup so I stole my families HTPC which was a late 2012 Mac Mini model with a i5 CPU. (I managed to get away with it because I replaced it with an Apple-TV.) I took one HDD and the SSD from my old Tower Server and put it into the i5 Mac Mini. While I managed to get VSAN up and running it was only running for an hour or so before I lost one disk in my VSAN setup. I recovered the disk back up through a simple reboot but then the next disk went down. The reason for the instability is that the GA release of VSAN did not support the AHCI controller. Hugely disappointed I had to run my home lab on local attached storage and my dreams of VSAN was just that, dreams. In all my eagerness I’ve already migrated the majority of my VMs onto the VSAN Datastore so I pretty much lost my entire home lab.

After complaining to my colleagues, I found out that AHCI controller support for VSAN was coming in vSphere 5.5 U2. I heard it was likely to solve my problems. So the 9th October came and vSphere 5.5u2 was finally here. To my joy, my three Mac Minis were finally able to run VSAN and it was completely stable.

Lets take a closer look at my setup. Below is an overview of the setup and how things are tied together.

Home Lab Picture
My VSAN Datastore houses most of my VMs. My old Tower Server is connected to the VSAN Datastore but does not currently contribute any storage. On the Tower Server I host my management VMs. Since I got burned loosing all my VMs, I made sure I keep my management VMs on a local disk in the Tower Server. Since my environment has been running quite stable for nearly two weeks now I’m considering migrating all of my VMs onto the VSAN Datastore.

I have noticed one issue so far which is with my i5 based Mac Mini. One day it was reporting not connected in the vCenter Server. The machine was running but I got a lot of timeouts when I pinged it. While I was thinking about rebooting the host it showed up as connected again and since then I’ve not noticed any other issues. I suspect the i5 CPU isn’t powerful enough to host a couple VMs and being a part of the VSAN. When I saw it disappear it might have been running some heavy workloads. So with this in mind I would recommend running i7 Mac Minis and leave the i5 models for HTPC work loads :).

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the Mac Minis are running quite hot. There is no power saving functionality that is active and my small server room doesn’t have cooling. The room is constantly around 30-35 degrees Celsius (86-95F) but the gear just keeps on running. The only time I got a little bit worried was when the room’s temperature peaked at 45 degrees Celsius (113F), for Sweden, that is an exceptionally warm summer day. Leaving the door to the room opened for a while helps cool things down. I’m quite impressed by the Mac Minis and how durable they are. My first two Mac Minis have been running like this for well over a year now.

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Here’s a picture of my server room. While I do have UPS there is no cooling or windows so the room tends to be quite warm. Stacking the Mac Minis on top of each other doesn’t really help cooling either. When I started stacking my Mac Minis on top of each other I realized how stupid it would be to have three separate power cords. So I ended up creating a custom Y-Y-Y-cable (last Y is for future expansion).

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Y-cable inside

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The power cord is a simple lamp cable (0.75mm2) that has the three original Apple power cables butchered together. The Y-connector was found in a local Swedish hardware store. Since the Mac Mini’s maximum continuous power consumption is 85W, a 0.75mm2 cable would work perfectly. A 2 meter (6.56 feet) long 0.75mm2 cable is able to support at least 3A. My three Mac Minis only consume 1.1A (3x85W / 230V = 1.1A). In 120V countries you would have 2.5-3A running through the cable but this wouldn’t be a problem.

Since the Mac Minis only have a single onboard NIC and I wanted to have two physically separated networks I had to get an Ethernet Thunderbolt NIC. As shown in the overview picture I’m am running both VSAN traffic and VM traffic over the same NIC. This is probably not ideal from a performance point of view but for my EUC related workloads I’ve not noticed any performance bottlenecks. On the other hand, I’m very pleased with the performance and with the benefits of having shared storage, so things like DRS and vMotion can deal with the balance between my hosts and I’m super happy with this setup.

I found that the easiest way was to use VMware Fusion to install ESXi onto a USB key. Then I simply plug in the USB key in my Mac Mini and I’m up and running. I need to use external monitor and keyboard to configure the ESXi initially.

As for the next steps I’m planning on getting an SSD and an extra HDD for my Tower Server. This would allow my Tower Server to participate in the VSAN Cluster and contribute additional capacity. If the opportunity arises and I can find another Mac Mini with an i7 CPU for a decent price I would also like to replace the i5. Other than that, I don’t think I need much else. Well, I could always use a little bit more RAM of course (who doesn’t) but disk and CPU runs very low all the time.

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Technical details:

  • All Mac Minis are late 2012 models
    • All SSD disks are different models and vendors. Their capacity ranges from 120 to 250GB. Since I’ve had a couple SSD crashes I made sure to purchase the more heavy-duty models offered from the vendors. But none of them are designed for constant use in servers.
    • All Mac Minis have 16GB RAM (2x8GB)
    • I have 1TB HDD in my two i7 Mac Minis and 500GB HDD in the i5 one.
  • ESXi installed on USB key
  • My Tower Server specs are:
    • Supermicro Xeon E3 motherboard, uATX (X9SCM-F-B)
    • Intel Xeon E3-1230 3.2GHz QuadCore HT, 8MB
    • 4x8GB 1333MHz DDR3 ECC
    • Barracuda 500GB, 7200rpm, 16MB, SATA 6Gb/s

To wrap up, I’m very pleased with the setup I‘ve built. It works perfectly for my needs. Lastly, I do recommend having a separate management host, as I found it extremely useful when I had to move VMs back and forth to test earlier releases of VSAN. I also recommend going for the i7 CPU models of Mac Mini for better performance.

Download the VMware ESXi 5.5u2 Mac Mini ISO from virtuallyGhetto:

Apple Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter VIB:

Apple Mac Pro 6,1 (black) officially supported on ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03

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The much anticipated support for running vSphere on the latest generation of the Apple Apple Mac Pro 6,1 (black) is finally here with the release of ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03. Due to unforeseen issues, it has taken a bit longer than expected to get the Apple Mac Pro certified, but VMware Engineering has been working hard to get all the bugs fixed and triaged with Apple and you can now run the latest release of vSphere on the Apple Mac Pro 4-core, 6-core, 8-core & 12-core configuration. I also would like to point out that when the next release of vSphere (.NEXT) is available, the Apple Mac Pro will also be certified and supported.

UPDATE (10/31) - Take a look at this blog post here for detailed instructions on installing ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 on the Mac Pro 6,1.

You can find the ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 (ESXi550-201410001) download here using Image Builder to author and ISO image which is equired to install ESXi on the new Mac Pro.

The VMware HCL has also been updated to reflect this new update:

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Note: The VMware HCL currently lists 5.5 U2 as the supported release, but you will specifically need ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 for this new hardware support. I am hoping to get this further clarified on the HCL.

Here is a screenshot of the latest ESXi 5.5 Update 2 Patch03 running on an Apple Mac Pro 8-Core system courtesy from VMware Engineering:

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