Using vSphere Auto Deploy to Netboot ESXi onto Apple Mac Hardware

Last week I published an article that demonstrated for the first time on how to netboot an ESXi installation onto Apple Mac Hardware. As you can imagine, this was very exciting news for our VMware/Apple customers, who historically have not had this capability before. Customers can now automate and install ESXi over the network onto their Apple Mac Hardware just like you would for other non-Apple hardware.

With the ability to boot ESXi over the network for Apple Mac Hardware, it is now also possible for customers to take advantage of the vSphere Auto Deploy feature. Auto Deploy allows customers to easily and quickly provision ESXi hosts at scale and integrates directly with vCenter Server to automatically join and apply specific defined host configuration policies. This is a great time to check out Auto Deploy, especially with all the new enhancements that were introduced in vSphere 6.5 like custom script bundles for example.

Below are the instructions on how to setup Auto Deploy to work with Apple Mac Hardware.

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How to Netboot install ESXi onto Apple Mac Hardware?

The ability to perform an ESXi Scripted Installation over the network has been a basic capability for non-Apple hardware customers since the initial release of classic ESX. However, for customers who run ESXi on Apple Mac Hardware (first introduced in vSphere 5.0), being able to remotely boot and install ESXi over the network has not been possible and customers could only dream of this capability which many of us have probably taken for granted.

Unlike traditional scripted network installations which commonly uses Preboot eXecution Environment (PXE), Apple Mac Hardware actually uses its own developed Boot Service Discover Protocol (BSDP) which ESXi and other OSses do not support. In addition, there are very few DHCP servers that even support BSDP (at least this may have been true 4 years ago when I had initially inquired about this topic). It was expected that if you were going to Netboot (equivalent of PXE/Kickstart in the Apple world) a server that you would be running a Mac OS X system. Even if you had set this up, a Netboot installation was wildly different from a traditional PXE installation and it would be pretty difficult to near impossible to get it working with an ESXi image. With no real viable solution over the years, it was believed that a Netboot installation of ESXi onto Mac Hardware just may not be possible.

tl;dr - If you are interested in the background to the eventual solution, continue reading. If not and you just want the goods, jump down a bit further. Though, I do think it is pretty interesting and worth getting the full context 🙂

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New "raw" VM Storage Policy support in OVFTool 4.2 simplifies bootstrapping VMs onto VSAN

Several weeks back I came across a handy little tidbit on an enhancement that was added to the latest version of OVFTool (4.2) that greatly simplifies the bootstrapping of a vCenter Server or any other VM for that matter onto a vSAN Datastore. This is generally used when setting up a pure greenfield environment where your vCenter Server may not be setup yet and you want to run it on top of vSAN which is fully supported configuration. The process of "bootstrapping" a VCSA onto a single node vSAN datastore is documented on my blog here. The high level steps are as follows:

  1. Temporarily change default ESXi VM Storage Policy to allow forced provisioning and FTT=0 (e.g. no protection)
  2. Claim disks for creating vSAN Diskgroup(s)
  3. Create vSAN Cluster
  4. Deploy VCSA
  5. Apply the default vSAN VM Storage Policy to VCSA VM
  6. Revert the temporarily change of default ESXi VM Storage Policy

With this new OVFTool enhancement, Step 1 and 6 is no longer needed from the standpoint of needing to change the default VM Storage Policy on the ESXi host using the ESXi Shell or using the vSphere API. Instead, you can now pass in a "raw" VM Storage Policy (SPBM) to apply to the specific OVF/OVA that is being deployed rather having to make a global change on the ESXi host. This also helps reduce the post-deployment steps as you only need to re-apply the default vSAN VM Storage Policy to the vCenter Server VM and not have to touch ESXi host settings once the vCenter Server is up and running.

To use this new raw VM Storage Policy feature in OVFTool, there is a new command-line option called --defaultStorageRawProfile which accepts the "raw" VM Storage Policy as you would normally provide to SPBM APIs such as "((\"hostFailuresToTolerate\" i1) (\"forceProvisioning\" i1))" for example.

The really cool thing about this feature is that you can take advantage of this directly with the new OVFTool argument passthrough feature that was introduced in the VCSA 6.5 CLI deployment utility. Combining these solutions together, you can easily simplify the "bootstrapping" of a VCSA onto a vSAN Datastore. Below is the snippet that you would include in the VCSA JSON configuration file used for deployment.

"ovftool.arguments" : {
"defaultStorageRawProfile" : "((\"hostFailuresToTolerate\" i1) (\"forceProvisioning\" i1))"

Although a tiny enhancement, I think this is a pretty neat capability, especially being able to make use of it natively within the VCSA configuration file. It is definitely great to see us continue to simplify how VMware management infrastructure is deployed and definitely stay tuned on what else we have cooking in the future for this particular area 🙂

ESXi 6.5 support for Apple Mac Pro 6,1

I know several of you have reached out asking about the support for ESXi 6.5 on the Apple Mac Pro 6,1 but as of right now, the Mac Pro 6,1 is currently not supported with ESXi 6.5. I know this is not ideal especially for customers who wish to take advantage of the latest vSphere release. The good news is that VMware is in the process of testing the Apple Mac Pro 6,1 for ESXi 6.5, however there is not an ETA on when this will be completed by.

Some of you might be wondering why this did not happen earlier? The primary reason is that hardware certification for ESXi is actually performed by the hardware vendors. Once a vendor completes the certification for a particular hardware platform or component, they submit the results to VMware and the VMware HCL is updated. If there is a piece of hardware that is not on the VMware HCL today, it is definitely worth reaching out to your hardware vendor to inquire about its status.

In Apple's case, it unfortunate as they do not participate in VMware's Hardware Certification program for ESXi which makes certification challenging. VMware intends to continue to support customers who require the use of Mac OS X Virtualization and will work towards getting the Mac Pro's certified for latest version of vSphere as mentioned earlier. Historically, testing and certifying ESXi for Apple hardware does take an additional amount of time and in some cases, code changes may even be required due to unexpected hardware changes from Apple.

I hope this gives customers some additional insights into how Apple hardware is certified for ESXi. If you would like to see this improved in the future, you may want to reach out to Apple and provide them with your feedback.

Now ... before you close this blog post thinking it is going to take awhile before there is going to be an update regarding ESXi 6.5 and Mac Pro 6,1, please continue reading further 🙂

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How to install PowerCLI Core on Debian Linux?

PowerCLI Core has been tried on two Linux distributions: VMware's Photon OS and Ubuntu 14.04, however that is not to say it would not work on other distros. In fact, .Net Core (which PowerCLI Core consumes) supports a variety of Linux distributions which can be found here. I recently needed to run PowerCLI Core on a Debian 8 system which required a few minor tweaks to get working. I figure I might as well document the steps in case this might help others wanting to use PowerCLI Core which now includes PowerNSX on a Debian system.

Step 1 - Append the following repo source to /etc/apt/sources.list configuration file:

deb sid main

Step 2 - Run the following command to update the repo

apt-get update

Step 3 - Download .deb package for latest Powershell release and run the following command which will generate list of required dependencies:

dpkg -i powershell_6.0.0-alpha.14-1ubuntu1.16.04.1_amd64.deb

Step 4 - Run the following command to install powershell along with its dependencies:

apt-get -f install

Step 5 - The next series of commands will download and setup PowerCLI Core:

mkdir -p /powershell
wget -O /powershell/
apt-get -y install unzip
unzip /powershell/ -d /powershell
mkdir -p /root/.config/powershell/
mkdir -p ~/.local/share/powershell/Modules
unzip /powershell/ -d ~/.local/share/powershell/Modules
unzip /powershell/ -d ~/.local/share/powershell/Modules
mv /powershell/Start-PowerCLI.ps1 /root/.config/powershell/Microsoft.PowerShell_profile.ps1

Step 6 (Optional) - Install PowerNSX module:

wget -O /powershell/
unzip /powershell/ -d /powershell/
mkdir ~/.local/share/powershell/Modules/PowerNSX
cp /powershell/powernsx-master/*1 ~/.local/share/powershell/Modules/PowerNSX/

If everything installed successfully, you should be able to now launch PowerCLI Core by simply typing "powershell"