Those of you who follow me on twitter should know that I recently got my hands on an Apple Mac Mini Server (Thanks Randy K.) and are probably thinking I would install Apple OSX on the Mini. Nope! I am actually running vSphere ESXi 5.0 or 5.1 on the Mac Mini!
UPDATE (12/21): Yo no longer need to create a customized ESXi ISO for Apple Mac Mini, the necessary drivers are now included in the new ESXi 5.0 Update 2 and will work out of the box. Please take a look at this article for more details.
UPDATE (01/18): To run ESXi 5.1 on Mac Mini 5,1 or 5,3 please follow the same steps outlined below but for an ESXi 5.1 ISO image. If you are trying to run ESXi 5.0 or 5.1 on the new 2012 Apple Mac Mini 6,2 please refer to this blog post for the instructions.
Disclaimer: This is not officially supported by VMware. Use at your own risk.
Note: I did not have a spare monitor at home and luckily the Mac Mini has a DVI output which I was able to connect to my 46" TV. Nothing like ESXi on the big screen
Even though this is not officially supported by VMware, it is still a very cool solution and the Mac Mini is great form factor for a vSphere home lab. I also want to mention that this was only possible with the research from the folks over at Paraguin Consulting who initially blogged about the process needed to get ESXi 5 running on a Mac Mini. I would highly recommend you check out their blog post which provides additional details as well as a step by step installation guide including screenshots for each step.
I did not have access to an Apple Super Drive which is what the Paraguin folks used in their installation guide, as they thought formatting a USB key would have taken too long ... and who has a CD burner these days? 😉 There is also an additional step that is needed to get network connectivity which requires the user to manually install a network driver on the ESXi host.
I decided to go down the route of using a USB key to perform the installation and using a spare 1GB USB key, I created a custom ESXi installation that included the network driver which allows for network connectivity during and after the installation.
What you will need:
- vSphere ESXi 5.0 Update 1 Offline Bundle (You can also use ESXi 5.0)
- Broadcom NetXtreme I Gigabit Ethernet Driver (tg3-3.120h.v50.2)
- PowerCLI Image Builder (there are some other free tools that allows you to add drivers, but did not work well with UNetbootin)
Step 1 - Extract the offline bundle "tg3-3.120h.v50.2-offline_bundle-547149.zip" from Broadcom zip file
# Add the ESXi 5.0 Update 1 Offline Bundle
# Add the Broadcom Offline VIB
# Create a new Image Profile (in example, I'm using the full version w/tools)
New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile "ESXi-5.0.0-623860-standard" -name "ESXi50u1-Custom"
# Add the broadcom driver to our Image Profile
Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile "ESXi50u1-Custom" -SoftwarePackage "net-tg3"
# Create an ISO from our custom Image Profile
Export-EsxImageProfile -ImageProfile "ESXi50u1-Custom" -ExportToISO -filepath C:\VMware-ESXi-5.0u1-Custom.iso
Step 3 - Plug in a USB key into your system and run UNetbootin which will take the custom ISO we just created and make it bootable on the USB key
Step 4 - Finally, power on your Mac Mini and plug in the USB key. You can either hold the "Alt/Option" key while the system is booting and select the EFI volume OR just plug the USB key and the ESXi installer should automatically start up.
After a few minutes, you should now have ESXi 5 running on your Mac Mini, here is my setup:
Note: If you wish to add a custom kickstart file so it automatically installs and configures the host, take a look at this blog post for the details. If you want the Mac Mini to automatically boot from USB without having to press the "Alt/Option" key after installation, you can set the default boot device by following this article here.
Since you are running ESXi on Apple hardware, you can also create Mac OSX Virtual Machines (10.5 Server and 10.6 Server) and with the latest release of vSphere 5.0 Update 1, OSX 10.7 (Lion) is now officially supported. To install OSX 10.7 as a VM, make sure you follow the instructions here.
Here is a screenshot of running OSX Lion 64bit as a VM running on ESXi 5 running on a Mac Mini 😀
If you are looking to refresh your vSphere home lab, definitely consider looking at the Mac Mini, which can get up to a max of 16GB of memory. Also if you are wondering if other people are doing this, I would recommend you check out Christopher Well's vSamarai blog here which details his experience using the Mac Mini as well as voting for his VMworld CFP which will also include topic about running ESXi on Mac Mini.
I want to thank Randy K. again for lending me the Mac Mini, you rock dude! Hopefully this will not be the last article about the Mac Mini 😉