Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.11.51 PMA question that I frequently receive is whether ESXi supports Thunderbolt-based storage devices. This is especially interesting for folks running ESXi on an Apple Mac Mini due to the limited number of IO connections the Mac Minis' have. If you look on VMware's HCL, you will not find any supported Thunderbolt Storage devices nor are there any that are being actively tested with ESXi, at least as far as I know.

Having said that, generally speaking from an ESXi host point of view, the Thunderbolt interface is just seen as an extended PCIe bus. This means that whatever storage device is connected on the other end can work with ESXi as long as there is a driver in ESXi that can communicate with that devices. This is analogous to having a RAID card and having the proper device driver on ESXi to see its storage.

Even though VMware is not actively testing Thunderbolt-based storage devices, there are a few folks out in the community who have and have been successful. I wanted to share these stories with the community for those that might be interested in this topic and hopefully others who have had similar success can also share more details about their setup.

UPDATE (09/12/16)ESXi Thunderbolt Driver to Fibre Channel Storage from ATTO

Disclaimer: All solutions listed below are from the community and decisions to purchase based on these solutions will be at your own risk. I hold no responsibility if the listed solutions do not work for whatever reason.

Solution #1 - Pegaus R6 Thunderbolt Storage Enclosure

This was the first Thunderbolt storage device that I had ever seen confirmed publicly to work with ESXi after installing a STEX driver VIB. You can find more details here.

Solution #2 - Sonnet Echo Express III-R Rackmount Thunderbolt 2 Expansion Chassis & RacMac Mini Enclosure

This next solution was recently shared with me from Marc Huppert who has recently expanded his home lab. Marc combined a Thunderbolt expansion chassis with a Mac Mini chassis to exposed Fibre Channel storage to his Mac Minis. You can find more details here.

Solution #3 - xMac Mini Server Enclosure

I came across this solution while searching online which also uses another Mac Mini Thunderbolt expansion chassis connected to Fibre Channel based storage. You can find more details here.

Solution #4 - Sonnet xMac Pro Server Enclosure

Thanks to Joshua for sharing his solution. You can find more details in the comments here.

Solution #5 - LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt drives

Thanks to Philip for sharing his solution. You can find more details in the comments here.

Solution #6 - ARC-8050T2 Thunderbolt 2 RAID

Thanks to Jason for sharing his solution. You can find more details in the comments here.

Solution #7 - Another Sonnet xMac Pro Server Enclosure + EMC VNX

Thanks to Johann for sharing his solution. You can find more details here.

Solution #8 - LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt 2 with 2013 Mac Pro w/ESXi 6.0

Thanks to Thomas for sharing his solution. You can find more details here.

Solution #9 - Sonnet Echo Express III with Mac Pro 6,1 and ATTO ExpressSAS H680 w/ESXi 6.0

Thanks to Grasshopper for sharing details here and here.

If there are other Thunderbolt-based storage devices that you or others have had success with ESXi, feel free to leave a comment with details and I will add it to the post. If there are any Thunderbolt storage device vendors that would like to send me a demo unit, I would be more than happy to give the system a test to see if it works with ESXi 🙂

33 thoughts on “Thunderbolt Storage for ESXi

  1. We have a Sonnet Echo Express SE II enclosure with an Atto Celerity FC-82EN FC HBA and an Intel dual-port gigabit Ethernet card. It’s connected to a Mac mini (Late 2012) running ESXi 5.5 and it’s working great. Our SAN storage system is an HP StorageWorks P2000 G3 FC. It’s all working marvellously (including attaching SAN volumes directly to OS X VMs using RDM mapping). The Atto FC card, the Intel NIC and the SAN are all VMware-certified, so the only unofficial parts are the Mac mini and the Sonnet enclosure.

    Note that the Atto Thunderlink FC-1082 (and its successors) do not work with ESXi. While hardware-wise it is essentially an FC-82EN with a Thunderbolt bridge chip, to this date Atto does not provide an ESXi driver for the Thunderlink and the FC-82EN driver does not fully recognise it due to differing PCI IDs.

  2. awesome! i figured that any thunderbolt expansion chassis would work and i plan on using a sonnet xmac mini but its great to hear that the pegasus works?

    we have also used a Akitio Thunder2 PCIe Box with an intel 10 GBE card with great success…

  3. We have recently started building out our Mac VMware “farm” where we are using the latest MacPro6,1’s with a Sonnet xMac Pro Server while utilizing the PCIe Bridge to connect Dual QLogic QLE-8440 Converged Network Cards. We have been very successful with utilizing the PCIe Bridge to connect any I/O devices that have been approved and are on the VMware HCL.

    I am eager to try the Pegasus R6 though for at home 🙂

  4. Very excited by the prospects of what can be done with Thunderbolt devices this year, will be watching this article/comments closely. Thank you for pulling this info together, William!

  5. The Areca-supplied SAS RAID driver (arcmsr) recognizes the ARC-8050T2 Thunderbolt 2 RAID connected to my Macmini6,2 running ESXi 5.5 U2. Hot-plugging devices on the Thunderbolt bus reliably PSODs the server, but otherwise, I’ve been using in my home lab for over a month without incident. In case it matters, my drive configuration consists of a single datastore filling a 12TB RAID 6 volume on 8 2TB HGST Ultrastar SATA drives (model HUS724020ALE640).

    Note that hot-swapping *drives* within the enclosure works fine, as do related operations such as rebuilding and extending RAID sets via the array’s out-of-band management port; PSODs only appear when I try to hot-plug *Thunderbolt* devices.

    • I had one briefly to try out however I didn’t have any luck getting it to connect/run with ESXi. It looked like a custom Vendor/Device ID so a new VIB would need to be created once a suitable driver is able to work with it under GNU/Linux.

        • Yes, I was hoping to get it running but I ran out of time. If someone (in the world) is able to make it run with GNU/Linux and have the drivers all working it should be possible to compile & create the suitable VIB for ESXi. You probably want to jump to the 12Big with iSCSI instead to avoid direct-attach issues at this point.

  6. I’ve got a 1TB G-Technology – G-DRIVE mobile working using the V-Front SATA-XAHCI VIBs mentioned in an earlier comment. (https://vibsdepot.v-front.de/wiki/index.php/Sata-xahci) Thank you!

    Is there ANY way to spin down a single external Thunderbolt drive? I highly value the silence of my Mac Mini 6,2, but the external drive is ruining this. The drive is mounted in ESXi 6 as a datastore for ghettoVCB backups only. I would love to have it spin down when not in use. I realize this isn’t something that is even considered for ESXi, but we’re all a fringe case, right? I found a thread that mentioned stopping the smartd process might allow the drive to spin down, but it had no effect. Any suggestions are welcome!

    • Oran, I have the same drive but can’t get it to be seen in the vSphere client. I have ran the above vib on my MacPro (that is how it sees the ssd in the MacPro) but can’t seem to get it to work. Can you tell me the steps you took to get the G-Tech to work?

      • Chris, I installed the VIB as described at http://www.v-front.de/2013/11/how-to-make-your-unsupported-sata-ahci.html, which you’ve apparently already done. Maybe the drive you have has an updated PCI ID? There is a command on that page that will show you the ID. If it doesn’t match what is in the VIB, you can email the author to have it added.

        As an aside, I ended up returning that drive and abandoning direct attached Thunderbolt, since I could never get the drive to spiin-down when not in use. My Mac Mini has Firewire, so I passed it through using VMDirectPath I/O to a Windows Server VM that acts as an iSCSI target for vSphere. The end result was a high performance datastore that spins down (Windows Server power management) when not in use. The Thunderbolt port refused to pass through.

        If it doesn’t work the way you want it to, sometimes you just have to be creative!

  7. Hi there!

    Any news with ESXi 5.5U2 or 6.0 and LaCie 8big Rack Thunderbolt 2? It could be very interesting for me…

    Thanks,
    Migo 🙂

  8. Has anyone been able to get a Drobo 5D to work with ESXI. I have a OSX 10.10 VM on a Mac Mini V6,2. i would like to attach the drobo 5d to the OSX 10.10 VM on the ESXI 6 Mac Mini host

  9. Hi,

    I need some help on installing ESXi 6.0 on a Mac Pro with a Promise Pegasus2 R4.
    The installation only sees the internal SSD, but not the Promise Pegasus2 R4 which is connected via Thunderbolt.

    Could it be a problem with the version of ESXi? I see that Rhinofart Jun 6, 2014 1:08 PM (in response to telecastle) made his solution work with a Pegasus R6 Thunderbolt enclosure via a MacMini Server on ESXi 5.1U2, but then didn’t work with ESXi 5.5 anymore.

    Thanks, Marc

    • Did you ever get your Promise Pegasus2 R4 working under VMware ESXi 6.x? I’m trying to set up my first ESXi setup and was hoping to use this storage array.

  10. Hey! Awesome blog; I’ve been doing a lot of research into migration to a virtual environment for our handful of servers.

    Currently running a late 2012 i7 Mini in an Sonnet xMac Mini enclosure with an ATTO ExpressSAS R680 attached to a RAID50 and a 10Gb PCIe Ethernet. Currently acts as our Profile Manager, Time Machine server, DNS, and Open Directory.

    I can say that 10.10.4 isn’t the most friendly with Server. Really wish we could have rolled back to 10.8 (We have a “design raid” thats a Mini running 10.8.x that’s rock solid).

  11. Guys i have a question.
    I apologize guys and hope you’re able to help me out,
    I currently have a Mac Mini 6,2 with esxi6 host and would like to inquire in how do i get my OS X 10.10 GUEST to detect my SOFTRAID Raid 5 setup….. I tried Googleing to no success.. Any help….Thanks

  12. The TFC-1600MM supplies Chassis SNMP confirming and also uphold slot based utilization for the TFC-1600 16-Bay Fibre Converter Chassis Unit.

    Quick use of cooling fan as well as energy resource condition states. Net browser based control within Ethernet slot even Order Line Software control through RS-232 serial slot.

  13. Have anyone tried connecting two macs to the same thunderbolt storage and see if can be used as a shared storage ?

  14. Some great information on this website – thanks William.

    We have quite a number of trash can Mac Pro’s which we have maxed out (12 core, 128GB RAM and 2TB onboard SSD’s). Our team uses these boxes as highly portable ESXi servers that can taken on a flight as carry-on and quickly configured according to workload required. We have traditionally used a 2 bay NAS for supplementary storage, but recently have had a requirement to use much faster storage which is also light and portable.

    After extensive research, we have settled on the Promise Pegasus M4 Thunderbolt unit. This is a 4x 2.5″ bay Thunderbolt 2 unit which we have loaded up with 4x Samsung EVO 850 Pro SSD’s (2TB).

    Performance wise, we are seeing 1200MB/s write and 1400+MB/s read rates with the unit attached to a Windows 2012r2 VM.

    Although Promise do not support their Thunderbolt boxes in ESXi, I have established that the unit is correctly detected and performs incredibly well using their SuperTrak EX series driver (version 4.07.0000.75).

Thanks for the comment!