A 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.
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
Solution #10 - OWC ThunderBay 4 RAID 4-Bay External Drive w/Dual Thunderbolt 2
Thanks to Gregg Green for sharing his use of the Thunderbay with Mac Mini 2012
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 🙂