One of the things I always enjoy doing at VMworld, when I am not running around and I have a few minutes to myself, is to check out the VMware Solutions Exchange. This is where you can learn and interact with hundreds of our VMware Certified Partners showcasing their new solutions and innovations that they have built on top of VMware's products.

UPDATE (08/22/17) - ATTO's ESXi Thunderbolt Driver is now officially on the VMware HCL, please see this blog post here for more details.

While walking through the show floor, I had stopped by the ATTO Technology booth who has been a long time partner of VMware in the storage and networking connectivity space. What caught my eye was that they had just released a Beta of an ESXi Thunderbolt Driver in the form of an ESXi VIB that would allow customers to connect their Apple Mac Pro 6,1 using the Thunderbolt 2 interface to an external Fibre Channel storage array. I believe ATTO might be the first vendor ever to produce a Thunderbolt Driver for ESXi. This is really exciting news if you ask me, especially as more and more of our customers are looking to virtualize Mac OS X guests in their Datacenters using vSphere

Historically, the only option to connect a Mac Pro 6,1 to an external Fibre Channel array was to use something like a Sonnet Chassis. Now, you can potentially connect up to 6 of the built-in Thunderbolt 2 interfaces on the Mac Pro's to your external storage array using this new solution from ATTO. Before I go into some of the details, ATTO did want me to mention that this solution is currently not officially supported by VMware nor is it on VMware's HCL. ATTO will be providing full support on their software as well as VMware's software stack during the duration of the beta program. In terms of official certification on VMware's HCL, I suspect that it will most likely depend on customer demand which would influence whether ATTO applies for an official certification, which again, would be the first of its kind for Thunderbolt.

The way in which this solution works is that you install the ATTO Thunderbolt Driver on your ESXi host and this will allow it to communicate with an ATTO ThunderLink device which provides the Thunderbolt 2 to Fibre Channel connectivity. You have the option of using either the FC2082 which provides 20Gb/s Thunderbolt 2 (2-port) to 8Gb/s FC (2-Port) Device or the FC2182 which provides 20Gb/s Thunderbolt 2 (2-port) to 16Gb/s FC (2-Port) Device. Below is a diagram from the ATTO digital solution brief on Thunderbolt Driver for ESXi which outlines the configuration.

If you are interested in taking part in ATTO's ESXi Thunderbolt Driver Beta program or would like to learn more about the solution, you can reach out directly to Carllene Mowry ( who is running the program. For more information be sure to check out the ATTO digital brief on Thunderbolt Driver for ESXi.

Lastly, I was also fortunate to have a quick chat with Carllene and team to get a few additional exclusive tidbits on some of the things the ATTO team is working on next. The first of which is support for the Thunderbolt 3 (aka USB-C) interface to Fibre Channel which will be quite nice for newer platforms that include that interface, including home lab setups such as the Intel NUC. Speaking of Intel NUC, this is just one of the many other platforms that include either Thunderbolt 2 or 3 interfaces. Although the solution today is specifically supporting the Mac Pro, I know ATTO folks are interested to hear from customers on other systems with Thunderbolt interface and providing similiar capabilities.

The other really exciting development that is currently being investigated is support for Thunderbolt 2 or 3 to 10GbE connectivity on ESXi. As you can imagine, this is really going to open up some really cool new use cases, especially around things like VSAN which can easily benefit from this. It is still in early development but from my understanding, ATTO is already seeing a lot of interest in this area as well as how this might work with VSAN. I am hoping I will be able to share more details as this further develops. If any of these updates sounds interesting, do leave a comment to let the ATTO folks know and I will make sure they monitor the thread.

6 thoughts on “ESXi Thunderbolt Driver to Fibre Channel Storage from ATTO

  1. 10GB on a NUC would be awesome. That’s the only thing really holding me back from building a little storage cluster with them. I’m definitely interested in what they come up with.

  2. I have a customer who is extremely interested in a supported 10GbE connectivity through ESXi so that we can have a high availability OS X file server cluster. They have a 10GbE SAN, and I’m having trouble finding a supported solution to accommodate this.

    • Of course there isn’t a supported solution, Apple left the server market years ago, and everything “pro”-ish made since then(the Mac Pro and Mini) certainly don’t belong in a datacenter(and their “Server” OS is less serverish than Windows Server 2003 vs XP was), therefore there is no (obvious) need for 10GbE. On the other side, you still aren’t allowed to virtualize Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware, so anyone with that need is kinda screwed(but it probably is a niche enough market, and Apple don’t care).

  3. I confirm it ATTO FC works very well.

    Got in production MacPros6,1 an ATTO PCI but :

    3x [MacPros6,1 with 128Gb Ram in xRackMacPro, each with:
    – 1x ATTO FiberChannel PCI Card (on thunderbolt bus 0.) –
    –> Connected to two brocadeFC to a SAN DELL COMPELLENT ±150To
    – 1x Promise thunderbolt 2x10Gb BaseT on thunderbolt bus 1.
    — half for iSCSI datastores on SYNOLOGYs (infrastrucuture / Backups) portRJ 1/2
    — half for VMs Networking (LAN). portRJ 2/2
    – 1x Promise thunderbolt 2x10Gb BaseT on thunderbolt bus 2.
    — half for iSCSI datastores on SYNOLOGYs (infrastrucuture / Backups) portRJ 1/2
    — half for VMs Networking (LAN). portRJ 2/2

    It runs pretty well. We have about ±150 users. 15 VMs.

    • VMDirectPath IO and Thunderbolt is pretty dicey right now. I have made it work in a Windows VM running on a Mac Pro, but it is failing on any attempt to connect to OSX so far. I was using ESXi 6.02. I am continuing my tests.

Thanks for the comment!