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 🙂
UPDATE (07/28/2017) - ESXi 6.5 Update 1 just GA'ed yesterday and is fully supported with all current Apple Mac Pro 6,1 (as you can see on the HCL here) and the workaround mentioned below is no longer required. This means you can install ESXi without any modification to the image.
UPDATE (03/25/2017) - VMware has just published the following VMware KB 2149537 which outlines the officially recommended workaround to install ESXi 6.5 onto the Apple Mac Pro 6,1. The VMware HCL has also been updated to include the Apple Mac Pro 6,1 4-Core, 6-Core, 8-Core & 12-Core systems. In a future release of ESXi, the workaround will not be required and ESXi will just install out of the box. This temporarily workaround is to enable customers who wish to run the current version of ESXi 6.5 which includes GA release, 6.5a and 6.5p01.
Disclaimer: The following section below is not officially supported or recommended by VMware. Please use at your own risk.
Early last week, I had a customer who had reached out to me that attempted an install of ESXi 6.5 on their Mac Pro 6,1. They were already aware that the platform was not officially supported with ESXi 6.5, but wanted to see if I had any ideas that they could try. When attempting to boot the ESXi installer (upgrade or fresh install), they saw the following error message in the ESXi logs:
WARNING: vmw_ahci[00000e00]: ExceptionHandlerWorld:AHCI_SIGNAL_ABORT_REQUEST signal.
vmw_ahci[00000e00]: ExceptionHandlerWorld: Abort scan took 1 (us) to complete, 0 commands aborted.
FSS: 5749: No FS driver claimed device
The customer had theorized that perhaps there was an issue with the AHCI driver but since the system would not boot further, there was not much more they could do. Looking at the error, I also agreed the issue might be related to the AHCI driver which gave me an idea. The specific driver shown in the logs is the new AHCI Native Driver which is new in ESXi 6.5. Perhaps, the new driver is not able to claim the disk drives and is preventing the boot-up. I recommended to the customer that they could actually fall back to the "legacy" vmklinux driver and see if that would allow them to progress further and to my surprise, that actually worked. Not only did the installer completely boot, but the customer was able to perform both a fresh install of ESXi 6.5 as well as an upgrade from ESXi 6.0 to 6.5 on the Mac Pro 6,1 without any issues.
Of course, we do not know if this is the real fix or if there are other issues. So far the customer has not reported any issues but it is still recommended that customers who want official support for Mac Pro 6,1 and ESXi 6.5 to hold off until it is certified by VMware. For customers who wish to push the "Not Supported" boundaries a bit, below are the instructions on how to get ESXi 6.5 booted and installed on Mac Pro 6,1.
Add the following ESXi boot option (persistent) by pressing SHIFT+O when you are presented at the initial black screen. preferVmklinux=True At this point, you can now successfully boot the ESXi 6.5 installer and perform either a fresh install or an upgrade. You will NOT need to perform this operational again as the change is persistent. If you prefer not to manually have to add the ESXi boot option by hand, you can create an ESXi bootable USB key and then simply edit both boot.cfg and efi/boot/boot.cfg and append the option as shown below:
I will be sure to share this information with our Engineering folks working on testing the Mac Pro 6,1 but at least we know its possible to install ESXi 6.5 🙂 Big thanks to Andrew for reaching out and I think we were both pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
FYI - For customers who use the Apple Mac Mini, ESXi 6.5 seems to run fine without any issues (e.g. fresh install or upgrade). I have not heard of any real major issues, so you should be fine. Please note that the Apple Mac Mini is not an officially supported hardware platform, please use at your own risk.