I know many of you have been anxiously waiting for ESXi to be fully functional on the latest Apple Mac Mini (2018), unfortunately I do not have any news to share with you on that front. Without help from Apple, we are still challenged with Apple's new T2 chip, which prevents us from accessing the underlying NVMe device.
Having said that, I do have some exciting news regarding the built-in 10Gigabit Ethernet adaptor on the 2018 Mac Mini. The 10GbE adaptor uses an Aquantia chipset, this is also the same chipset used in Apple's high end iMac Pro which was released earlier in the year. Over the past few weeks, I have been working with the Aquantia team and they have successfully ported over their open source Atlantic driver to a VMKlinux driver for ESXi, which they have published here. Although the local NVMe device can not be used to run any VMs, with the network fully enabled, customers could take advantage of this model and connect to IP-based storage to start leveraging the new Mac Mini platform.
The easiest way to incorporate the driver into the latest ESXi release is to use Image Builder within the vSphere H5 Client UI, below are the step-by-step instructions.
Step 1 - Login to vCenter Server and vavigate to the Auto Deploy plugin and enable the Image Build service if you have not already.
Step 2 - Import the Aquantia and the respective ESXi Offline Bundle zip file into Image Builder.
Step 5 - Make sure the Acceptance Level is configured as "Community supported" as the Aquantia driver has been created using the VIB Author Fling. Filter by the depot and select "net-atlantic" to include the NIC driver and then specify the ESXi Depot to include the ESXi Image.
Step 6 - To create our custom ESXi ISO, select the Image Profile and then click Export and then click next to begin. If you are using ESXi 6.7 Update 1, you should have a total of 142 packages including the Aquantia Driver. Once the export has completed, you can click on the Download button to retrieve the ISO and then you can use your favorite USB-imaging tool to create your ESXi installer, I use Unetbootin for this.
I also had a chance to run a quick iPerf test (ESXi includes iPerf3) between my Macbook Pro (connected to an external 10GbE NIC) and the Mac Mini and below, you can find the results using 20 parallel threads:
|TX||[SUM] 0.00-10.00 sec 9.37 GBytes 8.05 Gbits/sec sender|
|RX||[SUM] 0.00-10.02 sec 10.2 GBytes 8.73 Gbits/sec receiver|
Note: One issue that I did run into, which is being investigated, was that I was not able to get a link up while connecting to my home network which is 1GbE-based with an Ubiquiti AmpliFi. When booting into MacOS, the link is immediately picked up, so I do not believe this is related to my physical network and Aquantia had also confirmed a similar behavior. A workaround, as I do not have 10GbE network infrastructure at home is to set the interface to 100mbps (yup, you read that right). To do so, simply login to ESXi Shell and run the following command: esxcfg-nics -s 100 -d full vmnic0 and the link should automatically be enabled after you make this change. I suspect this is not an issue if you are connected to a 10GbE switch, but if you are running into this, feel free to drop a note about your setup so we can better understand the issue.
UPDATE (04/14/19) - Thanks to Mike Roy, I can also confirm ESXi can now be installed on the Apple iMac Pro which uses the exact same Aquantia chipset. Please be aware, the same constraints for the 2018 Apple Mac Mini also applies to the iMac Pro, please see this blog post here for more details.
I want to give a huge thanks to the Aquantia Engineering teams, they have been fantastic to work with and big thanks to Francis Augusto Medeiros-Logeay who helped connect us up. I look forward to seeing how customers will be leveraging the new 10GbE Mac Minis given the current constraints. If you have any feedback, feel free to leave a comment here or directly on Aquantia's Github repo.