2010-01-21

Adding ESXi as a standard Operating System



Lately I have been asked more and more to install an ESXi system on a whitebox. Why you may ask - because users (we are a R&D company) are asking to have a box with multiple operating systems with all kinds of configurations for testing purposes.

Now of course the ideal would be to say, "Sure, no problem! Let me deploy a VM for you!" But seeing that the infrastructure that our ESX farm resides on (Servers, Network, Storage) is a hell of a lot more expensive than $700 PC. And in that PC you can stuff a 500GB disk, 8gb RAM, and a Dual (sometimes Quad) Core Processor. That is more than enough to run 4-5 VM's on it without any issue.

Not every OS, needs to run on the Central infrastructure! I mean the cost involved regarding maintenance, licensing backup etc. etc. do not justify having every single OS on the main vSphere Farm. I know some of you will disagree, but that is my opinion. Each company has its policies regarding what is backed up, how often, and under what SLA things need to be maintained.

Now seeing that more and more of my users using VMware products in their daily tasks, be it VMware Player, Workstation, Server, and as of late the vSphere infrastructure client - they are familiar with the environment, they have a decent foundation of what virtualization does, and how it works.

So why add ESXi? Today deployed images that we use are including almost every version of Windows and multiple flavors of Linux (RH, Centos etc.)

We already have VMware images for all of the above OS's - way long ago. We saw this coming so we prepared the VM's of all the OS's.

Most of the Brand-Name PC's (IBM/Dell/HP) will run ESX4i out of the box without too much customization, and if the customization was needed, the hours invested were well worth it

Taking all of the above into account we found that building a custom CD of ESXi with some of our own additions, would provide a good solution to the growing need for a multiple OS computer.

The points that were covered:

  • The License is free!
  • Installation of ESXi takes less than 7 minutes
  • These VM Operating Systems did not need peripheral devices (sound/USB)
  • Images were optimized (size/performance)
  • We added a Administrative user to each ESXi installation (customized in the image) for support
  • All ESXi deployments were added to a monitoring system (Veeam Monitor Free Edition)

True there are limitations to the solution, and it will need to evolve. One of the things that I am actively looking at is the PXE deployment of ESXi.

In past to give a user a multiple OS machine - would take more than 4 hours, including deploying Main OS, installing VMware software (player/workstation/server) and then adding the VM image.

Today, deployment of ESXi and multiple images - is done in less than half of that time.

I would like to hear your thoughts and ideas on this one…