Build your own VMware vSphere 5.5 Datacenter with ESXi and VCSA

Posted by Paul Braren on Sep 30 2013 (updated on Mar 12 2014) in
  • ESXi
  • Featured
  • HowTo
  • Hyper-V
  • UPS
  • Windows
  • Select-a-Disk-to-Install-or-Upgrade

    Mar 12 2014 Update, see also ESXi 5.5 Update 1 info, just released Mar 11 2014:

    original article appears below.

    Do you have an efficient and affordable home "vZilla" system of your own, that's got some RAM, and a yearning to juggle many operating systems 24x7? Want to tinker with multiple hypervisors, like VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, Linux KVM, and Citrix XenServer? I'll be doing such nesting testing soon, meanwhile, this new vSphere 5.5 video is much more concise than my surprisingly popular 5.0 video. And this time, it's in full 1920x1080 glory!

    The comprehensive, step-by-step guide to creating your own VMware vSphere 5.5 datacenter has chapter bookmarks below, so you can jump right to exact portion of video that interests you.

    If you have a typical home network with the following characteristics,

    • one flat network (one subnet)
    • one consumer grade router that grants IPs to all connected systems via DHCP, and doesn't have reverse DNS lookup
    • no desire to have to set up/admin a separate DNS server that must be running for your ESXi environment to function
    • no LDAP and no Active Directory running full time
      then this video and article may be for you.

    The focus here is on the intermediate audience, with a procedure that'd work well in a typical home lab environment. Simplicity and speed of deployment are priorities, but not at the expense of function. If you're thinking about stepping up from a workstation virtualization solution, this video will give you a very solid sense of what's possible in an hour. If you have a system to build this environment on, you'll also have full access to all the features of vSphere 5.5, for 60 days at a time, or you can add a license at a cost to get the somewhat limited free edition to last beyond the 60 days. You need to go into this with your eyes open to the limitations and licensing considerations. This isn't an article about why you'd chose one hypervisor over another, those discussions are over here:

    Best parts of VMware’s ESXi 5.5 free hypervisor rely on vCenter, which isn’t free. Uh oh?
    by Paul Braren on Sep 25 2013

    ...why VMware? We each have our own answers to that one. For me personally, it’s simple really. ESXi is at a vast majority of my customer’s sites, and as far as I know, it’s the only bare metal hypervisor that lets me test all the other big names in hypervisors. Testing by nesting, on just one Core i7 system I affectionately call vZilla. Invaluable for self training purposes, and very relevant to my career in IT. See also:

    Which hypervisor for your home lab, VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, Linux KVM, or Citrix XenServer?
    by Paul Braren on Mon Sep 02 2013.

    VMware ESXi 5.1 can run Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 VMs, nice!
    by Paul Braren on Mon Sep 24 2012, You heard all about guestOS = “winhyperv” here first!

    The disclaimers.

    • like most home labs with system not on the VMware HCL, no official support is provided by VMware
    • honestly, it's not practical for me to attempt to help you resolve any hardware and software issues that may come up, especially if you're not on identical hardware in your home or lab
    • of course, you are responsible for backing up your data, before you begin

    Ok, enough of the stern stuff. Have some fun, really, it's not hard to build, or rebuild. It's the same procedure, and it generally takes roughly an hour, and it'll preserve all your precious, already built VMs.

    My video was done with just one NIC, for simplicity. But of course, you can configure multiple NICs, for more versatility and resilience.

    This video is helpful for experience admins who have never taken the time to get NTP and hosts files working in a router-provided DNS home environment. Also help for those who have never bothered to deploy the VMware vCenter Server Appliance, which is pretty much a requirement now, which I discuss here. This will allow you to try out the magic of vMotion, moving running VMs from slow drives to faster SSDs at any time, easily, demonstrated in the video.


    Once you get your own lab going, you might find other future projects of interest as well, such as automated shutdown of VMs after power outages using an affordable UPSconfiguring VMs for USB 3.0 passthrough, using ESXi to run nested Hyper-V, and finally, the VMware vSphere Superguide. It turns out you sure can build a resilient personal cloud for your home lab, which I've been running successfully since April of 2011. Going forward, a tinkering with vSphere Flash Read Cache and vSAN sounds fun to me!

    Even though my configuration is basic and the setup is relatively straight-forward, the potential for setting up a very complex nested configuration within this ESXi 5.5 Hypervisor, say for VCP5 exam prep, is considerable. A stable infrastructure, supporting a set of VMs left running 24x7 (think VPN or proxy). The same infrastructure, given enough RAM, could also be used to spin up some VMs for occasional self-training exercises. Good examples would be learning to install and configure vCenter on Windows 2008 R2. How about another VM for another Windows 2008 R2 build, say for Active Directory, LDAP, and/or SQL Server. you could even nest those other hypervisors, for certification training.

    Here's the ingredients I used, for this special recipe I cooked up, as seen in the detailed step by step video below.

    The downloads.

    First, you have the 3 essential files to download (also explained in more detail here):

    ESXi 5.5 Hypervisor Installable

    VMware vCenter Server Appliance VCSA Build 1266838:

    vSphere Client

    The USB flash drive.

    SanDisk Cruzer Fit 4 GB USB Flash Drive SDCZ33-004G-B35
    known problems with Cruzer Fit discovered Dec 9 2013, see and discussion here on TinkerTry.com_
    Jul 12 2014 - I've gone with this HP v165w model,, no LED to indicate activity, but otherwise no complaints, working for many months now without incident

    The free utilities, no installation required.


    The video.

    Simply click on the Chapter Headings to jump to the right spot on the video, then follow along, pausing as needed.

    Introduction and downloads.
    I used a pristine Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit system.

    Use Rufus to create bootable USB flash drive that'll also become the ESXi installation drive.

    Configure motherboard BIOS to boot from USB.
    Ensure that the following features are enabled:
    AHCI (instead of IDE)
    Intel Virtualization Technology
    No-Execute Memory Protection
    Installation of the vCenter Client.

    This will boot the ESXi 5.5 installer, which will offer to install to that same USB drive.

    Deploy VCSA (vCenter Server Appliance), and configure ESXi for time sync. Configure VCSA, and make sure it automatically starts and stops with ESXi host.

    Detailed version of the instructions here.

    Involves the following steps:
    deploying the OVA file
    setting up NTP on the ESXi host
    configuring NTP for
    configure Security Profile to allow SSH
    turn off SSH warning
    using the web UI for configuring the appliance, logging in initally as username root and password vmware, as is also explained by VMware here
    changing the /etc/host file, explained in detail here, then running the configuration wizard.

    Test vCenter Web Client by adding a datastore by formatting a new drive as VMFS, creating an ISO folder on it, then test uploading an ISO file.

    Installation of the Client Integration Plug-In.
    Window's 8.1's IE11 won't work, so also install Chrome (or Firefox).

    If you already have Chrome installed and you cannot get the plugin to continue, with warnings that the Chrome you already closed is still running, here's the fix.  Had to use this command line command, at my Windows 8 command line ("Run as administrator" preferred but not required):
    taskkill /F /T /IM chrome.*

    Create a VM running Windows 8.1.

    Locate an exiting VM from an existing datastore, then right-click, 'Register VM' to bring it back into your list of VMs (inventory).

    Test vSphere Web Client, making sure it can open a console view of your VM.

    Perform a Storage vMotion.
    Test relocating a running VM from one datastore to another.

    Locate an exiting VM from an existing datastore, then right-click, 'Register VM' to bring it back into your list of VMs (inventory).

    Configure important VMs to autostart with your ESXi host, and to shut down gracefully when ESXi host is shutdown.

    Use WinSCP to make sifting through inventory of VMs a bit easier, determining which were created or used recently.

    Thank you!

    Step-by-step instructions, with screenshots.

    [coming soon, a re-work of this entire article, now with the new appliance out, and a further streamlined procedure and new video]

    [meanwhile, here's a new step-by-step draft (Google Doc) that can really help]

    See also:

    Superguide: VMware vSphere
    vCenter Server Appliance 5.5 in a home lab, without SSO errors
    How to create a vSphere Web Client Google Chrome Application Shortcut, looks better and works faster
    Build your own VMware vSphere ESXi 5 Datacenter, starting with 1 PC

    Mar 12 2014 Update:

    See also ESXi 5.5 Update 1 info, just released Mar 11 2014: