Taking a moment from my usual technical writing to share a big picture view of some things I've noticed since ESXi 5.5 was released 11 days ago. That's not a lot of time, so we should all refrain from jumping to any big conclusions just yet. But it does seem that a bit of housekeeping is happening, with VMware pulling away from worrying about maintaining older and/or unsupported drivers in the base ESXi 5.5 ISO image, instead leaving that work to others, such as the big OEMs. Companies like Dell, HP, and IBM* have OEM builds of ESXi, with a suite of vendor-specific drivers baked right in.
That OEM focus tends to be on the enterprise, with attention paid to the appropriate I/O parts, from the likes of Broadcom, Brocade, Emulex, LSI, etc. That leaves a smaller, simpler ESXi installer ISO file. But it also leaves a bigger task for the home lab enthusiast. Not sure folks really enjoy following VMWare's Installing async drivers on ESXi 5.x (2005205). It kind of harkens back to the dark ages of installing ESX about a decade ago, where you had to go and hunt for drivers and floppies.
*Full disclosure: I'm proud to be working at IBM, as disclosed at the top right of every page of my site since launch. This entire article is only my individual, personal perspective.
Overall, ESXi 5.5 has been a surprisingly large change that feels a bit more like a major release, with "steps forward" including greater than 2TB virtual drive support, and greater than 32GB of memory support, and even using SSDs for cache. Even with the free hypervisor. [Oct 04 2013 correction, vSphere Flash Read Cache is only available in Enterprise Plus or above]. Most of which I've written about already. This particular post is more about the stepping back. Above and beyond the apparent concern over vCenter, see also Best parts of VMware’s ESXi 5.5 free hypervisor rely on vCenter, which isn’t free. Uh oh?
My own particular, and sometimes peculiar hardware journey has been a somewhat bumpy these past 11 days. I'm used to that with any new release. There's clearly interest in clearing those many vSphere 5.5 hurtles, just take a look at the impassioned burst of comments here at TinkerTry.com lately, and the strange bit of fun I have with clearing those relatively minor hurtles.
So when folks make constructive criticism of recent largely unexplained trends, is it just whining? Or is it really seasoned IT professionals that really care to take the time to provide constructive criticism, intended to help elevate the entire virtualization competitive landscape. Well, I leave that for you to decide. I'll stick with getting on with sharing my own first-hand experiences with you, while they're fresh in my mind. These issues aren't entirely resolved, or merely worked-around, quite yet. Yeah, I don't give up easily.
Not a big deal, can be handled, as summarized here:
Install ESXi 5.5 with Realtek 8111/8168 NIC by Paul Braren on Sep 24 2013.
But this is exactly the sort of thing that annoys, or even scare away entirely, that typical noob. Or the seas of MSDN/TechNet members out there, like most of the folks I was hanging out with a couple of weeks ago:
I'll also be checking into whether spending more on a costly added PCIe Intel NIC is really worth it in the home lab, explained last week here.
I also discovered my own vZilla has an issue not seen back on ESXi 4.1/5.0/5.1. Turns out the ASMedia ASM1061 based SATA3 ports on the motherboard, with a mix SSDs and HDDs hanging off of them, are now invisible under ESXi 5.5. I had noticed this during pre-release testing, but didn't think too much of it, chalking it up to ever changing driver support evident in months of test builds. But recently Nick Kirby reminded me that the missing ASMedia attached devices are still an issue with the generally available ESXi 5.5, as he commented right here at TinkerTry.com:
I'm having an issue with the ASRock Fa1ality motherboard where ESX 5.5 doesn't show any disks (SSD's) connected to the SATA3 ports? The 4 disks I have connected to these ports are showing in the BIOS but the client is only showing the disks I have connected to the SATAII ports? I tried 'add storage' but no joy :(
I was wondering if you've heard of anyone having these kinds of problems?
My answer was basically yes, especially once I had confirmation from VMware, in links that Vladan Seget provided on Sep 30 2013 here:
VMware did strip down many drivers from the ESXi 5.5 ISO, and additionally, they do not provide the Offline bundle for ESXi 5.5 free version.
VMware provides full list of hardware which is “deprecated” in the ESXi 5.5. Here is VMware KB listing all unsupported NICs – Devices deprecated and unsupported in ESXi 5.5.
Hopefully this post help someone who was in the same situation. Good option is to go for Intel based NICs which in most cases are supported. The best option is to check the VMware HCL before buying a NIC, still.
Let's think about this. Many of the items were never on the VMware Compatibility Guide anyway, so I suppose we could be grateful they left those drivers in the install as long as they did. It's not necessarily that big a deal, especially with tools like ESXi-Customizer.
Coupled with Intel's seeming to squeeze home virtualization enthusiasts into server class Xeon gear, if they want to get past 32GB (despite Intel's occasional past consumer chipsets with 8 DIMM slots). See also:
where Tom states:
Haswell (and other mainstream) CPUs won't handle these DIMMs. 32GB is the limit due to the IMC. This is a market segmentation decision by Intel and I don't see it being lifted any time soon. This way people with large memory requirements either go towards X79 chipset-based boards and Intel enthusiast-class CPUs (Core i7 38xx/39xx or Core i7 48xx/49xx) which allow up to 64GB of non-ECC RAM. If >32GB RAM and ECC is required then a Xeon chipset (Intel C60x) and Xeon CPUs.
Kind of already said my piece over here:
VMTN: It was to VMware Developers & Consultants what MSDN is to Windows Developers & Consultants, and it may be coming back by Paul Braren on August 29, 2013
Here's what others are saying, such as Josh on Sep 04 2013:
I relayed back to him that the community will by very disappointed by the lack of leadership displayed by VMware here. They have a real bonafide opportunity to cultivate a true and damn near costless evangelist following now with the death of the TechNet subscription. They are choosing not to follow through.
Come to think of it, Microsoft is pulling away too, with everything headed to the cloud. Remember the early summer TechNet Subscriptions suspension reaction?
Microsoft is retiring the TechNet Subscriptions service and discontinued sales on August 31, 2013. Subscribers with active accounts may continue to access program benefits until their current subscription period concludes.
Then again, Microsoft did show some mercy, and still gave early access for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2, with Hyper-V. But this TechNet move could still be harbinger of the way things are headed.
Perhaps you add all this up and think it could all signal a not-so-gradual retraction from home labs, and an ever growing need to move toward Xeon/ECC DIMMs of "enterprise" class gear for testing/learning. Which is, of course, more costly.
This general pulling away from the home lab seems to be happening with multiple industry leaders, like VMware, and Microsoft. Where that leaves IT Professionals that learn best by deploying it themselves is unknown. It is becoming harder for some to keep on dog fooding technologies from VMware and Microsoft affordable at home, getting a feel for it in daily operation, and trying to keep ones skills honed.
All that said, let's also keep in mind that my recently published 1 hour TinkerTry.com/installvsphere55 procedure (no LDAP, no AD, no SQL Server) is vastly better and easier than my vSphere in a box from 2009. I'm always an optimist, and have always been open to learning all sorts of new technologies to get a broader perspective. I don't tend to choose sides, then spend years vehemently defending my choice. That's just not my style, nor can an IT consultant really afford to choose sides anyway. We need to know a bit about everything. And what our customers use. And for me and my day-job customers? It sure still seems to be a whole lot of VMware out there.
I happen to enjoy having access to the resources of a technology giant with my own particular day job, but I realize not everybody is so lucky. Let's give the last word to site visitor jaxun earlier today, from a considerably smaller operation:
Man, this is a frustrating development. I run the IT show for a medium size non-profit, and migrated our VM infrastructure to ESXi 5.1 last year. LOVE IT! I am setting up a proof of concept...Boy is this an eye opening article...losing the vSphere client feature is a show stopper, so I can't see going forward with 5.5. I guess I will wait and see how things play out for a few months, and try to get a budget for Essentials before I am ready to go beta on this thin client project. And putting money into Essentials only makes sense if the webclient can enable the same functions as the fat client.
I would really like to keep with ESXi, but VMWare is certainly complicating things...
Oct 04 2013 Update:
Came across this article today,
Introduction of VMware vSphere Flash Read Cache by Marcel Van Den Berg Aug 26 2013, which says:
This feature is available in vSphere 5.5 Enterprise Plus edition only!
Listened to Rod Trent today, who was on Windows Weekly Oct 03 2013 (podcast). He quotes Mark Russinovich as recently saying "IT is not going away, it is changing", with more discussion about on premise equipment versus the cloud. Rod goes on to say
They [Microsoft} are creating a gulf between IT Professionals and Microsoft at this point, because IT Pros don't feel the love right now, TechNet subscriptions, you know they canceled those, which they relied on, some major certifications are gone, some of the really popular conferences...Microsoft Management Summit was just announced that it's being absorbed...
Check it out, a short listen, jump to the right spot here:
Finally, let me emphasize I'm not backing away from my usual pushing of the home-lab envelope. Been doing it for years. I'm producing a USB 3.0 passthrough video, and am concocting fixes for most of the above-mentioned issues. I enjoy a challenge. It's how I learn. Stay tuned!
Nov 04 2013 Update:
This article sure looks promising, plan to test it myself, as soon as I can reboot, hopefully later this week:
How to make your unsupported SATA AHCI Controller work with ESXi 5.5 by Andreas Peetz on Nov 04
Nov 11 2013 Update:
Excellent article2 now available, a two partner:
ESXi 5.5 introduces a new Native Device Driver Architecture Part 1 by William Lam, Oct 28 2013.
ESXi 5.5 introduces a new Native Device Driver Architecture Part 2 by William Lam, Nov 07 2013.