Build your own VMware vSphere Datacenter in under an hour with the free ESXi 5.5 hypervisor

Posted by Paul Braren on Sep 3 2013 (updated on Sep 9 2013) in
  • ESXi
  • HowTo
  • Virtualization
  • The original article was published using pre-release code, and has since been replaced with all the latest information and videos based on the now Generally Available vSphere 5.5, just click on the below URL to jump on over!

    by Paul Braren on Sep 30 2013

    Below you'll find the original article, as first published Sep 03 2013.

    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 24×7? 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. This time, it’s in full 1920×1080 glory!

    This comprehensive, step-by-step guide to creating your own VMware vSphere 5.5 datacenter has chapter boomarks below, so you can jump right to exact portions of the 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 of interest to 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 to get the somewhat limited free edition to last beyond the 60 days.


    • vSphere 5.5 / ESXi 5.5 isn’t yet generally available
    • it’s likely arriving in mid September 2013, explained here, so I cannot provide you with download instructions yet
    • licensing details known for sure yet either, and we won’t know until general availabililty
    • like most home labs with system not on the VMware HCL, no official support is provided by VMware
    • it is not practical for me to try to support you either, unless you are using identical hardware
    • of course, you are responsible for backing up your data

    Rebuild of the environment takes under an hour, and preserves all your precious VMs. My demo was done with just one NIC, for simplicity. But of course, you can configure multiple NICs, for more versatility and resilience.

    This video is also 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 passthroughusing 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 24×7 (think VPN orproxy). 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 thoseother hypervisors, for certification training.

    For those who prefer speed of written step-by-step instructions, I’ll be adding those to this article soon as well.

    Here’s the ingredients I used, for this special recipe I cooked up, seen in the video:

    1. ESXi Hypervisor Installable - VMware-VMvisor-Installer-5.5.0-1266856.x86_64.iso
    2. vSphere Client
      (not on public site yet)
    3. VCSA Build 1266838:
    4. 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
    5. DVD+R blank DVD
    6. WinSCP
    7. PuTTY

    Simply click on the Chapter to jump to the right spot on the video!

    Chapter 1

    Chapter 2
    Configure motherboard BIOS for ESXi, with ISO burned to DVD as install source, and a single 4GB USB flash drive as install target.

    Set so only boot device is USB 2.0 Flash Drive, press F11 at reboot to boot from DVD, just this once, this way, no need to worry about accidental boot from DV.

    Chapter 3
    Edit ESXi 5.5 hypervisor host file, edit workstation hosts file

    Chapter 4
    Install vSphere Client.
    (it’s a 32 bit Windows application, based on C# language. This client is being retired soon, but is still needed just for the vCenter Appliance install, coming up next.

    Chapter 5
    Configure NTP, and configure Security Profile to allow SSH.
    optionally, turn off SSH warning

    Chapter 6
    Edit ESXi host file using WinSCP.

    PuTTY into esxi, be sure it can ping vcenter.

    Chapter 7
    Deploy and configure the VCSA (vCenter Server Appliance).

    You may want to thin provision it, especially if it’s going on an SSD. I also went with 4GB of memory, to further save on SSD space, given that’s half the size of the swap file than the default 8GB memory setting. 4G is more than enough for a lab with dozens of VMs on one host. I went with a DHCP reservation for my VM, so that it always get the same IP. This worked around an issue with SSO configuration failing whenever I changed IPs or hostnames of the appliance, which I recently explained here.

    Chapter 8
    Edit vCenter host file using WinSCP.
    PuTTY into vcenter to be sure it can ping esxi.

    Chapter 9
    Using ‘vSphere Web Client’ to create a Datacenter, then add an esxi host to vcenter.

    I used IE10 for the purposes of this demonstration, but Firefox and Chrome should work fine as well.

    Chapter 10
    Set VCSA (vCenter Server Appliance)
    to gracefully shutdown with ESXi host, and to automatically restart when ESXi is powered on or rebooted. All other VMs will also be gracefully shutdown as well, whenever the host is shutdown or rebooted. Then test it!

    Chapter 11
    Configure a datastore
    (formatting entire drive as VMFS 5.60)
    This is where your VM’s virtual drives will live.

    I used a fast SATA3 drive for this, an emptly, freshly wiped SSD actually.

    Chapter 12
    Test out Storage vMotion.

    Look Mom, no pings lost! Well, this isn’t quite as magical as moving a running VM from one host to another, but it’s still pretty cool to be able to do this easily, quickly, and freely.

    Chapter 13
    Test out vSphere Web Client’s
    ‘Launch Console’ functionality.

    Chapter 14
    vSphere Client
    vSphere Web Client
    speed/functionality test.

    Chapter 15
    How to create a VM.

    Chapter 16
    In vSphere Web Client, install and test the ‘Client Integration plug-in’.

    The allow the plugin install to continue, you’ll see I was prompted to close IE and Chrome (Firefox wasn’t running). Killing IE10 was easy, but getting Chrome 29.0 to die, not so much. 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.*

    Chapter 17
    In vSphere Web Client, create a VM, install ‘Windows 8.1′.

    This example will demonstrate installing Windows 8.1 Preview, from an ISO file on an SSD datastore. It works fine (with VM set to “Windows 8″).

    Chapter 18
    Install VMware Tools.

    Chapter 19
    ‘Register VM’
    Adding any VMs you already have on VMFS volumes to your inventory.

    Chapter 20
    Closing thoughts.

    See also:
    How to create a vSphere Web Client Google Chrome Application Shortcut, looks better and works faster
    Superguide: VMware vSphere

    Sep 03 2013 09:00am ET Update:
    It has just come to my attention there may be newer builds of ESXi hypervisor and appliance, which might mean my ESXi 5.5.0 Build 1266856, and vCenter Appliance Build 1266838, aren’t the release to manufacture code. There’s still value in leaving the related articles and video in place, as an early look at how ESXi 5.5 will likely look and behave, once Generally Available. Whether there winds up being any slight changes to the behavior remains to be seen. One thing I’ll be keen on re-testing is whether the name and/or IP of the appliance can be changed, without killing the appliance’s “Configuring SSO” step roughly 9 out of 10 times.

    Sep 03 2013 09:51pm ET Update:
    All the latest information about the code availability is now kept up to date here: