Using ESXi 5.5 to create "Golden Master" Windows 8.1 template VM with ease-of-use tweaks for your lab

Posted by Paul Braren on Oct 17 2013 in
  • BIOS-UEFI
  • ESXi
  • Windows
  • vSphere-Web-Client-view-of-the-Windows-8.1-Template

    In this article with video walk through, you'll learn exactly how to create a Windows 8.1 Profession 64 bit template, using an ESXi 5.5 Virtual Machine Version 10. The ginormous 8TB size for the C: drive in the VM shows off the vSphere 5.5-only features, including the VM's EFI BIOS setting to allow booting from a drive >3TB in size. Why did I chose 8TB, instead of the maximum 62TB I demonstrated last month in Wow, is that a 62TB drive in my home lab? Well, I figure you might want to migrate to VMware Workstation 10 at some point. So this size is a good compromise that allows ample long-term growth, without the hassle of resizing that C: drive. Remember, you can always Storage vMotion this to a larger hard drive someday, should you find the SSD you typically start out on simply too cramped. Keep and eye on that free space, or you'll fill that SSD up 100%, which degrades its performance, at least until a secure wipe can be done.

    Over time, I will revise and enhance the details of the procedure, to improve your ability to follow along without watching the entire video, with step-by-step screenshots.

    But for experienced Windows sysadmins, this short list will be more than enough to give you the gist of what's accomplished in this very detailed video. It'll give you some ideas about how you might want to create your Windows 8 VMs in your ESXi 5.5 lab, and how to deploy VMs from such templates in 2-3 minutes using SSDs, which is a pretty fantastic experience. The only minor gotcha is that the vSphere Web Client doesn't believe VMware Tools is running on Windows 8.1, but it is, and works just fine, so this can apparently safely be ignored.

    This lab VM allows very rapid reboot with no password prompts and will automatically shows your desktop, not the default Metro/Modern UI. And your desktop will show your Windows version, even after activation. Helps reduce OS confusion, if you use Remote Desktop Connection to connect, for example.

    This lab assumes:

    1. you've already built an vSphere 5.5 lab, if not, worry not, step-by-step instructions for that lab creation are at Build your own VMware vSphere 5.5 Datacenter with ESXi and vCSA
    2. you've already download en_windows_8_1_x64_dvd_2707217.iso from TechNet/MSDN
    3. you've already uploaded that ISO to an ESXi VMFS datastore, nicely described here.

    Steps to build the Golden Master Windows 8.1 VM:

    • using vSphere Web Client logged into vCenter, create a VM named something like
      TEMPLATE-Windows 8.1 Pro 2707217
      choose Guest OS Version "Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit),
      and an 8TB thin-provisioned C: drive, VMXnet3 for NIC, add xHCI USB controller, and CD/DVD Drive, Datastore ISO File, 'Connect At Power On' checkbox on, pointing to:
      en_windows_8_1_x64_dvd_2707217.iso
    • 'VM Options' tab, 'Boot Options' section, 'EFI' drop down choice instead of BIOS
    • choose 'Windows 8.1 (multiple editions) (x64) - DVD (English)'
    • click 'Send Ctrl+Alt+Delete' button at top-right of vSphere Web Client to get it to boot from CD/DVD, then hit space bar
    • click Next, 'Install Now'
    • 'Enter the product key to activate Windows'
      I have found that 'Windows 8.1 Pro VL (x64) - DVD (English)' to be more problematic in a home lab, even if you have the valid license keys form MSDN. It stops you in your tracks as it looks for an enterprise server to serve up the activation keys.
    • Power up the VM, watch the console, doing normal install, typing local login credentials
    • name the VM "windows81provm0"
    • install VMware tools (choosing 'Typical', reason explained here)
    • say Yes to Local Network prompt, so it becomes a local Private network automatically
    • turn of NTP sync in Windows tray and set timezone
    • set sync to tools in VM Settings
    • configure autologin by pressing Win+R and typing netplwiz.exe
    • set 1440x900 resolution to fit console comfortably on 1920x1080 monitor
    • REBOOT
    • make metro Desktop icon big at bottom left
    • show all icons
    • turn off screensaver by Win+W, 'Edit Power Plan'
    • turn off power off of screens
    • disable "Require a Password on Wake-up"
    • turn on Remote Desktop
    • turn of CD/DVD drive 1 "Connected" checkbox and change to "Client Device"
    • run regedit to show your Windows version on desktop
      HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\PaintDesktopVersion
    • turn off automatic updates
    • Microsoft update other products
    • add poweroff.exe shortcut
    • shutdown
    • convert to Template
    • deploy from template, name it "windows81provm1"
    • change the computer name of the new VM, turn on Windows Updates, you're done!