Adventures in ESXi

supermicro 5036
Since I started working for a software vendor, my personal use of virtualization has grown exponentially. Everything I demo is contained within a VMware virtual machine. When I need to test new products or complex multi-product configurations, virtualization is the obvious choice, especially considering that my office is my home. I’ve been doing most of my work on a laptop, but I’m constantly running in to resource limits. Not enough disk space, not enough RAM, and lacking the CPU/Storage speed necessary for simulating enterprise software.

To solve my resource limitations, I decided to build a workstation that would function as a VMWare ESXI server. ESXi was the obvious choice since its the most widely used, and its completely compatible with the virtual machines I run on my Ubuntu laptop using VMware workstation. I wanted to get a pre-built whitebox that was supported by VMware. I selected the Supermicro 5036, which basically has server class hardware in a mid-tower form factor. I picked up a 3 ghz quad core i7 CPU and 12GB of ram. For storage I chose 4 1TB drives that I was planning on using in a RAID5 array.

When my hardware arrived, I burnt the latest ESXi iso (4.1) to a CD and began the install. I quickly discovered that ESXi does not support the on-board RAID capability of the motherboard. I naively assumed that when VMware said a device was supported, that all the functions of that device were supported. I really wanted to utilize RAID in my configuration, so I found a ESXi 4 supported 3ware RAID card on Ebay for a reasonable price. When the RAID card arrived, I installed the card and quickly discovered that VMware dropped support of the 3ware 9550sxu-4lp RAID card with version 4.1, so I would need to utilize 4.0 update 1 if I wanted to use RAID with my current card. The bottom line is VMware ESXi hardware support is very limited and subject to rapid changes.

So I downloaded and installed ESXi version 4.0 update 1 and the driver for 3ware RAID cards. I had 4 1TB drives setup in a RAID5 array, which seemed like a very basic configuration. However, when I logged in via the client I found out that ESXi cannot handle disk arrays over 2TB. My compromise configuration was to set up 2 drives as RAID 0 and 2 drives as RAID 1. One datastore for speed, and one datastore for data integrity.

With the installation complete, I was able to quickly move my existing VM’s to my new server using VMware converter. Besides the hardware compatibility issues, I’m really happy with the performance of the ESXi server. My only big gripe is that the Vsphere client used for accessing the ESXi server is Windows only, which is absolutely inexcusable.

  • minghi

    I’m glad I found this article. I’m currently running testing esxi and wanted to get the same raid card you mentioned and I’m happy to hear it works fine on esxi 4.0 update 1. my test server is 4.1 but i can live with it. key is re-using the raid card