Side Project – VMWare ESXi

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Some time late last year, I decided that most off-the-shelf routers are terrible and I needed to find a better solution. After looking high and low on the interwebs I settled on pfSense, a FreeBSD based firewall. The only thing I needed was another network port, so after some research I bought a dual port Intel NIC on eBay. That didn’t work out so well. I was running VMWare ESXi 4.0 which wouldn’t cooperate; giving me PSOD’s. Thinking that ESXi 4.1 would solve the problem, I then took the risk of upgrading. The reason I say risk is because to this day I haven’t figured out how I got ESXi to work on the MCP73 nForce chipset. I had to uncomment a driver in some file to load the nv_sata.o file. Thankfully upgrading didn’t mess up the config file. Unfortunately this didn’t solve my PSOD, so it was back to looking for a compatible NIC. Finally, I settled on a single port Broadcom. This worked great and I’ve had no problems at all, so far. Great this is working out, so I thought.

After upgrading to 4.1 another problem crept up on me. Apparently 4.1 really didn’t like the SATA controller and it would drop connection whenever it felt like it, especially when I was using the Internet a lot like streaming a movie, for example. A few months passed to which I finally became tired of just rebooting the server to recover.
Before I decided to buy any new hardware, I thought I would take a stab at Citrix XenCenter. What a disaster! Let me say that again, disaster! In my opinion, their product is terrible compared to ESXi. Trying to convert VMWare VM’s to Xen, forgetaboutit!
I broke down and I spent some time searching for the best setup for a whitebox ESXi server. Here is a list of what I picked up from Micro Center:
     • ASRock Z68 Pro3-M
     • Core i5 2400
     • 2 x 8GB of XMS DDR3-1333 CL9 Dual Channel
This setup is great, not limited to 4GB of RAM, limit is 32GB, and everything is detected first try no tweaking. It’s fast and all the ESXi features work such as DirectPath I/O. Plus I am able to run 5.0. I’m extremely happy with this setup. This should let me run longer without upgrading.
Now, what to do with all this horsepower? First install Windows 8 Consumer Preview (needed a patch for it to work), then I decided to build a PXE sever so I can network boot Windows/Linux installs, plus Live CDs. After a long week of search and trying different solutions, I ended up with UltimateDeployment Appliance based on CentOS 5.1. It needed some work but after working out the bugs I have a great PXE server that I can network boot the popular Live distro’s and install DVDs. This includes some tools, windows installs with automation, and Netbootme. I also ran across a Browser Appliance which I installed. It makes a great browser sandbox for safe browsing.
Here are a couple of pictures of my boot menu created by my editor @heartsy.


Please leave a comment with your thoughts on the boot menu and any ideas of systems I could run on my VMWare environment. One thing I have been thinking about is a Linux development box, maybe get into some Android or Linux robot stuff.

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