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Running ESX 3i Installable from a USB Flash Drive

ESX Server 3i Installable was released in December 2007 as the counterpart to 3i Embedded which was designed to run from flash memory allowing for the deployment of diskless servers. ESX Server 3i Installable on the other hand does require a hard drive for the install process.

It is possible to copy the install image from the 3i Installable install CD onto a USB flash drive and then run 3i from it. This was originally documented here: http://communities.vmware.com/message/825686. While not supported, it's great for a test or training server or for a server that does not have a supported disk controller. Once installed, it is possible to connect to an iSCSI or NFS server for storage of your virtual machines. This page documents the process of creating a USB flash drive for this purpose. The procedure is available in a video format as well (avi / flash). If you would rather just install ESXi from a USB flash drive, see the process here.

Note: this procedure is not supported by VMware for running production servers.

1) You'll need some software to extract and then copy the image to the flash drive. I've used 7-zip and WinImage for this document.

2) Open the 3i Installable CD image (VMware-VMvisor-InstallerCD-3.5.0-67921.i386.iso) with 7-zip and extract the file install.tgz.

3) Open install.tgz with 7-zip and then extract install.tar.

4) Open install.tar with 7-zip and extract the file VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-67921.i386.dd.bz2 from /usr/lib/vmware/installer.

5) Extract the file VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-67921.i386.dd from VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-67921.i386.dd.bz2. This will be the install image that will be copied to the flash drive and it will be 750 MB in size.

6) Open WinImage and select "Restore Virtual Hard Disk image on physical drive..." from the Disk menu. If you are running WinImage on Vista, you'll want start WinImage as administrator with the "Run as Administrator" option or by using the WinImage (Administrator) program shortcut.

7) Select the USB drive that the image will be restored to.

8) Select the file VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-67921.i386.dd that was extracted in step 5. You will have to select the "All files (*.*)" option to see the image file. Once you select it, you'll be prompted with the below warning before the copy process starts. The copy should take about 3 minutes.

9) Once you have completed the copy, you should see the following partitions on the USB flash drive.

10) You can now insert the USB drive into your server. The server should support USB boot. In the BIOS you'll be able to set the server to boot from USB drive and if available, you should also set the BIOS to treat the USB drive as a fixed hard disk.

When you connect to your host for the first time, you should see the USB Storage Controller, the iSCSI Adapter and the below message if you don't have any supported storage in your host.

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Copyright © 2011 - Dave Mishchenko