In this inaugural episode of our new season, we embark on a journey to set up our infrastructure from scratch, exploring the realm of VMware. Virtualization is a crucial component of contemporary IT infrastructure, enabling the creation of labs and facilitating a deeper comprehension of essential IT concepts. It will allows us to run multiple operating systems on a single physical server. I am shifting gears and delving into the intricacies of VMware, bidding farewell (but not entirely) to Proxmox. The decision to migrate stems from a desire to expand my knowledge base, delving deeper into the virtualization giant that is VMware.

VMware ESXi is a powerful hypervisor solution widely acclaimed for its robust features. In this comprehensive guide,  I will take you through the intricate process of installing VMware ESXi on a Dell Server, covering every detail from server preparation to accessing the ESXi interface.

Overview of the Server

Dell R720
Dell PowerEdge
Dell PowerEdge R720

My server, a Dell PowerEdge R720, takes center stage in this journey. 192GB of RAM, iDRAC 7 for remote management, 2X 2.60Ghz, and 8x 4TB SAS drives, this will be  my playground for building and testing my virtual infrastructure.

Prepping the Server: Before delving into the ESXi installation, a crucial step involves configuring the server settings. From network configurations to RAID setups, attention to detail ensures a smooth transition to the virtual realm. Setting a static IP address, configuring SATA settings, and fine-tuning the RAID are pivotal steps in this preparatory phase. Accessing the system setup via the F2 key reveals a myriad of configurations.

  • iDRAC Config: iDRAC operates on a separate network interface card (NIC) from your server's primary NIC. This dedicated NIC allows persistent connectivity to the iDRAC controller, enabling remote interactions. Pay attention to the IPv4 settings. Enable IPv4 and disable DHCP to assign a static IP address. This step is crucial to maintaining consistent access to iDRAC.Beyond network configurations, iDRAC settings offer a plethora of options for fine-tuning remote management. These include user configurations, console redirection, smart card settings, and more. While these settings may not be the focus at this stage, they provide avenues for advanced customization based on specific requirements.
  • Enabling SATA Settings: Before delving into SATA settings, ensure that all the hardware components, especially the SSD designated for ESXi installation, are connected properly. Navigate to the SATA settings within the system setup and ensure it is enabled. This step is crucial to allow the server to recognize the connected SSD during the installation process. Within SATA settings, select the appropriate mode for your storage devices. If you are utilizing an SSD, AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) mode is recommended.
  • USB ConnectivityIf you intend to utilize internal USB connections within the server, such as connecting USB drives internally, ensure that the integrated USB configuration is enabled. This step is essential for the server to detect and utilize internal USB devices effectively.
  • RAID/Configure Virtual Disks: In the system setup, navigate to device settings, and locate the integrated RAID controller. This is where we configure virtual disks that will be used for storage. Explore the options for managing physical disks within the RAID controller settings. You can view properties, force disks to go offline, or remove them if necessary. These options provide flexibility in configuring the storage environment based on specific requirements.

With the SATA settings optimized, integrated devices configured, RAID controller set up, and iDRAC good to go, our server is now primed for the installation of the ESXi hypervisor. We have now lay the foundation for a stable and efficient virtualization environment.

Installing VMware ESXi Hypervisor

With the server configured and the groundwork laid for installing the ESXi hypervisor, let's walk through the process of downloading the VMware ESXi software and preparing a USB drive for installation.

Downloading VMware ESXi: Navigate to VMware's official website and click on "Products." Choose either vSphere or vSphere Plus. Click on "Start trial" to access the 60-day trial version. Create an account or log in if you already have one. After logging in, go to the "License and Download" section. You can find your license information and a download button for the ESXi software. Download the ESXi ISO file to your computer.

Create a Bootable USB Drive: you can choose between two free tools, Etcher or Rufus, to create a bootable USB drive. Start your preferred tool, ensuring it is compatible with your operating system. Choose the ESXi ISO file you downloaded earlier. Select your USB drive as the destination for the ESXi installation. Click "Flash" to initiate the process. This will create a bootable USB drive with the ESXi installation.

ESXi Installation Process: Now that you have everything set up, it's time to kick off the installation process. Depending on your preference, you can either use a physical USB drive or leverage iDRAC for a virtual drive. To ensure a smooth installation, don't forget to configure the boot order, giving priority to the USB or virtual drive. This ensures that the installation proceeds without a hitch.

With the server connected to the USB drive, initiate the boot process. This action will prompt the installation to begin. Take a moment to carefully read the on-screen prompts. Next, select the installation disk – this could be a physical SSD or a specified virtual disk. In this instance, we are utilizing an SSD.

ESXI1
ESXI

Exercise caution and thoroughly read any compatibility warnings presented during this phase. Overriding these warnings can pose potential risks, especially in a production environment. Therefore, attentiveness is key at this stage of the process.

After installation, remove the installation media (either physical USB or virtual drive) and Perform a server reboot to complete the ESXi installation.

Warnings1 ESXI
Warnings ESXI

To interact with your ESXi server, open a web browser and navigate to the assigned IP address. Log in using the root password established during the installation process. This grants you access to the VMware vSphere Client, a user-friendly alternative. 

Final Thoughts

This comprehensive guide provides a meticulous walkthrough of installing VMware ESXi on a server. From the initial server configuration to post-installation steps, users gain a thorough understanding of the process. The guide sets the stage for further exploration of ESXi's capabilities, including configuring settings through the vSphere client and installing vCenter for managing multiple ESXi hosts.

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About the author

Paul Koroma

Hey there, I'm Paul—a relentless seeker of knowledge and an IT enthusiast on a quest for personal growth. Soccer and IT have always ignited a fire within me, igniting my drive to create Koroma Tech. It's not just my own journey; it's an opportunity to uplift others as I forge my path in this ever-evolving field. Challenges excite me—they're the fuel for my growth. Every day presents a new hurdle, but it's a challenge I've learned to embrace wholeheartedly. I want to defy limits and inspire greatness in myself and others.

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