Creating vSphere 5 ESXi embedded USB Stick

A very quick post on how to create an image that contains vSphere 5 ESXi Embedded with which you can use to quickly create USB sticks that have the ESXi hypervisor installed.  This is not the same as creating a bootable USB key that contains the installation files to install ESXi from the USB stick.  For this method please refer to this post.

Use this in your lab environment, I wouldn’t recommend doing this in production environments.

In previous versions of vSphere ESXi, it was relatively straight forward to create a bootable USB key which already contained the ESXi hypervizor.  This was done by extracting the files from the ISO and then using ‘dd’ to image the directory structure to the USB stick.  With vSphere ESXi 5 however, this technique is no longer possible.  There is a workaround however.  ESXi is installed and configured in two steps, the installation is done to a disk with a vanilla installation of ESXi without configuration.  The server is then rebooted and the configuration of ESXi continues with the creation of the management network vmk0 or vmk1 (depending on your setup), hostname, DNS etc.

For this to work, we do not perform the second part, which is the configuration, but take an image of the USB key directly after the installation of the vanilla installation of ESXi without configuration.  This enables us to image this vanilla installation onto as many USB sticks, i.e., servers as we like without clashes in virtual MAC addresses and the like.

What you will need: VMware Workstation, 1 USB stick, the ESXi Installable ISO file VMware-VMvisor-Installer-5.0.0-469512.x86_64.iso, WinImage.

Quick steps

  1. Create a new ESX virtual machine in VMware Workstation with CD-ROM drive, USB adapter, 2Gb RAM and 2vCPUs.
  2. Mount the ESXi Installable ISO file to the CD Drive.
  3. Insert the USB stick to your workstation (the same one that runs VMware Workstation).
  4. Boot the VM and connect the USB stick to the VM.
  5. Install ESXi as normal, making sure that you install onto the USB stick, when installation is complete, disconnect the USB stick from the VM and do not reboot the VM, just turn it off.  You no longer need this VM.
  6. With the USB stick still connected to your workstation, open up Winimage.
  7. Go to Disk | Creating Virtual Hard Disk image from physical drive and select the USB stick that you installed ESXi on.
  8. Select a location where to save your image and change the file type to Image file (*.ima).
  9. WinImage will now make a backup on your newly installed USB stick.

Creating vSphere 5 ESXi embedded bootable USB sticks

  1. Now that you have an ESXi image, you can use this to build lots of USB sticks which are ready for ESXi deployment.
  2. Insert a new USB stick into a spare USB port.
  3. Launch WinImage and navigate to Disk | Restore Virtual Hard Disk image on physical drive.
  4. Select the USB stick and click on OK.
  5. Navigate to the image file that you created previously.  WinImage will now restore the backed up image to your new USB stick.
  6. Repeat as necessary.

Configure ESXi

Once the stick is ready, just insert into a spare USB port on your server and ESXi will boot into the configuration screen ready for you to configure management network details.

You may need to log onto the local console once ESXi has finished booting and launch the ‘Restore Network Settings’.  This will reset the vmk0 or vmk1 (depending on your setup) interface.