Goal : With a bare minimum understanding of OS, Hardware, and Virtual Machine create functional Virtual Machine environment for testing, learning and experiment with ESXi.
Audience:: Anybody enthusiastic about ESXi, who has minimum OS,Hardware knowledge , time and a bit of money to spend
ESXi is a wonderful and powerful product. Let us take a close look on how to install it from the scratch. The idea here is to examine all steps needed to get an ESXi installed system right from identifying the suitable hardware. ESXi may be working on any hardware I suppose. However to avoid spending time on investigating unknown issues that arises from HW compatibility , it is a good idea to get one the certified server.(Many such ESXi certified models are available in ebay (also in some local craiglist listings) .
(1)So step 1 is obviously identifying a suitable Hardware.( For testing purpose the best cost effective way is to procure a used server .)One can search for compatible hardware using the following Link . Screen shot of a sample search result is shown below. Here I just checked for DELL poweredge R210 servers as they are the low cost options available for reasonably good rack mounts from DELL. The ESXi support tables shows it supports for various versions, older models of DELL poweredge servers. some of these servers like poweredge 2950 are available in second hand market for amount less than five hundred bucks.
(Step 2) Once decided on hardware model and it is purchased next step is to get the Software (ESXi).Go to https://my.vmware.com/web/vmware/downloads
Select ESXi. (Then import look for the right version you need (based on hardware and any other specific feature requirement, Sample screenshot below )
Step 3: Once the Hardware and Software is procured next step is to install the ESXi software on the hardware and make it host of several virtual machines. Avery good reference of the ESXi installation best practices are available in the following page from VMware. This has links to various pages that list compatibility /certification of various hardware pieces like CPU, Memory,NICs etc.
Next step is to get a bootable media for ESXi. By burning the ISO image to a DVD and attaching this media to the server, it is all set to boot from the ESXi for its installation.
A Step by step Screen shot of ESXi 5.5 installation is available in the following link. I just followed the steps below . The detailed Instructions and screen shots make this installation really easy to follow.
Next step is to create VMs (Guest).
The Beauty of VM environments (especially ESXi ) is it allows to run huge range of guest OS.
There is a compatibility search Tool available in the following tool. http://www.vmware.com/resources/compatibility/search.php?deviceCategory=software
I is interesting to know that even MAC OS is supported on ESXi.
Detailed example of creating a VM is available in the below Link. This can be used as reference when creating the VM of choice