Create ESXi 4 USB flash drives with Workstation

Today I needed to temporarily set up three servers with VMware ESXi 4 — they were running something else that I was not quite ready to destroy. I decided to boot ESXi from flash and found a very easy way to image some USB flash drives with just VMware Workstation 6.5:

  • Create a new VMware Workstation VM that is capable of running ESX — make sure it has a USB controller
  • Pop in a USB flash drive (1GB)
  • Boot the ESXi (installable) ISO image
  • Use the VM | Removable Devices menu to connect the USB device to the VM
  • Run through the ESXi installer and select the USB drive as the installation destination
  • Wait just a few minutes while installation completes; repeat as needed
  • Stick the flash drives into the servers (I used a few DL360 G5s) and boot them up

Creating an ESXi USB flash drive with VMware Workstation

Worked great!  Have you set up any ESXi hosts to boot from flash?

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16 Responses to Create ESXi 4 USB flash drives with Workstation

  1. aharden says:

    I’ve played with HP’s ESXi 4 on flash on a demo G6 server and really dug it. You could have burned that ISO to a CD, booted the server with the CD and the USB drive attached, and installed ESXi to the USB drive directly without touching the server’s hard disks. ESXi 4 has a more flexible install routine than ESXi 3.5 (I think – never deployed in production).

    • Eric Gray says:

      aharden, great point, I was considering that at first but I needed to keep the servers running something else for a while longer — by preparing the flash drives in advance, I could simply reboot into ESXi when the servers were ready.

      Also, my servers are headless and in a lab on the other side of campus. I just wanted to walk by, insert the USB flash, and later reboot remotely to USB (using iLO) from the comfort of my desk.

  2. NiTRo says:

    Eric, why didn’t you use the winimage method ?

  3. Vladan says:

    It’s because it’s faster. We both know that the VMware people are lazy…..-:)…. Just kidding.

    Mike Laverick has pointet that out already on one of the comments on the articles I published earlier about this.


    • Eric Gray says:

      NiTRo, I think the excellent post added by Vladan shows why I didn’t use the winimage method. 🙂 The whole thing just took a few minutes and I did not need any additional utilities. (I know, what’s the fun in that?)

      Thanks, Vladan!

  4. NiTRo says:

    I got it Eric but, tell me if i’m wrong, if you install ESXi on usb key you got installable version not embedded ? Is that supported by VMware… ?

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  9. keenest says:

    I’ve been putting together a demo environment that consists of a mini-itx system running ESX for showing off our products at VMworld. Unfortunately, the SATA controller is unsupported and consequently unrecognized. I was able to boot the system using USB installation but the local storage is not available for VMs 🙁 has been useful for trying to modify the oem.tgz files to work with the configured SATA controller but I’ve had little success. Come visit us at the New innovators boot #1438N. A nice reward for anyone that can make it work!

    BTW, had to go with Hyper-V for the time being… It installed flawlessly since Windows drivers are available. 🙁

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  12. jb says:

    me 2 i went with hyperv r2 on a zotac miniitx with a c2d low watt

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