Installing and booting ESXi 5 from USB allows you to keep your storage exclusively for VMs and separately make backup of your boot configuration and data configuration (note you cannot put the DataStore on your USB stick).
A small stick (minimum 1 gigabyte) will suffice, and works on many systems, but at first not on my HP XW6600, despite the latest BIOS version 1.36a. You get a nice “Non-System disk or disk error” message.
Both methods I tried failed at first. I thought they failed because the BIOS on the HP has limited USB boot support. It did boot from single partition USB sticks, but seemed not to boot from multi-partition ones, no matter if they are removable or HDD (with the removable bit flipped).
The ESXi5 installer is a single partition one. The final ESXi5 installed image is a multi-partition one. That’s what got me thinking into the multi-partiton direction.
Since the problem is similar to the impossibility of booting VMware workstation VMs from USB stick, (this fails even from the BIOS), I tried Plop since Plop works for VMware Workstation. The Plop USB boot manager failed too. My final thought was to install Plop on a FAT formatted USB stick(which does boot) and continue from there to the ESXi5 one: that failed too.
Boy I was wrong: the failure was not caused by the multi-partition setup, but because of my “Google blindness”: I searched in the wrong direction with the wrong keywords, therefore not getting the right links as search results.
A VMware Communities forum threads on “No bootable device” after successful ESXI5 installation on Intel DG35EC desktop motherboard” and No boot after clean install finally got me in the right direction:
As of ESXi5, the default partition table type is GPT (GUID Partition Table), not MBR (Master Boot Record) any more (thats why an ESXi4 install will work fine).
Booting from GPT is in the EFI standards (now in its second generation UEFI or United Extensible Firmware), allowing – among others – to boot from disks bigger than 2 terrabyte. You need a BIOS that is compatible with GPT to do so, and the HP XW6600 BIOS clearly isn’t compatible with GPT.
Not all is lost, as while installing ESXi5, you have an option – though well hidden – to force it to use MBR boot. That worked, and I will blog on the steps later.
The good news: it now works on my HP XW6600 workstations (that support both VT-x and VT-d, which means I can do PCI pass through).
How to create an ESXi5 install on a USB stick
First things first though: creating the USB stick in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »