I played around with VMWare ESXi some more this evening and managed to get it installed on an IDE disk to test.  The IDE JBOD mode didn’t work as I hoped.  Eventually I found this tip on how to get ESXi to install on an IDE disk.  That did the trick and ESXi installed no problem!

After ESXi installed, I did some testing and built a Win XP virtual machine as a test.  It was a bit tricky to get going as ESXi does not support IDE disk emulation in the guest OS.  This made the Windows XP installer complain as it would not find the virtual disk.  Fortunately, VMWare has a vmscsi driver disk available for download here: http://www.vmware.com/download/server/drivers_tools.html.  Mounting the SCSI Disk Driver floppy image and pressing F6 immediately during the Windows XP installation loads the driver and the installation was a breeze after that.

I played a bit more with the ESXi configuration and tools and I’m pretty impressed.  I think it would make a good replacement for my current server configuration – Win2k3 on native hardware with a Linux VM running in VMWare Server 1.02.

Now the remaining problems are how to easily migrate the existing server to ESXi.  Migrating the Linux VM might be a pain because I had problems using SCSI emulation on the virtual disk and I went with IDE.  Maybe VMWare converter will be able to convert the disk format but it might still be tough at a guest OS level to change the hard drive configuration.  If things don’t go too well, I could always just install a fresh Fedora Core 10 to ESXi and go from there.  I’m due for an upgrade anyways.

Migrating Windows Server 2003 from native hardware to ESXi should be pretty easy with VMWare converter but of course I’ll have to test it to be sure.  This is definately a system I do not want to rebuild from scratch!

After I was done testing/playing, I got a bit brave since I was more comfortable with the ESXi installer and I wanted to see if the ESXi installer detected a SATA disk.  Since the plan is to use two 500GB SATA drives in a RAID-1 config, I want to be sure it will work before I buy two drives.  So without having a spare SATA disk to test with, I hooked up my primary SATA drive (with all my important data on it) and booted the ESXi installer.  I’m happy to report that ESXi detected the SATA drive no problem without needed the above ‘tweak’ to get it working.  I figured that was a good point to cancel out and hope my drive had not been altered.  I would assume at this point that the SATA RAID-1 will work just fine with ESXi and my nForce 4 controller.

Next step….not sure…

Update: The embedded nForce SATA RAID configuration doesn’t work.  Even when enabled in the BIOS, ESXi sees the ‘RAID-1′ as two individual drives.  I haven’t found any solution to this problem but other people have had the same issue.  Kind of unfortunate as cheap RAID-1 solution would be a huge benefit for ESXi.

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