ESX vs ESXi which is better(Revisited vSphere 4.0)

Back in April I wrote a blog aimed and the differences between ESX and ESXi. The original post was written for ESX 3.5 and with the introduction of vSphere I think it’s about time i have revisited this topic and looked at the pros and cons of ESX4 and ESX4i. Now before we dig into the technical details there is one big thing you should all be aware of. The FAQ page published by VMware states “VMware ESXi is the recommended platform for both new and existing customers. Future hypervisor releases will solely be based on this architecture.

For most that should be enough said. After reading that I would seriously start rolling out ESXi in a lab and start figuring out how I could maintain my needs without the service console most of us have become to know and love. I would also start brushing up on the RCLI as well as the PowerCLI if you are currently dependent on scripts that run in the service console. The good news is almost everything you do today in the service console can be achieved one way or another with ESXi as well. OK with that said lets talk about some of the other limitations.

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VMware SDK and Visual Studio 2008

I went to install the VMware SDK for vSphere 4.0 on to my desktop running Windows 7 64-bit, Visual Studio 2008, and .Net 3.5 SP1 and discovered the SDK setup is not friendly with these versions.  According to VMware you need Visual Studio 2005 and .Net 2.0 if you want to run the SDK.

So like most of you reading this I turned to my trusted adviser…google to find the answer I was looking for.  Much to my disappointment after 5 minutes of searching around I didn’t find any instant gratification for my problem so I decided to just go ahead and figure it out on my own.

It turned out to be a relatively easy task once I discovered what was causing my issues.  There are two windows cmd scripts that need to be edited to point to the proper locations of your installations.  I have included the modified cmd files in our downloads section for those of you that would like them.  These files are built to support my specific configuration but they are very easily edited to support your configuration.

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Citrix Xen Desktop (DDC) / Provisioning Server (PVS) & vSphere SDK

I’m sure many of you have run into an issue with setting up Citrix Xen Desktop (DDC). As i was setting up a new “Desktop Group” I ran into a problem when trying to configure the vCenter SDK address. The configuration wizard show you an example that looks say ‘For example,” which is what you would expect to use and you would also expect it to work. Think again. When you try to setup your vCenter SDK address you will be presented with and error “The hosting infrastructure could not be reached at the specified address.” Citrix takes security serious so unless you plan on replacing the default SSL certificate on your vCenter server you will need to hack out a work around. Now I would agree that in production you should replace the default SSL but if your just trying to spin up a demo or test environment it can be a hassle.

So I searched the web over and over and found a number of threads with many of ways to resolve the issue only none of them seemed to work for me. However a combination of a number of things that I found did. So I’m here to save you the trouble of finding all of various pages with partial solutions. Below you will find exactly what you need to do to make this work.

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Creating an Automated ESXi Installer

Back in the summer, I saw Stu’s Post about automating the installation of ESXi. I was reminded again by Duncan’s Post. Then, I found myself in a situation when a customer bought 160 blades for VMware ESXi. With this many systems, it would be almost impossible to do this without mistakes. I took the ideas from Stu and Duncan and created an ESXi automated installer that works from a PXE deployment server, like the Ultimate Deployment Appliance. I took it a step further and added the ability to use a USB stick or a CD for those times when PXE is not allowed. The document below is a result of it.

This is a little different than the idea of a stateless ESXi server, where the hypervisor actually boots from PXE. This is the installer booting from PXE so that the hypervisor can be installed on local disk, an internal USB stick or SD card. You could also use it for a “boot from SAN” situation, but extreme care should be taken so you don’t accidentally format a VMFS disk.

As always, if anyone has comments, corrections, etc., please feel free to post a comment below.

Continue reading “Creating an Automated ESXi Installer”

ESX vs. ESXi Which is Better? Revisited.

For over a year now, I have started off telling customers in Plan and Design engagements that they would be using ESXi unless we uncovered a compelling reason to NOT use it. The “which do I use” argument is still going strong. Our blog post “ESX vs. ESXi which is better?“  was posted in April and is still the most popular. It seems to be a struggle for many people to let go of the service console. VMware is trying to go in the direction of the thinner ESXi hypervisor. They are working to provide alternatives to using the service console.

VMware has provided a comparison of ESX vs. ESXi for version 3.5 for a while. Well, VMware posted a comparison for ESX vs. ESXi for version 4 last night. It’s a great reference.

VMware ESX Configuration Maximums Comparison Matrix

Have you ever needed an easy to reference way to see what the configuration maximums are for different versions of VMware ESX.  I know I seem to need this all the time.  I find it a huge pain to keep referring to each of the individual VMware documents to get the answers.  Sometimes I also want to see what the changes are between versions and I can’t seem to memorize this information in my tiny little brain.  So I went ahead and created a “Configuration Maximums Comparison Matrix” based on the VMware Configuration Maximums for each version.

You’ll notice some settings don’t have values for each version.  This is because they were not published in the VMware documents.  As I go through some additional documents and extract these values I will update the document to reflect.  For no the document does include everything from the VMware Configuration maximums published for each of these Versions:

VMware ESX 3
VMware ESX 3.5 & ESX 3.5 Update 1
VMware ESX 3.5 Update 2, Update3, & Update 4
VMware vSphere 4.0 (ESX 4)

You can find the document in our downloads section or you can click here. Hope you find this useful I know I will.

vSphere Install and Upgrade Best Practices KB Articles and Links

So, I use NewsGator to aggregate a BAZILLION feeds from several sources, blogs, like this one, actual news feeds and a bunch of VMware feeds. The VMware feeds are from the VI:OPS and VMTN forums. The VMTN forums allow you to create a custom feed by selecting the RSS link at the bottom right of each page or you can get a feed from a specific section of the forum by clicking the link on the bottom left of a list. On of the custom feed options is to get a feed of the new KB articles.

VMware has released quite a lot of new KB articles surrounding vSphere. They just released nice best practice guidelines for installing or upgrading to ESX 4 and vCenter 4. They are short and to the point. There is also a nice article covering best practices for upgrading an ESX 3.x virtual machine to ESX 4.0. One thing I noticed, but never thought about is this :

“Note: If you are using dynamic DNS, some Windows versions require ipconfig/reregister to be run.”

Eric Seibert over at vSphere-Land posted a nice set of “missing links” for everything vSphere. This is a nice, comprehensive set of links to evetrything you need for vSphere upgrades or installs.So, go check that out as well.

VMware vSphere Upgrade Path Overview

Many of you are wonder how you will go about upgrading to VMware vSphere when it is release. Well I’m here to say don’t worry. The upgrade path from ESX 2.x & 3.x is very painless and fairly simple. A lot of you will remember all the phone you have had in the past performing upgrades and scripting installs, well VMware is quickly trying to make all of that a thing from the past with new features available in vSphere.

Read More here

Just some more vSphere information

Here is some information about vSphere that I thought would be good to share with the world. As with everything else this is just a drop in the bucket. I’m currently working on putting together some upgrade videos and screenshots so take a look back and hopefully I will have them done by the end of the week.

Here is some interesting information about vSpehere and what it supports keep in mind these are just some notes I jotted down:

ESX 4 Hosts (vSphere Host)
256VM’s per host
64 Cores per host
512GB Ram per host

vSphere VMs (Hardware version 7)
8 vCPUs
256GB Ram
VMDirectPath I/O
Hot Plug Support (Supports CPU’s and Memory)
ESX 2.x and 3.x VM support
Paravirtual SCSI adapter
MSCS 2008
Persistent Reservations in vmkernel
LSI Logic SAS (Virtual SAS controller)

Networking Improvements
New iSCSI stack with 10-30% improved performance
TCPIP 2 Support (Based on FreeBSD 6.1 / IPv6 / locking and threading capabilties)
Receive Side Scaling
VLAN offloading
VMware Directpath I/O

Storage Improvements
SCSI-3 Compliant
VMFS still SCSI-2
Target PortGroup Support (TPGS)
Asymmetric Logical Unit (ALUA)
Pluggable Storage Architecture (PSA)
Updated iSCSI stack
Native SATA

Service Console
64-bit, 2.6 based Linux kernel compatible with RHEL 5.2
Supports for both 32bit and 64bit applications
root file system stored in VMDK
vmkernel runs and owns device drivers only 64-bit
Address Space layout Randomization (ASLR)
No Linux dev packagers and libraries

Enhanced Intel step down
Enhanced AMD Power Now

Trusted Platform Module (TPM)
Digitally signed and validated modules
Memory integrity techniques with microprocessor capabilities to protect against buffer-overflow

Guided Consolidation
500 Simultaneous Physical Machines
Modular Plug-in can be installed on different machine


Physical / Virtual / 3rd party
Server 2008 Support
Covert Hyper-V Machines to VM’s

Update Manager

ESX / ESXi and Virtual Appliance Upgrades
Upgrade Virtual Hardware
VMware Tools
Base Line Groups

Upgrade vcenter steps

No SQL 2000 Support
2.x & 3.x Upgade Path
Upgrade vCenter
Upgrade Update Manager
Use Upgrade Manager to Upgrade Hosts
Upgrade VMware Tools, then the VMware Hardware.

vSphere Host Update Utility
3.x to 4.x
Dosn’t Upgrade VMFS Datastores or VMs
Installs with vSphere client
Support Rollback for ESX only
Can be used to install patch releases to standalone hosts
Copies Script and ISO to ESX hosts reboots and installs

FLASH: ESX 4 Console OS is REALLY a VM this time!

While I was setting up ESX in text mode for my next blog post, I discovered that the installation sequence first creates a VMFS file system and then creates a VMDK file for the console OS. I confirmed it in the VIC. Here is a screen shot:


Click to enlarge image

I also noticed that the logs are now in a separate directory:

2009-04-29_174129Click to enlarge image.