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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  1. aharden’s avatar

    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).

    1. Eric Gray’s avatar

      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’s avatar

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

    3. Vladan’s avatar

      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.


      1. Eric Gray’s avatar

        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!

      2. NiTRo’s avatar

        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… ?

        1. keenest’s avatar

          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. 🙁

        2. jb’s avatar

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

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