VMware ESXi on a Thinkpad T42

As per my previous post, I’ve put OpenVZ on my old Thinkpad T42. However, prior to trying OpenVZ, I installed Vmware ESXi on the T42. Amazingly it does install and it does run, but I gave up on it due to poor performance. The T42 has a gig of RAM and a 5400RPM drive, and it did require some hacking to get ESXi installed, but my thoughts were that either DMA wasn’t working to the drive or ESXi really really wants you to install Vmware Tools to make a VM work passably OK. It seemed OK with one VM running, but two seemed to kill performance.

For some background, the big problem with ESXi is that I didn’t think I had anything that was compatible. It has a very limited range of hardware it works with. I did try it on my Core2Duo desktop server when it first came out, but it couldn’t find a disk to install on, and I had low hopes of a Marvell gigabit card ever working anyway. There is the highly useful VMware ESX Whitebox HCL. That pretty much confirmed that my ASUS motherboard was never going to work and I needed an Intel Pro 100 or 1000 network card (and intel Pro 1000 cards seem to be particularly expensive in my part of the world).

So I tried installing it on my T42. Of course the installer failed, saying it cannot find a disk it can write to. It seems that ESXi is aimed at people with SCSI and SATA  or iSCSI drives and the lowly T42 can only do IDE. However, there is a way to set it up on the internal IDE disk (NB: As per this outie.net howto on the IDE ESXi trick , you need to press Alt-F1 to flip back to the first console screen after you type ‘install’. I thought this was rather confusing). Using this technique, ESXi installs just fine. You  reboot and the network interface works and you have a very compact ESXi server

OK, so ESXi installs. Now what?

This next bit turned out to be rather painful. The main way of administering your shiny new ESXi server is to use Vmware Infrastructure Client which only works on Windows! Doh! So I thought I’ll run up Vmware Fusion on my Mac, install Vmware Infrastructure into my XP VM and do it all from there. This sounded like a great idea, but I came across an annoying problem related to running a VMware product within a VMware product.

VMware Fusion gets you to press Ctrl-Alt to release the mouse and keyboard back to the host machine. Guess what Vmware infrastructure gets you to press to release its mouse/keyboard back to the host machine? Yes, ctrl-alt as well. So, in Vmware Infrastructure I create a test virtual machine to boot off, but I had trouble getting it to pick up a virtual CDROM, so I would press ctrl-alt to release the mouse/keyboard, but sadly Fusion picked this up and I found my mouse/keyboard were back at the ‘Mac’ level. It seemed rather difficult to get back to the Windows desktop (ie. I could not do things like press the ‘Stop’ or ‘Restart’ buttons in Vmware infrastructure).

One workaround I did find was to go to the ESXi server and restart the Management Agents … which then made Vmware Infrastructure pop up a message saying it’d lost contact with the server.

Eventually I found a setting in the settings for my virtual machine to set a boot delay. I set this to 7000ms and that gave me time to click the connect CD/DVD button and find the Fedora iso I was testing this with …. and eventually it booted.

Fedora must use a vmware X driver in its installed as I no longer had my ctrl-alt problem once it installed

Another problem I had was when I tried to create a second VM and got a message in Vmware Infrastructure like ‘Admission Check failed for Memory Resource’. I eventually found this post about reducing the VIM memory . There’s a post part way down that page about changing the VIM object reservation from 512MB to 192MB. That did the trick for me.

Installing a Windows XP Pro VM requires getting a SCSI driver floppy image (I couldn’t see how you could use an IDE disk in a VM). I ended up downloading the floppy image from http://download3.vmware.com/software/vmscsi- . For the Windows install, first I had to click the connect CD/DVD and then after you see the CD booting, click the ‘connect floppy’ and select the image. Then when the installer prompts you to press F6 for any additional drivers, it should find the driver floppy image.

So it generally  worked. But performance was pretty crap. It’s probably an OK test set up to get to know ESXi and the Infrastructure client … but I probably wouldn’t use it to run actual useful servers on.