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ESXi 4: A Guide for Hyper-V Experts

Your skills working with Microsoft Hyper-V won't translate over to just any hypervisor. So, here's what you'll need to know to get up to speed with VMware's ESXi 4.

Even though Hyper-V has always been my server virtualization platform of choice, there's simply no denying that VMware Inc. is the dominant player in the server virtualization market. As such, I've occasionally had to perform tasks using VMware ESX or ESXi when I would've preferred to use Hyper-V.

The first time this happened, I felt like a fish out of water. I floundered around in VMware wishing I had a clue as to what I was doing. But after a while, I began to notice that although VMware and Hyper-V are different products, there are some underlying similarities.

After struggling with VMware, I wanted to write a sort of beginner's guide to VMware for Hyper-V administrators. While it's impossible for me to cover every aspect of VMware within the confines of an article, I want to focus on how VMware and Hyper-V differ, as well as cover some of the similarities. More importantly, I want to give you some hints about getting VMware up and running.

There are many flavors of VMware. For the purposes of this article, I'll be discussing VMware ESXi 4.0.0.

The Initial Installation
If you're used to working with Hyper-V, then getting VMware up and running can be an extremely frustrating experience. Don't get me wrong: There's nothing inherently difficult about installing VMware. The process is actually quite simple. The reason why deploying VMware can be so frustrating is because VMware isn't nearly as lenient as Hyper-V when it comes to server hardware.

For me, the most problematic limitation was the fact that VMware doesn't support SATA drives. Earlier this year, I wrote a review on a product that was designed for VMware. The review had to be completed quickly. Even so, I spent a full two days trying to get VMware up and running.

The problem was that most of my lab servers are really just high-end PCs, and they all have SATA drives. Given the circumstances, there simply wasn't enough time to order a "real server" for my review. Over those two days, I tried everything I could think of to get VMware to install. Ultimately, I was able to remove all of the SATA drives from one of my servers and then attach one of the drives to the server using a USB interface. Believe it or not, VMware installed to that drive. It wasn't exactly an ideal solution, but it worked in a pinch.

Interacting with the Hypervisor
In Hyper-V, you can interact with the Hypervisor directly from the server console. Hyper-V contains a tool called Hyper-V Manager. This tool allows you to create and manage all of your virtual machines (VMs) from one window (see Figure 1). You can even access a VM by double-clicking on a listing for it within the console. When you do, the Hyper-V Manager will display that VM within a separate window.

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Figure 1. The Hyper-V Manager allows you to create and manage virtual machines.

VMware takes a different approach to VM management. The VMware console is minimal, to say the least. The main VMware console screen provides you with a handful of diagnostic options and displays the IP address that's used for managing the server.

Because you can't really do a lot from the server console, VMware requires you to use a tool called the vSphere Client for management. This tool runs on a Windows desktop and allows you to create and manage VMs in a similar manner to the Hyper-V Manager console. When you open the vSphere Client, it asks for the server name or IP address and for the credentials that you want to use when you log in. vSphere displays the server IP address on the console screen. By default, the administrative account that VMware uses is named Root, and there's no password until you assign one (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2. The VMware vSphere Client sign-in screen uses "root" as the administrative account user name with no password set.

On the main vSphere Client screen, the column on the left displays the server IP address and all of the VMs running on the server. A series of tabs on the top is used to configure the server and the VMs running on it (see Figure 3).

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Figure 3. The main VMware vSphere Client screen, where you can select from a series of tabs to configure your server and the virtual machines running on it.

Both Hyper-V and VMware require you to have sufficient storage for creating VMs. VMware is far more restrictive than Hyper-V. In Hyper-V, you can place a virtual hard drive (VHD) file onto any NTFS volume. It doesn't seem to matter where that volume is located. You can create a VHD file on direct-attached storage (DAS), network-attached storage (NAS) or on a storage-attached network (SAN). You can even create a VHD on the Hyper-V server's C: drive (assuming that you're running Windows Server with the Hyper-V services installed rather than a standalone Hyper-V server).

Obviously, you must take certain best practices into account. (Note: Normally you would never create a VM whose VHD files resided on the C: drive, and I'm certainly not recommending that practice. I only mention the possibility as a way of underscoring the fact that Hyper-V doesn't care what you use for storage so long as sufficient disk space is available.)

VMware is quite the opposite. Earlier, I discussed the problems that I ran into with just getting VMware to install. Once VMware is up and running, you have to provide it with an acceptable storage pool that you can use for your VMs. Remember, VMware can't use SATA drives, and I was only able to install VMware by using an external USB drive.

My next dilemma was that VMs couldn't be installed on the boot drive, and VMware doesn't seem to allow for the use of multiple external USB drives. I didn't have a server with acceptable storage, so my only option was to create an iSCSI connection to a SAN I had previously set up to test Microsoft Storage Server 2008. Surprisingly, setting up SAN connectivity was quite easy, and you can do it directly from the VMware console.

When you create a new VHD in Hyper-V, all you really have to do is provide a wizard with information about the new location and desired size of the VHD. The process works similarly in VMware, but there's an extra step that you must complete. Before you can create any VHDs in VMware, you must create a datastore. A datastore is nothing more than a disk (or storage mechanism such as a LUN or a disk array) that has been provisioned for use with VMware.

You can create a datastore at any time by clicking the Add Storage link and then choosing the Disk/LUN option on the following screen. After doing so, you'll see a list of the available storage devices from which you can pick. If you're planning on connecting to a storage mechanism via iSCSI, then you'll have to establish the iSCSI connection before you attempt to create the datastore. You can configure iSCSI connections through the vSphere Client's Storage Adapters screen.

Creating a VM
Creating a new VM in VMware shouldn't feel completely foreign to Hyper-V administrators because there are some similarities. In Hyper-V, creating a new VM involves right-clicking on the listing for the server (within the Hyper-V Manager) and choosing the New | Virtual Machine commands from the shortcut menus. After doing so, the Hyper-V Manager launches the New Virtual Machine Wizard (see Figure 4). This wizard walks you through the creation process by asking you to provide a name and location for the new VM, then asking you a few simple questions about the hardware resources that you want to allocate to the VM.

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Figure 4. The Hyper-V New Virtual Machine Wizard walks you through creating a new virtual machine.

The process is similar in VMware. Simply right-click on the listing for the server and then choose the New Virtual Machine command from the shortcut menu (see Figure 5). After doing so, VMware launches a wizard that asks you the same types of questions as the Hyper-V wizard. Some of the questions are worded a bit differently, but you're still required to provide the same type of information.

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Figure 5. In the vSphere Client, you can right-click on the listing for the server and choose New Virtual Machine from the shortcut menu to create a new virtual machine.

Connecting to a VM
After creating a VM, you'll need to connect to it so you can install and configure a guest OS. In Hyper-V, you can do this by double-clicking on the listing for a VM. In VMware, you can connect to a VM by right-clicking on it (in the vSphere Client) and choosing the Open Console command from the shortcut menu.

The VM console looks remarkably similar to the Hyper-V console. Both consoles contain icons for starting and stopping the VM and for managing snapshots. Likewise, both consoles provide the capability to capture host resources such as a DVD drive or a floppy drive.

Enlightening a VM
In a Hyper-V environment, administrators typically enlighten VMs that are running Windows by installing Integration Services. Integration Services is a set of drivers that gives the VM direct access to the Hyper-V bus, thus allowing the VM to perform much better than it could without the drivers.

VMware provides a similar set of drivers for VMs, but uses a different name for those drivers. VMware calls its drivers VMware Tools. You can install VMware Tools by right-clicking on the listing for a VM within the vSphere Client and choosing the Guest | Install/Upgrade VMware Tools option from the shortcut menu.

Editing VM Settings
Regardless of which virtualization platform you're working with, it may occasionally be necessary to adjust the resources allocated to your VMs. Both Hyper-V and VMware allow this task to be performed in a similar way. Just right-click on the VM, then choose either Settings (Hyper-V) or Edit Settings (VMware) from the shortcut menu. Both hypervisors provide access to a similar set of settings, although VMware also provides some advanced options for which there's no Hyper-V equivalent. It's worth noting that both virtualization platforms require you to shut down a VM before you'll be allowed to adjust certain settings (such as the number of virtual processors that are allocated to the VM).

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Aug 4, 2011 pgm SF Bay area

Sounds like you had a controller HAL issue rather that a SATA issue.
I am running RAID 5 with 4 WD RE 4'S using a PERC 6 controller.

Tue, Jul 26, 2011 MLD6

The big problem with this article is that the writer doesn't have much if any experience with VMware, yet lets his ignorance try to inform the reader regardless while condemning something he doesn't take the proper time to understand. Just like anything Windows, VMware, etc., you have to read the manuals, the HCL, and do a little research before giving up. I hope the author knows something about Hyper-V. With the attitude he's shown toward learning VMware, I wonder if he's even using any of Hyper-V's more advanced features as that would require time, research, and patience.

Thu, May 26, 2011 Sam London

Very funny joke, haven't laughed so much in ages. The single box I used to pass my VCP only had a pair of striped SATA disks internally which was the only storage I had, I installed ESXi and then the rest of my environment including to virtual ESXi hosts and a virtual iSCSI SAN, try doing that with Hyper-V I bet you wouldn't get very far.

Thu, May 26, 2011

Brilliant article, I laughed my pants off.

Wed, May 11, 2011 Andy Canada

Esxi is the most simple server you can ever install. Talking about hardware, esxi do support SATA. For those of you who wants to build a esxi whitebox, goto google and search esxi whitebox hcl list. BTW, the OS footprint is only 32MB. No way that HyperV or Xen can come close the ease of use of VShphere or Esxi.

Mon, May 9, 2011 Earth

It is obvious from the previous comments that there are technical holes that can be poked here. The real problem that I see is that anyone that has touched these tools, which is a large number at this point in the IT space, knows this as well. Anyone who comes into a customer account and leans on this information to "out sell" the VMware side will only look foolish and lose all credibility. If that was the point of this article, thanks for nothing. Please do the appropriate due digigence and report factual benefits of HyperV that I can use and feel confident about in front of my customers.

Mon, May 9, 2011 kepler Ireland

A very pro-Hyper-V, anti-VMware article crudely disgused as a guide to ESXi. If you wish to test drive ESXi, don't use this slush as a guideline. There are plenty of evaulation guides available online. I would ask the writer of this "guide" to check his facts before posting in the future.

Sat, May 7, 2011 European

Well, not only can you use SATA (local disk or not) with VMware, you can install ESXi on a small USB stick. For the VMs storage, we mix SATA, SAS, FC, NAS NFS in a big multi-tiered storage where it's possible to move a VM live anywhere where is the place for this VM (or group of VMs). Next on our plan is flash disk and RAM storage for high performing VMs and we don't anticipate running into trouble.

Fri, May 6, 2011 Reader

I had to take a moment to check the date on this post as I was almost certain it was 2+ years old. Needless to say, this is pretty bad (just putting that out there). First of all, SATA is perfectly supported and the server hardware compatibility list covers just about anyone you'd put in your datacenter, not to mention the thousands of "whitebox" configs. The note about local management console vs. having to log in using a client is a representation of "hosted" vs. "bare metal" virtualization -- one of the reasons HyperV is such a dog is that, at the end of the day, the hypervisor is Windows. ESXi achieves it's level of efficiency, scale, and performance thanks to the ultra-thin bare-metal hypervisor and it's 100MB footprint. The vSphere client is quite robust and hands you full control of the host...even prior to being managed by the vCenter server. And finally, vSphere's VMDK storage options are quite flexible with the ability to store on SAN, NAS, NFS, local disk, etc. So i ask you this: where are you getting your information from?

Thu, May 5, 2011 Manfred

one comment from a German HyperV and VMware user. I replaced my HyperV Installation with ESXi and converted all VHDs into VMDKs with the VMWare converter. VMs now starts faster and I can run more VMs as on the HyperV box. It's a fact that VMware has the better Memory management. It's easy to check ESXi compatibility list and btw. a SATA drive is running in my ESXi host :-) It's simple Intel ICH9 box with 8GB RAM, 1TB SATA and a Intel Pro Desktop NIC.

Thu, May 5, 2011

What do you mean that VMware doesn't support SATA drives. I have several hosts that are SATA and I had no problems at all. Make sure your not running a old version of ESX.

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