What You Need to VMware ESX Server 3.0

Perhaps you are planning to install VMware ESX in a product environment or, like many of us, we just want to find some way to test it out and learn more about it. Either way, even if you are just testing it, you need to know the installation requirements. Because ESX is such a specialized product, you cannot just install ESX on any computer, the hardware must be compatible. Let’s find out more…

Published Installation Requirements for VMware ESX Server 3.0

Yes, of course VMware has their own published installation requirements and very long lists of supported hardware. Those requirements and lists can be found at the following links:

Unlike most other Enterprise server products, VMware even goes so far as to specify the brand and model of server that you can install VMware ESX on. For example, the lowest model of Dell server that VMware supports is a Dell 1850. That server would also have to have either local SCSI drives (SAS – SCSI attached storage) or a SAN adaptor. Besides specifying the server brand & model, VMware has brand & model requirements for all hardware that will go into that server – Disk, Disk adaptor, and network adaptor.

Just like when specing out any production server, for any production environment you will need to take into account the “4 food groups” of infrastructure servers- CPU, RAM, DISK, and NETWORK. Your production server will need plenty of all 4 of these things to run the enterprise applications you will place on it.

However, you also much follow the VMware published installation requirements for any production server to ensure reliability and make sure you can get support from VMware. But what about a test server? What are our options?

VMware ESX inside a Virtual Server?

The thought crossed my mind as to why I couldn’t run VMware ESX inside, say, VMware Server 1.x or Microsoft Virtual Server. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible. VMware ESX does know the difference. You can actually load ESX on a virtual server, the installation will complete and the server will reboot. Upon rebooting, you won’t ever see the normal VMware ESX server screen showing the server’s IP address.

Recently, VMware Workstation version 6 has been released. With this release, there is an exciting new feature that makes it possible to run VMware ESX inside a VMware Workstation virtual guest operating system. Although you would want to do this only for testing due and the performance would be significantly reduced, this is still an fantastic feature for learning and testing with VMware ESX. For steps on how to do this, learn more at these links: http://www.xtravirt.com/index.php?option=com_remository&Itemid=75&func=fileinfo&id=11


The Absolute Minimum Hardware Requirements for a Test server

Say that you just want to install ESX server and test it. You don’t need VMware support, high reliability,or have a SAN. You want to buy something used from Ebay or find a spare system in your company’s storage space. What are the absolute minimum hardware requirements to get ESX running?

In my experience, the most important thing I have found is that ESX WILL NOT work with SATA disk drives. This means that ESX cannot be installed on most “stock” desktop PCs and laptops today. I have been told that ESX will run on a computer with an IDE disk drive but, I haven’t tried that myself. In reality, what you should really use is a system with SCSI disk drives.

Here are two options to get ESX running on the bare minimum of hardware:

  • Option 1 – find a used server on Ebay that has SCSI disk drives and use it for your ESX test server. In my case, I found a used Dell 1600SC server to use as my test VMware ESX system. These used servers run for between $200-$800 (depending on their options that are installed) and come with SCSI disk drives. However, just about any server with SCSI disk drives should work for you. So, shop around!
  • Option 2 – upgrade an existing system to have SCSI disk drives. You can buy a SCSI disk controller and SCSI disk drive from Ebay for under $100. You could install the disk adaptor and drive in an existing PC and use it as a VMware ESX test server. Make sure that you get an Adaptec or LSI Logic SCSI adaptor that is on the supported IO device list.

In my case, my used Dell server works great. It as you can see here, it is a duel processor Dell 1600SC with 2GB of RAM. It isn’t on the supported hardware list but then I wouldn’t expect VMware to support me on it either – as it is only a test system.



In summary, as the VMware ESX Virtualization operating system loads directly on the hardware, it has some more specific hardware requirements than other enterprise applications you have used in the past. Because of this, you should be aware of both the supported VMware hardware configurations for your test servers and the bare minimum hardware requirements if you want to create a VMware ESX test server.

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