Learn how to install and configure VMware ESXi on a Dell PowerEdge server. I will also give you a few tips on how to buy an affordable server that is capable of running ESXi. For this guide, I used a PowerEdge R620 with two Intel Xeon e5-2697 v2 and 128 GB of DDR3 for 350€. The machine is capable of hosting VMware ESXi.

Requirements

I assume here that the host is able to deploy multiple large VMs with specs that could be up to:

  • 8 cores
  • 16 threads
  • 64 GB RAM
  • 880 GB disk SSD

Buying the right hardware

Choosing the CPU

I assume here that our VMs should have at least eight cores with 16 threads.

The first thing to do when you choose your server is to make sure that the processor has the virtualization technology capability known as VT.

I decided to focus on Intel XEON processors simply because that is what I could find abundantly on platforms such as eBay. eBay is full of secondhand refurbished servers, which are often sold with their processors.

Below is a diagram of the Intel processor families, which you can read from left to right. The left ones are the oldest and cheapest and, of course, the weakest ones. As you move to the right, the CPUs get more expensive.

Simplified processor categories

Simplified processor categories

The Scalable family is still very expensive, and the Legacy ones are simply too old for what we want to do. Therefore, the E-Series range would be a good compromise price-wise.

Identifying processor compatibility

One last important thing we need is to ensure that the processor(s) are supported for the latest versions of ESXi. For this, we need to head to the official VMware hardware compatibility guide website.

VMware Compatibility Guide

VMware Compatibility Guide

You want to make sure that the CPU you are going to buy is compatible with the latest version of ESXi.

E5 2600 v2 VMware version support

E5 2600 v2 VMware version support

For that, verify the supported releases in the search results, indicating the latest available version of ESXI. At the time of writing, the latest supported version is ESXI 7.0 U3.

Choosing the right server

There are many things that come into play when you need to choose a server. The most common models you can find in datacenters are from Dell and HP.

If you choose a server, just be sure that it has multiple NICs (at least four plus a management NIC) and that the server contains a backplane (to connect the hard drives). You should also ensure that you have enough caddies for all available hard drive slots. There are different models you can go with. If your server is just used for a lab, you can use caddies that work with consumer SSDs.

Preparing a Dell PowerEdge for ESXi

The first thing we need to do is configure the RAID controller. For that, when the server boots up, you have to press F12 (this might be different from your hardware) so we can get into the RAID management software.

Now you have to create the desired RAID. Here, I only had RAID-0 as an option. Select the first disk, give it a name, mark initialize, and click OK.

Dell PowerEdge R620 RAID configuration

Dell PowerEdge R620 RAID configuration

The server should now be ready to boot. Next, we can install ESXI.

Installing and configuring ESXI on bare metal

A word about network

Before starting the server, make sure you plug in the network cable in the right ethernet port. This sounds like such a straightforward point, but there is a little bit more to it than you might think.

Often, servers such as the Dell PowerEdge R620 come with not one, but five network ports (sometimes even more). Generally, there are four network ports, plus an additional management network port. This management network port allows server administrators to join.

Downloading the ESXI ISO file

You can download ESXI from the VMware website. Log in, head to the download section, and get the iso image of the latest ESXi version (7.x at the time of writing).

Download the EXI ISO

Download the EXI ISO

Download the EXI ISO

Creating the USB bootable key

To install ESXi on our hardware, we need to create a bootable USB key with our freshly downloaded ISO applied to it. There are several tools, such as Rufus or BalenaEtcher. The process is pretty straightforward, and it has already been largely documented on the internet.

Booting up and installing ESXI

After the black and yellow loading screen, the first question the installer will ask us is on which disk ESXI will be installed.

Installing ESXi

Installing ESXi

According to the official VMware documentation, ESXi needs at least 32 GB to run. In my case, I took the smallest drive I had available. The installation will ask a few other questions, such as the keyboard layout.

When the times come for the root password, make sure to write it down so you will not forget it.

ESXI root password

ESXI root password

Once the installation is done, a message is displayed, as shown in the screenshot below.

ESXi installation finalization

ESXi installation finalization

Be sure to remove the USB key and reboot your server. After reboot, the machine eventually lands on the following screen. This screen indicates how the ESXi server can be accessed to be managed remotely.

It is accessible via either an automatically generated hostname (host-005) or an IP address, which has been obtained via DHCP (192.168.1.51). We can change this by pressing F2.

ESXi customization

ESXi customization

After providing the name and the password we specified at the installation, you can enter the configuration menu, where you can change the password, set the hostname, change the IP address, etc.

Select Configure password to change the ESXI host root password.

ESXi configuration main menu

ESXi configuration main menu

Now select Configure management network, followed by IPv4 configuration, and then choose Set static IPv4 address and network configuration to configure a static IP.

ESXI IPV4 configuration

ESXI IPV4 configuration

To change the hostname, go from the main menu to Configure management network, then into DNS Configuration. From there, change the hostname and press OK.

ESXi hostname change

ESXi hostname change

Save the changes, and exit the configuration menu. The ESX server is now ready to be used.

Head to your browser and navigate to the IP address / hostname specified in the configuration menu. The login screen will pop up. Log in using the credentials specified at the very beginning of this installation.

Log in to ESXi

Log in to ESXi

And there you go. You have just installed VMware ESXi.

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ESXI launch with empty configuration

ESXI launch with empty configuration

Conclusion

In this article, I outlined how to choose and buy a server for VMware ESXi. I explained how to prepare your hardware for the ESXI installation, and finally, I showed you how you can install ESXi.

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4 Comments
  1. Thank Stéphane for this detailed guide, it is helpful to create a VMware Test Lab with a Dell server.

  2. Nisar Ahmad 3 months ago

    Thanks for the basic info.

  3. james 1 month ago

    i was looking at the model server that you used on ebay and it stated that this model was not compatible. What raid card are you using in your server. So that esx 7 can see the hard drives?

    https://www.amazon.com/PowerEdge-Server-2-20GHz-Cores-Renewed/dp/B07RJT19GS

  4. james 1 month ago

    what version of RAID Controller do you have installed on this server?

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