VMware is ditching ESX for ESXi which is smaller and, best of all, free. I have been running ESX 4.0 as a virtual machine in Windows using VMware Workstation for some time now but was never able to get ESXi to run as a virtual machine. One of the students in the SANS Security 577: Virtualization Security Fundamentals class asked me if it was possible to run ESXi on VMware Workstation. Which made me wonder, now that ESXi will be the main hypervisor being pushed by VMware, would it be possible?

The answer is YES! But with a few prerequisites:
  • VMware Workstation 7.0 or above (7.1.1 officially supports vSphere 4.1 guests)
  • Dual-Core or better CPU with Intel VT or AMD-V support (may have to turn on in BIOS).
  • At least 2GB of free RAM (I suggest 4GB-8GB)
Once you have downloaded VMware ESXi 4.1 and installed VMware Workstation you are ready to begin:
  1. Open VMware Workstation
  2. File-New-Virtual Machine…
  3. Custom
  4. Hardware compatibility: Workstation 6.5-7.0
  5. Installer disc image file (iso): Click Browse… and select the iso file for VMware ESXi that you downloaded. Click Next.
  6. Click the VMware ESX check box and select ESX Server 4.0 from Version drop down. Click Next.
  7. Select the Virtual machine name and location. Click Next.
  8. Processors must be at least 2 processors with 1 core each. Increase if your system can handle it. Click Next.
  9. Memory must be at least 2048MB but if you can increase it, go for it. Click Next.
  10. Select what type of network connection. Click Next.
  11. For I/O Adapter select LSI Logic for SCSI Adapter. Click Next.
  12. Create a new virtual disk. Click Next.
  13. Virtual disk type: SCSI. Click Next.
  14. Select the size of the disk. Remember you will be running virtual machines with local storage so plan accordingly. I recommend storing as a single file for performance. Click Next.
  15. Specify the disk file name and location. Click Next.
  16. Select Customize Hardware.
  17. Click Floppy-Remove. Then add more network adapters if desired. Click OK
  18. Click Finish.
  19. Install ESXi as usual.
If this does not work for you or you have questions or comments please comment below.

I will be teaching the SANS Security 577: Virutalization Security Fundamentals course as a co-mentor with Robert Rounsavall in Miami, FL on Thursday October 28, 2010 6:00pm-8:00pm through Thursday November 18, 2010 at Terremark’s NAP of the Americas. Register early!

Till next time,
Jorge Orchilles