When a new server is purchased, there is an option to have an embedded instance of ESXi provided with the server. This is an important step of the server hardware acquisition process, and a few points need to be considered before simply rolling this option into mainstream use.
ESXi embedded is available from OEMs and is different than what we may have used from hardware OEMs like Dell and HP, providing operating systems pre-installed. First of all ESXi isn't really an operating system, but a simple hypervisor. The ESXi embedded option has a small amount of non-rotational storage (usually a flash resource, like an SD card) on the motherboard fixed into place with ESXi on that storage device. ESXi embedded can save the costs of purchasing traditional hard drives, especially if they won't do anything other than run ESXi. If you plan on using VMFS datastore locally, then local drives are still an option. Further, you can do both ESXi embedded and a local array for a VMFS datastore, which is actually a cleaner solution.
ESXi installable is another option and is what we all are likely more familiar with. This is where we download an .ISO file and install it on a server, including on motherboard flash resources if present. Many server OEMs provide specific part numbers that are supported for installing ESXi on the system board and not requiring a dedicated hard drive or hard drive array. Further, servers that have internal (and external) USB ports can have ESXi installed on a thumb drive. I don't recommend using this approach for production ESXi hosts unless using the internal ports.
In both situations, you have options. When it comes to the initial acquisition of server hardware, consider the use cases of the system. Will it be always running ESXi? Will there be any need for local storage? Will there be any chance of an operating system change on the host? These are all factors that should be addressed on the purchase. If the use will be very much focused on ESXi and there are a lot of shared storage resources, purchasing the ESXi embedded option with the server may be a good idea — and skip the option of any local storage costs. If a local storage resource (which always has pretty good performance) is a requirement, then consider embedded with a separate drive array of SAS, SATA or SSD drives on the server.
Do you purchase servers directly with ESXi embedded or simply go through the installation option with each purchase? Share your comments below.
Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.