PCs

How to run VMware ESXi on a Mac

As of the vSphere 5 (ESXi 5) release, Macintosh is now supported as a VM guest, as long as you put it on Mac hardware. Lauren Malhoit puts an old Mac Pro 4 through the test.

Most people who know me know that I'm not an Apple person. I have an iPod Nano that's about four years old and that's about it. However, I'm slowly but surely recognizing the need for acceptance of various operating systems in the professional world. This is why I thought I would take an old Mac Pro 4 that we had in our storage room and put ESXi on it as a way to get my feet wet. As of the vSphere 5 (ESXi 5) release, Macintosh is now supported as a VM guest...as long as you put it on Mac hardware. Okay, so that kind of defeats a little bit of the purpose of VMware clusters. I can't imagine there are a ton of companies just running Mac hardware under their ESXi servers, but maybe I'm wrong.

Anyway, I thought we might be able to use the Mac VM guests as test machines or something, so I went ahead with my install. There were a few caveats, especially for someone not used to the Mac keyboard, etc., but it's a pretty simple installation in general. I'll go through it quickly and point out any differences I saw. First burn the image to a DVD and insert the DVD in the Mac drive (hit the eject button on the keyboard, if you're looking for how to open the drive). To boot from the image you must press ‘c' while it's booting. This will bring you to the regular ESXi wizard we all know and love. Just go through the wizard as you normally would. The only difference I found is that on a Mac you must press Fn + F11, not just F11. After I was done with the wizard I pressed Enter to restart. At this point the Eject button on the keyboard no longer worked, but the DVD was automatically ejected. From there just configure the ESXi network settings, passwords, etc. as you normally would.

To access the new ESXi server, just make sure it's plugged into the network and from a remote computer, open a browser and go to the address that you used in the network settings configuration. You will see a link to download the client here. Just download and install the vSphere Client, enter the IP address for the ESXi once it is installed and use the root credentials you specified. That's all there is to it. Pretty simple!

Here's where it gets a little interesting...creating a new Mac VM guest. I had a USB stick with Mac OS X Lion 10.7.2 on it. It is possible to do it from USB, and it's really no more of a hassle than creating it from an uploaded image on a datastore. Again, there are a few caveats, though.

To create a new Mac VM guest:

  1. Right click on the ESXi server and click on New Virtual Machine
  2. Follow the wizard for the initial configuration settings (Macs require at least 2GB of RAM)
  3. Start the VM, and while it's powered on, specify that you want to use the client USB (while you have your USB drive plugged in to your machine). You may need to restart after configuring that.
  4. Once the splash screen comes up, there's an option to click on Disk Utility. You will probably need to do this before you install. If you try to install before you do this and get a message saying there are no disks to put the OS on, go back to Disk Utility. Select VMware Virtual Disk Media and then click erase. This should create an Untitled disk your machine. For more detailed instructions, go here.
  5. After you're finished in the Disk Utility go back to the list of Utilities and click the Install (or Re-install) option. When you go through the wizard this time, there should be a disk named "Untitled" that you can install the operating system on. This will take several minutes, so be patient!
  6. Follow the wizard once again to fill out the account information. The first account created on the Mac is by default the admin account.
  7. You now have a Mac VM running on ESXi on supported Mac hardware.

I have run into some issues with this guest. For instance, Apple updates are apparently not well supported. I had particular trouble updating to Lion 10.7.3. To fix this, people have recommended copying off the AppleLSIFusionMPT.kext file before downloading the 10.7.3 update. Then downloading and installing it, but before the reboot, remove the new AppleLSIFusionMPT.kext and copy back the old one to the original place (/System/Library/Extensions/AppleLSIFusionMPT.kext). In my opinion, though, Mac just doesn't work as well on VMware as Windows and common Linux distros. Also, you're stuck using VNC or something like it, instead of a nice RDP session if you're remoting in from a Windows box. Mac definitely has some catching up to do on the VMware side of things, but the basic install works pretty well.

About

Lauren Malhoit has been in the IT field for over 10 years and has acquired several data center certifications. She's currently a Technology Evangelist for Cisco focusing on ACI and Nexus 9000. She has been writing for a few years for TechRepublic, Te...

1 comments
ereet
ereet

what hardware did you use for esxi on mac pro 4,1 ? 

Did you cross flash the 5,1 firmware and 5600 series? Or use the older 5500 series nehalem?

Did you use 128gb of ram ?

What about networking? QLE8152 can run on x8 pci-e 1.0 for about $70 used for dual 10gbe.

raid card? LSI 9260 are about $75 and 4 x samsung 840 pro would be pretty fast for local storage.

Are the drivers if booting off usb compatible with regular PCI-E cards since you are not using them for boot?