Microsoft Virtualization

How to create a bootable VMware ESXi USB drive in Windows

Trying to get started with VMware's virtualization app but lack an optical drive on your server? Here are the steps to transform the ISO into a bootable flash drive for installing the hypervisor.

Image: iStock/kvsan

Virtualization is a big player in IT these days, regardless of the sector you're in. Most businesses can benefit from consolidating servers--and to a greater degree, converging server, storage, and network infrastructures for centralized management and scalability.

With regard to consolidating servers by virtualizing them, the industry standard is VMware, with its extensive software and support offerings for businesses of all sizes. It even has a free offering--ESXi--which is its base hypervisor that can be run on any bare-metal supported server hardware to get IT pros familiar with the product and help organizations on their way to migrating their servers to virtual machines.

While many newer servers have added modern touches to facilitate VMware deployments, such as internal SD card readers for loading the hypervisor onto the SD to maximize all available resources, these servers have also done away with legacy items, like optical drives--and that makes loading VMware onto the servers a bit difficult initially.

But fret not, as USB flash drives (UFDs) have proven to be more than capable at replacing optical media for booting operating systems. And given their flexible read/write nature, even updating installers is a breeze using the very same UFD.

Read on and we'll cover the steps necessary to create a bootable UFD, with VMware ESXi on it, from your Windows workstation. However, before jumping into this, there are a few requirements:

  • Windows workstation (running XP or later)
  • Rufus
  • VMware ESXi ISO
  • USB flash drive (4GB minimum)
  • Internet access (optional, but recommended)

SEE: VMware vSphere: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

Creating the USB installer

    Start by inserting your UFD into the Windows computer and launching Rufus. Verify that under Device, the UFD is listed (Figure A).

    Figure A

      In the next section, Partition Scheme, select MBR Partition Scheme For BIOS Or UEFI from the dropdown menu (Figure B).

      Figure B

        Skip down to the CD icon and click on it to select the previously downloaded VMware ESXi ISO image (Figure C).

        Figure C


      Finally, click on the Start button to begin the process of formatting and partitioning the UFD and extracting the contents of the ISO to your USB drive. Please note that any data on the drive will be erased (Figure D).

      Figure D

      The transfer process will vary depending on the specifications of your workstation, but typically it should be completed within several minutes. During this process, you may be prompted to update the menu.c32 file, as the one used by the ISO image may be older than the one used by Rufus on the flash drive. If this occurs, click Yes to automatically download the newest compatible version from the internet. Once the process is complete, your USB-based VMware ESXi installation media will be created and ready to boot the hypervisor setup on your server.

      Note: If the USB will not boot on your server, ensure that the USB boot functionality is enabled in the BIOS or UEFI listing. In addition, before the ISO is downloaded from VMware, it is highly recommended that you peruse VMware's Compatibility Guide on its website, which allows users to verify that their hardware is supported by VMware and for use with its products. If not, perhaps a previous version of ESXi may be a better fit or supplemental drivers may be needed to be included before your specific server will boot properly.

      Also read...

      Your take

      Did we miss something? Or do you have another method that works to install ESXi? We'd like to hear from you below in the comments.

      Visit TechRepublic