Historically the VMware vCenter server has required a Windows Operating System under it, which of course means you have to purchase yet another Windows license.  VMware now has a vCenter Appliance that can be downloaded and installed pretty easily.  It runs on a Linux OS.  Although, there are a few things you aren’t able to do with the Appliance (ex: VMware Site Recovery manager), this is a pretty good option for smaller shops.  Be aware the appliance does still require a VMware license.  In this post I’ll be going through the steps to download, install, and configure the latest vCenter appliance available.

  1. Download the OVF file and the 2 VMDK files from www.vmware.com and put them all in one folder.  These can be found in the downloads section for vSphere 5.  Just click on View Download next to vCenter and scroll down to the vCenter appliance section.  The OVF file is the template for the VM and the VMDK files are the system and data disks required.
  2. Open your vSphere client and connect to your ESXi host.  Click on File>>Deploy OVF Template.
  3. Browse to the OVF you just downloaded and click Next (FYI:  I had to delete a .dlm off of my file)
  4. Choose the location and click Next
  5. Choose the host and/or cluster and click Next
  6. Choose the datastore and click Next
  7. Choose thin or thick provisioning and click Next
  8. Choose the appropriate network and click Next then Finish
  9. Power on the VM and wait for it to get to the login screen
  10. Open a browser and go to https://vCenterApplianceIPAddress:5480/
  11. Login using the username root and the password vmware
  12. Accept the EULA
  13. Click on the Database tab and select Embedded.  The embedded database for 5.0u1 is a PostgreSQL database and realistically shouldn’t be managing more than 5 hosts and/or 50 VMs.
  14. Click Save Settings
  15. Click on the Status tab
  16. Click on Start vCenter and after a minute or two the Service Status should change to running

That’s all that needs to be done to get it running.  You should be able to pull up your vSphere client and connect to it as you would with the regular vCenter server and then add hosts, configure networking and storage, etc.  There are some more settings on the management URL interface you should be aware of, though.  Under the settings tab you can configure your inventory size and which ports are used for various services.  Under the storage tab you can enable and configure NFS settings.  Under the authentication tab you can configure directory settings, such as connecting the appliance to Active Directory.

It’s possible to have the appliance automatically update itself as well by clicking on the update tab and configuring the settings shown in Figure A.  You can have it automatically update or do it on a schedule.  You can also specify if you’d like to use the default repository through VMware, a CD-ROM (using the ISO download available from VMware) or your own repository (using the ZIP download available from VMware).  No matter which method you prefer, all you need to do is go under the Status tab of the Update tab and click on Check Updates then apply them if they’re available.  I did run into an error after clicking on Status however, I simply rebooted the VM and everything started working properly.

Figure A

Not to be confused with the update tab, there is also an upgrade tab which is a little different.  The upgrade tab basically has you to download and deploy the next version of the vCenter Appliance and then create a trust between the new and the old appliances.  Once this is done, the data is migrated to the new (upgraded) appliance and you’re able to start using that one.

It’s a pretty handy appliance to have around if you’re working in a smaller environment and could end up saving you a few hundred dollars in Windows server licensing.  As I mentioned above, you cannot run VMware Site Recovery Manager and a few other more advanced VMware products.  The vCenter appliance also does not support running in vCenter Appliances in linked mode and does not support IPv6.  Given the ease of installation and the price tag, though, this may just be perfect for an SMB.