Installing ESXi to Local Disks or to a Memory Stick

In my last post I talked about how to resolve an issue where a disgruntled employee walked out with the USB memory stick that had VMware ESXi installed on it.  In that particular case, the VMware ESXi host kept on running and I was able to get a backup and restore the current running configuration via some PowerShell magic.  All in all it was a pretty easy issue to resolve with very little down time. This got me thinking about which method would be the best option to use in the Enterprise.  Installing to local disks or installing to a USB memory stick.

Each method has its own pros and cons that should be considered when designing your deployment.  Let’s look at each method and present a few options:

Local Disks Installation:

  1. Can be installed via CD-ROM
  2. Can be installed over the network via Pre-eXecution Environment (PXE)
  3. Installation has redundancy available from RAID level disks

USB Memory Stick Installation:

  1. Can be installed via CD-ROM
  2. Can be installed ahead of time and without the need to use the actual server
  3. Memory sticks can be easily created when needed

It has been no big secret that I have not been a big fan of ESXi in the past and only since vSphere 4.1 was released that my attitude has changed.  My previous post on ESXi and vSphere 4.1 points out what has changed my stance on VMware ESXi.   Now that VMware ESXi has matured to the point of having my support, I now have been focused on which method to deploy ESXi.  Having redundancy with the local disks was a big point in my past decision since the read/write life of a USB memory stick was not as long as installing to a hardware level RAID configuration of the hard disks.   I am personally a big fan of PXE installations over the network and the idea of not having to be in front the server to install has been a big plus for me.  Since my visit to the client with the disgruntled employee that left with the memory stick, I got to see first hand how easy it is to take advantage of using VMware workstation to create the installation for multiple servers that will be running ESXi from the comfort of my desk.

If you support an environment with a good portion of your VMware hosts not at you current location, but at a remote site, then the PXE boot installation to install on the local disk would be the best answer.  If you are working in an environment where your servers are located at your location then installing to the memory stick might be a very good option for you to consider.

To answer the needs of having redundancy, you could easily create two memory stick installations and once you have things fully configured you would be in a position to backup the current configuration via PowerShell and restore the configuration to the second USB drive and keep the secondary drive as your backup.

When I first started to hear about VMware ESXi, I originally thought the hypervisor would be installed directly on one of the chips on the mother board and customers could order their servers directly from their OEM with the installation pre-installed on the motherboard.  As time has gone by we have had the option to install a USB Memory stick internally on the motherboard.  I have been hearing lately that the option has moved from USB memory sticks to SD memory sticks.  I have also heard some rumors of using two SD memory stick in a mirrored configuration to add the redundancy to the configuration.

So in review, I think both installation options are viable and I believe the answers would really depend more on your ability to reach out and touch the physical servers themselves. Both methods of installations will work out great and having choices gives you flexibility in the way you administer your environment.

Virtualization is a journey, not a project!

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