Add drivers to a VMware ESXi ISO using Windows

Why do you need to add drivers to a VMware ESXi ISO?

VMware ESXi 5.5 was recently released, unfortunately ESXi 5.5 removed a lot of drivers for previously supported hardware. The drivers for the hardware that were removed still work fine on ESXi 5.5, you will just need to add the drivers for your hardware to the ISO before installing.

A lot of methods exist for adding ISO’s on Linux, however for Windows users a tool called ESXi Customizer appears to be the easiest way to add drivers to an VMware ESXi ISO. ESXi Customizer is a user-friendly windows application that automates the process of customizing the ESXi ISO with drivers that are not originally included with ESXi.

Download: ESXi Customizer 2.7.1
Visit: ESXi-Customizer homepage

Using ESXi Customizer to add drivers to a VMware ESXi ISO:

When you have loaded ESXi Customizer it’s a simple case of selecting the source ISO, this been your ESXi install iso. Next you can select the drivers you wish to include in the iso, usually distributed as a VIB file. Finally you must select an NTFS formatted working directory, this will also be where your customised ISO will be saved.

In the example below i am customing the ESXi 5.5 iso and adding the Realtek R8168 ethernet driver which my ESXi build requires. If you built an ESXi server based on my VMware ESXI Low Power Home Server, this is the only driver you need to add. Download the Realtek R8168 Driver.

Add drivers to a VMware ESXi ISO using Windows

ESXi Customizer makes it a very simple process to add the Realtek R8168 driver back to the ISO, presuming all goes well you will be informed your custom ISO has been created and is in the working directory you specified as can be seen below.

Drivers added to an VMware ESXI ISO on Windows

That’s it, a simple but effective way to add drivers to a VMware ESXi ISO using Windows, you can now install or upgrade ESXi as normal.

Now you have your ISO, why not Create a VMware ESXi Bootable Flash Drive so you can install ESXi without an optical drive, or even burning a disc?

Highpoint Rocket 2720SGL VMware ESXi Passthrough

Why the Highpoint Rocket 2720SGL?

The Rocket 2720 SGL is an ideal SAS / SATA controller to use with VMware ESXi, it is a cost-effective, high-performance PCI-Express 2.0 6GB/s SAS controller. The 2720SGL supports up 8x SATA3 6gbs hard drives and is compatible with large drives above 3TB in size, prefect to use if your not after RAID and wish to use something like Windows Storage Spaces for example, or simply connect a lot of hard drives to a Virtual Machine and have off site backups. I personally dont feel i need a raid setup at home, however i shall leave my reasoning for that to another blog post.

When purchasing the card i was unsure if it work when passed through to a virtual machine running on VMware ESXi, however i can confirm the Rocket 2720SGL works perfectly when passed through to a VMware ESXi virtual machine. ESXi recognises the card as a Marvell 88SE9480 SAS / SATA 6Gb/s RAID controller. However despite this please keep in mind the Rocket 2720SGL is not directly usable in ESXi, it can only be utilised when passedthrough to a Virtual Machine.

My ESXi setup consists of Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard and an Intel CPU Core i7 3770T Quad Core IvyBridge Processor running VMware ESXi 5.5 (also worked perfectly on ESXi 5.1 too). If you wish to findout more about my ESXi setup please read: VMware ESXI Low Power Home Server Lab Build

I purchase my Highpoint Rocket 2720SGL from Scan.co.uk who appear to be one of the few retailers in the UK who sell this particular card.

 

Configuring VMware ESXi Passthrough on the Rocket 2720SGL:

In the vSphere client under the Configuration tab you must select  Advanced Settings and mark the PCI device as passthrough enabled

Marking the Rocket 2720SGL for passthrough on ESXi

Marking the Rocket 2720SGL for passthrough on ESXi

Once the Rocket 2720SGL was enabled for passthrough i assigned it to my Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine:

Adding the Rocket 2720SGL as a PCI device on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

Adding the Rocket 2720SGL as a PCI device on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

The Rocket 2720SGL assigned to the Virtual Machine:

Rocket 2720SGL sucsefully added as a PCI device on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

Rocket 2720SGL sucsefully added as a PCI device on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

Installing the drivers for the Rocket 2720SGL on Windows Server 2012 R2:

Rocket 2720SGL driver install on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

Rocket 2720SGL driver install on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

A screenshot showing the Virtual Machine has access to a real SATA hard drive:

Rocket 2720SGL installed and functioning on a VMware ESXi Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

Rocket 2720SGL installed and functioning on a VMware ESXi Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual Machine

In conclusion the Rocket 2720SGL certainly works very well on my ESXi home lab setup when passed through to a Virtual Machine. At just over £100 with support for 8x SATA 3 6Gb/s drives i dont think you could ask for more. Perfect for use in my new 8x bay case that i have recently moved my ESXi server in to. I will be posting a blog up on that shortly, if you have any questions i shall do my best to try help.

Further information:

To answer a couple of questions in the comments, although ESXi recognises this as a Marvell 88SE9480 SAS / SATA 6Gb/s RAID controller, you can not directly make use of the card in ESXi. ESXi will not see the Rocket 2720SGL or any of the drives attached to it. I have had a look around on the internet and no drivers appear to exist to use the Rocket 2720SGL directly in ESXi.

Rocket 720sgl VMware ESXi

The Rocket 720SGL is not usable directly in ESXi

 

The Rocket 2720SGL will only show up as a PCI device which can be passed through to a virtual machine, when passed through to a VM it does however work great.

Marking the RocketRAID 2720SGL for passthrough on ESXi

Rocket 2720SGL able to be used as a passthrough device on ESXi

The Rocket 2720SGL is also not detected by FreeNAS 9.1.1 out the box.

Vmware ESXI Upgrade from CD or USB Memory Stick

The Vmware ESXI Upgrade Process

Vmware ESXi has a simple upgrade process that can be carried out either from a CD or USB Memory Stick. As i had never upgraded ESXi since my original install i decided to do a quick blog showing how the Vmware ESXI upgrade process should go.

I will presume you either have ESXi on a CD or USB memory stick, however if not the latest version can be downloaded here.

to start the Vmware ESXI upgrade process boot off either the CD or USB drive, then select the drive which contains your ESXi install.

In the screenshot below i’m running the ESXi upgrade from a USB Memory stick, my ESXi is installed on another USB Memory Stick which i have selected to be upgraded.

Vmware ESXi select drive to upgrade

You have the choice to carry out a new install or upgrade an existing installation, here I am upgrading my existing install.

Vmware ESXi - Upgrade or Install

The installer confirms that ESXi can be upgraded from 5.1.0 to 5.5.0

Vmware ESXi - Confirming the upgrade

The upgrade process will start and take a couple of minutes to complete

Vmware ESXi Upgrade Process

All been well you should be informed that the ESXi has been upgraded successfully

Vmware ESXi Successful Upgrade

After the reboot the Vmware ESXI upgrade process had been compleated, ESXi 5.5 was running perfectly fine

vmware-esxi-upgrade-6