January 10th, 2012 // 10:15 pm @ Paraguin
As part of a goal to consolidate some VMware ESXi test equipment into smaller form factor and less power consumption, the research was on to replace older Dell PowerEdge servers with newer equipment. The main requirements that came about was this:
[Update for quick links 1/30/2012]
To make linking to the other pages easier….
- The Mac Mini VMware ESXi 5 Server – Part 1 (Research)
- The Mac Mini VMware ESXi 5 Server – Part 2 (Installation)
- The Mac Mini VMware ESXi 5 Server – Part 3 (Follow Up)
- OS X on a Mac Mini with VMware ESXi 5
For the technical details, skip to Part 2
- Form Factor – Something small and able to hide without occupying an entire room for itself
- Cost – Overall cost should be less than $1000 retail. Otherwise it’s getting into the range of a good rack server.
- Power Consumption – To be able to run this without killing a home’s power bill
- Noise (DB Level) – The fan / cooling methods of the equipment shouldn’t be loud. Even a standard desktop with a decent powered video card today can be fairly noisy with the fan spinning up to cool it.
- VMware ESXi – Lastly, be able to run VMware ESXi
So here were the options that were initially thought of:
- Small rack servers
- Mac Mini Mid-2011 Model
- Custom small form factor with mini motherboard (basically a cube shape that you can find on Newegg)
After doing some quick research it was decided that:
- Small rack servers -loud, decent form factor, cost can range, power consumption is high, and definitely compatible with VMware ESX
- Custom cube type of PC – cost can be widely all over the place, have to build it together yourself for the most part, power consumption is way over 100 watts, usually running lower powered Core i3 chips which aren’t ideal for VMware VMs, and noise is unknown
- Mac Mini Server – Quad Core i7 processor with expandable memory to 8 or 16 gb of RAM, small form factor, almost fanless operation, cost was pretty much regulated by Apple, and very low power consumption with around 85 watts at the top end… the only problem… VMware ESX was not known to run on it.
So at this point the best plan was to figure out how to get a Mac Mini to work with VMware ESXi. Our research started with searching all over Google and coming up with some opinions. Thankfully we found some leads:
- Nigel’s Blog post regarding the use of Mac Mini with Hyper-V. This blog was a great inspiration that the Mac Mini can be converted into a Hyper V server for virtualization. This was also the unofficial backup plan in case the Mac Mini completely refused to cooperate with our efforts to get it to work with VMware ESXi 5.
- VMware Community Blog post regarding the exact sentiments on how to get ESXi 5 on a Mac Mini 2011. So, we thought “Oh OK, someone maybe did figure this out…” Sadly this post actually showed that it wasn’t working. The poster “colinkng” did give some clues as to the Broadcom NIC driver was having some issues when booting up. This was a very significant information that was posted by “colinkng” and we’d like to thank him for that tid-bit as it helped save us some time.
- Mac Rumors Blog post regarding how the Mac Mini wasn’t a supported device according to VMware ESX hardware compatibility. Though this post was somewhat useful in their remarks, it didn’t exactly apply to the later versions of ESX which started supporting more generic hardware.
- Brent Ozar PLF‘s post regarding VMware ESXi 5 on a Mac Mini 2010. He also tried on a Mac Mini 2011 which he got to the part about the keyboard and mouse possibly not working and then someone else also mentioned the NIC card having issues. The comments I read also gave a lot of hope that this would work and would work really well though it looked like there were still some struggles ahead. “colin ng” also posted here as well and gave more details about the Mac Mini 5,3 not working with the NIC driver and other users confirmed this as well.
From our research we did learn quite a bit of information and would like to thank all of those people for blogging and posting online about it since without everyone participating in the communities, none of this would be possible. We learned the following from our research:
- Most likely ESX will install on the Mac Mini 2011
- The Broadcom NIC card might have some issues based on other tests and comments
- Keyboard and Mouse might also have some issues
- As a final fallback, there was always boot camping and going with Hyper-V. This was completely undesirable since all our previous test VMs were in VMware and converting it takes time and effort and learning a new environment.
At this point, the next best thing was to go to the Apple Store and get one of these Mac Mini Servers. As you can see from this whole write up, we did actually get it working and we will share the exact step by step information on how to get it to work.