How to Install VMware ESXi vSphere

VMWare ESXi Installation

We are going to start our Home Lab from Scratch journey by discussing how to install VMware ESXi. This will be the hypervisor where everything will live. In this scenario, we want it to be modern and scalable, and virtualization of hardware is the easiest way to achieve each of those things. Plus in a virtualized environment, if we mess everything up too badly, we can just delete it and start over. We’ll talk about the best ways to avoid that as we go along, but it is the PERFECT practice environment for any Home Lab professional because you can try as many times as you need to get it right.

If you missed the intro to this series, here is the first post where we layout everything that we are defining as being in the scope of the project. Listed below is the list of every step we are going to take in this project. For this article, we are on step 1, and we are going to install and configure basic settings for VMware ESXi.

DISCLAIMER

Please understand that the content herein is for informational purposes only. This existence and contents shall not create an obligation, liability or suggest a consultancy relationship. In further, such shall be considered as is without any express or implied warranties including, but not limited to express and implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose and non-infringement. There is no commitment about the content within the services that the specific functions of the services or its reliability, applicability or ability to meet your needs, whether unique or standard. Please be sure to test this process fully before deploying in ANY production capacity, and ensure you understand that you are doing so at your own risk.

Project List

  1. Download and Install vSphere (ESXi)
  2. Install and Configure OPNsense Firewall
  3. Download and Install Windows Server 2022 (evaluation in this case)
  4. Download and Install FreeNAS or Configure Synology (TBD)
  5. Install Windows Server and Configure Veeam Backup Server
  6. Install Windows Server and Configure ManageEngine Patch Manager
  7. Download and Configure MFA solution (Duo or KeyCloak)
  8. Evaluate Home Lab against initial requirements list
  9. Write Lessons Learned Blog post
  10. Plan Next Steps for Home Lab including Expansion

Table Of Contents

Sign up and Download ESXi
Installation of ESXi
Conclusion

Sign up and Download ESXi

  1. Lets get started with VMware ESXi. To do that, we need to download and install it. To do that, we will navigate to this website:
VMWare ESXi Installer Download Page
VMWare ESXi Installer Download Page
  1. Once you are there, select the version (depends on your hardware), and click Download. Now if you aren’t sure what versions, the main difference is this:
    • Version 6.7 has a higher compatibility with older hardware and will accept 3rd party drivers to get 3rd party components to work in consumer hardware (ie. a consumer Tower like what we are using).
    • Version 7.0 is the newest version but restricts the use of 3rd party drivers for add-on parts in consumer hardware. So extra components like a PCI-e card for an extra NIC aren’t going to work.

Both are still supported (though 6.7 is likely to be phased out after too long), so either is fine. I chose 7.0 because I’m looking for the longest viability and I want it to support scalability later if we needed to move to a larger environment. I also do not have any 3rd party components I am using in this tower.

For the purpose of this article, either version is fine, as the installation process is EXACTLY the same in both cases.

  1. When you hit Download, you may be prompted to sign into your VMware account. If you don’t have a VMWare account already, you can go here to get signed up. Follow these instructions if you need assistance with creating an account.
VMWare Customer Portal
VMWare Customer Portal
  1. Once you are signed in, it should take you back to the downloads page. If not, then just navigate back to that page for the version you have chosen. If you are prompted for the EULA, hit Accept to continue. Download the ISO version of VMware ESXi, as we are going burn it to a USB drive so we can boot into that when we install the software.
VMware ESXi Installer Download
VMware ESXi Installer Download
  1. Once you have it downloaded, you can go here to get your Free License key for VMware ESXi. If you are already signed in, you should see it in the middle of the page. If you aren’t signed in, you will need to sign in or create an account (if you didn’t do that in a previous step). Once you have it downloaded, and you have the license key, we are ready to get it on a flash drive, begin the installation.

Installation of VMware ESXi

Now that we have the ISO for the installer, we need to get it on a flash drive, and install it on our tower. Follow these steps below to do just that.

Rufus

  1. The first step is to get the ISO on a flash drive. To do this, we need an application that will write the ISO to the flash drive, and then make it bootable so the machine will recognize that we are trying to install the OS from the USB. I prefer to use an application called Rufus. You can download it here. I typically prefer the portable version, but you can also get the installer, and have it installed on your local machine.
Rufus Download Page
Rufus Download Page
  1. Once it is downloaded, open it up. If you downloaded the installer version, then install it on your computer. If not, it should be ready to run as soon as you open it.
  2. Insert a USB flash drive (512 MB or higher needed for ESXi). Make sure you see the USB flash drive Rufus in the first section. Where it says Boot Selection, hit Browse, and navigate and select that ESXi ISO we downloaded earlier.
Rufus
  1. After that you can hit Start. The rest of the Default Options should be fine. If prompted, select the recommended option for any windows that pop up.
  2. Once it is finished, you can close Rufus, and eject the USB from your computer.

ESXi Install Process

For this next part, we need to make sure we boot into the flash drive on the machine where we are installing ESXi. Now because of the wide range of devices out there, how you get to the boot menu will be specific to you. You’ll need to look up this process on your own. For me, since this is an HP device, I can hit F9 at the pre-boot logo screen, and it will take me to the boot menu for the bios, where I can choose the USB drive as our boot device. If you don’t see your device listed, make sure it is plugged in before you boot it, and that it is in fact plugged in. You may need to reimage the USB or enable USB boot options if you cannot get it to work.

A fun fact is that you can actually install VMWare ESXi on to a flash drive and have this be your boot device. This can be helpful if your device only has a single drive. That way you don’t run the risk of accidentally overwriting the OS with a VM that can expand its storage dynamically. In this case though, the device I am using has two drives, and I will be installing it on the SSD for fastest load times.

Installation Steps
  1. Boot to the USB drive. You should see the screen change, and the beginnings of the ESXi boot screen should appear.
  1. From here you should see a welcome screen. Press Enter to continue.
  2. Next it will ask you to choose a drive to install ESXi to. IF you are going to use a USB as the boot drive, be sure you don’t choose the one you are using to install ESXi. The installation will be cut short and will fail with issues.
Select a Disk Menu Screen
Select a Disk Menu Screen
  1. The next screen will ask you to choose a keyboard layout and then create a password. I chose “US Default” for my keyboard layout. Then, create your strong password as this will be for the “root” account which is God Mode for Linux based OS’s.
Create a Password Installation Screen
Create a Password Installation Screen
  1. Acknowledge any warnings that come up. Remediate the ones that need more than acknowledgement. Then accept the EULA to continue. Hit Enter to continue on both screens.
Warnings for Installation
Warnings for Installation – Happened to me with my old hardware
  1. Confirm the installation drive and acknowledge that all the data on the chosen drive will be wiped out. Hit the F11 key to finalize and begin the installation of ESXi.
Confirm you want to Wipe the Drive, and Finish this Installation
Confirm you want to Wipe the Drive, and Finish this Installation
  1. Once it is finished with the installation, it will ask you to remove the Installation Media USB, then reboot the system to finalize the install and start the system.
ESXi Installation Complete!
ESXi Installation Complete!

Post-Installation Configuration

After rebooting you will come back to the main ESXi screen; take a note of the IP address that is assigned. This IP address will come from DHCP. Whether you have a controlled IP scheme in your home lab, or not, you will want to assign this device an address statically.

  1. Press F2 on the main screen and enter the password you created in Step 4 to change these settings.
VMware ESXi Customize System Menu
Customize System Menu
  1. Choose Configure Management Network once you are logged in to change the IP address to a static address. From there choose IPV4 Configuration to change from Automatic.
    • NOTE: If this is a Home Lab, and you don’t have a defined VLAN for this device, then make a note of what the IP details are before you change them and set them statically to the same address. This way you know it is available and can still ensure it won’t change.
  2. Additionally, you can configure DNS here as well if you have that established in your environment.
  3. Confirm all changes, and back out until you sign out to the main screen.
  4. On the main screen you should see the IP address of the host match what you configured. This is also the address you will navigate to in a browser to manage and configure this device.
  5. Be sure you navigate to the IP address listed on that main screen to confirm the web console is working.

Conclusion

That is it! Not that it was a small feat, but we are finished with the install of VMware ESXi. The majority of all other configuration will take place from within the web console. I hope this was informative for you. With the completion of the VMware ESXi install, we have finished the first step in our project. Next we will take a look at installing Windows Server 2022 in our new VMware environment. (Yes, I am skipping the firewall step in my plan. My physical device hasn’t shipped yet. I will go back to it!) That will enable us to start creating the domain and users, and get each part of the Windows side of the house working.

Feel free to check back to the post that started it all, How to Start a Home Lab from Scratch to see where we plan to go and how we plan to get there. Also, as I finish more parts of this series, I will update the main page with links to the others, so that is the place to get started.

As always, hit me up on Twitter @SeeSmittyIT to let me know what you thought of this post. Thanks for reading!

Smitty

Curtis Smith works in IT with a primary focus on Mobile Device Management, M365 Apps, and Azure AD. He has certifications from CompTIA and Microsoft, and writes as a hobby.

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