Wednesday, February 17, 2016

VMware ESXi host build notes: install image, HCL, drivers, firmware - verifying hardware before you buy it

This is a long topic, which most administrators don't spend too much time on - until it suddenly is very important because of a problem :)

To make sure your hardware works well with VMware, you need (and need to learn to navigate) the VMware Compatibility Guide

This is a front end for a huge list of hardware devices, and there are many ways to navigate it. I will show some things with examples.

This post will focus on making sure you are buying a server that is on the Hardware Compatibility List. While most popular platforms from the main vendors get certified quickly (and bugs are found very quickly too), you might find this exercise very important if you are considering doing things which aren't as popular or cookie-cutter.

First you want to make sure the server model is listed as compatible in this page. This normally guarantees that the other hardware options that the vendor offers for that server will also be supported, but we will talk about that in a bit.

Let's say I'm considering a Dell R730 server, and I know that I will use an Intel E5-2600-v3 series CPU. With that information I can do a query and find that both the R730 and R730XD are compatible with ESXi 5.5u3 (note that it's also supported for v6.0 and v6.0u1, which will be likely upgrades during the lifecycle of this server).

(Note, if you click on the image you get full resolution)

That's good - this server will do. There are still a lot of options to check though. 

Let's say we are picking the Intel I-350-t NIC for our data traffic and some Emulex LPe120002 8GB FC HBAs. We have to switch to the I/O devices view. However, note that I am keeping Dell as the vendor. Dell has their own version of these hardware devices, which is different from the original vendor's (they run their own QA process and adjust firmware for their needs). 

If you were buying hardware as retail for this server, and not through Dell, you would choose the original vendor. Please note - Dell might complain about that and not offer support if you do that, so always check with them. Generally speaking, you are safer if you buy all your hardware in one neat little certified package, but that may not be how you roll.

Checking the Emulex HBA:

And checking the Intel I350-t cards (note that it's supported in several formats, including network daughter card and as add-on devices)

All right, all seems good. You would continue checking all important parts - if you will use VSAN, you want to make sure any SSDs you buy are in the corresponding compatibility list. 

Next post talks about how to check the firmware and driver levels for a server you already have in your hands. We will talk about the ESXi installation image as well.

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