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vSphere ESX4i on a USB key / Pen Drive

As soon as vSphere was put on General release I downloaded a copy of vSphere 4 ESXi for running on my home lab setup.  I’ve only recently started my home lab and the first machine I purchased was the HP Proliant ML115 G5 server. This was following a recommendation by Kiwi Si over at www.techhead.co.uk  who has extensively blogged about the suitability of the HP ML110 G5 and ML115 G5 for ESX labs.

If your interested in starting a home lab I can thoroughly recommend these HP server.  Simon even has a deal going with ServersPlus.com (UK) for free delivery on either the HP ML110 or ML115 server.  Get over to his hot deals page for further details.

Simon also has some great articles on getting ESXi 3.5 running from a USB pen drive.  This was a perfect place for me to start as I wanted to take advantage of the ML115 G5′s internal USB port and boot my server from a USB pen drive. So where do you start?

For those of you using an Apple Mac and wanting to conduct this excercise, check out the following article over on Tom Rowan’s blog

What do I need?

A USB Pen Drive that is over 1GB in capacity – nice and cheap at amazon
Download the vSphere ESX4i ISO image from here 
Download Shareware version of Winrar from here
Download Free Trial version of Winimage from here

How do I do it?

Once you have downloaded the ISO image open it up with WinRAR,  make sure you use WinRAR as I had problems with WinZip and UltraISO


Double click on the image.tgz file to open the contents in WinRAR and drill down to the \usr\lib\vmware\installer directory.

Within this folder you will find a file called VMware-VMvisor-big-164009-x86_64.dd.bz2. This is another zip file so double click on it and the contents will be displayed in a seperate WinRAR window.


Once inside extract the file VMware-VMvisor-big-164009-x86_64.dd using WinRAR and copy it somewhere locally on your PC.

Now install and open up the WinImage trial that you downloaded at the start of this process.

Insert your USB key and then select Disk and restore virtual hard disk image on physical drive as per the screenshot below.


 Select the physical USB drive from the list and click OK,  when prompted for the virtual disk file navigate to the dd file you extracted to your local PC.  This will now image your USB Key with the vSphere ESX4i hypervisor.

Once complete stick the USB key in a server / whitebox that supports 64 bit computing and away you go.  The screenshot below shows my own HP Proliant ML115 G5 running vSphere ESX 4i and all this from a simple 2GB USB pen drive.


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  • http://www.rowan.me.uk/ Tom

    Very nice guide mate. :-)

  • RaistCH

    Hi, the restore doesn't work, shoud I use a 64 os ?

  • alanwright

    I got it working. dont try and restore from a removable device make sure you copy it to your Hard Disk. Aslo worth mentioning 7-Zip is like winrar but so much better and its freeware. Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.virtualpro.co.uk Virtualpro

    Hey Guys

    Glad to see people helping each other out on here, RaistCH apologies about the lack of response have been neglecting home email and the site due to work commitments. Am determined to get back on top of it soon. If you need any more help just drop another comment on here.



  • mlarkypants

    works well, get a fast pen drive tho, >10MBps
    One thing tho, it should be mentioned that the MBR of the server/desktop whatever will be over written to select booting to ESX or use local disks. Also my test resulted in repeating the installation process as the installed ESX version never seems to comit to the usb drive, no idea why

  • ali

    hi all,
    plz do enlighten us new serverbies as to how?
    1) we can incorporate an effective raid with the hp ml115 with an effective backup.
    2) how do we effectively stop DOS attacks on a webserve.

    thnaks a zillion.

  • PCVM

    There's no drive display after i select
    restore virtual hard disk image on physical drive

  • PCVM

    Need help!!!
    i got it going when using my windows Xp desktop.
    how do i get to the ESX screen above. Can i plug into a windows 7 PC? can't find any boot from USB option.

  • http://www.virtualpro.co.uk Virtualpro

    I had problems with this on Windows Vista and 7 as well, it appears to only work on XP for some reason

    With regard to booting it up, be very careful with this as when you go to do a datastore it will potentially wipe out your Windows 7 PC hard drive. A much safer option is to use VMware Player on you Windows PC.

    I have been meaning to update this post for a while but have been so busy doing a vSphere deployment. Duncan Epping over at Yellow bricks has a good article that will make this a lot easier for you


    Hope this helps

  • S Karadi

    great stuff, works fine!!!! :)

  • Mikehomee

    This is ESXi… Do you have ESX only?
    I'm trying to install ESX 4 (only) on a USB..

  • generious

    This works using the ESX4i 4.1 ISO as well, its named slightly different but works none the less :)


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