Tech: How to run ESX Server 3 on a VMware Workstation 6 virtual machine

Two VMTN users, Fabio Rapposelli and Dave Parsons, published several informations allowing to actually run a VMware ESX Server 3.x inside a VMware Workstation 6 virtual machine.

Obviously such configuration is not supported by VMware and is not really useful. But allows customers to have a look at ESX Server Console Operating System (COS) without deploying an intere enterprise infrastructure.

After some tests to cut away all unnecessary customizations, all needed steps can be summized below.

First of all you must create a new virtual machine with following virtual hardware requirements:

  • Workstation 6 virtual hardware type
  • Red Hat Linux guest OS type (guest OS type should be vmkernel but it’s not implemented in VMware public products at today)
  • one or more SCSI hard drives (LSILogic type, for ESX Server 3.x compatibility)
  • one or more network cards
  • no USB ports or sound adapters

After that you have to manually modify your virtual machine configuration file (.vmx) to change your network card type. To do that replace similar entry with following one:

  • ethernet0.virtualDev = “e1000”

Finally, if you have an Intel VT powered CPU or an AMD SVM (or AMD-V) powered CPU you have to add to your .vmx file one of the following entries to improve performances:

  • monitor_control.vt32 = “TRUE” or
  • monitor_control.enable_svm = “TRUE”

Without one of these settings ESX Server virtual machine performances will be almost inacceptable: on a Intel P4 3.06GHz (no VT) host with 1024MB RAM assigned to virtual machine, the ESX Server 3.0.1 boot process takes 15 minutes (100% physical CPU spike for all time). Other host configurations may take hours to boot up same machine.

On any Intel VT powered host instead, ESX Server boots in 2-3 minutes, achieving similar times of installations on physical systems.

A final entry is reported as needed to avoid virtual machines inside ESX Server recognize they are running on a nested virtual infrastructure:

  • monitor_control.restrict_backdoor = “TRUE”

This setup is reported to work on new VMware Fusion beta as well. So Mac OS users can now familiarize with ESX Servers as well.

Read the original thread at source to know about further evolutions.

Number of readers of this thread (19,456 since June 11, with 106 replies at time of writing) reveals this is one of the most wanted features by VMware community. Capability to run ESX Server for demo and training purposes must be seriously considered by VMware in future ESX Server releases.