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NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2

As I confirmed in my recent post, it is indeed possible (and I would now say highly recommended!) to install ESXi onto an Intel NUC DC3217IYE. This article will confirm the process for achieving this. The method I used is one of many possible, but that which I found to be the simplest, based on the tools I had to hand.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that most ESXi features are supported on the platform, including FT. The key features not supported are VMDirectPath I/O, and DPM (due to the lack of iLO / IPMI). They do support WoL so you can manually bring nodes online as required, using any standard WoL tool.

I am currently investigating possible options for additional NICs, and it seems that most of the Mini-PCIe NICs are based on a Realtek chipset which is fully supported in ESXi, so happy days! I will post further updates on this subject should I go ahead and expand the NUCs with extra ports.

Requirements

  • A USB Stick. This should work on anything over 1-2GB but personally am using 8GB PNY Micro Sleek Attache Pendrives as they’re tiny, so less likely to catch on anything as they stick out the back of the NUC box, and they cost less than £5 each.
  • A copy of VMware Workstation 8 or newer.
  • ESXi-Customizer (created by Andreas Peetz)
    http://v-front.blogspot.com/p/esxi-customizer.html
  • The ESXi driver for and Intel® 82579V Gigabit Ethernet Controller (created by Chilly)
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/27246203/E1001E.tgz

Process Overview

  • Install the RAM into your NUC (I maxed mine out with 2x8GB sticks).
  • Create a customised ISO with the additional Intel driver.
  • Install ESXi to your USB stick using VMware Workstation and the customised ISO.
  • Plug in your NUC, insert the USB stick, boot and go!

Detailed Steps
I wont go into the detail of installing the RAM, suffice to say you unscrew the four screws on the base of the unit, carefully take it apart, install the two SODIMM modules, ensuring they click firmly into place, then screw the unit back together… simples!

Part One – Create the Custom ISO

  1. Run the ESXi-Customizer-v2.7.1.exe (latest version at time of writing).
  2. This will extract the customer to the directory of your choosing.
  3. Navigate to the new directory.
  4. Run the ESXi-Customizer.cmd batch file. This will open up the GUI, where you can configure the following options:
  • Path to your ESXi Installer
  • Path to the Intel driver downloaded previously
  • Path where you want the new ISO to be saved
  1. Ensure you tick the Create (U)EFI-bootable ISO checkbox.

This will output a new custom ESXi installer ISO called ESXi-5.x-Custom.iso or similar, in the path defined above.

Part Two – Install bootable ESXi to the USB stick.
I stress that this is my preferred way of doing this as an alternative is simply to burn your customised ISO to a CD/DVD and boot using a USB DVD-ROM. That would however be a whole lot slower, and waste a blank CD!

  1. Plug your chosen USB stick into your PC.
  2. Open VMware Workstation (8 or above), VMware Fusion, or whatever you use, ideally supporting the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI option (allowing you to nest 64-bit VMs).
  3. Create a new VM, you can use any spec you like really, as ESXi always checks on boot, but I created one with the same specs as my intended host, i.e. 16GB RAM, single socket, 2vCPU cores. This does not require a virtual hard disk.
  4. Once the VM is created, and before you boot it, edit the CPU settings and tick the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI checkbox. This will reduce errors when installing ESXi (which checks to ensure it can virtualise 64-bit operating systems).

  1. Set the CD/DVD (IDE) configuration to Use ISO image file, and point this to the customised ISO created earlier.
  2. Once the above settings have been configured, power on the VM.
  3. As soon as the VM is powered on, in the bottom right of the screen, right click on the flash disk icon, and click Connect (Disconnect from Host).

  1. This will mount the USB stick inside the VM, and allow you to do a standard ESXi installation onto the stick. At the end of the installation, disconnect the stick, un-mount and unplug it.

Part Three – Boot and go!
This is the easy bit, assuming you don’t have any of the HDMI issues I mentioned in the previous post!

  1. Plug your newly installed USB stick into the back of the NUC.
  2. Don’t forget to plug in a network cable (duh!) and keyboard for the initial configuration. If you wish to modify any bios settings (optional), you will also need a mouse as the NUC runs Visual BIOS.
  3. Power on the NUC…
  4. Have fun!

That pretty much covers it. If anyone has any questions on the process, please don’t hesitate to ask!

References
Thanks to Ivo Beerens who originally detailed the ISO customisation process here:
http://www.ivobeerens.nl/2011/12/13/vmware-esxi-5-whitebox-nic-support/

Other parts of this article may be found here:
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 3
VMware vSphere NanoLab – Part 4 – Network and Storage Choices

NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1

Having been looking to do a home lab tech refresh of late, I have been spending quite a bit of time examining all the options. My key requirements, mostly determined by their relative WAF score (Wife Acceptance Factor) were as follows:

  1. Silent or as quiet as possible (the lab machines will sit behind the TV in our living room where my current whitebox server sits almost silently but glaringly large!).
  2. A minimum of 16GB RAM per node (preferably 32GB if possible).
  3. A ‘reasonable’ amount of CPU grunt, enough to run 5–10 VMs per host.
  4. Minimal cost (I haven’t got the budget to go spending £500+ per node, trying to keep it under £300)
  5. Smallest form factor I can find to meet requirements 1–4.
  6. Optional: Remote access such as IPMI or iLO.

I have previously invested in an HP N36L, which while great for the price (especially when the £100 cashback offer was still on) is a bit noisy, even with a quiet fan mod. Its actually also fairly big when you start looking at buying multiples and stacking them behind the telly! Even so I was still sorely tempted by the new N54L MicroServers which are just out (AMD Dual Core 2.2GHz) and max 16GB RAM) and are within my budget.

Similarly I looked into all the Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX boards available, where the Intel desktop / small servers ones seemed to be best (DBS1200KP / DQ77MK / DQ67EP are all very capable boards). Combined with an admittedly slightly expensive Intel Xeon E3-1230 V2, these would all make brilliant white box home labs, but for me they are still limited by either their size or cost.

In late November, Intel announced they were releasing a range of bare bones mini-PCs called “Next Unit of Computing”. The early range of these 10cm square chassis contain an Intel Core i3 i3-3217U CPU (“Ivy Bridge” 22 nm, as found in numerous current ultrabooks), two SODIMM slots for up to 16GB RAM, and 2 mini-PCIe slots. It’s roughly the same spec and price as an HP MicroServer, but in a virtually silent case approximately the same size as a large coffee cup!

Even better, when you compare the CPU to the latest HP N54L, it achieves a benchmark score of 2272 on cpubenchmark.net, compared to the AMD Turion II Neo N54L Dual-Core at only 1349, putting it in a different class altogether in terms of raw grunt. Not only that, but with the cashback offer from HP now over, it’s about the same price or less than a MicroServer, just £230 inc VAT per unit!

On top of the above, there is an added bonus in the extremely low power consumption of just 6-11 watts at idle, rising to ~35 watts under high load. Comparing this to the HP MicroServer, which idles at around the 35 watt mark, spiking to over 100 watts, the NUC shows a marked improvement to your “green” credentials. If you are running a two node cluster, you could conservatively save well over £30 per year from your electricity bill using NUCs instead of MicroServers. Add to that a 3-year Intel warranty and I was pretty much sold from the start!

This all sounded too good to be true, and in all bar one respect it is actually perfect. The only real drawback is that the Intel 1gbps NIC (82579V) is not in the standard driver list currently supported by ESXi. This was a slight cause for concern as some people had tried and failed to get it to work with ESXi and held me off purchasing until this week when I spotted this blog post by “Stu” who confirmed it worked fine after injecting the appropriate driver to the ESXi install iso.

I immediately went to my favourite IT vendor (scan.co.uk) and purchased the following:

Intel ICE Canyon NUC Barebone Unit – DC3217IYE
16GB Corsair Kit (2x8GB) DDR3 1333MHz CAS 9
8GB PNY Micro Sleek Attache Pendrive

Total cost: ~£299 inc vat… bargain!

IMPORTANT: You will also need a laptop / clover leaf style kettle cable (C5) or your country’s equivalent. In the box you get the power block, but not the 3 pin cable. These can be picked up on ebay for next to nothing.

With very little time or effort I was able to create a new ESXi installer with the correct e1000 drivers, boot the machine and I am now happily running ESXi on my first node.

Intel NUC with ESXi 5.1

I should add that as part of the install I discovered a bug which Intel are looking to resolve with a firmware fix soon. This was the fact that I was unable to press F2 to get into the bios (it just rebooted each time I pressed it). Another symptom of this same bug was ESXi getting most of the way through boot and coming up with an error saying “multiboot could not setup the video subsystem”. This is not a VMware fault. I resolved this by simply plugging the HDMI cable into a different port on my TV (ridiculous!). You might also try a different HDMI cable. Either way it was not serious enough to stop me ordering a second one the same night I got it running!

Disclaimer: Mileage may vary! I will not be held responsible if you buy a b0rk3d unit. 🙂

In Part 2 of this article, I will expand on the process for installing ESXi to the NUC, and my experiences with clustering two of them (second unit arrived in the post today so will be built and tested this weekend).

Other parts of this article may be found here:
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 3
VMware vSphere NanoLab – Part 4 – Network and Storage Choices

Cisco ICND1 640-822 Exam Review and Study Guide

I am embarrassed to say that I am a (seasoned?) IT professional who has never quite found the time to get down and dirty with Cisco networking. As I am about to start a new role as a Solution Architect for a managed service company (who are big into their Cisco gear, MPLS etc), I thought now would be the time to bone up on my 1s and 0s and certify in the Cisco space!

I can imagine that for someone new to IT, the CCENT / CCNA would perhaps be quite daunting, but even having worked with MS, VMware and storage environments for the past 9 years, I discovered that I still had plenty to learn (and in a geeky way, quite enjoyably so!). I did add to my burden by simultaneously going through interviews, completing handovers at my old job, and generally being ridiculously busy whilst trying to find the time to study for this, but even with all that on the go I passed the first exam (640-822) less than 6 weeks from beginning to study the subject. Based on this I would suggest that anyone dedicated to complete the CCENT could comfortably learn the content in full, pass it in 4 weeks of part-time personal study (in my case a couple of hours a night on the nights I had time to work).

I would also say at this point that for those people considering whether to do the ICND1/2 (2 exam) route, or the single CCNA exam, I don’t really know why virtually anyone would consider the latter? The combined exam costs twice as much as the single exam (give or take £2-3), and splitting the exam gives you an initial qualification (CCENT) and an easier ride. Unless you are so time poor that you can only afford enough time to do a single exam (saving you a whole 2 hours of your life), why not take the pressure off yourself and split it? Also if you did happen to mess it up, then you’ve only lost £100, not £200!

The exam itself was not too bad. One question I came across seemed to be bugged, (the responses in the sim to certain commands were conflicting), but other than that it was perfectly reasonable. Bear in mind that the pass mark for Cisco exams is considerably higher than MS / VMware ones, so if you are used to these, ensure you adjust your expectations accordingly. It is also slightly disconcerting not to be able to go back to a previous question; not that I regularly use this feature in other exams, but its always nice to know it’s there if you need it!

In terms of the actual resources I used to study for the exam, they were numerically limited in comparison to those I may use for a VMware or an MS exam, (and more expensive as I generally stick to free resources!), but I felt that to gain the knowledge in the quickest time, it was worth a the meagre financial investment I made (~£45 for training materials, ~£45 for my lab, plus the exam cost – normally covered by my employer, but I was working out my notice period at the time, so even attempting to claim for exams whilst walking out the door isn’t exactly ethical and might get me a slap from my old boss!).

Being a relatively old certification, there is obviously a wealth of different resources out there on the net, but the ones I chose to use are as follows:

  • CCNA Bootcamp by Chris Bryant – $44 (voucher code BULLDOG)
    I’ll say off the bat this is a simply great resource, taught in Chris’ inimitable laid back, easy style. Hey not only teaches you how to pass the exam, but gives plenty of real world advice and anicdotes too. He is also more than happy to answer any questions and does so promptly via twitter, email, Udemy etc. 90% of my learning came from these videos, along with the brilliant binary / subnetting practice questions provided as part of the accompanying ebook.I found that the best way to use the videos was to watch them whilst taking copious notes, then practicing every command and activity discussed using my GNS3 lab. The more you practice this, the better it will stick. I enjoy Chris’ style and have such confidence in his teaching, I have already pre-purchased his CCNA:Security and CCNP courses on Udemy, for which I am hoping to squeeze some time in next year.
  • CCNA 640-802 Official Cert Library, Updated (3rd Edition) by Wendell Odom – ~£15 (Kindle Edition)
    In my case I used this book to supplement / consolidate my video learning, and read the book after completing the video course. It is very well written, and any subjects not fully explained in Chris Bryant’s course are covered in detail here. There are also useful tests at the start of each section to help you guage your progress.You also have the option of buying the same book split into the two exams (ICND1 and ICND2) but the cost of the combined publication works out at half of that of buying the seperately, so why would you?One thing I always mention when it comes to tech books, is that unless you have a need to fill the shelves of your home office with dead trees, I would always recommend opting for the ebook version over the hard/softback. There are several reasons for this, but the two biggest are that the ebook is cheaper (we all like saving money, right?), and what is the point in killing a few trees for a book you will probably only read once or twice, and will be out of date within a couple of years anyway? Add to that the portability of ebooks for later reference and you have a compelling argument… the only draw back is putting money in the pocket of a company who is not particularly great at paying taxes, but other vendors are available!
  • Cisco Binary Game
    Not only is this great geeky fun, but it will hone your brain to very quickly do binary maths without the use of big tables etc, saving valuable time in your exams, and in your actual job. Chris Bryant does a great job in his course of teaching you the simplest and “correct” way of doing binary. Once you have this down and practiced with the binary game, you will easily be able to do binary conversions and subnetting etc in your head (especially when you start to see the patterns used to create subnets etc).
  • GNS3 – Graphical Network Simulator
    For me, this is an absolutely MUST HAVE resource, both for your studying, but also in your day job, where you can safely test any new configurations or commands to ensure you dont break your production environment! In essence it is a Cisco (other vendors are available) simulator, which allows you to build virtual networks using actual Cisco IOS images, and mess with them to your heart’s content. CBT nuggets kindly did a free intro video to GNS3 (link below).Getting hold of the IOS images is also very easy. I would simply say google is your friend (especially when searching for exact IOS image names). To understand how the IOS naming works, see this great little article.Once you have your lab up and running, all I can say is practice, practice, practice! Throughout every video session I had my lab running in parallel, and implemented each command several times on several machines, to really ingrain the commands and knowledge.

    The only drawback of GNS3 is its inability to simulate / emulate the ASICs in Cisco switches. For this they simply give you a fake switch you config from the GUI. If you want to be able to practice switch configuration to a greater level, I recommend getting your hands on a cheap second hand switch. I bought a 24-port Catalyst 2950 switch for just £30 on ebay, and a rollover cable and USB adapter for about £5. This gave me the ability to practice switchport and VLAN commands, have a physical play with the kit, and even link my physical switch into my GNS3 environment using the NIC on my GNS3 host machine! The only drawback is that it’s very loud, so I try to minimise the use of it in my home office! I can imagine the WAF (wife acceptance factor) of a full blown lab would not be great, an even better reason for using GNS3 wherever possible!

  • Intro to GNS3 by CBT Nuggetsfree!
    Great little one hour course showing you how to setup a basic GNS3 environment. They also have a much longer course which you can pay $5 for a month access, but it isn’t necessary for a simple setup.
  • Official Cisco ICND1 Study Resourcesfree! (mostly)
    There are plenty of free videos, pdfs, presentations and even whole lab sims available on the ICND1 page. I would suggest you go through all of them.
  • Cisco Official ICND1 Practice Questions
    Make sure you are able to complete all of these successfully before attempting the actual exam.

In closing, I think the key thing to remember when learning Cisco is lab, lab and more lab… GNS3 is a great resource and more than sufficient for your CCENT (and I would hazard your CCNA) studies. If you have the budget to buy a cheap switch as well (e.g. a 2950) then all the better.

Next steps: New job, Xmas, then CCNA in Jan.

MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Review

Well I am very pleased to say that I came back home today certified as an MCSE: Private Cloud… yay!

First off, I would say this is one of the trickiest MS exams I have taken. This is not because the subject is particularly difficult, but purely for the volume and depth of information you need to cover, as you are in effect being tested on your knowledge of no less than 7 enterprise applications as well as their interoperation!

I will admit that due to time constraints I wasn’t able to study all elements of SC2012 in the depth I would have liked (I have barely scratched the surface with App Controller and Config Manager), but I was fortunate not to have been hammered too badly because of this.

I have already listed my study materials in my previous post MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide, but once again I believe it is really getting as much hands on experience as you can, which makes all the difference.

I created a simple lab environment running the entire thing under VMware Workstation 8 on my desktop machine. The spec of the machine is:

  • Intel Quad Core i7 920 processor
  • 24GB RAM
  • Multiple SSDs (the test lab runs across 2 of them totalling around 150GB of space in use).
  • I also used a FreeNAS 0.7 appliance running on another vSphere box to provide some shared iSCSI storage for my Hyper-V clusters (doesnt need to be fast as only for a couple of test VMs and cluster quorum).

The only time I suffered any real performance issues with this setup were when installing windows updates. This wasn’t an issue for me as I kicked them off overnight, but if you were being a bit more proactive, you could build one VM first, update to all the latest patches, install Sliverlight, .NET3.5 / .NET4  (required by lots of SC products), then sysprep and clone the VMs instead.

As I was being a little lazy, I didn’t do much with nesting VMs this time, so immediately under WS8 I installed 9 VMs. You could of course nest most or all of these roles under your Hyper-V hosts, barring the DC which is required to auth the startup of your VM hosts, an issue which is now fixed in Windows Server 2012 (in theory). The performance reduction is minimal, it’s just a bit of a pain if you want to shut down your machine in a hurry…

HostnameRolesvCPUsvRAMvDisks
(Thin)
SV2008R2-MGTAD, DNS, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP124GB40GB
100GB
SCOMOperations Manager 2012, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 Reporting Services22GB40GB
SCCMConfiguration Manager 201212GB40GB
SCVMMVirtual Machine Manager 201212GB40GB
SCSMService Manager 201212GB40GB
SCACApplication Controller 201212GB40GB
SCORCHOrchestrator 201212GB40GB
HV1-FULLHyper-V under a full 2008 R2 OS installation24GB40GB
60GB
HV2-HVSHyper-V Server 2008 R224GB40GB
60GB

Hyper-V Server and 2008 R2 are not supported in a cluster configuration, but it will work (with a couple of red lines on your cluster validation report). As long as you implement the following steps, you can then nest 64 bit VMs inside your Hyper-V servers. See Velimir Kojic’s blog post for more info on this, but the headline points are:

  1. Enable virtualisation of VT-x/EPT. This is the same as you would do for virtualising ESX/ESXi under Workstation 8, allowing nested 64-bit VMs.
  2. Add the following line to your VMX files:
    hypervisor.cpuid.v0 = “FALSE”

I did initially try the unified installer but it proved to be a total pain, especially as some of the components were not recognised or were missing / different from the download links, and the installer itself refuses to install or even recognise a package if the install does not have the correct name (e.g. you have to download 2 editions of reportviewer, 2008 and 2010. You need to put them in separate directories with their original file names, and not just rename them to reportviewer2008.exe and reportviewer2010.exe – very annoying!). The same goes for the service packs, SQL installers etc. In the end I gave up with it and installed all the components manually, which I think probably teaches you more about the install process anyway.

Once I had my lab up and running I simply followed through all of the MS training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. I genuinely cannot recommend these highly enough, and it really is very good of MS to provide them free of charge. When running through the videos, I tried to emulate every demo on screen, using my lab, then followed through reading as many articles as possible from the other links I included in my prep article.

Good luck to anyone attempting this exam in the future, next on my agenda was going to be the upgrade to Windows Server 2012, but I have decided to (at long last) slot in some time to aim for a CCNA first!

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MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide

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