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How to overcome a missing driver problem in an ESXi home lab build

Getting the newest ESXi platform running in a home lab requires some ingenuity if the necessary drivers aren't in the general availability release.

How can I run an ESXi home lab for vSphere 5.5 without having all the drivers?

Many virtualization administrators who are eager to try out the new offerings from VMware have an ESXi home lab or want to build a relatively cheap one with enough power to run several VMs.

There are times when a new vSphere release may not include all the drivers to run the hardware, which means IT administrators will need to be resourceful to get necessary components to function properly.

In his presentation at the VTUG Winter Warmer 2014 event, Mark Gabryjelski, a virtualization practice manager at Worldcom Exchange, shared the parts he used to build a home virtualization lab for less than $2,000 to run vSphere 5.5. He covered some of the problems he encountered to get the system -- based on a barebones Shuttle PC -- running. One obstacle he surmounted was a missing driver issue.

"If you're going to run this lab ... just use [vSphere] 5.5 from VMware. But if you wanted to use some of the older [vSphere] versions, there are some additional things you're going to want to do," Gabryjelski said. "One of the reasons why you can't just use 5.5 -- even though I say to use it -- is the Realtek drivers are not part of the 5.5 general availability media."

"If you want to go ahead and put 5.5 on there and use the onboard adapter without making a custom ESX ISO, then do an install of 5.1 and after that upgrade to 5.5," he said.

"The drivers will be there and you won't have to learn how to make a custom ISO right away," Gabryjelski said. "It'll at least get you the other [network interface card] that's on board on the Shuttle PC functioning right away. That took me a while to figure out."

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My suggestion would be to put an Intel NIC in the server and eliminate the need to do two installs.

Alternatively, obtain the ESXi-Customizer or ESXi-Customizer-PS from http://www.v-front.de/2014/01/a-new-version-of-esxi-customizer-and.html and add any drivers you require to your installation image.