Booting vSphere ESXi 6.0 From USB Stick To Successfully Build a VSAN 6.0 – Including An Apple Mac Mini Late 2014 (7,1)


Finally, I bought a brand-new Apple Mac Mini Late 2014 (Code 7,1) with a Fusion Drive (1.13TB) to complement my two legacy 2011 models. My intention was to build a VSAN (version 6.0) rather to replace my NAS device that is slowly but steadily running out of capacity! Before I bought the new Mac mini I extensively read blog posts about VSAN and the Mac mini systems (huge thank you to William Lam, Cormac Hogan, and Duncan Epping!).

The following blog posts and resources most helped me to make it work (in random order):

It was quite a journey until I got Mac mini 7,1 booting from the USB stick whereas my other two systems (version 5,2) were booting OotB from the stick. Not at all true for the latest version as I disappointedly found out! This was followed by hours of intense research on the web. Please use this post as your shortcut.

First off all you have to make sure the boot loader works correctly. In case it won’t show up, you have to reset the NVRAM (press the key combination command-option-P-R during the startup sequence of your system).

It’s a multi-step process to have your system boot into vSphere:

  1. Install Mac OS X Yosemite or another flavour
  2. Prepare a bootable USB stick with the Mac OS X release of your choice
  3. By leveraging Disk Utility delete the Recovery Disk
  4. Reboot OS X from the bootable USB stick containing OS X
  5. Format both the SSD and the HDD or Fusion Drive
  6. Boot the vSphere installer from either an optical drive or a USB stick (I went for a CD-ROM drive and medium) to install vSphere 6.0
  7. Install the VIB bundle – applies to Mac mini 7,1
  8. (optional) Create and afterwards delete VMFS Datastores on both the SSD and HDD
  9. Turn on and configure VSAN 6.0

1. Install Mac OS X Yosemite or another flavour

First off all you need to boot and install Yosemite as pre-installed on your Mac when you buy it. You need to do that to accomplish the next two steps.

2. Prepare a bootable USB stick with the Mac OS X release of your choice

Check in Finder whether you have an application called “Install OS XYosemite” depending on the flavour of OS X. Otherwise download the installer from the Mac App Store. Plug your USB Stick into a free USB port on your Mac. Open Disk Utility to partition your USB Stick (at least 8GB). You need to choose 1 Partition and to format it as GUID. Name your USB Stick MyVolume”. Quit Disk Utility.

In a next step open a Terminal session. If you’re Mac is running Yosemite copy and paste the following command line: sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Yosemite.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia  –volume /Volumes/MyVolume –applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Yosemite.app. If you are running another flavour of OS X however, you have to replace Yosemite.app in the command line with the corresponding release of the operating system.

3. By leveraging Disk Utility delete the Recovery Disk

Now, you need to prepare Disk Utility to run in debug mode to make hidden partitions visible. You do this by running the following command in your Terminal session:

DU Debug

Open Disk Utility again. You should see an additional menu item called Debug. Click on it and select Show every partition.

Debugmenu

At this moment the hidden partitions will show up on your Fusion Drive or other drives depending on your Mac’s specifications. Erase the one called Recovery HD.

RecoveryHD

Select the disk layout MS-DOS (FAT) – no necessity – I just wanted to make sure there’s no bootable partition).

4. Reboot OS X from the bootable USB stick containing OS X

Once you have successfully erased the partition named Recovery HD restart OS X and press down the Option/Alt-key as your system boots in order to be presented with the boot loader. Boot from your USB stick that contains OS X.

5. Format both the SSD and the HDD or your Fusion Drive

Wait until the you are presented again with the installation screen to install OS X. Select Disk Utility from the menu. Finally, erase the all partitions from either your Fusion Drive or the SSD, and/or HDD, respectively. Shut down your Mac Mini. Remove the USB stick.

6. Boot the vSphere installer from either an optical drive or a USB stick to install vSphere ESXi 6.0

Insert a new USB stick (preferably 8GB, USB 3.0 – for both the 2012 and the 2014 models) as well as your optical drive or USB stick that contains the ESXi-installer. Press down the Option/Alt-key as you power on your system. Choose to boot from either the optical drive or the USB stick (will be indicated as EFI boot). When the installer ask you where you want to install ESXi pay careful attention you are selecting your USB stick as target (check the capacity as well as the controller values). Proceed with the installation.

A note: on a Mac mini 7,1 not all or non of your internal drives will be displayed. This is an expected behaviour.

Configure the network settings of your freshly installed ESXi instance.

7. Install the VIB bundle (only on Mac mini 7,1)

Since your disk drive might not entirely be recognised by ESXi you need to install a VIB that you can download here.

Then you need to copy the VIB to your ESXi server. In order to do that you need to enable the SSH service. Assign your host to vCenter, first. Secondly, navigate to your freshly joint host, and go to Manage – Settings – Security Profiles – Services – Edit to enable ssh.

8. Create and afterwards delete VMFS Datastores on both the SSD and HDD (optional)

In case your disk drives aren’t marked as eligible by VSAN, they’re probably not recognised as local disks by your host. In this case, it helped me to create a VMFS Datastore on each of the drives only to delete them later on and have them recognised correctly by the host and ultimately by VSAN. Check out the VSAN Troubleshooting Guide on p.26f!

Command to browse for the disks esxcli storage core device list. Verify that the entry says “Is local: True”.

ESXi-Shell 9. Turn on and configure VSAN 6.0

Configure your Mac mini(s) into an ESX cluster and choose turn on VSAN. All disks of all Mac mini systems should now show up as eligible disks. Claim all the disks for usage by VSAN and you’re all set.

VSAN Disks

Be aware that VSAN will consume some valuable amount of memory. Especially if your RAM is a scarce resource you might consider low capacity SSD devices.

Check out this KB article:

Have fun playing with VSAN 6.0!

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