ESXi on the Raspberry Pi, Part 1

Disclosure: None of the products mentioned in this post were provided gratis or at a discount, and I receive no compensation for anything I’ve written here.

A while back, I stumbled across a video on YouTube of someone claiming that you could put ESXi, VMWare’s enterprise-grade virtualization platform, on a Raspberry Pi 4b. For those who aren’t familiar, the Raspberry Pi is a compact computer platform, mainly targeted at the hobbyist market. It’s definitely not the kind of thing one thinks of when considering setting up some serious software. I didn’t have a Pi at the time, and didn’t really need any virtualization; if I did, I have a license for VMWare Workstation, and that seemed like enough.

Fast forward to January, and I realized that having a remote virtualization server would be extremely useful for some cybersecurity training I’m working through. With my birthday coming up, I decided to ask my wife to get one for me. Lucky for me, she knows that I love tinkering with tech, and haven’t been able to do as much as I’d like lately.

I had hoped to get the 8GB model, as it was recommended in the video, but there weren’t any available, and I figured that since I likely won’t be running a ton of VMs simultaneously, I can get by on 4GB for now. I’ve since gathered that Pis in general are kind of hard to come by right now, so I count myself extra fortunate I got one at all. I went with the Canakit Raspberry Pi 4 Extreme Kit, and once it arrived, I picked up a couple of SanDisk 64 GB flash drives and an SD card (hooray for Costco sales!). Time to go to work!

The Canakit Pi kits come with an SD card with an OS called NOOBS pre-installed. All of the instructions I read provided similar guidance regarding the setup. Essentially, the advice was to start by using the Raspberry Pi Imager to put a version of the base OS on an SD card, run some updates and change a couple of settings. Being that I’m fairly experienced with Linux systems, I figured I could use the pre-installed OS and save myself some time.

How wrong I was.

While I’m still not entirely clear why, after spending several hours (spread over several days) trying in vain to get it to work, I decided to follow the instructions more closely. To the surprise of no one, it worked without a hitch, and I was able to get ESXi installed on my Pi!

Side note: While this isn’t surprising, one thing I discovered after installing was that ESXi, at least the ARM Fling, doesn’t seem to support Wifi. While I wasn’t overly worried, my router sits in a fairly visible part of the house, so the Pi needs to live near the router for now.

In Part 2, I’ll be discussing the moving of my VMs from Workstation 15.5 to ESXi (Spoiler alert, not as easy as I had hoped).

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