Running VMWare ESXi on Raspberry PI

(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)

Just for fun with virtualization I wanted to try out VMWare ESXi for ARM64, most specifically Raspberry PI. ESXi for ARM has been around for a couple of years now. Since PI4 packs 8GB of RAM and has a reasonably fast CPU it can be a worthwhile experience. Also more OSes for Raspberry PI are now available in UEFI boot mode.

Not going to go through exact installation steps as these are all around the web and youtube. Just to summary you will need to download an image from VMWare website as well as bunch of UEFI firmware files from github and combine it all together on to a SD card. When you boot it you will go through an install process which is straightforward. You can overwrite install media and use it as the target so no need for multiple SD cards. Once it boots you will see familiar ESXi boot screen:

ESXi booting on Raspberry PI 4

In order to get it going you will obviously need to add some storage. You can use NFS, iSCSI or locally attached USB drive. For the latest you need to disable USB arbitrator.

# /etc/init.d/usbarbitrator stop
# chkconfig usbarbitrator off

What can it run?

ESXi ARM only officially supports only UEFI boot based OSes. Fortunately this is a default option for Ubuntu PI, Free/Net/OpenBSD also work and so does Windows. But what about OSes that use U-Boot? Since ESXi-ARM Fling 1.1 you can boot oses in a “direct” mode with no UEFI! This is a huge step, but unfortunately as of today it doesn’t support UEFI-less VGA, only a serial port. Hopefully this can be fixed in future. I would love to have a RISC OS and/or Plan 9 VM. On the other hand Plan 9 supports EFI boot so an image could be made.

Windows guest install was also much easier than I expected. Thanks to UUP dump you basically roll your own bootable ISO. I think it’s actually easier to get it going on ESXi than natively on RPI hardware or QEMU.

Windows 10 Guest VM on ESXi Fling Raspberry PI

NIC driver obviously did not work by default, but there is a VMXNET3 ARM64 driver in the wild:

VMXNET3 for Windows 10 ARM64 on ESXi Fling on Raspberry PI

What is it good for?

Right now probably just for fun. But I can easily see datacenters filled in with ARM servers running ESXi. Future is bright and free of Intel! Personally I will keep it around for development purposes if I need to make builds for ARM on various OSes.

Interestingly enough you can even run VMWare ESXi ARM on QEMU with nested virtualization!

Also this is the official VMWare ESXi ARM Blog worth checking for future updates.

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