How I Spent My Sunday

I spent part of the weekend doing research on "The Damn Hell Server Upgrade From Hell." As a favor to some friends, I agreed to help them move their data from an old Win2K server to a new SBS 2003 server. Little did I know how complicated and entangled their system was, nor what a huge pain in the behind it would be to reconfigure the new server to match the old one. Making matters worse was that some of the software installed on the old server just can’t be found any more, and when it can, it seems to make SBS 2003 unstable.

So I’ve started looking into VMware’s newer freebie product, ESXi. For those of you that don’t know, VMware produces software that allows one to create virtual machines, or in other words, computers within computers. I’ve used some of VMware’s other products in the past, such as as their Converter utility, which can transform a physical server into a virtual machine. I’ve also used their other freebie product, VMware Server. Like ESXi, Server allows one to host multiple virtual machines on one physical system. Unlike ESXi, Server requires a full operating system install on the computer that will host the virtual machines. ESXi is integrated with a minimal operating system, so the resource overhead is much lower.

With that in mind, I resolved to perform a test install of ESXi, and then simulate the virtualization of a Windows Server environment. My old ePartManager server would play the role of the Damn Hell Server, and my old desktop would play the role of the virtualization server. But right out of the gate, I hit an obstacle in the form of this cryptic nastygram:

Unable to find a supported device to write the VMware ESX Server 3i 3.5.0 image to.

After swapping among several spare hard drives and motherboards, I came to the realization that ESXi doesn’t much care for IDE drives. To test this hypothesis, I ran out to Fry’s and purchased a 160 GB 2.5" SATA drive, which I planned to set to a different purpose after this test. As I supected, ESXi happily installed into the SATA drive. The Converter utility happily converted my test system into a new virtual machine on the ESXi server.

But after all that, I found another difference between ESXi and VMware Server. ESXi won’t grant virtual machines access to the host machine’s serial, parallel or USB ports. Apparently, the idea is that permitting this would complicate the use of VMotion, a utility that allows virtual machines to be moved automagically from one ESX server to another.

Unfortunately, one of the Damn Hell Server’s duties is to send faxes, so ESXi clearly won’t do in this case. A bit of wasted resources will have to be tolerated.

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