This is not a secret anymore for a long time now and there are many sites out there that will show you how to install VMware ESXi3.5 and ESXi4.0 on a USB key. My favorite article about this topic remains Duncan Epping’s article at yellow-bricks.com
Now with ESXi4.1 there is a minor change, the file you need to extract from the ISO image is called imagedd.bz2 and it’s located in the root of the ISO image. If you remember after decompressing a couple of .tgz and .tar archives, it used to be a long file name hidden deep down to folder \usr\lib\vmware\installer\
The rest of the method hasn’t changed although Duncan showed us a new and supported procedure (Follow the link above to his article). So it’s up to you to pick up the method you’re familiar with…
Finally use another cool tool called WinImage to restore the virtual disk image (imagedd) to a USB key or SD card.
For instance I restored the virtual disk image to my SanDisk Extreme® 30MB/s Edition SDHC™4GB card. Once done I stick the SDHC card into my new Shuttle SX58J3’s card reader and the machine booted up straight into ESXi4.1! How cool is that 🙂
Regarding VMware support for USB/SD devices I encourage you to read this VMware KB article. Basically it is supported as long the server is in VMware HCL list and the USB/SD card is approved by the server vendor.
Final note, if you bought a server with Vsphere ESXi4.1 Embedded on a USB key or SD card, you should have receive from the vendor a Recovery CD and instructions to restore the software. Usually the procedure look like this:
- Detach all USB devices from the host.
The Recovery CD installs the ESXi image on the first USB memory device that it discovers. Unplug all USB devices before you use the Recovery CD to rebuild the ESX image on the internal USB device.
- For Dell servers with DRAC 5 firmware, disable the Virtual Flash drive.
- Insert the Recovery CD into the ESXi host.
- Use the system BIOS to change the boot order so that the CD-ROM drive is listed first. To modify the boot sequence:
- Reboot the host.
- While the host is powering on, press a function key or Delete to open the BIOS setup.
- Select the CD-ROM drive and move it to the first position in the list.
The option to open the BIOS setup might be different for your server. You might need to open the BIOS configuration screens to modify the boot setting. As the host continues to power on, the Recovery CD Welcome screen appears.
- Press Enter to continue through the screens.
To cancel the recovery operation, press the Esc key. If you press the Esc key, the host reboots and the data contained on your server’s embedded USB flash remains intact. If you press Enter through all the screens and the recovery operation begins, you cannot cancel or undo the recovery.
- Press Enter to reboot the host.
- Remove the CD from the CD-ROM drive.
- Reopen the system BIOS to change the boot order so that the USB flash is listed first.
- Verify that the host boots into ESXi.