How to install ESX 4.1

01-01-01 ESX 4.1 Installation



In this module, I’ll walk you through the steps to installing VMware ESX 4.1.  I’ll show you the steps on a real ESX server 4.1.  We’ll run through the entire installation process from start to finish and I’ll show you all the options.



Generally speaking the installation of ESX Server 4.1 can be completed by simply clicking the Next button until the Finish button shows up. This is true to a certain extent though, there are some significant decisions to be made during the installation—decisions that affect the future of the ESX deployment.


Now if your hardware isn’t compatible with ESX, ESX 4.1 may run poorly or more often than that, ESX just plain won’t work.  It won’t install, or once it’s installed it won’t boot up.  And that’s why you want to make sure your hardware’s compatible before you purchase it and before you go through the installation process.

 You should note that there are separate hardware compatibility lists for ESX Server 4.1, Shared Storage Area Networks (SAN), for IO, for guest OS, and a number of other things.

  If Storage Area Network (SAN)-based storage is in use, it is strongly recommended that you disconnect the server from the SAN or ensure LUN masking has been performed to prevent the server from accessing other LUNs. If these LUNs contain production data, the LUN will be formatted and that data will be lost!

 Access to the SAN is required during installation only if you are setting your server to boot up from SAN.

 VMware does offer a 60-day evaluation version of VMware ESX Server and the vSphere suite.  You can go to to get your free 60-day eval, or if you purchase VMware ESX and you have a registered license, you can just go download the ISO image of VMware ESX 4.1 by going to  The ISO image is over 650 megs ISO image and it’s a DVD image, that means you’ll be burning it on a DVD if you plan on using physical media.


 To install VMware ESX 4.1 from a DVD:

 Disconnect the server from the SAN, configure the server to boot from the optical drive or an ISO image, insert the ESX DVD, and reboot the computer.

 So let me tab over to the console of our VMware ESX Server where we’ll be installing VMware ESX 4.1.

 To begin my ESX installation, I’ve inserted my ESX build CD into my server and rebooted it as I mentioned previously. You may need to adjust your host machine’s BIOS boot-device priority from a floppy disk or the hard drive to the CD-ROM. You can often change the primary boot device by using the system’s boot menu: generally it’s a function key, such as F12.

 Now as an alternative to that, if you have a higher end server that might have a server management card, you can mount that ISO image using the virtual CD function.  As an example of a server management card, HP has their iLO card and Dell has their DRAC card.  Those cards are able to mount the ISO image of VMware ESX 4 over your network to the server and you’re actually able to boot the server from the ISO image that’s still on your computer without ever having to burn that image to a DVD and put it in the drive. So, once the DVD’s in the drive, you’re going to boot the server off of the DVD.

 All right, I just powered up the server, it recognized the DVD, and it booted into the VMware ESX 4.1 installation screen.


Now the default option here is to boot up into graphical mode.

 The ESX installer runs in one of two modes, graphical or text. Graphical mode is the typical mode to choose, however, installing in text mode can be useful if you are accessing the ESX Server Console using a remote management adapter and the connection between the remote console and the ESX Server is slow or the video card resolution is not supported.

how-to-install-vmware-ESX4.1 text mode

 It gives us 30 seconds to make a selection or boot up into the graphical installation mode.  Other options I can choose here are the text installation mode, ESX scripted installation mode using USB, scripted installation to the first disk, or scripted installation to first disk with the overwrite of the VMFS, or finally, to just boot from the hard drive.

 I can also press F2 here for other boot options.  Now by pressing F2 here as I scroll over these different options I can see the exact command line that VMware ESX is going to use to boot into those modes, and I can even edit these command line options if I chose to.

I am going to select graphical mode by pressing the Enter key at the boot options screen.

And it brings me to the ESX Server 4 installer splash screen.

All right, it tells us it’s loading VMware ESX 4’s installation program, it goes through a few Linux-like boot sequences here, and you should get the green OK across the right hand side.

I will click the Next button on the Welcome To The ESX Installer screen.

We’ll need to accept the license agreement with a checkmark, and I’ll say next.


Here we select what type of keyboard we have, I’ve got US English so I’m going to click on Next. And then we select what type of mouse we have. I’m going to click Next.

All right, at this point it’s asking us if we want to install any custom drivers. If any custom drivers need to be installed, click the Add button to add them. You might have some hardware that’s in your server that VMware ESX doesn’t support unless you have some custom drivers.

I don’t have custom drivers, I will just select No and click the Next button. When prompted to confirm loading the System Drivers, click Yes.

Initially when I saw this question come up I was a little bit confused but then I realized, it’s just asking.

It’ll take just a second to load the drivers from the ESX installation media and these are the drivers that it’s going to use to access your network interface card and your hard drive controller to install VMware ESX on the disk and to check your network settings.  Okay, it’s done loading the drivers and we’ll say Next.

 Now, at this point, if you’re going to use host-based licensing, you can enter a serial number.  However, most companies use centralized licensing instead of host-based licensing, and because of that we’ll choose to enter a serial number later.  Also, if you’re going to evaluate ESX Server for 60 days you could also choose to enter a serial number later and it will go automatically into the 60-day evaluation mode.  And I’ll click Next.


 Here we specify our Network Interface Card for management access to the Service Console. If we have a specific network card that we want to use to connect to our ESX server, we would select it here.

 Now the cool thing about this is that it tells us the MAC address for that adapter, so you know which MAC address and network adapter it is, that you’ll be selecting as the primary adapter for system tasks on this ESX host. It also tells us that this adapter is connected, so it knows that that network interface card has a link to the switch and that might also help us narrow down which network adapter it is that we’re choosing as our primary adapter for VMware ESX system tasks.

 And down below you can specify the VLAN ID, it says “This Adapter Requires A VLAN ID (Leave Unchecked If Not Sure)”. If the network requires a VLAN ID, enter it in the provided field. I can type in VLAN ID 20 for example.


But in our case, we’re not using VLAN, so I am going to uncheck that option and I’ll just take the default here and I’ll say Next.

Okay, here we should give an IP address to our ESX server and specify the host name.

Although the network interface can be configured to obtain an address from a DHCP server and we could pull an IP address from our DHCP server for our new VMware ESX 4 server, VMware strongly recommends using static IP address for access. You probably already know, production servers should always have static IP addresses. If you wanted to use DHCP you could and then you could just change the IP address later.

And I’m just going to type in the IP address that I’ll use for my ESX server. And I’m going to use with a subnet mask of And you want to input your correct Gateway and DNS.

Next you want to specify the fully qualified host name for your ESX server. I’m going to call my ESX server: ESX252.VIADMIN.COM.

So this’ll bee host ESX number 252 at the VIADMIN.COM domain, and we already have our DNS server set up. Something that you should do while the installation files are copied is go over to the DNS server – the primary DNS server for this domain – and you should add a static host name entry for the new ESX host.  In our case, it would be ESX252 in the domain and it would be mapped to this IP address up here,  Of course, your network IP address settings are going to vary, so you should set it up to reflect you IP addressing schema.  Now once we have our network configuration in here, we’ll want to test these settings.


This is a great new feature they added to the ESX installation – to ensure that all your IP address settings are correct.  And here it tells us that no problems were detected with the network settings and now we can go to the next step knowing that.  I’ll say OK here, and then we can click Next.

This brings us to our Partitioning Options. If you’d like to create all the partitions yourself, you can click Advanced Setup. Now the default option here is to take the Standard setup where VMware ESX installer will automatically partition our drive for us.

Now let’s check out this Advanced setup and let’s just see what it looks like.  I’ll say Next here, and this asks us to select a location to install VMware ESX, and notice that it tells us that ESX can be installed on a different device from where the virtual machines are stored.

This is important.  In most production environments today, you’ll have ESX installed usually on a local disk partition and then the virtual machines would be stored on a Storage Area Network (SAN).  Or another option would be to install ESX on one set of RAID drives and then have a separate partition on another set of RAID drives for the virtual machines.

A note on the side; Watch for Unpartitioned LUNs. Be careful not to intialize any LUN that might contain production data. If the ESX Server is connected to the SAN, make sure that the SAN is properly zoned and masked. The warning dialog box allows you to make sure that you are initializing the correct drives.

Unless you are installing the ESX server to boot from SAN, a best practice is to hide the LUN’s or unplug all fiber channel attached SAN storage from the server to avoid this particular scenario.

Now in the case of this ESX host we only have a single local disk partition to install ESX on.

If you had some HBAs and a Storage Area Network, below this local storage drop-down here you would have a drop-down for remote storage and you would see the LUNs that your ESX host has access to, so you could choose to boot from SAN if you wanted to and install ESX on one of those LUNs.

In our case we’re just going to take the local storage option.  The single disk that we have access to is a 16 gigabyte hard drive.

We’ll say Next here, and it gives us this warning that, hey, you’re about to install ESX and when you do that it’s going to wipe out any partitions that are already on that hard drive, or that LUN, that you just selected to install ESX on.


I’ll say OK here, and then at this point these options are coming up because we chose the advanced installation option.  It’s telling us that a new data store will be created with a VMFS partition and that’s where you will store your virtual machines.  We can specify here the name of that data store or we can just take the default.  I’ll type in esx252localstorage to make it clear and I’ll click Next.

Now, because we chose the advanced installation option, it’s asking us to manually partition the service console for this VMware ESX server.

If you chose the standard installation option, you wouldn’t see this.  Click Next and I am prompted that the contents of the selected storage device will be erased before ESX 4.1 is installed. That is why it’s important to mask LUNs that may contain production data because here you don’t know and you have no way of checking what type of data is located on that drive. I am going to click OK and now I need to provide a name for that datastore. I will call it ESX 252 Local Storage. Next.

With this advanced option I can go in here where it says Edit and change the size, let’s say, I can change the size of these different partitions for the log files or the service console.  I can edit this and I can say give the \var\log partition 4 gigabytes instead of 2 gigabytes.


Now, best practices dictate that you should give the service console at least 8 gigabytes on disk space, and it’s a good idea to have a separate \var\log partition so that your log files don’t grow excessively and fill up the space on the root partition.

All right, this partition configuration looks good, I’ll just say Next here.


You can have customized partitioning strategy with pretty good support for any future needs in a VMware ESX installation and it may look like this:


Mount Point Name                 Type    Size

/                                               Ext3    20GB

(none)                                      Swap   1.6GB

/var                                          Ext3     15GB

Here we select our time zone. You can either use the Map to select the most appropriate location for the desired time zone or you can click on the drop down list to select Location or use the UTC Offset those are Time values based on the offset hour from Greenwich Mean Time. There is also the option to automatically compensate for daylight saving time, if appropriate. My time zone is correct. So I’ll click Next.


Now we get to configure the date and time on the server.  Notice how we can do this manually or we can do it automatically up here by typing in an NTP server.  The best choice here really is to type in an NTP server, and then click synchronize.


You can use  for example or an internal Time server you have one– I’ll go over here and I’ll click Synchronize and watch how the date changes when we do that.  There we go, the date changed and it adjusted the time, and we have the correct time and date now.  This server now has the correct date and time and it always will because it’s synchronized with NTP.  I’ll click Next here.

Now we’ll specify the root password. ESX Server requires a minimum of six characters for the root password. It is considered best practice to implement a password strategy that introduces complexity which might include, mixed case, non-standard characters, and numeric values.

I’ll just type it in and confirm. And the root user is going to be the superuser on your ESX server that can do anything and everything, so you want to make sure the password is secure.

And then something else we can do here is to create a new user account.

In our case, I’m going to create a new user account for myself, I’ll type in a password here, and that’s very important to do because if you connect to this ESX host with SSH by default the root user isn’t able to log in.  And by having an additional user account, you can log in, in my case as viadminuser, and then I can su to root using the root password.  As a system administrator, it’s always good to have a backup account to allow you to get into the server.

I’ll click Next.


This gives us a nice summary of our installation. We can scroll through these settings to ensure that we’ve configured everything correctly.  We can double check our network settings, time zone and so on and then go ahead and click Next when you’re ready. And ESX server will install.

It’ll take several minutes to copy all the files and perform the installation.  Now what’s going to happen here is the files are going to be copied, and when it’s done it’ll ask us for a final confirmation before we reboot the server and access our new VMware ESX 4 server.

Okay, the installation completed successfully. The files have been copied and we’re at the point of rebooting the server so that we can boot ESX 4 for the first time.


Let’s remove our CD out of our server and click the Finish button and your ESX server will go ahead and reboot.


This screen also states how to connect and manage the ESX Server once it is installed using any valid browser. You connect to the ESX Server by pointing to its IP address or host name of the server that we configured during the installation process.


Now we see some of the familiar Linux boot messages.  You want to look on the right there and look for those little green OKs, if you see any errors of any kind they’re usually in red and you should be on the lookout for those because they could cause the system not to boot successfully or they could cause some piece of ESX 4.1 to not work once the server’s booted.

Notice that we loaded few drivers successfully, the TCP/IP stack was loaded, the VMFS, the NFS, all of these are very critical pieces of VMware ESX.  Notice there’s the module for VMotion, and now it’s says Welcome to VMware ESX 4.1.  Also at this point I can press “I” to enter the interactive startup, which is very handy for troubleshooting because it allows you to manually run or not run certain modules of VMware ESX.

After rebooting, this is what the screen looks like on the ESX Server’s machine console.


When you see this screen at the physical console, you are ready to configure ESX Server using the vSphere VI Client.


Notice it tells us here that we can manage the server from our web browser by pointing it to that URL right there, http:// and the IP address of the server.  Of course, you could also use the host name if you have that IP address mapped to the host name in your DNS server.



Now from here there’s a few things we can do.  We can hold down ALT and press F1, and that takes us to the server console.  We can log into the server console using the root username and password that we specified in the installation.  There we go, there’s the shell prompt for the root user.  I can CD / into the root directory here and do an ls – l and see all the folders, I can also CD into \usr\sbin and do an ls – l and this shows us all of our ESX config tools.


And of course, this is the same interface that you would get if you connected to the server using SSH.  But I should point out that the root user’s not able to log in by default via SSH.  You have to log in as a regular user and then SU to root.

In our case, I did create a new user account for myself, and by having that additional user account, I can log in, in my case as vi admin user, and then I can su to root using the root password.  As a system administrator, it’s always good to have a backup account to allow you to get into the server.



All right, that’s the server console, let’s exit out of this, and here we can press another ALT key, I’ll press ALT+F11, and that takes us back to the standard server console.

All right at this point we successfully installed VMware ESX 4.1 and logged into the console.



One reply on “How to install ESX 4.1”

Great step by step.

the only thing I noticed was that the screenshots were not showing up. were the pictures working previously? I tried chrome, IE and Firefox and none of the browsers were able to show the screenshots.


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