Thursday, February 6, 2014

An ESXi host, a NAS and NFS

When you're an IT guy tinkering is part of your lifestyle.  There has to be at least a modicum of curiosity about how things work.   We drive department heads crazy because just keeping stuff working isn't good enough for us.  We want that extra Megabit of throughput or another free Gigabyte out of the SAN.

Sadly, most of us can't afford to set up an server farm in a spare bedroom just to satisfy our need to tinker; but with virtualization you can come very close.

That is of course the promise.  Being able to harness the same capabilities of a small enterprise with a lot less hardware is undeniably a good thing.  Letting us run wild in our own little enterprise is even better.

VirtualBox, VMWare Workstation and their kind is fine for taking a new OS out for a spin but they fall a bit short for giving you real world skills.

ESXi, however, is another story.  Maybe more than any other platform, it's probably the most useful and relevant virtualization lab platform you can experiment with.  Don't confuse this with your grandpa's ESXi, though. 

Starting with version 5, VMWare decided that ESXi is the one hypervisor to rule them all instead of just being ESX's little brother.  That means anything you do with ESXi translates to what you can do in the enterprise.

It's one thing to play with virtual servers in VMWare but it's quite another to play with the platform itself.   After all, the more you tinker with it the better it works right?  Well, at least till we blow something up...

So this time around I decided I wasn't satisfied just locking myself out of the VSphere Client because I forgot the password.  I wanted to get some external storage online but I didn't have a spare ISCSI array laying around.   So I decided to venture into the wonderful world of NFS.

In ESXi you've basically got 2 options for storage.

1. Local - meaning it's either physically attached to the host or on a dedicated backbone via ISCSI

2. NFS - Which is pretty much "other"

Local's easy, if your storage controller can see it so can VMWare.  ISCSi  adds a wrinkle but so long as your target's on the network it's not a big deal.

NFS, ah, that's a different story.  A lot of Sys Admins can go an entire career without having to deal with it.   Like SMB, NFS is designed to offer up access to files on a network.  Those shares are usually hosted on Unix servers but unlike SMB, NFS is designed to fool your local PC into thinking a network resource is local.  An impressive feat compared to the clunky "Map Network Drive" or CLI "Net Use" commands in Windows.

Ok, so we know what NFS is but why do we care about it for VMWare?  Simple, most NAS storage devices will have support for the protocol to allow UNIX clients to access their shares.  Set up NFS on your NAS and you've given ESXi another potential datastore to play with.

NFS has it's quirks but most NAS management interfaces make it a relatively painless process to set up.  Once that happens just be sure you have a solid network connection between your virtual host(s) and the NAS.


Follow along with the video as I set up an NFS share for ESXi 5.5, play with a VM that lives on it and even break it!





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