Boot VMware ESXi from a USB Flash Drive

I came cross this idea early this morning when I saw a post in the forum I am usually on.  One guy mentioned that the ESXi serve he’s running has no hard drives at all, instead it boots from a USB key and links to the SAN afterwards.  Very good idea.  I wasn’t aware of such option as ESX server doesn’t have such thing that you can run an ESX server off a removable USB flash drive.  So I followed the instruction I found from Google, and did on one of my test machine.  No surprise, it works like a charm.

Tools that require to finish the work:

  • At least 1G USB flash drive
  • Virtual CD mounting tool, i.e. Daemont Tools
  • WinImage to build the image to USB storage.

Steps to make the bootable ESX Server 3i USB flash drive:

  1. Download ESX Server 3i Installable ISO
  2. Extract INSTALL.TGZ from the root directory of the ISO image using the Virtual CD mounting tool.
  3. Extract /usr/lib/vmware/installer/VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-xxxxx.i386.dd.bz2 from INSTALL.TGZ
  4. Extract VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-xxxxx.i386.dd from VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-xxxxx.i386.dd.bz2
  5. Attach the USB flash drive and make sure you no longer need the data on it
  6. Use WinImage to transfer VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-xxxxx.i386.dd to the USB flash drive
    1. Disk->Restore Virtual Hard Disk image on physical drive…
    2. Select the USB flash drive (Warning: If you select the wrong disk you will lose data!)
    3. Select the image file VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-xxxxx.i386.dd
    4. Confirm the warning message
    5. Wait for the transfer to complete
  7. Unplug the USB flash drive (Warning: If you forget to unplug the flash drive from the PC you might lose the data on your hard drives the next time you boot!)
  8. Attach the USB flash drive to the machine you want to boot (Warning: If ESX Server 3i recognizes local drives, you might lose the data on it, so make sure you don´t need it anymore or unplug all hard drives!)
  9. Turn the machine on and make sure the USB flash drive is selected as boot device
  10. Enjoy.


I failed to so on my Vista machine but had no problem on XP.  And the machine you want to boot from must have the option to make the USB flash drive as the boot device.

You can also watch the video to see how to do it in action.

2 thoughts on “Boot VMware ESXi from a USB Flash Drive

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Just wanted to say thanks for this. ESXi refused to install on my machine for some reason, even to the USB key. This worked great!

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