Using an ESXi 4.1 installation on a USB flash drive for access to virtual machine files
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Using an ESXi 4.1 installation on a USB flash drive for access to virtual machine files

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Article ID: 301823

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Updated On:

Products

VMware

Issue/Introduction

This article provides guidelines for accessing virtual machines on local storage when an ESXi or ESX installation is unable to boot successfully. This article uses a new installation of ESXi 4.x on a USB flash drive as a live environment for troubleshooting and can also be used to recover virtual machines on local storage.

The process can also be performed using the ESX and ESXi 4.x Install DVD. For more information, see Using ESX 4.x installation media for access to virtual machine files (1030778) and Using ESXi 4.x installation media for access to virtual machine files (1014447).

This process allows you to register the new installation as a host in vCenter Server, then use storage migration to easily move virtual machines off the host.

You may need access to your virtual machine files if:
  • A VMware ESX or ESXi host is unable to boot and a re-installation is required.
  • There are virtual machines residing on, or only accessible by, the host that is not accessible.

Notes:

  • The ESX/ESXi installation process already provides the capability to reinstall the operating system while retaining existing VMFS partition contents, including contained virtual machines. This article assumes that virtual machine recovery or access is still desired prior to re-installation.
  • If the VMFS datastore is shared and accessible by multiple hosts, the process in this article is unnecessary. The virtual machines can be restored by registering the virtual machine to a working host. For more information, see Registering or adding a virtual machine to the inventory on vCenter Server or on an ESX/ESXi host (1006160).
  • Installing ESXi 4.x onto a USB drive has the same minimum requirements as any other ESXi installation. For more information, see the VMware vSphere 4.1 documentation.


Resolution

To install ESXi 4.x on a USB flash drive for access to virtual machine files:

Note: This process does not write any changes to disk, but it does a full installation onto a USB drive.
  1. Download the appropriate VMware ESXi 4.x installation media as an ISO image from the VMware Download Site.
  2. Burn the image (the ISO file) onto CD media.
  3. Insert the ESXi 4.x Installable CD into the CD-ROM drive.
  4. Set the BIOS to boot from the CD-ROM device. For more information, consult your hardware vendor documentation.
  5. Insert the USB flash drive into a USB port on the server you want to recover virtual machines from.
  6. Boot from the ESXi installation media.
  7. When you get to the Select a Disk screen, make sure you select the USB flash drive that you wish to perform the installation on. Do not select the local disk unless you want to overwrite your previous installation.
  8. Perform the rest of the installation like normal. Make sure you preserve the existing local storage throughout this process. For more information, see Installing ESXi Installable onto a USB drive or SD flash card (1020655).
  9. When the installation is complete, remove the installation CD and press Enter to reboot the host.
  10. Select the first boot device to be the USB flash device that you installed ESXi 4.x on.
  11. Boot the host.

To access the virtual machines:

  1. When the host boots, connect the ESXi host to vCenter Server using the hosts configured IP address. For more information, see the VMware vSphere Install Guide.
  2. Select the host from inventory.
  3. Click on the Configuration tab.
  4. Click Storage.
  5. Click Rescan to ensure you can see all datastores.
  6. Browse the datastore and re-register any virtual machines that are on the local storage. For more information, see Registering or adding a virtual machine to the inventory on vCenter Server or on an ESX/ESXi host (1006160).

From this point, you can migrate any virtual machines off this host for recovery or boot the virtual machines on this host. Alternatively, you may connect to your host directly with the vSphere Client and manage or recover the virtual machines from here.


Additional Information

How to register/add a VM to the Inventory in vCenter Server
Using ESXi 4.x installation media for access to virtual machine files
Installing ESXi Installable onto a USB drive or SD flash card
Using ESX 4.x installation media for access to virtual machine files