Shortcut to testing VMware Auto-Deploy

It’s very useful to have a VMware lab environment particularly for training needs, and outside of larger enterprises this is generally difficult to achieve owing to the high time cost of setting one up. VMware Auto Deploy remedies this problem since it allows very rapid provisioning of ESXi hosts via PXE network boot.

I wrote these notes for myself since I’m getting some hands-on experience of it to upgrade my VCP4 qualification to VCP5. EDIT – I passed the exam :). I got the information about the Auto Deploy commands from this concise guide. My post here covers how to deploy this if you already use Windows DHCP and WDS, and in such a way that uses but does not impact your production VMware infrastructure. The key to this is using the vCenter Server Appliance to create (with just a few clicks) a separate vCenter on a different VLAN, hosted on your existing ESXi hosts. I think some of the required file downloads may need you to have a proper paid for vSphere licence.

  • Create a new VLAN, add it to your ESXi hosts’ VM Network trunk ports. Define a gateway for the new subnet on your router. In a Cisco environment you would also need to configure your DHCP server as an IP-helper. That’s beyond the scope of this document, and I assume that you probably already run a DHCP server that manages multiple subnets.
  • Obtain and install the VMware vCenter Server Appliance. Log in to the site, go as if to download vCenter server, then after the EULA you’ll see multiple files offered (the .iso you would normally download, then further down the .ovf and .vmdk files for the appliance).
  • Install this appliance on your existing ESXi environment. Follow the instructions on screen and select Embedded Database. The default credentials are root and vmware. I reduced the VM’s RAM from 8GB down to 4GB. Ideally put this VM in the new VLAN you created.
  • This appliance already has the Auto Deploy option installed, but it’s disabled (in the Appliance WebUI go to Services > Auto Deploy). Impressively, the appliance also hosts the web services for the vSphere Webclient by default, which you can access from a browser on https://YourApplianceIP:9443/vsphere-client. Given the hassle-free setup for all this, I think it’s highly likely I will transition the production environment over to this instead of running vCenter on Windows.
  • If you’re already using WDS and Microsoft DHCP, make sure you’re defining options 66 and 67 (boot server & boot filename) on a per-scope basis (not in Server Options), that way we can configure different behaviour for the new subnet.
  • Launch vSphere Client and target it at your vCenter Server Appliance. From Home, select Auto Deploy. Select Download TFTP Boot Zip. Extract these files to the root level of your REMINST share on your WDS Server. These bootstrap files are designed to live at the TFTPRoot, not in the boot folder with the other WDS boot files (file paths that are loaded after the initial boot are hard-coded, not relative).
  • By default, the WDS TFTP server only allows read access to \tmp and \boot. You need to use Regedit to edit HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\WDSServer\Providers\WDSTFTP\ReadFilter. Append “\*” to the existing value. Where I work the WDS server only serves boot images since I favour unattended install rather than image-based deployment, so I’m ok with this relaxing of the default security.
  • Create a DHCP scope for your new subnet (including a reservation for your vCenter Server Appliance). Define option 67 as undionly.kpxe.vmw-hardwired
  • Now you can connect some test physical machines with Intel VT support to the new VLAN you created and set them to boot to PXE first in the boot order. Test this – you should get a warning that there are no associated ESXi images for this machine. Note down the displayed model name (in my case OptiPlex 745).
  • Download an ESXi offline bundle (go as if to download ESXi from, accept the EULA, and it’s further down on the download page).
  • Use a Windows 7 machine (which already has PowerShell 2.0) to install vSphere PowerCLI.
  • Connect the PowerCLI to the vCenter Server Appliance (help on the cmdlets is available here):
  • Add the offline bundle as a “depot”:
    Add-EsxSoftwareDepot C:\users\me\Downloads\
  • Within this depot there are several images, and we need their names:
    Get-EsxImageProfile | fl
  • Create a deployment rule:
    New-DeployRule -Name "FirstTimeBoot" -Item "ESXi-5.0.0-20111104001-standard" -Pattern "model=OptiPlex 745"
  • Activate it:
    Add-DeployRule -DeployRule FirstTimeBoot

Now your ESXi test machines can be woken with WOL, will boot ESXi and will automatically bind to vCenter Server Appliance, where they can be managed. Perfect for home study using a VPN connection. Here is the official VMware Auto Deploy Administrator’s Guide.

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