There are a couple of ways to automate the installation of an ESX server. Most methods are very generic though and don’t just install ESX but install a lot of different OSes, automated or not. But all of them only install the basic OS. Customizing it is always a highly specialized and time-consuming task. To deal with this, the idea for the EDA was born.
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EDA stands for ESX Deployment Appliance. It’s specifically built to deploy ESX servers in the easiest and fastest way. It not only deploys ESX servers in just a few minutes, it also completely configures them. It also has a built-in script-builder that makes it possible for anybody to create a customized, completely configured ESX server without the need to really know scripting. It has a very intuitive web-interface that makes it very easy to setup a host so it not only deploys it very fast, but also makes it a very powerful disaster recovery tool.
EDA was built on a so-called JeOS (pronounced ‘juice’) appliance. JeOS stands for Just Enough OS and the idea is that because it’s cut down to only the bare essentials it will do only what it is built for and nothing else. This means there’s a lot less patching because there’s just much less OS to patch. Also, because it’s much smaller, the attack surface is also much smaller just because there’s just less OS to attack.
Now there’s a lot of JeOS appliances out there. A lot of them are just basic installations of a Linux distribution though. Even with just the smallest installation, the OS is still able to do a lot of (too many) things. The JeOS choosen for EDA has an even smaller install-base because it used the debootstrap method to get just get a bootable OS and nothing more (http://www.vmware.com/appliances/directory/1335).
After the basic setup of the JeOS appliance the services like Apache, tftp, dhcp and Samba were installed. Apache provides the web-interface that configures everything, the tftp and dhcp services provide the PXE boot and Samba provides an easy way to download files to the ESX host for post installation (like HP or Dell agents).
The installation process starts with the ESX server requesting an IP address by dhcp at boot time. In the reply it gets a servername and filename to get it’s boot image from (PXE boot). Once this image boots, it downloads a bigger installation image and starts the ESX installer. During this installation process the post configuration script is copied to the server. After it reboots this script is run and configures the ESX host, setting up the network and storage.
To see the EDA in action, a video was recorded in VMware Workstation 6.5 beta 2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCj4HmuMGc8). It shows the EDA interface and the setup of a virtual ESX server. Because it runs virtually on a laptop, recording it at the same time, the installation takes about 10 minutes and the post configuration takes another 8. But running on physical hardware (2QC, 16GB) a timed installation took less than 2 minutes.
So if you need a solid recovery option for your ESX hosts or just need to quickly deploy a few or even dozens of ESX hosts, check out the ESX Deployment Appliance here. The credits for creating this great solution are for Herco van Brug, one of my die-hard virtualization colleagues @ PQR