Creating USB based boot media for ESX 4 installs

As a follow on to my Automating vSphere ESX4 Host Installations blog I have detailed a howto create USB based boot media using syslinux 3.82 and the ESX 4 installation source files. The process is actually quite simple as we can create the bootable USB from a Windows system.  You can also do the same with extlinux but most people will have a Windows based management system so lets only focus on this Windows based method within this blog.

The first step is to ofcourse obtain a copy of the Syslinux 3.82 or higher zip package from and extract to a  file store of your choice.

Prepare the media:

To prepare a USB memory stick we need to format it with a FAT32 file system. Windows explorer provides that functionallity with a simple right click on your USB device.

Format USB device

Generate a bootable media device:

Once formated we will need to open a cmd prompt and go to our syslinux file store and execute the following example.

Syslinux cmd prompt

In this example the syslinux win32 tool creates a grub based loader and boot sector on the USB memory device mapped to drive G: the tool also defines the syslinux directory using the -d option as the root path and this is where we will copy the ESX 4 initial ramdisk image file and some additional syslinux text menu files.  If your planning to use the usb device as a source for the ESX 4 packages then those files  e.g. the VMware directory etc. would need to be placed in the root directory of the usb device and not the syslinux directory. In this blog the usb device is only used to launch a remote source file install.

Copy menu and ESX 4 install files:

From the ESX 4 ISO or CD copy the isolinux directory to G: and rename it to syslinux also copy the build_numbler file to G:  additionally explore the downloaded syslinux file store and locate ..syslinuxcom32menumenu.c32, copy this file to the G:syslinux location, you may also want to copy vesamenu.c32 if you wish to checkout a GUI based menu. That’s really just eye candy on the requirements side but it can provide some cool background display capabilities.

Create your selectable boot time menu:

Now we are ready to create the syslinux.cfg configuration file in the syslinux directory.  Here is an example I created for this blog.

default menu.c32
prompt 0
timeout 9000
menu title ESX 4 Automated Install VC1 HTTP Repo

label Default
kernel vmlinuz
append initrd=initrd.img vmkopts=debugLogToSerial:1 mem=512M quiet ks=

label vh0
kernel vmlinuz
append initrd=initrd.img vmkopts=debugLogToSerial:1 mem=512M quiet ks=

label vh1
kernel vmlinuz
append initrd=initrd.img vmkopts=debugLogToSerial:1 mem=512M quiet ks=

Once your cfg file is created your ready to boot the USB device either on your server or over RDAC/ILOM interfaces,  select a server target from the menu and walk away.

Yes it’s that simple and easy to create USB bootable media for your ESX 4 installs.



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