There are many posts on the VMware Communities about VMware ESXi or VMware ESX running on a variety of non-standard or non-certified hardware, often focusing on whether it will run on a particular setup.
Whitebox installs of VMware ESXi have risen to extremely high levels, especially since VMware made it available as a free download. VMware ESX and ESXi can install just about anywhere; that doesn’t mean it can keep running in any environment in which it will install.
There is a finite number of motherboards, Ethernet adapters, and storage adapters that will work.
The golden rule has always been: if you want hardware that VMware will support, choose it from the VMware Hardware Compatibility lists (HCL), which VMware considers to be so important that they are the first four documents about their products.
VMware is right that hardware selection is important. Whitebox installs of VMware ESX or ESXi do work, generally. But if the hardware is not listed on one of the HCLs even hardware that does work initially is not guaranteed to stay working.
Major components aren’t the only issue, either. Sub-systems have to be supported as well. Picking hardware that does not contain supported storage controllers for example, is a good way to frustrate yourself and turn your virtualization server non-functional.
VMware could address this situation by fixing it so that VMware simply wouldn’t install if it found an issue with one of the sub-systems. If the host server was running an unsupported storage adapter, for example, the installer should stop. Admins should be able to override the block if they want to use a valid revision that the installer doesn’t know about; but the install process should at least point out that the underlying hardware is unsupported and that the software won’t function.
This lack of warning gives people the feeling that everything will work which, with a whitebox system, is often not the case.
If VMware wants VMware ESX or VMware ESXi to be ubiquitous, then it must support everything out there. That’s not VMware’s goal, or at least hasn’t been its pattern until now.
If it won’t run on everything, however, it shouldn’t install on hardware that’s not supported and on which it won’t function. Such false installs just lead to frustrated administrators.
Virtualization expert Edward L. Haletky is the author of “VMWare ESX Server in the Enterprise: Planning and Securing Virtualization Servers,” Pearson Education (2008.) He recently left Hewlett-Packard, where he worked in the Virtualization, Linux, and High-Performance Technical Computing teams. Haletky owns AstroArch Consulting, providing virtualization, security, and network consulting and development. Haletky is also a champion and moderator for the VMware discussion forums, providing answers to security and configuration questions.