One of the things that has been on my to do list for a very long time was to check out the vCenter Appliance. I finally found the time to install the vCenter appliance in my own lab and fool around with it.

This post is a mix between my findings and some kind of installation instruction.

But first of all, what’s the VMware vCenter virtual appliance and what are the pro’s, cons and limitations.

The VMware vCenter virtual appliance is a SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 running VMware vCenter on a internal embedded DB2 database or an external Oracle database. The appliance is available for download on the VMware website and is configured with 2 vCPUs, 8GB RAM, LSI Logic SCSI controller, VMXNET 3 network interface and the VMware Tools.

The advantages over a traditional vCenter implementations are:

  • Lower TCO by eliminating Windows licenses;
  • Simple and rapid deployment;
  • Reduce operational costs – vCSA is easy to upgrade – deploy a new appliance, connect it to the external Oracle database or import configuration data from the previous installation.
The disadvantages are the same as the limitations.The vCenter Server virtual appliance has the same features as the Windows vCenter Server but does not support the following:
  • Microsoft SQL database for vCenter;
  • vCenter Server Linked Mode;
  • vCenter Server Heartbeat;
  • IP version 6.
Enough about the facts and figures, let’s install it.

What do you need

Well, first you need a machine on which you can load the vCenter appliance. In my case it was a whitebox AMD Phenom with 6 cores and ESXi 5. And of course you also need the the files (an OVF file, the system disk, and the data disk). If you can’t find them at first on the VMware site, know that you’re not alone. You can find them as downloads under the vCenter download on the VMware site.

You also need a computer with Windows and the vSphere Client on it. I haven’t found an other way to deploy the OVF file with the web client.

Getting Started

Log in on the Windows computer on the ESXi host. Deploy the OVF from File|Deploy OVF Template… Select the OVF file from the location you put it. I had to copy it to my Windows VM since I downloaded it on my Mac.

Give the appliance its name and select the location, destination disk and port group. The vSphere Client now starts importing and inflating the appliance as specified in the OVF file.

Get it up and running

After the appliance is imported you can start it from the vSphere Client. Starting the appliance can take a while. All file systems are being checked for errors.

Go to the console screen for the initial configuration. If like me you don’t have DHCP on the server VLAN you have to configure the IP address by hand, otherwise the appliance is already accessible from the network at the IP address shown at the console. Even if the machine gets an IP address you’d probably want to change it anyway.

From now on you can configure the appliance from any browser. Just go to https://;:5480 and login with the default credentials (root/vmware). After confirming the EULA the first thing to do in my opinion is to change the root password.

On the database tab you can select a database. For now only embedded and Oracle are supported.

The documentation mentions that it is suitable for adding up to 5 hosts and 50 virtual machines. The configuration though gives you the possibility to select different kinds of inventory sizes: small with 100 hosts or 1000 VMs, large with 400 hosts or 4000 VMs. Medium is probably in between. For medium the appliance needs 13GB of RAM and large 17GB, so you have to change the total amount of memory assigned to the appliance. Default the VM gets 8 GB, according to the manuals this should be enough for 10-100 hosts or 100-1000 VMs.

After you’ve selected the database type and entered the connection parameters (if you have chosen Oracle) you have to choose Save or Test to load the attributes into the database. Go back to the vCenter Server|status screen and click on the start vCenter button. It takes a while, but vCenter gets started.

If you want to use the vSphere web client make sure it’s started on the services|Status tab after which you can go to the web client at https://ip-address>;/vsphere-client.

One of the downsides, besides not supporting other databases than Oracle and the embedded one, is in my opinion that almost all changes need a reboot, like changing Active Directory configuration. It takes a long time to boot, at least on my server. I’d prefer some kind of status screen on the web brower right after booting the VM, since the web service seems to boot way earlier than the vCenter services themselves. Also the lack of configuration from the web client is a missed opportunity. Linux/Mac shops still need at least one Windows machine to import the OVF and configure the environment.

The good part is that you don’t notice if you’re running the installable version or the appliance. You connect with the same tools and have the same experience.

Screenshots below are from the installation of the vCenter Appliance.

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