I recently set out to build a VMWare ESXi / vSphere white box. A white box in this case, is a custom built PC, that may not have all parts on the VMWare supported hardware list. Generally, ESX will work on most hardware, but the two common issues preventing things from working, are network adapters, and storage controllers. After trying to install ESXi / vSphere it became apparent that the onboard network interface and storage controller don’t work with VMWare out of the box. This was expected, so I wasn’t too worried.
After some research, I chose to use a Intel Pro/1000 GT NIC for the network side of things, and an Adaptec 3405 SAS/SATA RAID controller to handle the HDD’s. Both devices are listed on the VMWare supported hardware list for the version of ESXi I was using.
It turns out that the Adaptec 3405 RAID card gets detected fine, and ESXi can see the array device that was created, but it doesn’t actually install to the array.
After starting to install the software onto the HDD, it was crashing out and displaying an error stating “vmkfstools failed with message: create fs”, with a number of other messages below this.
After some investigation, and trial and error, I found that this error was caused by having Intel’s VT-d (Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O) feature enabled in the BIOS. This feature allows for remapping of I/O DMA transfers for virtual machines, however it doesn’t seem to work correctly with the Adaptec 3405 RAID card.
After disabling this feature in the BIOS, the VMWare ESXi install went through fine, and haven’t had any problems since.
Note: I have also tried this Adaptec 3405 RAID card in a PC that doesn’t support Intel VT-D, and it worked fine.