Shuttle ESXi System: Pint-Sized Power

11 05 2009

Shuttle SG45H7


Recently when trying to find a cost-effective and portable solution for demo, POC, and lab purposes I came across the Shuttle SG45H7.  These small form-factor machines are well constructed, support a single processor, and more importantly will hold up to 16GB of RAM.  That is an impressive amount of memory given the nature and size of the device.  I was able to build one of these systems from NewEgg for about $900 with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550, 8GB of RAM, a CD-ROM drive, 1TB hard drive, and an Intel Pro 1000 NIC.  While this is still a fair amount of money I feel that it is a bargain for what you get performance wise.

Now for the details…the Intel Pro 1000 NIC is necessary because the onboard NIC is not compatible with ESX or ESXi.  Also, it can be a bit more challenging to load ESX, as noted by various other blogs, so I stuck with ESXi as I wanted a system that could be easily built, configured, and reproduced as new additional systems are needed.

Beyond those points the setup of ESXi requires a custom install be created.  This can be accomplished by following the list of steps below:

  1. Download the latest ESXi install ISO
  2. Open the ISO using Magic ISO or similar software
  3. Replace the default oem.tgz with the one from this link which includes the necessary SATA drivers, ICH10 in this case
  4. Save the ISO once complete and burn to CD or copy to USB drive
  5. Insert the modified media into the system, boot and enter the BIOS, and change the SATA support to AHCI instead of IDE
  6. Once the BIOS change is committed and the system boots into the install everything is straightforward

While this system isn’t ready to tackle data center workloads it makes for a small, powerful host which can support a significant number of virtual machines and is an excellent tool for demonstrating overall functionality with ESXi and server virtualization in general.





5 responses

11 05 2009
Hany Michael

This is a quite cool box! But I’d prefer to use an 8GB laptop instead for the same purpose. I use the ThinkPad T400, which supports 8GB of RAM, and use also an internal 320GB HD, plus a 500GB HD in the CD-ROM bay adapter. Now, I have two operating systems, one running Vista 32bit as my main/production OS, and an XP64bit as a secondary (dual-boot) OS running VMware Workstation 6.5 to do the VI3/vS4 labs. In that case you can create more than one ESX/i inside the WS65 and test things like vMotioin, HA and FT. Another important thing, with this scenario you can always save your VMs/Labs and revert back to it as a fresh installs instead of doing a reinstall every time on the bear metal box.

18 06 2009

Hey Matt,

Which specific Intel card did you end up using? I’m trying an Intel PRO 1000 MT Dual port card and for some reason it doesn’t seem to be detected.

19 06 2009

I’m away from home now but if i remember correctly it is an Intel Pro 1000 PT Adapter. You can also check the VMware HCL site for a list of supported devices.

This site also has information regarding device support.

However, based on the forum string listed below it looks like their may be some issues with the MT adapter.

24 11 2009

How about RAID for this setup, what are the options now the only PCI slot is used by the NIC? I’m guessing some kind of NAS!?

10 02 2010

I just completed a nearly identical build using this same Shuttle system. Since I used 4.0u1, I didn’t need to mess with the oem.tgz stuff, thankfully. I had to do that on my previous box, gigantic pain in the rear. 🙂

I did opt for RAID in this build. I used an LSI MegaRAID SAS controller – the 8344ELP. You can get them (new, not pulls) for about $150 these days if you look around. I removed the IDE cable from the case, as well as one of the SATA cables (used one of them for the DVD drive. That freed up enough space in the little cable channel to run the SFF-8087 to 4x SATA breakout cable in there as well. A 0.6m breakout cable for a 3ware controller was perfectly sized for this. For the network card, I used an Intel 1000GT PCI.

Before I started installing ESXi on it, I updated the bios to the latest revision, and flashed the SAS controller to the latest software as well. The latest BIOS supports using 4x 4GB DIMMs. I’m at less than 50% capacity with 8GB RAM, but it’s good to know that I can upgrade if I need it.

The only way I’d improve upon this system would be to offer 2x PCIe slots instead of the PCIe + PCI combo. That would have allowed me to do a 2 or 4-port Ethernet card.

And I LOVE how quiet it is.

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