VMware ESXi meets the Odroid-H2

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A few weeks ago I came across a very interesting new device on the hardware market: the Odroid-H2, which is manufactured by HardKernel in South Korea. Because of my broken leg I have a lot of time, so I ordered one unit from a reseller in the UK, and tried to run VMware ESXi on it. If you really want to know how this worked out continue reading…

The Odroid-H2

When you look at the hardware specification of the Odroid-H2, you think you are in heaven:

Intel Quadcore Processor J4105

  • 32 GB DDR4 RAM (2x 16 GB)
  • 1 M.2 SSD Disk
  • Up to 2 SATA SSD Disks
  • 2x GBit Ethernet Ports

When I saw this hardware specification for the first time, I thought immediately that I can build with the Odroid-H2 a native mobile 3-node VMware vSAN Cluster that I take during my travels with me. Currently I just run a nested 7-node VMware vSAN deployment on my SYS-E200-8D. The M.2 slot can be used for the Caching Device, the SATA ports can be equipped with 2 SSDs for the Capacity Devices, and 32 GB RAM doesn’t sound that bad. The only downside would be the 2 GBit Ethernet Ports in an All-Flash vSAN configuration. 10 GBit Ports would be much better here…

The Odroid-H2 that I have ordered from a supplier in the UK arrived last Friday. What a beauty beast:

The Odroid-H2

The Odroid-H2

In the mean time I have also ordered 2x 16 GB RAM modules from Crucial, and the Samsung 512 GB 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD, which I immediately put into the Odroid-H2.

The Odroid-H2 with some hardware

After the first boot, I checked the BIOS, and all the hardware was recognized by the Odroid-H2 – nice!

The Odroid-H2 BIOS

The Odroid-H2 BIOS

The Odroid-H2 BIOS

Installing VMware ESXi

Let’s start installing VMware ESXi 6.7 U1 on the Odroid-H2. Because I wanted to use the M.2 and the SATA SSDs for vSAN, my goal was to install ESXi itself on a simple USB stick.

Let's install VMware ESXi on the Odroid-H2

Let's install VMware ESXi on the Odroid-H2

Everything looks good so far, but then – boom!

The Ethernet NIC is not supported by VMWare ESXi

VMware ESXi doesn’t recognize the network adapter! The Odroid-H2 uses the Realtec 8168 Gigabit Ethernet NIC, which is NOT on the VMware Compatibility List!!! I have then discussed various approaches with David Chung, and one of his ideas was to build a custom ISO image that includes the network driver.

So I have used the ESXi-Customizer-PS script to build a custom ESXi 6.7 ISO image. But this also doesn’t worked. Every time when I wanted to include the net-r8168 driver the creation of the ISO image failed. But when I tried to include the network driver into a custom ESXi 6.5 ISO image, it finally worked. I was able to install ESXi 6.5 on the Odroid-H2.

Installing VMware ESXi 6.5

But after the successful installation of VMware ESXi 6.5 my problems were even worser:

  • The M.2 SSD was not recognized by ESXi
  • The Gigabit Ethernic NIC was only running with 100 MBit
  • The upgrade to ESXi 6.7 didn’t worked because of the missing network driver

I have tried to work around the first 2 problems by trying to install other drivers, but I had no luck. Without the M.2 SSD I would have no fast vSAN Caching Device, and running the vSAN/vMotion network with only 100 MBit would be just crazy. And not able to update to a higher ESXi version is also a huge showstopper. So I stopped my experiment after 6 hours. It failed!

The Odroid-H2 is not working together with VMware ESXi. It’s quite simple. The hardware is not on the Compatibility List, therefore we also can’t blame VMware for this. Just keep this in mind if you come across the Odroid-H2 in the future, and you think it would be a great piece of hardware for your own Home Lab. Currently (December 2018) it is NOT compatible in any way.

Summary

The Odroid-H2 itself is a really great piece of hardware. Of course you could run other OSes like Windows or Linux on it, and they would work without any problems. But VMware ESXi doesn’t work – unfortunately. So I have now a Odroid-H2, which I don’t need anymore and which is currently almost impossible to get. Therefore, if you want a nice christmas present, drop me a note, because I’m reselling my brand-new Odroid-H2…

Thanks for your time,

-Klaus

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