Ever since I’ve got my new ESX home lab setup I’ve been wanting to get some Mac VMs running. My wife and I have Apple laptops and desktops as well as a plethora of Apple devices in the house. Whilst they’re working fine being managed through Windows at the moment I wanted an attempt to play around with a recent version of OS X Server.
Officially Mac OS X is supported in VMWare ESXi, however only on “Apple badged hardware”. My plan has always been to buy some Apple hardware to use in my home lab as a server but I wanted to try and get it working on my existing hardware first of all.
The trick to getting this working is a piece of software called Donk’s unlocker – however I just couldn’t get it working. There are a selection of guides online if you’re looking to do this but for my scenario using AMD processors this link seemed to provide the best steps. Also take a look here and here. Sadly no dice from my end even with a selection of official retail installation media from over the years.
I found that every time I booted the installer I was presented with a black screen. I eventually twiddled with a few more settings to have the installation start only for the machine to reboot before the installation user interface was ever presented.
If you’re in this situation a good way to figure out what’s happening is to enter the EFI shell of your virtual machine. You can then boot the OS verbosely with boot.efi -v. This will show all the debug output you’re getting. In my case I was getting various PCI bus errors that were related to the disk drives and had no luck despite hours of tweaking settings recommended online getting this working.
The one thing I didn’t try but was considering was taking an image from VMware Fusion, already installed and configured and then move the VMDK directly onto my ESX host. This may have worked but frankly after spending six hours playing around I’d had enough.
So I’ve decided to take the plunge and buy some Apple server hardware. At the moment there are limited options in production from Apple. You’ve either got the truly excellent and equally expensive Mac Pro which you can pack with RAM and CPU cores if you don’t mind spending £5,000 or the recently refreshed Mac Mini. Sadly the new Mac Mini is also lower-spec in terms of core count than before which is one of the key things I’m looking for in building my VM systems. Another pre-requisite for me is to be able to mount all of this in a rack. Whilst there are kits to rackmount Mac Minis it just doesn’t seem right.
So I decided to go second hand and have bought a final-year XServe. The number one bonus for a homelab is that they obviously look very cool but for the same price or slightly less than a Mac Mini I can get the same core count in a much more resilient business-grade piece of kit. The particular model I bought is a 4 core 2.26GHz with 24GB RAM and 1TB internal disk.
Hopefully this should arrive soon so I can start playing with some Mac VMs and see how well VMWare works with the recently released Yosemite.