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VMWare ESXi 5 and Atheros AR8131Thursday 1st March 2012
Back in August I was having fun trying to get Linux working with the Atheros AR8131 (or maybe AR8152) card embedded with the MSI H61M-P21 (B3) motherboard.

The problem was finding the drivers now that Qualcomm has taken over Atheros and removed their driver web-site from the Internet. I was luckily enough to find somewhere in the depths of a French web-site, and have now mirrored them locally (AR81Family-linux-v1.0.1.14.tar.gz) along with a patch to get them to work with newer kernels (I haven't tried 3.x yet).

At the same time, this year I've been mourning the death of VMWare Server, which at version 2.0 fell into a state of disrepair and the effort involved in getting it to compile against recent Linux kernels was too much. This left me with a problem, as I could no longer run virtual machines off my server. A Type 1 hypervisor is the obvious option, but I don't actually run much in the way of VMs and I actually I like to be able to use my server directly (plug it into your TV and you have a media box) - but I did want to be able to access the odd VM remotely.

I went with the only sensible option of another Type 2 hypervisor, I randomly selected Xen and dived in. After a good six months of use I'm fed up with it. Sometimes the kernel boots, sometimes it doesn't, leaving the machine in a reboot loop, not handy when I'm away from home and I need to restart for some reason. The main issue though is the frame buffer - VMWare's biggest selling point is how lovely it is to interface with your guest machines. Xen, and KVM et all rely on VNC, which was fabulous in the nineties but now come up short. Usually this isn't much of a problem as you can remote to your guest OS through whatever remote management tools it may be running (e.g. Remote Desktop or NX Server) - alas this requires a network connection and I have a couple of scenarios where this isn't an option (a VPN is one). Which means connecting to the frame buffer.

In the end I've got fed up with it and taken a fresh look at a Type 1 hypervisor, or VMWare's ESXi. My plans are now to turn the server headless (good-bye Media PC) and regain the wonders of VMWare's vSphere Client to control the machines.

The issue though is once again my stupid network card, which is helpfully unsupported by VMWare. For some reason there doesn't appear to be clear guidelines on how to compile a manufacturer driver and integrate it - luckily there are some real gurus on the subject at VM-Help, and a user "ichi" came up trumps with a working driver. Again, I hope they don't mind that I've mirrored this:

Having this driver is all well and good, but in order to use it you have to build a custom installer image - sounds slightly long-winded but once again the same folks have come up trumps with the ESXi-Customizer. This tool runs on Windows and makes integrating the driver child's play.

Armed with my custom ISO I booted up a local VM and installed ESXi onto a USB key which I can plug into my server and boot off.

I was hoping to get put a small VM on the USB key too for diagnostics and running without big disks, but alas ESXi will not allow you to format a USB partition with VMFS (a datastore) - not matter how much frigging of partition tables you try yourself.


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