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Creating a Bootable ESXi USB Stick on Mac OS X

Thursday, January 8, 2009 in Macintosh, Virtualization by slowe | 13 comments

I recently found myself with a decent HP DL385 G2 server with no hard drives (it used to have
hard drives, but now it doesnttheres a long story behind it that I wont get into here). So, I
decided Id try creating a bootable ESXi USB flash drive to use with the server. There are lots of
guides out there for creating bootable ESXi USB flash drives, but none of them were written for
users, like myself, who use Mac OS X. Telling a Mac user to use WinImage just doesnt work, and
while Linux-oriented guides are closer, they still dont address any Mac-specific issues.
So, heres my guide for creating a bootable ESXi USB flash drive from Mac OS X.
1. Download the ESXi installable ISO.
2. Double-click the ISO to mount it (an icon will appear on your desktop). From there, navigate
the contents of the ISO image to find VMware-VMvisor-big-3.5.0-xxxx.i386.dd.bz2 and copy it out
of the ISO image into a separate folder.
3. Insert the USB flash drive into an available USB port. Mac OS X will mount the drive and an
icon will appear on your desktop.
4. Open the Terminal and type the following command:
diskutil list
On my system, the USB drive was listed as /dev/disk1, but your mileage may vary. It should
be pretty easy to tell which device is the USB drive, as the first partition (i.e., /dev/disk1s1) will
have a label that matches the name of the icon on the desktop.
5. Type this command:
diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1
Replace /dev/disk1 in the command above with the appropriate entry for your system, as
identified in the previous command. The icon for the USB flash drive will disappear from your
6. Run this command:
bzcat <path to VMware-VMvisor file> | dd of=/dev/disk1
Replace /dev/disk1 in the command above with the appropriate entry for your system, as
identified by the diskutil list command in step 4.
When the process completesyoull know because the Terminal prompt will returnuse this
command to eject the USB flash drive and make it safe for physical removal:
diskutil eject /dev/disk1
Again, replace /dev/disk1 with the appropriate device for your system.
At this point, the USB flash drive should be ready to roll. Insert it into a compatible server and
virtualize away!
In the process of creating this guide, I found the following sites to be extremely helpful: How to Create Your Own Bootable ESXi USB Stick
Create ISO on Mac OS X 10.4 | Martin Bergek
Installing VMware ESXi on a USB memory stick using Ubuntu

For Mac users, the special sauce is the diskutil command. Unmounting the USB drive from the
Finder also made the underlying BSD device, i.e., /dev/disk1, disappear. Without unmounting it in
Finder, the device is reported as busy and cant be accessed (even via root). By using diskutil,
we are able to make the device accessible.