Need a free software SAN Solution for VMware ESX Server?

March 30, 2009

I recently setup a VMware ESX 3.5 server inside VMware workstation 6.5 on my personal computer at my house. I wanted to setup a SAN, particularly iSCSI and NFS for my ESX server to work with. This would allow me to test different advanced features such as VCB (VMware Consolidated Backup), VMotion, and DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler). Seeing this is for testing purposes at home and having little funds, I decided on finding a free software solution. After doing some digging, I narrowed a potential list down to 2, Openfiler and EMC’s Celerra Simulator.

I decided to start with Openfiler first. If you are not familiar with Openfiler, it’s an Operating System that provides file based NAS and blocked based SAN storage and supports many protocols such as: NFS, SMB/CIFS and iSCSI to name a few.

Before getting started with implementing my new SAN, I reviewed the following hardware requirements.

“System Requirements

Openfiler has the following hardware requirements to be successfully installed:

  1. x86 or x64 based computer with at least 256MB RAM and 1GB storage for the OS image.
  2. At least one supported network interface card
  3. A CDROM or DVD-ROM drive if you are performing a local install
  4. A supported disk controller with data drives attached.

Instructions on how to install Openfiler on a physical server can be found here: http://www.openfiler.com/learn/how-to/graphical-installation.

In my case, I was looking for a much faster solution so I opted for the VMware Virtual Appliance which can be imported into VMware Workstation.

So to get started, first you want to visit the download page at http://www.openfiler.com/community/download/. Here you have several options; the key downloads being the VMware Virtual Appliance and the VMware ESX Virtual Appliance as seen below:

Since I plan on using VMware Workstation, I downloaded the VMware Virtual Appliance. After the download is successful, you will need to decompress the vmdk and vmx files as seen in the next screenshot:

The next step is to import the Virtual Appliance from inside VMware Workstation.


So you would want to run the Import/Export wizard which will bring you to the following welcome screen:


Choose Next.


Select “Virtual Appliance” for the type of source you want to use.


Browse to the location of the decompressed Virtual Appliance vmdk and vmx files and select “Next”.




Choose to “Convert all disks and maintain size” and select “Next”.

Choose “Next” to continue on to the next screen.

Select “Other Virtual Machine…” as your destination type and select “Next”.


Select a name and location for the virtual machine and select your version of VMware Workstation and select “Next”.


Select “Import and convert (full-clone)”. Select your Disk Allocation preferences and choose “Next”.


Select the amount of NICs you want and select “Next”.


On the Customization step, choose “Next”.


Review your selections and now you are ready to complete the conversion, choose “Finish”.

After a few minutes, the conversion should be complete as seen below:

Now that you have created your software SAN let’s power her on.

Once the OS boots up completely, you will arrive at the following welcoming console screen:


You will notice that an IP address is obtained dynamically; from here you will need to manage the OS from a web interface using the Web administration GUI.



You now have a working SAN connected to your virtual environment, well almost.

Come back tomorrow, as we configure Openfiler and VMware ESX Server in order to talk to our newly created iSCSI server.



  1. Good article.

    There isn’t much to an Openfiler install. You may have spent more time running it through the converter than it actually takes to install. It’s a very standard Linux install (next, next, next, finish). All the meat and potatoes for configuration is in the Openfiler GUI – that’s where you’re going to spend all of your time getting it to work.


    • I agree with you if installing on a physical server. The screenshots are a little misleading, the import only took a couple of minutes. Using the virtual appliance saved me the convenience of setting up a virtual machine, configuring the hard drive, memory, mounting an iso, etc…
      You’re right about the “meat and potatoes…”.
      I hoped to continue the blog post this week with the steps on configuring the Openfiler settings. One caveat I found, the virtual appliance will only allow a dynamic IP address, not a static one. I have found a possible work around I need to test and if it works will blog on that too.
      Thanks for your comments!

  2. What have you accomplished? Do you have a virtual SAN on internal storgae?

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