Building a Catalyst 9800-CL Lab with an Intel NUC

This guide is intended to walk you through the process of installing VMware ESXi on an Intel NUC, so that you can install multiple Cisco Catalyst 9800-CL Virtual Machines for Lab/Training/Testing use. The Intel NUC is a fantastic platform to install the Catalyst 9800-CL because of the very small form factor, silent operation, multiple connectivity options and low power draw. In my case, I take them with me when teaching my Catalyst 9800 courses.

I’m using Intel NUC NUC8i7HVK and NUC8i7HNKs for this demonstration, but the process should apply to many other NUC models as well.

For my training purposes, I am able to run 5 Catalyst 9800-CLs per 32GB NUC. I’m obviously cheating the 9800-CLs out of resources to accomplish this, but they seem to perform well enough in this scenario. In a real-world scenario where performance matters, I would not oversubscribe the RAM or vCPUs. You can likely get 2 9800-CLs on a NUC without resource oversubscription.

Preparing to install VMware ESXi on the Intel NUC

BIOS boot order configuration. Drag the thumb drive above the internal hard drive.

Installing VMware ESXi on the Intel NUC

Essentially, you are going to be booting off the USB thumb drive you created and then installing ESXi. It is a fairly simply process (easier than installing Microsoft Windows, in my opinion), but I will walk through the process so you know what to expect.

Please allow me to apologize for the poor quality of these “screenshots” of the ESXi installation process. My NUCs do not have network KVM capability, so I was unable to take actual screenshots of the installation. It will be painfully obvious that I took photos of my monitor to document the process. I’m embarrassed to present it this way, but I could not come up with a better way to capture the information. While the quality is awful, it should have the necessary information to use in your own environment.

Boot off the USB thumb drive and allow the installer to start.

The installer loads necessary drivers to detect the hardware components
Still launching the installer
Press Enter to continue with the installer
Press F11 to accept the EULA
The installer will scan for installation media
Choose the disk where you want to install ESXi. Usually you will only see the internal HD and the thumb drive on this screen. Use the brand and the capacity information to differentiate between the two.
The installer will analyze the disk to determine if it is suitable for installing ESXi
Choose the keyboard language
Set the root password. This is the password you will use to login to the Web Interface once it has been installed.
Confirm that you want to install ESXi on the selected disk.
Allow the installation to complete. This usually only takes a minute or two.
At this point, the installation has completed. Remove the thumb drive and press Enter to reboot.

Once the NUC reboots, you should see a screen similar to this. If DHCP is available on the network the NUC is connected to, you should see an IP address to connect to on the screen. In my case, I need to configure a static IP address. I will outline that process here.

This is the screen you should see after the NUC reboots
Press F2 to customize the system. Enter the root password that you set during the installation.
Choose the “Configure Management Network” option from the list
Choose the “IPv4 (or IPv6) Configuration” option from the list
Choose “Set static IPv4 address” from the list. Set the IP Address, Subnet Mask and Default Gateway.
Choose the “DNS Configuration” option from the list and set your DNS Servers and Hostname.
Press ESC to exit the management network configuration menu and you will be prompted to restart the management network. You need to do this before the changes will take effect.
If you wish, you can test network connectivity by pinging an address. It will automatically populate the address fields with the default gateway and DNS server addresses.

At this point, ESXi is installed and configured for first use! Connect to the web interface with HTTPS to proceed.

Configuring and Deploying the Cisco Catalyst 9800-CL with ESXi on the Intel NUC

I previously covered the process of installing a Catalyst 9800-CL in VMware in great detail in this article: However, that article assumed you already had ESXi up and running. I will cover the initial basics of that configuration here.

Connect to the web interface at the IP address you used during the installation, and login with the root credentials you set during the installation.
This is the main dashboard for ESXi, as seen without any configuration or Virtual Machines present

Configuring ESXi Networking for use with the Catalyst 9800-CL

Click on the Networking section in the left pane to view the networking configuration. We will make several changes here, specifically to prepare for the Catalyst 9800-CL
On the Port Group tab, click the Add Port Group button. This port group will be used for management and client traffic.
Name the port group Trunk
Set the VLAN ID to 4095 (this signifies “all vlans” or trunking in VMware)
Expand the Security section and choose “Accept” for all 3 items. This is very important.
You should see the new Trunk port group in the list
Select the Virtual Switches tab. Here we will create a new vSwitch for use with HA SSO, in the event you want to use/test it.
Click the Add Standard Virtual Switch button
Name the vSwitch Blackhole
Do not click Add yet.
We have a few more changes to make, because the purpose of this vSwitch is to provide absolutely no network connectivity outside the vSwitch itself. The SSO heartbeat messages between the controllers only need to be able to communicate with each other; they should not have network connectivity outside of that.
Click the small X next to the Uplink (on the right side) to remove the uplink from this vSwitch.
Note: You may not see this if you do not have more than one physical NIC on the NUC you are working with. It’s ok if you don’t have an uplink listed here.
Don’t click Add yet.
Expand the Security section and make sure that all 3 items are set to Reject.
Click Add.
Go back to the Port Groups tab at the top and add another Port Group.
This port group will be used for HA SSO, in the event that you want to use/test it.
Name the port group Blackhole
Set the vSwitch to the Blackhole vSwitch you created earlier
Expand the Security section and choose “Reject” for all 3 items
Click Add.

Deploying the Catalyst 9800-CL OVA in ESXi on the NUC

Click the Virtual Machines section on the left pane. This is where you will see all of the virtual machines deployed on this host. At this point, the list should be blank.
Click Create/Register VM.
Click Deploy a virtual machine from an OVF or OVA file
Click Next
Name the virtual machine. Note: This name is only relevant to ESXi. It is not the hostname of the controller.
Select or drag the OVA file that you downloaded earlier.
Click Next
Select the datastore where the virtual machine will be installed. You should only have one option here, unless you have multiple hard drives in your NUC.
Click Next
Configure each of the network interfaces as follows (this is important):
GigabitEthernet1: VM Network (we will delete this NIC before powering on the virtual machine)
GigabitEthernet2: Trunk
GigabitEthernet3: Blackhole
Select the Deployment Type. Usually you will leave this at the smallest option for lab/testing purposes. Keep in mind that this option dictates how much RAM and CPU is consumed by the VM.
Select the type of Disk Provisioning you want. Thin is fine, as it may save some disk space.
Uncheck the “Power on automatically” box. This is important! We need to make changes to this VM before it is powered on.
Click Next
Review the options and make sure they are all correct before proceeding.
Double Check that you unchecked the Power on Automatically box on the previous page.
Click Finish to deploy the OVA.
Wait for the OVA to deploy. You can monitor the progress at the bottom of the screen. This usually only takes a minute or two. Do not attempt to power on the VM until you have completed the next several steps!
At this point, the OVA has been deployed. We must edit the settings of the VM before powering it on.
Right-click on the virtual machine and choose Edit Settings
You should be presented with this screen. Note that all 3 Network Adapters still exist at this point.
You must delete Gigabit Ethernet 1 by clicking the small X on the right-hand side of the window.
Verify that the screen now looks like this. Network Adapter 1 should be removed from the list.
Click Save.
Verify that “Reconfig VM” completed successfully in the list at the bottom of the screen.
If it completed successfully, it is now safe to power on the VM. Click on the “Play button” in the small window with the VMware logo on it. This will power on the VM and bring up the console.
You should see this on the screen. Click in that window and press any key to proceed. The Catalyst 9800-CL installation process will provision the disks and finalize the installation. The controller will reboot once during this process.
After a few minutes, you should see the initial configuration dialog. Your controller is now booted up and ready to be configured.

Hopefully this guide was helpful in getting your Catalyst 9800-CL lab configured on an Intel NUC.

7 thoughts on “Building a Catalyst 9800-CL Lab with an Intel NUC

  1. Rudy Faber

    thanks for taking the time to share this. I found the instructions extremely helpful since I am not familiar with the VM install process.

  2. Jeff Nyman

    This is just what I need so I can figure out my 9800-40’s without totally screwing them up

  3. Craig

    Can this be done on other PCs or is it Just an Intel NUC that is works on? Having a Virtul Switch OS would be quite useful for learning.

    • Dave Benham

      This process works on any device that supports running VMware. I even have a 9800-CL running on my laptop (in VMware Fusion)! A NUC is just a good option if you’re looking for something small, quiet and portable.

  4. Jan Brannstrom

    Thanks for sharing, just found out that later-generation NUCs might support 64 GB of RAM, although not officially supported:

    Might save you a box or two in your teacher-kit 🙂

    • Dave Benham

      Indeed they do. I’ve already upgraded two of my NUCs to 64GB.

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