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
- Update the latest BIOS for the NUC. Some older BIOSes are not capable of running ESXi.
- BIOS downloads for these NUC models can be found here: https://downloadcenter.intel.com/product/126143/Intel-NUC-Kit-NUC8i7HVK
- This process varies with each NUC model, but is usually as simple as downloading a .BIO file from the link above, putting it on a thumb drive and updating from the NUC BIOS (enter at boot)
- Download VMWare ESXi 6.7 Update 2 (or a newer version) bootable ISO
- https://my.vmware.com has bootable ISOs for all versions of ESXi. Create an account if you don’t have one, and download the file from there.
- Note: ESXi 6.7 Update 2 is required for seamless installation of the Catalyst 9800-CL OVA. Many earlier versions of ESXi are not 100% compatible with Cisco’s OVA. I discuss this issue in detail in this article: http://www.wifireference.com/2019/08/24/cisco-catalyst-9800-cl-deployment-guide/
- Create a bootable thumb drive from that ISO
- This is harder than it needs to be with a Mac. I followed this process: https://www.admfactory.com/prepare-esxi-vsphere-usb-drive-boot-image-using-macos/
- Configure the NUC to boot from the USB thumb drive
- Press F10 to show the Boot Menu, or enter the BIOS setup by pressing F2, and then change the boot order
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.
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.
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: http://www.wifireference.com/2019/08/24/cisco-catalyst-9800-cl-deployment-guide/. However, that article assumed you already had ESXi up and running. I will cover the initial basics of that configuration here.
Configuring ESXi Networking for use with the Catalyst 9800-CL
Deploying the Catalyst 9800-CL OVA in ESXi on the NUC
Hopefully this guide was helpful in getting your Catalyst 9800-CL lab configured on an Intel NUC.