ImageBuilder Deep Dive, Part 1: Building your own customized ESXi ISO

I know that my ESXi-Customizer script has gotten some popularity and a lot of people use it for merging community developed or commercial third-party hardware drivers into the ESXi installation ISO. It has some limitations though - some of you might have stumbled over them already, at least I have described them in the "Known issues" section. Probably the worst is the fact that it cannot handle complex software bundles like ESXi patches (e.g. the ESXi 5.0 Update 1 package).

My recommendation for such cases is to use the VMware supplied and supported method to create your own customized installation ISOs: The ImageBuilder PowerCLI snapin. With this post I'm going to start a series of blog posts that will cover ImageBuilder in detail and will help you to make effective use of it.

This first post will cover the prerequisites and installation of the PowerCLI and will introduce a script that will help you to get the task done. You won't need in-depth PowerShell knowledge for this, but it will definitely help if you are also interested in the remaining parts of the series that will go into the details of the ImageBuilder cmdlets and finally refine the first script to a more universal solution.

Prerequisites and installation

Obviously you need a Windows computer with the current version (2.0) of Powershell installed. Powershell is Microsoft's state-of-the-art scripting language - it is already included with Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2 server, for earlier versions of Windows it is available as part of the Windows Management Framework. If you are a serious Windows admin you probably have looked at it before. If not then this is a good opportunity to do it. You can start learning e.g. at Microsoft's Script Center, but this is not a prerequisite for now!

The functionality of Powershell can be extended through so-called snapins. VMware makes available such snapins to add functions (so-called cmdlets) that you can use to manage vCenter servers and ESX(i) hosts. The thing is called PowerCLI, and once you have downloaded and installed the current version you are ready to go!

Following is a Powershell script that will create an ESXi 5.0 installation ISO with the current patch level, the HP Offline bundles and some HP drivers. I suggest that you do the following to walk through the explanations below:
  • Download a copy of the script to your computer
  • In Explorer right-click on the file and choose "Edit" from the context menu. This will open it in the Powershell ISE (Integrated Scripting Environment) editor.
  • Within the ISE you can select single (or multiple) lines of the script and execute them separately from the rest:
Run selected lines of code in the Powershell ISE

The first script
# Load the ImageBuilder Snapin
Add-PSSnapin VMware.ImageBuilder

# Reference the VMware ESXi base depot
$baseDepot = Add-EsxSoftwareDepot

# Reference the HP VIBs depot 
$hpDepot = Add-EsxSoftwareDepot

# List the VIB packages of HP depot
$hpDepot.Channels[0] | Get-EsxSoftwarePackage

# Reference downloaded HP driver offline bundles
$be2iscsi = Add-EsxSoftwareDepot "U:\HP-ESXi5-Drivers\"
$be2net = Add-EsxSoftwareDepot "U:\HP-ESXi5-Drivers\"
$lpfc820 = Add-EsxSoftwareDepot "U:\HP-ESXi5-Drivers\"

# List available Imageprofiles sorted by creation date (newest first)
Get-EsxImageProfile | Sort-Object -Descending CreationTime | Format-List Name,CreationTime

# Create your own Imageprofile
$MyProfile = New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile ESXi-5.0.0-20120404001-standard -Name MyProfile -Description "ESXi-5.0.0-20120404001-standard + HP components"

# Add all the HP VIB packages to MyProfile
$hpDepot.Channels[0] | Get-EsxSoftwarePackage | Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile $MyProfile
$be2iscsi.Channels[0] | Get-EsxSoftwarePackage | Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile $MyProfile
$be2net.Channels[0] | Get-EsxSoftwarePackage | Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile $MyProfile
$lpfc820.Channels[0] | Get-EsxSoftwarePackage | Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -ImageProfile $MyProfile

# Export the Imageprofile into an installation ISO file
Export-EsxImageProfile -ImageProfile $MyProfile -ExportToIso -FilePath "U:\MyProfile.iso"
Line 2: This command will add the ImageBuilder snapin to the current Powershell session. Please note: If you start your session with the PowerCLI shortcut on your desktop then the snapin will automatically be loaded and you can skip this line.

Line 5: The Add-ESXSoftwareDepot cmdlet adds an Online depot or a downloaded Offline bundle as a package source to the current ImageBuilder session. The VMware depot referenced here includes the base ESXi 5.0 sources and is needed in any case. Obviously adding an Online depot requires a working connection to the Internet. I could get this to work with a direct connection only, but not through a proxy server. If someone knows how to make this work with a proxy then please comment here!

Line 8: This adds an additional Online depot that was made available by HP and includes their Offline bundles for ESXi 5.0.

Line 11: A software depot object like $hpDepot that was created through the Add-EsxSoftwareDepot cmdlet can be organized in multiple channels (but mostly it's only one channel). By piping the first channel into the Get-EsxSoftwarePackage cmdlet we can list the software packages that are included in this depot. The output looks like this:
Name                     Version                        Vendor     Release Date    
----                     -------                        ------     ------------    
hpnmi                    2.0.11-434156                  hp         29.07.2011 20...
char-hpilo               500. Hewlett... 07.10.2011 14...
hp-ams                   500.9.0.0-55.434156            Hewlett... 09.03.2012 23...
char-hpcru         Hewlett... 15.07.2011 17...
hpbootcfg                01-00.10                       Hewlett... 15.07.2011 16...
hpacucli                 9.0-24.0                       Hewlett... 02.02.2012 06...
hponcfg                  04-00.10                       Hewlett... 13.11.2011 02...
hp-smx-provider          500.         Hewlett... 18.11.2011 02...

This step is not really needed to build the new ISO. So you can safely skip it if you already know or are not interested in the contents of a depot.

Lines 14-16: In these lines we add three additional depots, but this time these are not Online depots, but Offline bundles that we downloaded before. You can find the download links on my HP & VMware links page (see section ESXi 5.0 drivers for the HP Emulex 10GbE Converged Network Adapters). But please note: The files that you download from VMware's driver pages are in zip format, but they are not Offline bundles. They include Offline bundles though, so you need to extract the *offline_bundle*.zip files from the downloaded zip-files first. And of course you need to change the file paths used in the script to your own download directory.

Line 19: The base depot that we added in line 5 includes not only software packages, but also so-called image profiles. An image profile is a grouping of software packages out of the depot. In this case each image profile makes up a specific ESXi patch level. The Get-EsxImageProfile cmdlet will list all available image profiles. We pipe it through the Sort-Object cmdlet here to sort the output by creation date. The output will show the newest image profile first and looks like this:
Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20120404001-no-tools
CreationTime : 16.03.2012 22:59:09

Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20120404001-standard
CreationTime : 16.03.2012 22:59:09

Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20120302001-no-tools
CreationTime : 16.03.2012 22:59:08

Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20120302001-standard
CreationTime : 16.03.2012 22:59:08

Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20120301001s-standard
CreationTime : 16.03.2012 22:59:08

Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20120301001s-no-tools
CreationTime : 16.03.2012 22:59:08

Name         : ESXi-5.0.0-20111204001-standard
CreationTime : 31.10.2011 11:24:00

(... output shortened for readability ...)

Each image profile comes in two different flavors: The -standard one includes all packages that make up an ESXi 5 installation, the -no-tools version is the same without the VMware Tools package. We will choose the standard version in our example.

Line 22: The image profiles of the Online depot are read-only. Since we want to modify one of these and add more packages, we need to create a copy first. With the New-EsxImageProfile cmdlet we create a new image profile ($MyProfile) by cloning the newest standard image profile (ESXi-5.0.0-20120404001-standard in this case). We choose the newest one, because it represents the most recent patch level of ESXi! We also assign a new name to the cloned profile (this is mandatory) and a new description (optional).

Lines 25-28: In line 11 we already listed the software packages that are included in the $hpDepot. By piping the output of this command to the Add-EsxSoftwarePackage cmdlet we add all the included packages to our newly created image profile $MyProfile. And we do the same for the three Offline bundles that we added in the lines 14 to 16.

Line 31: In the last line we use the Export-EsxImageProfile cmdlet to "export" our customized image profile into an ISO file. Now guess what: This ISO file is a complete ESXi 5.0 installation media! You can use it to install a machine with ESXi 5.0 with the current patch level and all the HP packages that you added before.

Booting an ImageBuilder customized ESXi 5.0 installation ISO

In this first part of my ImageBuilder Deep Dive series I introduced a script that you can use to build an up-to-date ESXi 5.0 installation ISO with additional drivers. You learnt some basic terms, the most important cmdlets that are necessary to get the job done, and you will (hopefully) be able to modify the script and adapt it to your own needs.

In the next part I will introduce some more useful ImageBuilder cmdlets, and I will explain how you can integrate community developed software packages to the installation media (a job that you can also do with my ESXi-Customizer script). Stay tuned!


  1. Hi Andreas - thanks for posting these steps, very helpful. I wonder if you could provide some guidance. We run HP BL460c G7 blades and wish to install ESXi 5.0 Update 1. I have read from both VMware and HP that to install ESXi 5.0 U1 on a HP G7 blade we must use the HP supplied customised ISO. This is fine but we would like to add a VIB to this (PowerPath/VE) but since HP do not provide a ZIP version of their customised ISO we cannot use PowerCLI to add any further VIBs to the HP customised ISO.

    1. Is there a way to further customise the HP customised ISO?
    2. Is it possible to use VMware's ESXi 5.0 U1 ZIP file and add all the HP drivers they list at to give you essentially what HP provide, and then add further VIBs to the image?

    Hope that makes sense?


    1. Hi,
      yes, it's the route 2. that you need to follow. You can use the script from this post and modify it to include additional Offline bundles that you may need for the BL460c G7. Although I think that the three that I used as examples (be2net, be2iscsi and lpfc820) might be all that you need.
      - Andreas


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