Use OpenFiler as your Free VMware ESX SAN Server

by David Davis - January 8, 2009

Many of the VMware ESX Server advanced features cannot be used without a SAN (storage area network). Besides the high cost of the ESX Server software and the Virtual Infrastructure Suite, a SAN can be a huge barrier to using VMware ESX and features like VMotion, VMware High Availability (VMHA), and VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS). In this article, we take a look at how you can download a free open-source iSCSI server and use it as your SAN storage for VMware ESX and its advanced features.

What is OpenFiler and where do I get it?

OpenFiler is a free open-source SAN server. It offers NFS, SMB (for Windows), iSCSI, and HTTP file sharing. You can download it as a fully installed VMware virtual disk or as an ISO image that you need to install. Either way, there is no cost. Openfiler is simply a modified version of Linux that provides an iSCSI Target for iSCSI initiators like VMware ESX and Windows.

In my case, I downloaded the pre-built VMware virtual disk and used it. Before booting, I added a second virtual SCSI disk to it. Then, I booted the image.

I let OpenFiler get an IP address via DHCP and then pointed my web browser to it. I logged in as the user "openfiler" and used the password "password".

How do I configure OpenFiler as an iSCSI Target?

Here are the steps you need to perform to configure OpenFiler as your iSCSI Target:

Step 1 - Create a Physical Volume

Go to Volumes, then Physical Storage Mgmt.

From there, I clicked on the name of my second disk, /dev/sdb.

At this point, I scrolled down to Create a partition in /dev/sdb

I left all the options as their defaults before I clicked Create to create a partition occupying all the space, like this:

Next, I went to Volume Group Mgmt, and chose to create a new volume group, like this:

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After I had added my new volume group, I clicked Create New Volume. I filled in all the options, selecting iSCSI as the file system type, took all the space with my new volume and clicked Create to create my new 100GB volume.

Now, I went in and edited the properties of my volume. While you could choose to use CHAP with iSCSI, I just used the "local networks" security. I accessed that option by clicking on Local Networks (which is also an option under the General tab).

Now, I filled in my network ID, set my subnet mask, selected Share, then clicked Update.

After that, I went back to the the properties of the volume and changed the local network that I added to Allow, like this:

For better security, you can use CHAP and you can narrow down the network to only the IP address of your iSCSI initiators.

Finally, I went in to the Services section, and to Enable/Disable. I enabled iSCSI, like this:

Now, my iSCSI target was ready to receive connections from my VMware Server. Please see the second article in this series to see how to configure your VMware ESX Server to connect to this new iSCSI SAN using the free Openfiler!

Summary

In order to use many of the VMware ESX Server advanced features, you need a SAN. Openfiler provides that SAN at NO cost as it is free and can run inside VMware Workstation or VMware Server. In this article, we take a look at how you can download a OpenFiler and configure it to be a free open-source iSCSI SAN server. Please take a look at our next article in this series, How to Connect VMware ESX Server to a free iSCSI SAN using Openfiler.

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