Five Ways to Administer a VMware ESX Server

by David Davis - December 23, 2008

VMware ESX server is an amazing and complex product. It combines a Linux Service console with the power to run multiple virtual machine operating systems, all on the same server. There are a number of ways to administer ESX. Perhaps you are considering VMware ESX server or maybe you have it installed but want to learn more about administering it. Either way, this article is for you. Let's find out the 5 different ways you can administer a VMware ESX Server.

1. Console access to the Service Console

Just like any other operating system, you can access the console of the VMware ESX Server. From the console, you can access a Linux login prompt that to the ESX Service Console. What you won't get is any kind of GUI interface. To use this form of management for your ESX server, you will have to have a good knowledge of Linux as well as some of the proprietary VMware ESX commands and terminology. Normally, the console of an ESX server looks like this:

If you press Alt-F1, you can get access to the Linux login prompt of the ESX service console and login to a command prompt, like this:

The disadvantages to this mode is 1) you must be at the console (or connect using an IP KVM) and 2) you must know Linux to accomplish your task (no GUI).

2. SSH to the Service Console

You can SSH to the console prompt of an ESX server and receive the same Linux text console access as I showed above. Telnet is not allowed. To use this method, the ESX server must be working on the network and you must have an SSH client on your PC to connect. Again, in this mode, you don't get a GUI interface.

3. VMware Virtual Infrastructure (VI) Web Access to the ESX Server

The simplest way to get access to GUI administration screen of a VMware ESX server is using the VMware Virtual Infrastructure (VI) Web Access interface. This is installed and enabled by default. To get to it, all you need is a PC on the network, a web browser, the IP address of the ESX server, and a valid login. Accessing it is as simple as opening your web browser and entering the IP address (or DNS name) of the ESX server. What you will get is a Welcome screen, showing your administrative options.

Click on Login to Web Access to see web login screen:

What you will see is this:

This is the VMware VI Web Access interface. The benefit to using this is that you get a GUI client for your ESX server without having to install a client on your local machine. The downside to the web interface is that you can only perform basic ESX functions like controlling existing machines (start/stop/pause) and console remote access. You cannot add new VMs, work with VM storage, or VM networks. Still, this is a great interface if you just need to check the status of your ESX VMs, restart a VM, or use console remote control.

4. VMware Virtual Infrastructure Client (VI Client) to the Server

The absolute best way to remotely administer your VMware ESX server is the Virtual Infrastructure (VI) Client. This is an installable client that provides you full access to administer your ESX server. This client can easily be downloaded and installed from the initial ESX Welcome screen, by clicking here:

This will prompt you to Run or Save the VMware-viclient.exe installation program. I suggest running it.

The installation is simple and straightforward. When it is complete, you can run the VI Client from the desktop icon that was created.

From here, you will login to the VI Client with your server name/IP, username, and password.

Here is what the VI Client looks like, once you login:

The benefits to the VI client are that you have full access to do whatever is needed on the ESX Server and you get a GUI client to do it in. The only downside is that you must install the VI client application to do this. However, the installation is negligible and the VI client is the absolute best way to administer your ESX Server. Even better, the VI client can be used with the VMware Virtual Center Server - which brings us to administration option #5.

5. VMware Virtual Infrastructure Client (VI Client) to the Virtual Center Server (VC Server)

The same VI Client that can be used to administer a single ESX server can also be used to administer your entire data center of VMware ESX servers. Instead of pointing the VI client to the name/IP of your ESX server, all you have to do is to point it to the name/IP of your Virtual Center (VC) server. This, of course, assumes that you have VC up and running. Also, you will have to login with a VC server user account (a Windows account) instead of ESX Linux account. Here is what it looks like:

From this VI VC interface, you can manage all ESX servers, VM storage, VM networks, and more. Virtual Center, of course, is an optional product that requires additional licenses and hardware.


In summary, VMware ESX server is an amazing product with a number of different administrative options. In this article, we learned how you can administer your ESX server from the console, through SSH, using the Web interface, using the VI Client directly to the server, and finally, using the VI client with Virtual Center. In my opinion, using the VI client is just about always going to be the best option for you. However, there are situations where you may need to use the Linux CLI interface to administer and troubleshoot your ESX server.

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