Running VMware vSphere 4.1 on a MacBook Pro with dual disks (incl SSD)

I’ve been using my Intel i7  MacBook Pro daily for work and then during the evening for the past couple of months and have found it, on the whole, pretty good.  I bought my MacBook Pro with a 5400rpm SATA based internal disk as to buy a MacBook Pro with a 7200rpm SATA or SSD drive a special order was required which would have taken a number of days to come through which at the time I didn’t have the luxury of.  Disappointingly my MacBook Pro hasn’t been quite as responsive as I’d expected.  Now I don’t mean it’s sluggish it’s just a case of it lacking that extra sharp responsiveness I’d hoped for from a laptop of this specification and price. 

vSphere SSDAdding an SSD to get the required IOPS to allow me run an effective portable vSphere lab was the logical option but the price of an SSD large enough (ie: >256GB) to accommodate the OSX install, OSX apps including VMware Fusion, ESX/ESXi VM and associated nested VMs was unfortunately way beyond my budget.  No doubt in a year or so 256GB and 512GB SSD’s will be the norm as far as SSD drives are concerned, but for now I had a requirement for IOPS and to some extent capacity – all on a limited budget.

Having dual drives in a laptop is an idea I have always quite fancied because of the flexibility around resilience (if in a RAID configuration), mixing of drive types (eg: SATA and SSD) and for increased capacity if required.  A quick Google search looking to see if there was an option to add a second drive to a MacBook Pro brought back a number of results and forum based reviews/comments.

The general consensus from the various forums seemed to be that by removing the CD/DVD SuperDrive in the MacBook Pro and replacing it with a 3rd party produced hard drive caddy which in turn utilised the SATA connection used by the SuperDrive was the best way.  After more research online I decided to go for a MCE OptiBay which seemed to be a popular choice in the online community.  Although the MCE OptiBay is not the cheapest at US$99 it sure beat buying a 256GB or 512GB SSD.

Along with the drive caddy the Optibay kit comes with an external CD/DVD housing in which to mount the SuperDrive which is removed from the MacBook Pro.

For the remainder of this post I will run through what is included in the MCE OptiBay kit and how I installed it into my MacBook Pro.    I should point out that there are different kits for the various models of MacBook and MacBook Pro, past and present, so if you end up doing similar make sure you buy the correct one.

IMPORTANT – INSTALLING AN OPTIBAY WILL VOID YOUR APPLE WARRANTY!

The Optibay comes well packaged in a small box.  If ordering it from outside of the UK be prepared to pay import duty.  I ended up paying having to pay an additional UK£21.00.

MacBook Second Hard Drive 1

 

In the box, there was the OptiBay caddy, the external CD/DVD case along with USB and USB power cable, an instructional CD and a rather useful screw driver (which will no doubt also come in useful in the future).

MacBook Pro extra disk

 

Here is a close-up shot of the OptiBay.  It fits in perfectly where the SuperDrive occupies in the MacBook Pro and has the necessary hard disk mount points and a SATA/Power connector.

MacBook Pro Caddy

 

To install the OptiBay you need to remove 10 screws from the base of the MacBook Pro.  These are very small so be sure not to lose them when removing the base cover.  Check out this video to find out in more detail how to install an OptiBay into a MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro Screws

 

Once the base cover is removed the SuperDrive can then be removed (below) – this can be a little bit fiddly.  Make note of where you remove the screws from.  Also, as you can see I have already installed a 120GB OCZ SATA disk into my MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro SSD OptiBay

 

I added a 500GB 7200rpm hard disk into the OptiBay housing and secured the hard disk using the usual mount points.  This was straight forward to do.

MacBook Pro Extra Drive SSD

 

With the hard disk mounted into the OptiBay (below) and the SATA and power connectors connected all that needs doing is the base plate to be secured.  The entire process took about 25 minutes with an inexperienced OptiBay n00b such as myself installing it.

MacBook Pro Two Drives

 

Upon starting the MacBook Pro and it booting into OSX I am now presented (see below) with both the OCZ SSD drive (primary) and the 500GB 7200rpm SATA drive (Secondary).  I can now move my photos, music and other space hungry files onto the slower SATA disk thereby providing sufficient spare space on the SSD drive from which to run a VMware ESX/ESXi VM and nested VMs from within it.

OSX Dual Drives

 

So how quickly does VMware ESXi 4.1 take to load off of the SSD drive in my MacBook Pro?  The answer is about 45 seconds which is pretty darn quick in my opinion, along with having the sufficient IOPS to run nested VMs off of it. Best of all my new vSphere lab environment is highly portable and ideal of customer demonstrations.  Check out the video below to watch the ESXi boot process on my SSD in real time.

 

 

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions regarding my experience with running VMware ESXi off of the SSD or the OptiBay installation process.

 

About Simon Seagrave 706 Articles
Simon is a UK based Virtualization, Cloud & IT Technology Evangelist working as a Senior Technology Consultant and vSpecialist for EMC. He loves working in the ever changing IT industry & spends most of his time working with Virtualization, Cloud & other Enterprise IT based technologies, in particular VMware, EMC and HP products. As well as on this site, you can find him on Twitter and Google+

18 Comments

  1. Hi there,

    Excellent to see you trying this out on a mac.

    I am just about to carry it out too, but on a lesser spec.

    What is the full spec of your MBP i7, you running 4gb RAM or 8GB?

    How many VM’s can you run off fusion?

    Did you try and run vSphere natively?

    SSD’s are stupidly expensive, shame really.

    Thanks very much,

    Gabi.

    • Hi Gabi,

      My MacBook Pro has the following spec:

      Intel Core i7 2.66GHz
      8GB DDR3 1067MHz Memory
      OCZ 120GB SSD – Start Up Disk
      Seagate 500GB 7.2K RPM secondary disk

      I haven’t fully pushed Fusion with running multiple VMs though can comfortable run my main Windows 7 VM for work whilst powering an ESXi 4.1 VM running a couple of VMs.

      I hope to to be doing some more testing around benchmarks sometime soon.

      I haven’t tried running vSphere natively as for me it would defeat the purpose of having my MacBook Pro. 🙂 Though I would be curious to find out.

      I look forward to the day when I can afford a 512GB SSD – any bets on how far off this will be? I would say 18-24 months at a guess.

      Let us know how you get on with your own MBP.

      All the best,

      Si

  2. Hi Si,

    That is excellent, thank you for your reply.

    Basically, your laptop is a beast.

    Thanks for the spec, that’s great, the i7’s, even though they run much hotter, in regards to performance over the core2duo’s they are very good.

    So, from what you are saying is, you have two instances of Fusion running.

    1) Windows 7
    2) ESXi 4.1

    On your second instance (ESXi) you have multiple VM’s running off that, out of curiosity, are they Server OS’s and what tasks do they have?

    2GB on slow leopard is not very good, 4GB provides an excellent performance boost, 8GB is very expensive but the boost again is excellent.

    Currently using a 2.53 MBP with a 7200RPM HD and 4GB, performance is good using a single fusion instance but anything more, everything grinds to a halt.

    Thanks again for your reply, really appreciated.

    Best wishes,

    G.

  3. for the budget conscious amongst us, “optibay” like brackets can be found in the uk, for about 13 quid shipping from the far east… they’re exactly the same..

  4. Interesting article, but how did the OCZ SSD get in there if it was “way beyond [your] budget”? Did I miss that part of the article? I have been interested in trying out an SSD as my MBP’s boot drive from which I run Fusion for daily Windows development, but I have been concerned that Fusion’s frequent writing to disk will burn through the SSD a lot quicker than usual. Do you have any concerns about the longevity of your SSD running VMWare?

    Also, how is your MBP configured to run the ESXi server? Is ESXi hosted inside a Fusion VM? I’m a bit of an ESXi n00b and, as I am traveling at the moment, I don’t have the bandwidth to play the flash video to watch the boot process.

    • Ah, I see you are running the ESXi server hosted in Fusion. That makes sense.

      Still curious about whether you have concerns about the VM being such a prolific IO writer that the SSD reaches its write limit sooner than usual, especially since OS X does not support trimming and all that high-tech SSD stuff of which I am severely ignorant.

      • Hi David,

        I’ve been running my OCZ SSD for about 3 months now and have been pleased with the performance. That said, I am currently awaiting supporting the Microsoft TechEd event for my employer and on the first day (after a reboot) my MacBook Pro wouldn’t restart. After further investigation I booted into the single user mode and ran a check disk against my SSD (which is my primary boot disk). It found a ton of errors which it luckily could fix though the downside being that my OSX install would no longer boot and will no doubt require a rebuild when I get back home at the end of the week.

        So to be honest I’m not sure whether to clock this up to being one-of-those-things or whether it was partially caused by running the SSD and a Windows 7 VM daily along with the occassional ESX/ESXi VM. In theory I don’t see why that would cause the issue. Here is a good article I read regarding OSX and Trim support – they have some good real-world testing in it. Makes for an interesting read.

        http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/apple/2010/07/01/mac-ssd-performance-trim-in-osx/7

        Even if my SSD had totally died I am so pleased with the increase in performance and responsiveness from it I would (when my budget allowed) buy another.

        Cheers,

        Simon

  5. Hi,

    Do you know if vSphere 4 can be installed directly on the MacBook Pro
    similar to what you have and not as a VM on top of OS X?

    Thanks,
    JS

  6. Simon – I am looking at doing the same as you with my i7 Macbook. I currently run ESXi and Win7 and Win2008 inside Fusion on the stock 750GB/5400rpm HDD, (then other apps and OSes on development and demo machines inside ESXi) but looking at adding SSD into the DVD bay

    However, I am very concerned about wear on the SSD and your experience of problems after a few months is EXACTLY what I was worried might happen……

    (1) Any update on your experience?
    Are you still using the original SSD without problem?

    (2) Does anyone have experience of running a Seagate MOMENTUS drive in a Macbook Pro? (This is the drive with 4GB Flash on the front end working as a tiered cache (ala Fastcahe on CX etc) (My suspicion is the the 4GB is so small, especially for running Fusion+ESXi etc, that it will offer limited improvement, and will also wear out even faster as all I/O would be focussed on that 4GB)

    Garf

    • Hi Garf,

      I’m actually running both an SSD (primary) and a Seagate MOMENTUS (secondary) drive in my MBP. The MOMENTUS to be honest has been a little disappointing as I haven’t seen any really recognisable increase in drive performance. Though I haven’t done any scientific type testing to prove this.

      The SSD issue has only happened twice now – both times to the OCZ I had installed. I am now running a Corsair SSD and haven’t (touch wood) had any issues so far 4 months on. The latest version of OSX (Lion) has TRIM support so in theory SSD wear shouldn’t be so much of an issue. That said, there are blog posts and papers saying that even without TRIM the difference in performance/wear in negligible. I would rather have it, than not have it though. 🙂

      If the price difference isn’t too much between a MOMENTUS and a ‘normal’ 2.5″ disk I would definitely say go for the MOMENTUS as ‘technically’ it should give you a little more performance.

      I’d be interested to know what you end up doing and how you find it.

      Hope this helps,

      Simon

  7. Thanks Simon.

    I am still sitting firmly on the fence here, not sure wether to “risk” using an SSD or not. Another part of me is thinking ..”Heck – if the machine is so much faster that even if I do loose all my data after 6-9-12months then maybe it is still worth doing?”

    If I understand, in your case you didnt loose data (twice), just needed a repair to the disk, no reinstall etc?? (or were you just lucky here?)

    Another thought is maybe I could leave the persistent data on the HDD and just use the SSD for swap etc. As we can only fit 8GB max into MBP one common performance barrier is the memory swapping (I am currently on a 5400rpm disc). This would not improve my daily OSX desktop/mail/web experience though… hmmm…. The boot time is not really an issue, as rarely need to reboot the MBP.

    Garf

    PS
    I am also just about to try running Fusion+ESXi+Win2008 on a Macbook Air – although its a low end 1.6GHz CPU and only 4GB RAM I know this is gonna perform slow, but the SSD may help offset. (May be faster than a HP Microserver though….).

  8. Update…..
    Ive been digging a bit deeper and noted that the latest current (Sandforce) drives seem to be offering significantly better reliability with new features such as RAISE (RAID for silicon elements). These newest drives also need 6Gbps SATA III to support the peak 400-500+MB/s throughput these drives are capable of.

    Ive looked at the About…Hardware inside my 17″ MBP and it does seem to support 6G on the HDD SATA, but maybe only 3G on the SATA to the optical bay. Thus will need to move the HDD to the optical bay (disc has a 3G interface) if i am going to maximise the throughput if i use SSD with 6Gbps interface.

    Also, noted some comments about some BIOS settings (RAID/SATA/AHCI etc) and RAID controllers etc can prevent TRIM working, so I am wondering if that might explain some users not seeing significant benefit after turning on TRIM?

  9. how about running “windows server 2008 r2 64-bit” under esx, where esx is also under the vmware fusion, question? would your windows 2008 r2 64-bit run? And also, was esx detected the hyperthreading capability of your macbook’s processor? was is active?

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