I often hear from users that they would like to be able to just clone from an existing Nested ESXi VM that has already been configured and just create additional Nested ESXi VM instances from that. For me personally, I do not have a use case for this since I just deploy additional ESXi instances using an automated Kickstart deployment. However, I can see why this would be useful for anyone that does not have an automated deployment or just want to quickly deploy additional Nested ESXi instances by just cloning from an existing image and then manually change the networking configuration afterwards.
UPDATE (07/01/21) - As of ESXi 7.0 Update 2, cloning an ESXi boot volume (Nested or Physical) is no longer safe and can lead to data corruption. Please refer to the following two VMware KB articles for more information on this topic https://kb.vmware.com/kb/84280 and https://kb.vmware.com/kb/84349
First off, cloning of a Nested ESXi VM is possible and you can already do this today. You will get a brand new Virtual Machine that will have a unique MoRef ID, InstanceUUID, BIOS UUID and MAC Addresses for each of the virtual network adapters which you can see an example of this from the screenshot below.
Everything from outside of the guest OS looks great as we would expect but there is actually two issues from within ESXi that you may not be aware of.
- The first issue is that you will get a duplicated MAC Address of the VMkernel interface(s) because the Nested ESXi configuration is exactly the same.
- The second issue is having a duplicated ESXi System UUID, also known as a VMkernel UUID which should normally be unique and can sometimes be used for tracking purposes. You can see this System UUID by running the following ESXCLI command: esxcli system uuid get or by looking in esx.conf configuration file.
To properly clone an existing Nested ESXi VM, you will need to perform the following two operations within the Nested ESXi VM prior to cloning.
First Configuration - There is an advanced ESXi setting called FollowHardwareMac that will automatically update the VMkernel's MAC Address whenever the Virtual Machine's virtual network adapter MAC Addresses changes. To do so, you will need to run the following ESXCLI command:
esxcli system settings advanced set -o /Net/FollowHardwareMac -i 1
Second Configuration - The other modification that is required is to delete the existing System UUID entry in /etc/vmware/esx.conf configuration file. This will ensure a new System UUID will automatically be generated when the system boots up. To do so, open esx.conf and delete the entire /system/uuid line entry as seen in the screenshot below. Here is a quick snippet you can run without needing to open up VI:
sed -i 's#/system/uuid.*##' /etc/vmware/esx.conf
To ensure the file is persisted, run /sbin/auto-backup.sh
Once both configurations have been performed you are now ready to start cloning additional Nested ESXi instances. You will still need to login to each Nested ESXi VM and manually change the IP Address and hostname which you of course can leverage the Guest Operations API if you have VMware Tools for Nested ESXi installed.
If you plan on joining your "cloned" Nested ESXi instances to a vCenter Server and the ESXi hosts contains a local datastore, you will not be able to add the hosts to the same Datacenter/Cluster. The reason for this is that the cloned ESXi hosts will have a duplicated VMFS UUID. To fix this, you just need to re-signature the VMFS volume by using the following ESXCLI command:
esxcli storage vmfs snapshot resignature -l [VMFS-VOLUME]