Recently while I was working on testing automated ESXi kickstart installations, I needed to extract some information as part of the build process, but the utilities that were used no longer existed in ESXi's Busybox console. Looking around, I found another way to extract the information I needed, which was using VMware's undocumented vsish utility, also known as the VMkernel Sys Info Shell. There is not much information around the web regarding this vsish utility (probably for good reason), but it has been described by few as a representation of classic Service Console /proc nodes and allows the ability to extract system reliability information similar to mcelog in Linux.
If I recall correctly, the vsish utility used to be bundled with classic ESX, but at some point it was removed. However, in ESXi, the utility is included and that is also true for latest release of ESXi 4.1. When you generate vm-support log, a dump of the vsi nodes are generally included which provides VMware support with the state of your system. To read the vsi node dump, you need a matching version of the vsish utility based on the version of ESX or ESXi you are running. Currently for classic ESX, to obtain the vsish utility, it must be provided by VMware support via debugging package that needs to be installed.
Note: A word of caution before using this utility, you should not make any changes that you are unfamiliar with. Always consult with VMware support before making changes as it can severely impact your host and virtual machines. Okay, now on to the fun stuff 🙂
On ESXi Busybox Console, you can launch the vsish utility by just typing "vsish":
You can perform various operations such as listing the various nodes, get and set parameters, etc. to see the available options, just type "help":
There is a huge amount of information that can be retrieved from vsish. One interesting leaf node within vsish is called "config", this actually maps to the Advanced Settings found on an ESX(i) host:
As you can see, the majority of the sub leaf nodes within "config" is exposed in the Advanced Settings, but there are some that are hidden. In fact, with ESX(i) 4.1, there is a total of 771 configurable options with 250 of those hidden that can only be seen using vsish (more on the configuration option later)!
There are two ways to interact with vsish, you can interactively login to VSI shell and perform ls, get or set operations or perform the same operation through non-interactive mode.
Here is an example of an interactive session listing config's under "COW" leaf node and getting and setting the value for "COWDiskSizeIncrement" which is one of the 250 hidden configuration options:
Here is an example of an non-interactive session performing the same operation as the one listed above:
With the release of vSphere 4.1, there have been a few new additions to the VSI nodes. Here is an excerpt slide from vSphere 4.1 to 4.0 differences presented by Iwan Rahabok - Senior Systems Consultant at VMware listing some of the new Storage I/O Control features:
Here is a screenshot on some of these values if you can not make it out in the slide:
For more details on differences between vSphere 4.0 and vSphere 4.1 - Check out the detailed 2 part deep-dive power point presentation here.
vsish provides an enormous amount of information and I have only begin to scratch the surface. Having said that I did manage to capture all the advanced host settings which includes both public and hidden options. Using a few for loops and some shell scripting, I have generated the following two lists:
Complete vSphere ESXi 4.1 vsish configurations including hidden options - 771 Total:
For the complete list, take a look at https://s3.amazonaws.com/virtuallyghetto-download/complete_vsish_config.html
Hidden vSphere ESXi 4.1 vsish configurations only - 250 Total:
For the hidden list only, take a look at https://s3.amazonaws.com/virtuallyghetto-download/hidden_vsish_config.html
There are definitely some interesting options that can be configured and I can see why VMware would want to hide these from the general public. What is nice about the compiled output, is that it clearly states the path to the configuration item, the current, default, min, max, is hidden or description of the parameter. Again, use at your own risk Hopefully this these two documents will be useful for curious users to explore vsish advanced configs.
Using the table above, you can actually query and modify these values using the standard esxcfg-advcfg utility that exists both on ESX(i). The following example will show you how to translate the vsish node path to proper format that is required for local esxcfg-advcfg utility.
In the example, we will be using vsish path "/config/COW/intOpts/COWDiskSizeIncrement"
Using a local copy of esxcfg-advcfg on ESX or ESXi, you will need to convert the above to the following:
[root@himalaya ]# esxcfg-advcfg -g /COW/COWDiskSizeIncrement
Value of COWDiskSizeIncrement is 32768
Some other interesting nodes that I found that might be useful are under /system:
One other interesting tidbit of information that I found was under /system/version which actually shows the build date and time of vSphere ESXi 4.1:
Now that we have a better understanding of the vsish utility, how does this help with my original inquiry? I found that you can extract networking information from your vNICs by looking at /net/tcpip/* nodes:
As you can see from the output above, it's format is in hexidecimal but when converted, you will get the IP Address, netmask and the gateway for a given VMkernel interface. To accomplish this, I used a modified python script to convert these entries to their human readable addresses:
Here some additional links referencing vsish that may be of interest: