The ESXi Image Builder is a useful tool allowing administrators to create custom images built on vendor specific images, or vanilla ESXi images, with additional updates or third party drivers. Custom images can be downloaded in ISO or ZIP format, or used with Auto Deploy to boot hosts using deploy rules.
Traditionally ESXi Image Builder has been a subset of Power CLI cmdlets, which you can still use. However in this post we’ll walk through the Image Builder GUI introduced to the vSphere web client with version 6.5. You’ll need to be running vCenter 6.5 to make use of the Image Builder GUI, for assistance with upgrading see one of the following posts: vCenter Appliance 6.5 Upgrade, Windows vCenter 6.5 Upgrade, or Migrating Windows vCenter Server to VCSA 6.5. For more information on Auto Deploy see the VMware Auto Deploy 6.x Guide.
Further reading from VMware: Getting Started with the New Image Builder GUI in vSphere 6.5, Using vSphere ESXi Image Builder with the vSphere Web Client.
Enable Image Builder
The ESXi Image Builder can be enabled from the vSphere web client, log in as an SSO administrator. From the home page select System Configuration.
Under Nodes select the appropriate vCenter Server and click the Related Objects tab. A list of services is displayed. The ImageBuilder Service and Auto Deploy services need to be started and set to automatic for the GUI to be accessible (even if you’re not using Auto Deploy in your environment).
Log out of the web client and log back in, you should now see the Auto Deploy option on the home page.
Using Image Builder
Click the new Auto Deploy icon from the home page.
Select the Software Depots tab. Software depots contain images or software packages. Use the Add Software Depot icon to add an online software depot or a new custom depot which you can add images to later. Use the Import Sofware Depot to upload a zip file such as an ESXi image. Unlike the command line utility, any software depots you add to the GUI are saved there when you return.
Let’s go ahead and make a start. First we need a copy of ESXi to work with, this can be a vendor optimized image or a vanilla copy of ESXi. In this example I have added a software depot containing the HPE optimized ESXi image. We are going to add the Nimble Connection Manager to the image, so I’ve also added the Nimble-NCM zip. You can add any third party drivers or software that vibs are provided for. I’ve created a custom software depot where my new image will be saved. You can add as many different software depots as you like.
Next we want to take the base ESXi image and clone it so we can add some additional software packages. Select the software depot containing the base ESXi image. Highlight the image and click Clone. Enter a name, description and vendor for the new image, and select a software depot where the new image will be stored. In this case I have chosen the new custom software depot I created above.
The software packages from all software depots that were added to Auto Deploy will be listed. Select the package(s) that you want to apply. Set the acceptance level of the image and click Next. The acceptance level determines which level VIBs are accepted for installation; VMware Certified being the most strict and Community Supported the most open. For further information on vib signature levels see this page.
Review the details on the summary page and click Finish.
Now when I click the custom software repository I can see my new ESXi image. The bottom right task pane will show a list of software packages included in the image when selected.
Once all the required software packages have been added to the image you can download the ESXi image by right clicking it and selecting Export Image Profile. Alternatively you can build deploy rules to automatically boot hosts from a custom image with Auto Deploy, for more information review the VMware Auto Deploy 6.x Guide.