FreeBSD under VMware ESXi on Arm Fling

UPDATE 2020-10-17

As of the FreeBSD 13.0-CURRENT snapshot from 2020-10-15, the installation ISO is now bootable and fully works to install FreeBSD on ARM just as you would do under VMware on i386 or AMD64.

Download the latest disk1.iso image from the following URL, load it into the virtual CD-ROM drive, and boot your new VM like normal. It should boot off of the ISO image and enter the FreeBSD installer as expected.

Additional information on getting individual drivers to work under FreeBSD on ARM can be found at the following link.

Earlier this week, VMware released ESXi on Arm Fling, their hypervisor for the ARM platform. Here are instructions to get a FreeBSD virtual machine up and running under VMWare ESXi on Arm Fling.

These instruction assume you’ve followed VMware’s documentation on setting up the hypervisor on your ARM platform, and are familiar with the basics of how ESXi/vSphere functions.

For my hardware configuration, I’m using a Raspberry Pi 4 (8GB) with whatever old MicroSD card I could find for the UEFI firmware, and an equally old USB drive to install the hypervisor on to. The ESXi install is less than 200MiB. For actual VM storage, I am using an existing x86-64 iSCSI VMFS from my NAS.

These instructions follow the process of downloading the official ARM VMDK files from FreeBSD. I’ve as of yet to get the installer ISO to boot properly, so for the time being, this is how we’ll work. (see update above)

Both FreeBSD 12.1-RELEASE and 13.0-CURRENT will work for this process, though I personally recommend 13.0 as it has a more complete collection of pre-compiled 3rd part ports software.

Downloading and preparing the VMDK

Download the compressed VMDK file from one of the following URLs, and then extract it locally.

Use the Datastore browser to create a location to store the FreeBSD VMDK file.
Click on the Upload button and select the extracted VMDK file from your system to begin the upload process.
Take note of the upload progress in the top-right of the window. Due to the size of the VMDK file, it may take a few minutes to upload.
The VMDK file provided by FreeBSD is designed for VMware Workstation. We’ll need to convert it for use on ESXi. This is also a good time to expand the size of the VMDK, so we have room to install additional applications.
  1. Navigate to the folder where the VMDK file was uploaded. In my case, I have it on my tank volume inside of the arm-bsd-base-13 folder.
    • cd /vmfs/volumes/tank/arm-bsd-base-13
  2. Convert the VMDK file from Workstation to ESXi (optionally making it thin provisioned)
    • vmkfstools -i FreeBSD-13.0-CURRENT-arm64-aarch64.vmdk -d thin arm-freebsd.vmdk
  3. Expand the size of the newly created VMDK file (in my case, I’m making it 50GiB)
    • vmkfstools -X 50g arm-freebsd.vmdk

Creating a FreeBSD ARM virtual machine

Now we can start creating our new virtual machine like normal.
Enter the name for your new virtual machine. Select Other as the Guset OS family and then FreeBSD 12 or later version (64-bit) as the Guest OS version.
Select where you want to store this new virtual machine.
NOTE: As of this writing, anything higher than 1 for the CPU setting will prevent FreeBSD from booting.
Remove Hard disk 1, as we’ll be using our custom VMDK instead.
Select Add hard disk and then Existing hard disk.
Navigate the file system, and select our recently created VMDK file. Don’t worry about the reported disk size on this screen, as that doesn’t reflect the expanded size of the disk here.
Our virtual machine configuration is complete, we’re ready to click Finish!
Our virtual machine is now ready. We can interact with it in just about any way that you would expect from a standard ESXi install.
For the sake of safety, this would be a good time to take a virtual machine snapshot. This can be done by selection the Action menu, highlighting Snapshots and then select Take snapshot.
Enter a name and description for this snapshot. I chose “pre-boot” to let me know that this snapshot was taken before the first time I booted the guest FreeBSD operating system.
We can now power on our FreeBSD virtual machine. During the first boot process, FreeBSD will autodetect our new VMDK size and expand the UFS file system automatically.
Once fully booted, simply log in as the root user, no password needed.
NOTE: it would be wise to add a password at this point.

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