Turn an old Google Appliance into an ESX server

So, you’ve got an old Google Appliance kicking around? Maybe from an expired Google Enterprise Partner Program (GEP) agreement? Why not turn it into an ESX server.

Once your license has expired, you’ll want to do is check with Google and make sure they don’t want the hardware back (they never do, but best to check). It’s safe to say that doing this is going to void your warranty.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is reset he password on the BIOS so that you can change the boot order. The easiest way to do this is to open the chassis and remove the jumper labeled PWRD_EN. The jumper is located just behind the memory towards the rear of the server. The next time you boot you can hit F2 to get into the BIOS.

With the BIOS now open, set the option to boot form the front USB ports. You’re going to want to flash the BIOS with a newer, non-branded one. A Google appliance is just a Dell PowerEdge 2950 with a yellow coat of paint and a snazzy front bezel. Head over to the Dell site and download the latest BIOS (I used 2.6.1). Once downloaded, run the utility to create a BIOS update floppy disk.

With the floppy disk in hand, connect an external USB floppy drive to one of the front USB ports and boot from your BIOS update disk. The update will give you an error message saying that a Dell PowerEdge 2950 BIOS cannot be applied to a Google Enterprise Search Appliance. Fear not, when the update exits it’ll leave you at a DOS prompt. Run the following command:

020601 /forcetype

It should complete successfully and reboot. Remove the floppy drive, enable visualization support in the BIOS and then install ESX. If you don’t have a USB CD drive handy, check out my guide on installing ESX from a USB Key.


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