What does an ESXi on ARM architecture look like?

When you run a hypervisor such as VMware ESXi on ARM architecture, consolidation shouldn't be your goal; isolation, sandboxing and management should be.

Running ESXi on an Advanced RISC Machine processor looks almost identical to running ESXi on a traditional virtualization stack using hardware, hypervisors and one or more virtual instances. Hardware forms the foundation of ESXi on ARM, and VMware has previously demonstrated the basic ESXi on ARM operation using a Raspberry Pi 3B along with the processor extensions typically required for virtualization support.

From a practical standpoint, IT administrators might have the most trouble providing suitable hardware for an ARM stack. Electronics enthusiasts and experimenters frequently use tiny computers such as the Raspberry Pi 3B, instead of enterprise-class, industrial-grade electronic devices. To make ESXi on ARM commercially viable for VMware, it must partner with vendors that design and manufacture IoT devices and dedicated edge appliances.

Hardware requirements for ESXi on ARM

Organizations can install a bare-metal hypervisor, such as a version of VMware ESXi, atop hardware. In most cases, a device's firmware includes a hypervisor, but other non-volatile memory can contain the hypervisor as well. Placing the hypervisor in firmware or non-volatile memory enables a device to power on and boot quickly without loading data from a disk drive or demanding significant bandwidth from the network.

Once the system virtualizes the hardware's resources, admins can provision those resources into virtual instances such as VMs and containers. These virtual instances typically contain the management software and user interface tools required to make the device work.

For a straightforward approach to running ESXi on ARM, admins can create a single VM to isolate a device on, and then load one or more application containers on that VM. These application containers then share a single simplified OS kernel. Considering the relatively small amount of resources that edge devices, such as the Raspberry Pi 3B, provide, a device probably won't use more than a handful of containers before it exhausts its available resources.

Consolidation isn't the goal. Organizations don't want edge devices to host more workloads or do more work. Instead, organizations aim to provide isolation, sandboxing and flexible management to edge and IoT devices.

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