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Using ESXi 4.x installation media for access to virtual machine files


This article provides guidelines for accessing virtual machines on local storage when the ESXi server installation is unable to boot successfully. This article uses the ESXi 4.x Install DVD as a live environment for troubleshooting, but can be used to recover data written by ESX/ESXi 3.x or 4.x.

The process can also be performed using the ESX 4.x Install DVD. For more information see Using ESX installation media for access to virtual machine files (1030778).

You may require access to your virtual machine files if:

  • A VMware ESX/ESXi server is unable to boot and a re-installation is required.
  • There are virtual machines residing on, or only accessible by, the downed server (such as on local VMFS storage).


  • The ESX/ESXi installation process already provides the capability to reinstall the operating system while retaining existing VMFS partition contents, including contained virtual machines. This article assumes that virtual machine recovery or access is still desired prior to re-installation.
  • If the VMFS Datastore is shared and accessible by multiple ESX hosts, the process in this article is unnecessary. The virtual machines can be restored by registering the virtual machine to a working ESX host. For more information, seeRegistering or adding a virtual machine to the inventory (1006160).


To use the ESXi 4.x installation media for access to virtual machine files:
Note: This process steps partially through the ESXi Installation process without writing any changes to disk.
  1. Download the appropriate VMware ESXi 4.x installation media as an ISO image from the Download Center.
  2. Burn the image to recordable media, or mount the image to your System Management Interface's virtual CD/DVD-ROM drive.
  3. Boot from the ESXi installation media. ESXi loads drivers during startup.
  4. The system boots to a Welcome prompt with three options: Cancel, Repair or Install. Do not proceed with either Repair or Install.
  5. Press Alt+F1.
  6. Log in to the console.
    • For ESXi 4.0:
      1. Type unsupported and press Enter. Keystrokes are echoed to the screen.
      2. Press enter to login with a blank password.

    • ESXi 4.1:
      1. Type the login name "root" and press enter.
      2. Press enter to login with a blank password.

  7. At this point, you have access to VMFS Datastores and their contents, along with the vmkfstools and esxcfg-*commands. Yoy may need to load the VMFS driver to detect the VMFS volume by using the command:

    #vmkload_mod vmfs3

  8. DHCP is configured by default on the vmk0 interface. Verify the IP address with the command:

    esxcfg-vmknic -l

    Note: If needed, use esxcfg-vmknic to set a static IP address. For more information, see Networking Commands in thevSphere Command-Line Interface Installation and Reference Guide.

  9. List the contents of /vmfs/volumes/ to verify that the existing VMFS-3 Datastores are accessible. Run the command:

    ls /vmfs/volumes

  10. If storage is missing, see:
    • Verifying that ESX virtual machine storage is accessible (1003751)
    • Troubleshooting LUN connectivity issues (1003955)
    • Identifying shared storage issues with ESX or ESXi (1003659)

  11. Transfer data from your VMFS Datastore(s) using:
    • Network connectivity and Secure File Copy (SCP). For more information, see Using SCP to Copy Files to or from an ESX Server System (1918).
    • Network connectivity and File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

    • Based on VMware KB 1014447

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