Building vSphere 6 with VSAN on IBM Softlayer: Part 1 – Ordering ESXi hosts on Softlayer.

I am recently spending a lot of time with IBM Softlayer, in particular I am building vSphere running inside Softlayer. In this series of articles I want to show how you can build an environment with vSphere 6 and VSAN inside Softlayer.

One important note: although I work in IBM, my view is form customer perspective. The articles describe my personal experience. If you will have any questions related to pricing, the best will be to contact Softlayer sales representative.

Here is what I will demonstrate:

  1. Ordering bare-metal servers with VMware ESXi on them. (this article),
  2. Ordering vCenter servers instance,
  3. Ordering required networking components.(VLANs, subnets),
  4. Preparing bare-metal servers to work with VSAN(updating drivers and firmware).

Let’s start.

Ordering bare-metal servers with VMware ESXi 6 using Softlayer Portal

As first step, we of course need to order some physical, or as Softlayer call them, bare-metal servers.
I will assume that you already have an account on Softlayer and you are ready to login to the control portal at

After logging in, simply click the Devices icon in the Order panel.


In the pop-up window, select ⊕ Monthly under Bare Metal Servers.

Note: You may ask why not ⊕ Hourly. The thing is that only 1U servers with maximum of 4 drives support are available for purchase when using hourly, which will limit you from using VSAN.

In the next pop-up windows select the server config you want to use, make sure it has at least 12 drives slots available, so that you can build a VSAN datastore. In my example I will go with Dual socket Intel Xeon E5-2620 v3 with Up to 12 drives. To select it, click the Price.



Yet another Pop-up windows will be opened, where you will configure Server details.

1. Select Quantity of Servers you want to order

In my example I will order 3.

2. Select Data center where you want your servers to be placed

In my example I will place my servers in AMS03 Data Center in Amsterdam.


3. Configure Server details

I do not want to go into details on each of the options available during purchase, as this article is not about how to order servers on Softlayer but about how to build vSphere on Softlayer. Important points in the next section are: RAM, Operating System and Hard Drives. Let’s go though each of those one by one.

Under RAM, select how much RAM you want your servers to have. In my example I will be using 64 GB.

Under Operating system, make sure you select vSphere Enterprise Plus 6.0. To do that, click Show Operating Systems, then VMware and tick the radio button next to vSphere Enterprise Plus 6.0.

Now, Hard Drive configuration is very important, as we are going to build VSAN.  There are several things to consider:

  1. As you may know, Softlayer does not provide ESXi installed on an SD card or one on a USB drive. We will need to dedicate OS disks, and we will want those OS disks to be Protected. For that, in my example, I will order 2 x 1TB drives and will join them into RAID 1,
  2. For VSAN, we need an SSD and the size of that SSD should be (according to various sources) equal to 5%-10% of the total size of back-end spinning disks. In this example I will order a singe 800GB SSD disk. I will mark this disk as JBOD so that RAID controller will expose them to ESXi,
  3. Again, for VSAN we need some backed spinning disks. In my example I am going to create singe Disk group with 4 x 2TB  SATA disks. Those disks should also be marked as JBOD.

The procedure of creating RAIDs and JBODs is quite simple. Select the disk slot, click Assign disks, select the disk which you want to be places in that slot. Then mark the disks you want to join in RAID and click Create RAID Storage group. In Type drop-down, select the RAID level you want to use and click Done.

The way Softlayer creates RAID groups, is not the best for VSAN, so we will be recreating those anyway in Part 4 of these series.

So, to summarize, we have first 2 disks in RAID1, and remaining disks marked as JBOD. Here is how it looks for me.

4. Configuring Network Options

There is one important point to consider when configuring network. By default, Softlayer provides network links configured to use LACP with active/passive configuration. Which does not necessarily mean it is bad if you are planning to use Distributed switch. But, from my experience, I would recommend to avoid this configuration. The reason is we can always configure fail-over on vSphere side and there is no much need for any magic on Physical network side.

Based on this, in my example, I will click on Show Uplink Speeds and select 10 Gbps Dual Public & Private Network Uplinks (Unbonded).

I will keep remaining Network parameters on their Default values.

NOTE: Based on comment from Jack Cherkas: Although NICs are requested as unbonded, to to truly disable LACP, Softlayer will need make a change on switches (which will require a brief 2-3 minute network downtime), once this is done, the ESX hosts will be truly unbonded. PSo, you may want to open a ticket to Softlayer to check the configuration for your case.

5. Configuring System Addons

In this section the only option I am going to change is Power Supply. By default servers in Softlayer come with only one power supply. We need redundancy so I will order an additional one.

I will keep Defaults on remaining options in Server Addons.

6. Storage Addons

Nothing to do here.

7. Service Addons

Here I will just change the monitoring response form Automated Reboot from Monitoring to Automated Notification. I do not want Monitoring to reboot my ESXi servers just because it thinks something is wrong.


Again, I will keep Defaults for remaining options in Service addons.


Once  done with config, click the Continue Your Order button. Don’t worry, it will not take your money yet.

After order verification is done, you need to provide some final details, like hostname  for your servers, or VLANs you want to use.

If these are your first servers in Softlayer, or in this particular datacenter of Softlayer, VLANs will be created automatically. If you already have an existing environment, like me, you will be presented with a selection to which VLANs these servers should be connected.

Review your order, scroll down to fill details as needed.


Once ready, scroll down, read and (if you agree) accept terms and conditions and click Finalize Your Order.

That’s it, you have your servers ordered, it will take some time before those will be provisioned.

So, in the meantime, let’s order a vCenter.

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Aram Avetisyan is an IT specialist with more than 15 years experience. He has rich background in various IT related fields like Cloud, Virtualization, SDN, Disaster Recovery, and so on. He holds several industry level certifications including but not limited to VCIX6-DCV, VCIX6-NV, VCAP-CIA. As VCI Aram is delivering VMware authorised courses. For his contribution to the community, he was recognised as vEXPERT in years 2014, 2015 and 2016.

About Aram Avetisyan

Aram Avetisyan is an IT specialist with more than 15 years experience. He has rich background in various IT related fields like Cloud, Virtualization, SDN, Disaster Recovery, and so on. He holds several industry level certifications including but not limited to VCIX6-DCV, VCIX6-NV, VCAP-CIA. As VCI Aram is delivering VMware authorised courses. For his contribution to the community, he was recognised as vEXPERT in years 2014, 2015 and 2016.
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  5. Hi Aram,
    Regarding Point 4, it might be worth noting that when you request ESXi hosts Public & Private Network Uplinks (Unbonded), you will need to raise a ticket after the Bare Metal Servers have been provisioned to truly disable LACP. Due to the way the switches are configured (I believe portchannel is enabled, which makes the servers think LACP is enabled), a switch change will be required (which will incur a brief 2 to 3 minute network downtime). Once that is done, the ESXi hosts will be truly unbonded.

  6. Hello,

    What if I start from 1 server, where I will install vSphere Enterprise, and for the remaining servers I will order it later and install ESXi when I need additional resources. Is that practical?

    • Hi Angel,
      It absolutely depends on your needs. You can for sure use only one server, then, once you will need more resources, you can order another one, and use it either as standalone, or order vCenter server and join both hosts to vCenter.

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  8. Very good article. Just what I needed. One question though: Is the server, controller and SDDs on VMware HCL for VSAN?

    • HI Michael,
      Thanks for the comment. Yes they are. Make sure you follow the steps in part 3 of this series, there are some specifics 🙂 Let me know if you will get stuck.

  9. Hi
    Where on the VSAN HCL do you find SATA disks?

    • Hi Tom,

      I don’t think VMware VSAN HCL covers any specific disk model/type.

      Nevertheless, i assume your question is, if configuration with SATA disk on Softlayer is supported? As far as i remember there was a separate RPQ document which were covering this config. I there is already an official support statement from VMware and Softlayer.

      I am afraid for more details you will need to talk to Softlayer directly.

      Hope this helps,


      • Hi.
        VMware VSAN HCL do covers specific disks, is one of the prerequisites for having a supported “build your own” solution.
        If you take a look at this link and choose ESXi 6.x you will se that no SATA disks are supported.

        I have seen that RPQ that you are talking about and I had a support case with GSS discussing this RPQ he said that support will be limited engineering will not help with a SATA setup.
        There is also a good reason that SATA is now longer is supported with VSAN. I think its stange that IBM has made an RPQ with this setup and recommend this for customers.

        Best regards


        • There is an official VCF offering from VMware on Softlayer, if you want to make sure all is supported, I would recommend taking that approach.
          RPQ is provided by VMware to IBM. But thats different story.

          In this article i just describe how you can build your own VSAN on Softlayer, this is NOT official IBM paper, this is my personal Blog, everything described here is based on my experience, and I would not recommend using it for any production deployment, unless you have official support statement.

          Another small comment from me. I have production environment running on similar setup with SATA disks, and we never had issues opening request to VMware.


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