If you have an old Google Search Appliance kicking around that you want to make better use of, perhaps from an expired Google Enterprise Partner Program (GEP) agreement, here’s how you can turn it into an ESX/vSphere server.
Caveat: Once your license has expired, you’ll want to check with Google and make sure they don’t want the hardware back. It’s safe to say that doing this is going to void your warranty.
Start by resetting the BIOS password so that you can change the boot order. Open the chassis and remove the jumper labelled 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.
In the BIOS, set the option to boot from the front USB ports. We will 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.
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:
Once the update completes the server will automatically reboot. Remove the floppy drive, enable visualization support in the BIOS and then install ESX.