VMware removed Realtek drivers from ESXi 5.5 base installation making installed NIC unusable once performed a fresh installation. To enable Realtek NIC on VMware ESXi 5.5 you need to create a custom ISO image.
Upgrading VMware ESXi 5.1 to 5.5 the installed NIC drivers will stay in place without interrupting the functionality. The problem comes when you perform a fresh installation.
After a fresh installation of the hypervisor, the Realtek NICs installed in the host are not detected.
To fix the problem, I found an excellent blog post that explains how to build a custom ISO image of VMware ESXi5.5 with Realtek drivers included in few steps.
Install vSphere PowerCLI
Once downloaded vSphere PowerCLI, install the program in your computer.
Because PowerCLI by default won’t execute unsigned scripts for security reasons, you need to set the system to allow also unsigned scripts.
To enable the execution of unsigned scripts, use the Set-ExecutionPolicy cmdlet launching from PowerCLI console the command:
Set-ExecutionPolicy -Scope CurrentUser Unrestricted
The script used to create a new ESXi 5.5 image including missing drivers is listed here.
# Add VMware Online depot
# Clone the ESXi 5.5 GA profile into a custom profile
$CloneIP = Get-EsxImageProfile ESXi-5.5.0-1331820-standard
$MyProfile = New-EsxImageProfile -CloneProfile $CloneIP -Vendor $CloneIP.Vendor -Name (($CloneIP.Name) + "-customized") -Description $CloneIP.Description
# Add latest versions of missing driver packages to the custom profile
Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -SoftwarePackage net-r8168 -ImageProfile $MyProfile
Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -SoftwarePackage net-r8169 -ImageProfile $MyProfile
Add-EsxSoftwarePackage -SoftwarePackage net-sky2 -ImageProfile $MyProfile
# Export the custom profile into ISO file
Export-EsxImageProfile -ImageProfile $MyProfile -ExportToISO -FilePath c:\temp\ESXi-5.5.0-1331820-standard-customized.iso
From the PowerCLI console launch the PowerCLI script. The script takes few minutes to download and build the new image.
When the process ends, you will find in the directory specified in the script (C:\Temp) the new customized ISO image.
Performing a fresh installation once again using the customized ISO image, the Realtek NICs are now detected by the system.
Great solution that allows the system to be fully functional even with these NICs type installed.