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Jae, have you created dsa or rsa keys ?
the openssh version in ESX2.1 is much older than the one in ESX3 (RH7.2 vs. RHEL3), so ESX2 might require rsa keys (or might expect dsa keys in authorized_keys2 rather than authorized_keys).
copied rsa keys over.
have you checked possible messages in /var/log/secure when you tried to log in with your keys ?
I remember making the following errors in the past when configuring key-based ssh login:
\- homedir of target user was group-writable (had to "chmod g-w /home/username" on target machine)
\- rsa/dsa key got wrapped over multiple lines when pasting in .ssh/authorized_keys . Had to correct authorized_keys so that each key was on a single line.