With Update 1 of vSphere 5.5 released to the masses I'm sure that there are a lot of IT environments finally making the jump to the latest version of the hypervisor.   I've begun the task of upgrading my vSphere environment in hopes of getting it up to snuff with all of the latest features and bug fixes.  5 years ago, this 'vSphere environment' consisted of vCenter Server and some hosts, now, vSphere environment contains a whole lot more than just the core components of hypervisor and management.  The following are just a few examples of the many reasons that I believe vSphere upgrades, while having gotten easier, take much much longer to complete – there is a lot to it!

My vCenter Server has put on some pounds

in-n-out_animal_styleAs I mentioned just a short 5 years ago I had no problems pealing through a vSphere upgrade in less than a day.  A simple vCenter upgrade followed by update manager orchestrating a handfull of host updates and voila, up to date.  Now, things have changed.  Yes, we've definitly accepted virtualization as a viable option for our production workloads, thus we've grown substantially, so there are more hosts to update – but hosts aren't really the most time consuming task in the process.  It's everything else.  Have a look at vCenter for instance – it's no longer just vCenter – it's moved from a single service to a compilation of applications and services handling everything from host provisioning to authentication to syslogging.  So really, when I look at upgrading my vCenter Server, I'm actually talking about upgrading SSO, vSphere Web Client, Inventory Service, vCenter Server, AutoDeploy, Update Manager, and the SysLog Collector – all of which take time and could easily require a half day in itself to be configured.

Don't forget about the value-add!

Value Add – you know, all of those VMware and third-party tools that you threw into the environment over the years to monitor, secure, backup, automate, and tweak the performance of vSphere!  Aside from assuring that they are compatible with the new release, most of the time, especially in VMware's case, they themselves will require upgrades to support the new release.  So things like vCenter Operations Manager, Site Recovery Manager, vSphere Replication and Data Protection, vCenter Orchestrator, vSphere Management Assistant, etc will all need to be updated.  Thankfully VMware has done a great job over the last couple of years in terms of the timing of these releases, more so aligning them with the release of the hypervisor updates.  In terms of compatibility you need to pay attention to what versions of vSphere your third-party applications support.  Applications like Veeam Backup and Replication, VMware View – you will want to be sure that before you go ahead and venture on a vSphere upgrade that you have the support from your third party vendors.

When I was your age we didn't have all these Virtual Appliances.

PreviewIt's no doubt that VMware sees value in releasing some of their products in the form of a virtual appliance.  By bundling these applications in an ovf it simplifies the setup and configuration, allowing customers to get things up and running faster, essentially hitting the market quicker.  On VMware's end, let's just hope that they reduce the support calls and resources they need to dedicate to maintain these products – although that's highly unlikely :).  Either way, the virtual appliance route doesn't just help with your initial setup, it can also provide ease of use when upgrading as well.  vCenter Orchestrator upgrades can be accomplished by attaching a new appliance to the old database and performing updates. The vCenter Operations Manager vApp can be updated by simply loading a .pak file you download from your myvmware portal. The vSphere Management Assistant can accomplish updates via the vima-update command.   The vCenter Server Appliance handles this even better – 2 clicks – check for updates, apply updates.  This will go ahead and update all of those components that make up vCenter Server (SSO, Inventory, AutoDeploy, Web Client, etc).  It's nice to have an easier upgrade with these appliances, what would even be nicer is to have VMware standardize on how the appliances are upgraded – chose one method and go for it.  

Are we done yet?

No, not really even close.  Aside from the core component updates there are a number of items within your vSphere environment that also need to be updated.  First off, do you use dvSwitches?  Be sure that you circle back and see if they require an update.  dvSwitches add new features and benefits in terms of versions – so if your initial upgrade was driven by a new networking feature that was included, you might not get access to this until you go and upgrade your switches to the new version.  Same goes for vmfs and your storage.  Any datastore formatted as vmfs will also be tied to a specific version or compatibility number – so be sure to upgrade all of your datastores as well.  Thankfully these processes are non disruptive and can be done without affection our production workloads

Lastly, the reason we are all here, the VMs

More so the applications running on the VMs but none the less we have to update these as well.  Firstly, every core release usually sparks an update for VMware Tools as well.  By now we should all be used to updating VMware tools. Again, we now have the ability to do this without requiring a reboot of the virtual machine which certainly makes this process more scriptable and achievable. Secondly, to support newly published config maximums and engage in some new features the VM hardware needs to be updated.  Unfortunately there is no way around downtime being required for this one as the VM compatibility as it's now called can only be upgraded while the VM is powered off.  That said, VMware has made some strides and implemented some features within the Web Client that we can flag to upgrade VM compatibly during it's next normal reboot – so a bit of help there for us.  Personally, I like to schedule the maintenance and just get it done – that way I know it's done and done right 🙂

Go have a beer!

Well, I think I've covered everything!  Everything inside of my environment anyways.  So pat yourself on the back and go have a beer – unless you have a DR environment – then you need to go and duplicate everything you have just done!  So, I guess I'm going to have a beer at my DR site 🙂