vSphere ESXi 5 upgrade or install how to steps

Posted by on April 5, 2012 in vCenter Server, VMware, vSphere | 0 comments

This something that I wrote last year during the vSphere 5.0 beta and I had intended on using it with another project. After holding it for a longtime I finally decided to publish it here. There will be some other related content coming soon.

With the release of vSphere 5, VMware has entered the era of ESXi only hypervisors. This has been promised by VMware for the last couple of years, so it should be of no surprise to anyone. The ESXi platform has under gone a big coming of age journey since its first release. With each new version and update the ESXi platform has narrowed the feature gap that had previously existed with its brother ESX classic.

With this release VMware’s type 1 hypervisor has entered its fifth generation and in this book we are going to assume that you have a base level of experience. We will not be holding your hand showing each step of a base installation. We will be talking about topics that concern admins on important projects, daily tasks and showing you how to accomplish some of the new features in vSphere 5.

Upgrade considerations and dependencies

With any VMware related upgrade there are numerous items that should be considered when planning to move to the next release. Whether you’re going to be upgrading using existing hardware or purchasing new servers. You need to spend the time to examine the parts of your servers and validate they are supported by the release of vSphere that you plan on using. This can be done by using the VMware HCG or Hardware Compatibility Guide also commonly referred to as the HCL.

The release of vSphere 5 offers most of the same paths for upgrading, but also offers some not possible in the past. To make this easy to digest we have created Figure 1.0 that covers the upgrade paths and if they are possible with ESXi 5. Each of these methods will be expanded upon within the sections of this chapter.

Figure 1.0

Interactive upgrade from ESX(i) 4.x via CD/DVD, USB or PXE boot Yes
Upgrade from ESX(i) 3.x No
VMware Update Manager (VUM) based upgrade from ESX(i) 4.x Yes*
Command line based upgrade using the vMA or vCLI No
Scripted based upgrade or install via CD/DVD, USB or PXE boot Yes

*There may be some exceptions to this item that will be explained later.

There are a few ways that you can upgrade to vSphere 5, most of the usual are available. But there are a few less options available to you because of the advances of ESXi 5. For instance you will not be able to upgrade to ESXi 5 via the command line. If you have a host that was upgraded to ESX(i) 4.x from ESX 3.x you will not be able to upgrade it to ESXi 5 if it has a non-standard partition layout. And there is no upgrade path directly from ESX 3.x to ESXi 5, you will best suited to perform a clean install and migrate over your virtual machines. You can then install vSphere 5 on the hosts that you just moved your virtual machine off of.

Clean install VS host upgrades

Long before you execute any upgrade plans you will need to make the decision on whether you will be upgrading existing hosts or doing clean installs. This may be decided for you if you are refreshing your hardware at the same time.

If you are planning on upgrading existing hosts to ESXi 5 you will want to consider the differences between an upgrade and a clean install. The upgrade process is sure to be easier since it will save your configuration settings. But there some differences between a fresh install and an upgraded host. For example a clean install of ESXi 5 will use a GUID partition table, while an upgraded host will keep the MSDOS style partition table used in ESX(i) 4.x. Now this might not matter in the short term but could affect future upgrades. If you wish to install ESXi 5 on a disk larger than 2TB you will need a clean install as the GUID partitions allow for larger disk sizes.

With an upgraded system you could also be inheriting improperly size partitions if your host was upgrade from ESX(i) 3.x to 4.x. This could affect the ability to upgrade to ESXi 5 using VMware update manager. A VUM based upgrade requires at least 350 MB of free space on the /boot partition. If you have a host that suffers from low space on /boot you are still able to upgrade with an interactive or scripted install.

If possible this is the process that I tend to follow when upgrading. If there is a release such as an update level or a feature release then I would use VUM to facilitate the upgrades. But when moving to a new generation I tend to favor a clean install.

Interactive upgrade of ESX 4.x

As mentioned in the introduction, there are several ways that you can upgrade to vSphere 5. Of which one of them is a new one. You are now able to do an interactive up grade via CD/DVD,USB stick, PXE boot or mount an .ISO image to your server using virtual media. This is something that was not possible on previous versions, you would only get the option to install and the install would destroy any data that was located on the install destination disk.

Prior to starting the upgrade process you should backup the configuration files from ESX 4.x because there is no roll backup process. Your only option would be to reinstall ESX 4.x and restore the configuration files that you backed up. This process is described in detail in Chapter ?.

With the vSphere 5 install you are asked to select the destination disk and it will scan the disk to determine if there are any upgradable versions installed already. If the installer finds an upgradable version you will be presented with a screen like the one shown in Figure 1.1.


figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 - ESX options

If you choose to migrate ESX to ESXi the installer will upgrade the host to ESXi 5 and preserve the datastore. This means that any data on the disk will be safe, but VMware always recommends that you backup your data before upgrading. VMware states that most of your configuration settings will be retained in the upgrade. You can find a definitive list of what files and folders are saved and what is not in the vSphere upgrade PDF from VMware, but from testing in our labs we found that config settings like IPs, passwords, virtual switches, portgroups, VLAN tags are all saved in the process.

If you are upgrading a host that has any VIB packages or additional drivers installed you will get a warning like the one shown in Figure 1.1a. In the second paragraph it’s warning you about custom VIBs existing on your host that do not exist in the install media you are using. This could be for several reasons the most common would be your upgrading a vSphere edition that is a manufacturer version that includes their updates or you might have installed packages yourself to allow for installed hardware to function properly.

figure 1.1a

Figure 1.1a - VIB Warning


To find out which VIBs are installed and will be missing if you continue with the current install, proceed to the next step after the one shown in Figure 1.1a. You will then see a list of existing VIBs installed on your host as shown in Figure 1.1b. You will need to examine the list and decided if you can proceed with the install. In most cases you can choose the Force Migrate option and proceed with the upgrade. Your host will be upgraded without issue and you will need to install updated VIBs for the items listed. Until the updated VIBs are installed some items may not work such as a network card. Another option would be to download the vendor specific ESXi version and use that for the upgrade if that is what you used on the host previously.

figure 1.1b

Figure 1.1b - VIB list



If you choose the Install option the installer will destroy the previous ESX install and install ESXi 5. You have the option to preserve the local datastore or overwrite it. If you preserve it your data will remain intact and the VMFS level will remain at version 3. If you choose to overwrite the local datastore you will have a fresh empty VMFS 5 datastore after the install is complete.


Interactive upgrade of ESXi 4.x

The interactive upgrade process for ESXi hosts is very similar to the one just describe for ESX. So we won’t be rehashing everything, just pointing out some of the unique things.

Prior to starting the upgrade process you should backup the configuration settings from ESXi 4.x because there is no roll backup process. Your only option would be to reinstall ESXi 4.x and restore the configuration settings that you backed up. This process is described in detail in Chapter ?.

With the vSphere 5 install you are asked to select the destination disk and it will scan the disk to determine if there are any upgradable versions installed already. If the installer finds an upgradable version you will be presented with a screen like the one shown in Figure 1.2. Although a few times I was presented with a screen like the one shown in Figure 1.3

figure 1.2

Figure 1.2

figure 1.3

Figure 1.3


The upgrade option is very similar to the migrate option covered in the ESX section. By upgrading you will preserve the previous configuration settings and the local datastore will remain untouched and stay at VMFS 3 level.

If you wish to go the install route your settings will be overwritten and you will end up with a clean ESXi build. You will most likely be presented with the option to preserve or overwrite your local VMFS datastore as shown in Figure 1.2. Although if you happen to be presented with the screen shown in Figure 1.3 and select the install option it will overwrite your local datastore.


Upgrade using VMware update manager

The VUM upgrade method is one of the favorites of many admins. It provides a simple and effective way to execute upgrades. With ESXi 5 you will still be able to use VUM to upgrade yours hosts in most situations. Just like the previously covered upgrade methods you will only be able to upgrade hosts that are ESX(i) 4.x or newer. Older versions will require an upgrade to ESX(i) 4.x first or my recommendation would be a clean install of ESXi 5.

There is one requirement that may prevent you from using VUM and that is the need for more than 350MB of free space on the /boot partition. The most likely reason for not having enough free space would be a host that was upgraded from ESX(i) 3.x to 4.x using VUM and the partition size was carried over in the 3.x layout. In this scenario your options would be to perform an interactive or scripted upgrade or I would suggest cleaning off the host and perform a clean install of ESXi 5.

As before we are not going to hold your hand with every step of the VUM upgrade process, assuming that you already know how to create a Host Upgrade Release in VUM. What will be covered is anything that might trip you up in the process.

The only new step that I noticed in the VUM upgrade process is the option pertaining to 3rd party software. As shown in Figure x.x you will see an option to ignore any VIBs installed on the host currently. This was covered in the interactive ESX upgrade process. Due to the nature of the automate fashion of a VUM upgrade if you do not choose to ignore your upgrade will fail if your current vSphere install has any additional VIBs installed

figure 1.4

Figure 1.4

If you choose to try the install and it failed due to VIBs installed you will see an error similar to the one shown in Figure x.x. The error is pretty generic and does not provide you much direction.

figure 1.5

Figure 1.5

To find out more details about why the upgrade might have failed you can have a look at the update manager tab in vCenter for the host. You will notice in the upgrade column in Figure x.x, you will notice a warning. By clicking on the warning you will get further details about why the upgrade might have failed.

figure 1.6

Figure 1.6

By examining the reason for the upgrade failure you will see a window similar to Figure x.x. You can see from the example that the upgrade failed due to oem drivers that were installed on the host.

figure 1.7

Figure 1.7

You will need to retry the upgrade again but will need to select the option to ignore 3rd party software as shown in Figure x.x. This will allow the upgrade to complete and you would need to manually install any VIBs that your system requires.

One last thing that I noticed is upon completing the upgrade it did not reboot the host. After noticing that the progress seemed to be stalled I looked at the console and saw the screen shown in Figure x.x.

figure 1.8

Figure 1.8


How to upgrade a datastore to VMFS 5

Now that you have either installed or upgraded some hosts to ESXi 5 you probably have datastores that are still at the VMFS 3 level. With vSphere 5 you will be able to continue running your VMs on a datastore that is at VMFS 3 but will want to upgrade them when possible. The upgrade is non-destructive but I would recommend that you make sure you have verified backups of any VMs running on the datastore being upgraded or sVmotion them off before upgrading.

During the writing of this book we did numerous tests in a lab environment and each test VMFS upgrade of a datastore with powered off VMs succeeded without issues.

Another thing to note is the option to select your block size on a datastore is gone. When upgrading a VMFS 3 datastore to VMFS 5 it will retain its original block size. All freshly created VMFS 5 datastores will have a block size of 1MB. They will both act the same, allowing you to create a datastore greater than the previous 2TB limit. You are still bound with a 2TB limit for individual VMDK files.


Upgrade datastore to VMFS 5 from vSphere Client

Of the different methods using the vSphere Client is the easiest method to upgrade a datastore to VMFS 5. If you refer to Figure x.x you will be looking at a view of the datastores. From this view you can see the selected datastore type is still VMFS 3. Just below you will have the option to click on “Upgrade to VMFS 5” which will kick off the upgrade.

figure 1.9

Figure 1.9: Datastore view

Prior to the upgrade process starting you will see a warning that looks like the one in Figure x.x. The warning is letting you that any hosts not capable of communicating with VMFS 5 datastores will lose their ability to read or write to them.

figure 1.10

Figure 1.10: VMFS upgrading warning


Upgrade datastore to VMFS 5 with esxcli command

This method will use the esxcli command and can be executed from the ESXi shell or a remote vCLI prompt. This gives you flexibility on where you can run it from and include in scripting.

The command syntax will look like the one of the options listed below, depending on whether you choose to use the Volume name or the UUID for the datastore. This method does not provide any warnings or ask for any confirmations, refer to Figure x.x.

#esxcli storage vmfs upgrade –l volume_name

#esxcli storage vmfs upgrade – volume_uuid

figure 1.11

Figure 1.11: esxcli command example

figure 1.12

Figure 1.12: esxcli help


Upgrade datastore to VMFS 5 with vmkfstools command

This method has been around for a while and most of you might has used this to upgrade to VMFS 3. One thing of note is you will not be able to use vmkfstools to upgrade to VMFS 5 from the remote vCLI. This command can only be run from the ESXi shell on the host.

To perform the upgrade you will use the command structured like the one listed below and in Figure x.x.

#vmkfstools –T /vmfs/volumes/datastore_name

You will be warned about having no active connections to the datastore while upgrading. Also a warning to backup any data on the datastore and to make sure that no ESX(i) 3.x/4.x are still trying to access the datastore.

figure 1.13

Figure 1.13: vmkfstools command

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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