vSphere Upgrade Saga: Planning for vSphere 6.0

There are many features in vSphere 6.0, such as multi-vCPU Fault Tolerance, that I wish to use for my VMware vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA), as it is the single point of failure. Backups have been made, but they will take quite a while to restore. With the new Fault Tolerance, there is a chance that restore might not be needed, thereby speeding up my recovery. vSphere 6.0 also includes improvements for NSX, VSAN, such as VMCP, long distance vMotion, VVOLs, changes to SSO deployment, and many other existing features, as well as a new web client. All of these make upgrading to 6.0 a worthwhile task. But to do so, you need to first make some preparations.

Step 1: A Little Reading

As with any upgrade, there are tasks you must perform to ensure you can upgrade safely and with minimal fuss. Those tasks are:

  • Start by reading some documentation. Specifically, read the release notes. The release notes contain important information, including gotchas about hardware and existing configurations that need to change. Release notes may also highlight previously unknown dependencies.
  • Check out the Product Interoperability Guide to ensure you can make this upgrade. It will be difficult to upgrade if one of your existing VMware products doesn’t work with vSphere 6.0, or has some configuration requirement you can’t meet. You may find that your upgrade must include more than just vSphere: you may need to upgrade the vRealize Suite or a new version of Horizon View.
  • Check out the Compatibility Guide to ensure that your hardware will run the latest version of vSphere. You may find that you need to upgrade your hardware, a card, IO, or some other device first. The compatibility guide will also tell you which firmware versions are required. While I may keep my blades at the latest firmware level, that does not mean the rest of my chassis and devices are up to the required levels.
  • Check out the Guest Operating System Installation Guide to ensure the virtual machines you are running are supported on the latest version of vSphere. VMware periodically drops support for older or uncommon guest operating systems, and add supports for others. If your guest operating system is not supported, you may need to perform an OS upgrade before the vSphere upgrade.
  • Read the vSphere Installation and Setup Guide before you start your installation. It will document the steps you need to take and may cover how other products need to be installed.

All of these steps are part of the most important step for your vSphere upgrade: planning. You need to plan your upgrade by first reading documentation to determine the proper way to perform your upgrade. In a vCloud Suite environment, for example, there are lots of moving parts and dependencies that need to be installed, and the order of installation matters. All of these need to be tended to before you get to upgrade vSphere.

Step 2: Find Third-Party Dependencies

You may find that there are other, unplanned dependencies, such as as APIs and SDKs that have changed. You may find that your PowerShell or Perl scripts may not work as expected. You may find that some third-party products do not work as well. Therefore, these additional tasks are required:

  • Talk to third-party vendors and verify their compatibility with vSphere 6.0.
  • Perhaps install vSphere 6.0 on an unused system (or even within a Workstation or Fusion VM) to verify that your PowerShell scripts and any other critical third-party tools work as expected.

You may find that your upgrade needs to be postponed due to third-party integrations (or lack thereof), or that your critical automation tools do not work very well.

Plan your upgrade first. It’s the crucial first step to a successful upgrade to any new version of vSphere (and pretty much any other product).

Step 3: Write Out that Upgrade Plan

I often talk to people who complete steps one and two, but fail to write anything down. Even a few notes about the order of your upgrade are invaluable. They could be as simple as “follow the steps within Texiwill’s vSphere Upgrade Saga,” but at least you’ll have written down where to go for those details. If you are following someone else’s work, I would suggest having a hard copy or a local soft copy handy that you can read without a network connection, just in case.

Write down your plan, review it with others, and annotate it with questions and anything else that could be considered important. Your plan is not complete until those questions are answered. Such questions could include, for example: “Does that third-party tool work?” and “Do my backups work?”

Step 4: Test Your Backups

Testing backups is another of those pre-upgrade steps that are often overlooked. It is important to verify that your backups are complete and restorable. In other words, did those backups work? If something goes wrong during an upgrade, you will be relying on your backups to ensure things are working. Granted, we all use VMware’s own vMotion, and Storage vMotion, but even so, a good backup is your safety net.

Having a working safety net is crucial to the success of your upgrade. You can then upgrade without fear or uncertainty.

Step 5: Test Your Plan

In small environments, a test may not be doable outside of another virtual environment within VMware Workstation or Fusion. However, a test is required. This allows you to verify your plan and to ensure that you have the proper order and that idiosyncrasies within your environment are addressed. If a question or issue arises, update your plan with the result and continue.

In rare cases, I have had to start my plan over from the beginning.

Final Thoughts

A simple review of some release notes and verification that your hardware works is the best start to your vSphere upgrade. In my saga, I have also found that it is crucial to verify third-party software and backups, and to test your plan.

Once these steps have been completed, you are ready to proceed with your upgrade.

“Plan, plan once more, and plan again” is a mantra that is useful for upgrades. Check this site for my vSphere Upgrade Saga plans for upgrading to vSphere 6.0.

Edward Haletky

Edward L. Haletky, aka Texiwill, is an author, analyst, developer, technologist, and business owner. Edward owns AstroArch Consulting, Inc., providing virtualization, security, network consulting and development and TVP Strategy where he is also an Analyst. Edward is the Moderator and Host of the Virtualization Security Podcast as well as a guru and moderator for the VMware Communities Forums, providing answers to security and configuration questions. Edward is working on new books on Virtualization.

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