The release of vSphere 6.5 in November 2016 introduced many new features and enhancements. These include the vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA) now becoming the default deployment. vCenter Server native high availability, which protects vCenter Server from application failure. Built-in File-Based backup and restore allows customers the ability to backup their vCenter Server from the VAMI or by API. The VSCA restore can simply be done by mounting the original ISO used to deploy the VCSA and selecting the restore option. These features and more are exclusive only to the vCenter Server Appliance. The new HTML5 vSphere Client is making its first official product debut with vSphere 6.5.
Did someone say security? We now have better visibility of vSphere changes with actionable logging. VM Encryption allows the encryption of a virtual machine, including disks and snapshots. Secure Boot for ESXi ensures that only digitally signed code runs on the hypervisor. Secure Boot for VM’s is as simple as checking a box. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all the new vSphere 6.5 features.
As you start preparing for your vSphere 6.5 upgrade, a checklist will be the run book used to ensure its success. The upgrade process can be divided into three phases:
Phase 1: Pre-upgrade – all the upfront work that should be done before starting an upgrade.
Phase 2: Upgrade – mapping the steps of each component that will upgraded.
Phase 3: Post-upgrade – validation to ensure everything went according to plan.
The first part of any successful upgrade is determining the benefits of the new features and the value add they will provide to your business. Next is getting familiar with these new features and how they will be implemented in your environment. The following list will get you started learning each of the new vSphere 6.5 features and their benefits.
Another consideration to getting familiar with the new features and upgrade process is the hands on approach in a lab environment. If you have a lab environment at your disposal, try building it as close to your production environment as possible to simulate both the upgrade process and new feature implementation. If a lab environment is not available, there are options like VMware’s Workstation or Fusion if you have the resources to run them. Last, but not least, there is also the Hands on Labs that do not require any resources and provide a guided approach. No matter which option you select, the key is getting familiar and comfortable with the upgrade process.
Doing a health assessment of your current environment is critical. Nothing is worse than being in the middle of an upgrade and having to spending hours troubleshooting an issue only to find out it was related to a misconfiguration with something as simple as DNS or NTP. Another advantage to doing a health assessment is discovering wasted resources. For example, virtual machines that are no longer needed but have yet to be decommissioned. The health assessment should cover all components (Compute, Storage, Network, 3rd party) that interact with your vSphere environment. Please consult with your compute, storage, and network vendors for health assessment best practices and tools. Environmental issues are high on the list when it comes to upgrade show stoppers. The good news is that they can be prevented.
There are also VMware and community tools that can help by providing reports on your current environment. Most of these tools come with a 60-day evaluation period, which is enough time to get the information needed. When using community tools please keep in mind they are not officially supported by VMware. Finally, there is also the VMware vSphere health check done by a certified member of VMware’s professional services team. Check with your VMware representative for more information.
Conducting the health assessment could lead to discovering an issue that requires the help of support and opening a ticket. Do not proceed with the upgrade until all open support tickets have been resolved. There are instances where an issue can be fixed by applying a patch or an update, but make sure that any environmental problems have completely been resolved prior to proceeding. This not only includes VMware support tickets, but also compute, storage, network, and 3rd party that interact with your vSphere environment.
Now that we’ve learned about the features and completed a health assessment of our current vSphere environment, it’s time to start mapping out the upgrade process. The first step is looking at important documents like the vSphere 6.5 documentation, product release notes, knowledge base articles, and guides. Each of these documents have pieces of information which are vital to ensuring a successful upgrade. Product release notes, for example, provide information such as what’s new but also information about upgrades, any known issues, and all key pieces of information. Reading the vSphere 6.5 upgrade guide will give you an understanding of the upgrade process. The VMware compatibility guide and Product interoperability matrices will ensure components and upgrade paths are supported. Here is a breakdown of the important vSphere 6.5 documentation that should be viewed prior to upgrading.
Product Release Notes
Knowledge Base Articles
Upgrades need to be done with a holistic view from the hardware layer all the way to the application layer. With this philosophy in mind, a successful upgrade requires advance prep work to be done to avoid any potential roadblocks. Things like health assessments shouldn’t only be done when preparing for an upgrade, but also routinely. Think of it as a doctor’s visit for your environment and getting a clean bill of health. vSphere 6.5 has been released now for six months and since then four patches are now available providing bug fixes and product updates. The HTML5 vSphere Client now has added features in the release of vSphere 6.5.0 patch b and vSAN easy install is available in 6.5.0 patch d. This agile release of patches means customers no longer need to wait on the first update to consider upgrading to vSphere 6.5. In the few blog posts in this series will cover mapping out the upgrade process whiteboard style, architecture considerations for the vSphere Single Sign-On domain, migration, and upgrade paths.
At this point it is worth noting that the vSphere upgrade process can seem complex if not overwhelming, especially for our customers who use other tools that depend on vSphere and vCenter Server. We hear you. VMware is certainly working to make this better. I hope to be able to write about those improvements in the future. Until then you have upgrade homework to do!