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  • December 15, 2015

How to setup your ESXi lab for upgrading from VMware vSphere 5.5 to 6.0

With the new release of VMware vSphere 6.0, many organizations are thinking about upgrading from existing 5.5 to 6.0 version. However, upgrading multi host ESXi environments running production systems is not an easy task. Most IT administrators would like to perform upgrade in a controlled lab environments so they can practice the upgrade steps, create run book and then do the actual upgrade in their data center environments. The challenge is that it takes a long time to procure hardware and setup isolated multi host ESXi environments, which can be used a test labs to perform upgrades. Ravello Systems allows you to run nested ESXi on public clouds AWS and Google Cloud. In this blog, we will describe how you can practice upgrade from 5.5 to 6.0 in ESXi lab environments created on public clouds.

VMware vSphere can be deployed with either a windows based vCenter or the Linux-based VMware vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA). In this document we'll discuss the upgrade procedure from both platforms to both other platforms, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both. In addition, we'll talk about the ways to easily upgrade ESXi from 5.5 to 6.0 and when to use which method.

Let’s assume that our existing ESXi 5.5 environment which is to be upgraded to 6.0 consists of following components:

  • One preinstalled ESXi host to host the vCenter 6 VM with the following specs:
    • 2 CPU
    • 12GB Memory
    • 150GB Storage
    • For more information on hardware requirements, see here.
  • Any other ESXi hosts - if you are already running these in your current lab environment or wish to install or upgrade additional ESXi hosts.
  • One preinstalled vCenter 5.5 server
    • This can be either running on windows or the VCSA.
    • This VM can be running directly on Ravello for the windows vCenter. If you are running the vCSA it should be running on a nested ESXi and you should keep in mind the additional resources required to host the new VCSA.
  • Fully resolvable DNS, both forward and reverse. Keep in mind that the Ravello DNS currently does not perform reverse lookups and as such you'll need an external DNS server such as Microsoft AD DNS or a Linux-based DNS server such as Bind or PowerDNS

First, you will setup ESXi 5.5 environment which mirrors your existing 5.5 setup in your data center. Follow the instructions in this blog to setup this environment.

Then, execute a test upgrade in this isolated 5.5 environment replica on Ravello, document the steps and you acn then run them in your Data center for the actual upgrade.

Upgrading Windows-based vCenter

Upgrading the Windows-based vCenter from 5.5 is a relatively simple process. First, we'll have to start with the requirements before we can start the upgrade:

  • Ensure your operating system is compatible. Any windows server version from 2008R2 onwards is supported (up to 2012R2).
  • Verify that the hostname of your vCenter server is resolvable, both forwards and backwards. You can test this by starting a command prompt on your windows server, then running the following commands.
    • nslookup yourvcenter.host.name
    • nslookup yourvcenter.ip.address

    The first result should return the Ip address of the vCenter, which should match the second command you'll run. This in turn should return the hostname that you entered in the first command.

After this has been completed, we can start the actual upgrade. First, attach the iso image of the vCenter installer to your Ravello windows vCenter VM. Start the autorun.exe located on the DVD and start the installation:

Next, accept the terms of the license agreement and continue:

Provide your administrator credentials for vCenter single-signon:

Accepting the default ports is recommended, so for this setup we'll do that. If you change any default ports, take note of the non-custom ports in case you'll need these later.

Again, accepting the default install locations is recommended. if you wish to change these locations note them down.

Confirm that you have backed up your vCenter and select upgrade, and you are on your way. The upgrade will take anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes depending on a variety of factors, so this is the time to get some coffee and watch the progress bar.

After the upgrade is complete, you should be presented with the following screen:

image09

Launch the web client (or if you have already configured ports to be forwarded in Ravello connect from your own computer) and try to log in with your administrator@vsphere.local credentials.

If the vSphere web client doesn't load, ensure that you have the desktop experience role installed, which is required to load all vSphere web client components. This can be done through the "Add roles and features" wizard included in windows, or easier, through the following powershell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Desktop-Experience

After logging in, you will be presented with your new vCenter 6 web client. If you open the help -> About VMware vSphere in the top right, you should see the new version number.

And that's it for the Windows vCenter upgrade! Afterwards, you can proceed with the "Upgrading ESXi" if you wish to upgrade your ESXi hosts to version 6 as well.

Upgrading VMware vCenter Server Appliance

Upgrading the vCenter Server appliance, while not much more complicated follows a slightly different procedure from the Windows vCenter Server. Instead of performing an in-place upgrade a new appliance will be deployed, configured and started, after which the old appliance will be disabled and IP addresses will be swapped. Since we currently cannot install the VCSA 6 appliance directly on Ravello, we'll need to run this nested on ESXi.

First off, we'll need to validate the requirements before upgrading the VCSA:

  • Verify that the hostname of your existing 5.5 vCenter server is resolvable, both forwards and backwards. You can test this by starting a command prompt on your windows server, then running the following commands.
    • nslookup yourvcenter.host.name
    • nslookup yourvcenter.ip.address

    The first result should return the Ip address of the vCenter, which should match the second command you'll run. This in turn should return the hostname that you entered in the first command.

  • Ensure you have an ESXi host running on Ravello which is configured to run virtual machines and matches the hardware requirement mentioned above. In addition, this ESXi host needs to have a port group which is in the same network as the current VCSA.
  • Ensure you have a windows machine running in Ravello to perform the upgrade. This can be a temporary virtual machine, but currently a windows machine is required for the VCSA upgrade procedure.

Connect the vCenter 6 ISO to your windows machine and log in to the desktop, preferably through RDP.

Ensure that the desktop experience is installed if you are running a server OS through either the "Add roles and features" wizard included in windows, or easier, through the following powershell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Desktop-Experience

Open the VCSA directory on the DVD, then run the VMware-Clientintegrationplugin.msi installer.

Follow the installation and reboot your machine if required, then open the root directory on the DVD.

Open the vcsa-setup.html file, which should start your browser and launch the install page. If you get any popups regarding allowing the VMware Client integration plugin, click accept.

Click upgrade. Then, select "continue upgrade".

Accept the license agreement, then enter the details of your ESXi host you will be deploying to. This should be the ESXi host you have already deployed in Ravello, but can be one already managed by your current VCSA.

Accept the certificate when given the warning. Then, enter the name of your virtual appliance. This name should match the name of your existing vCenter appliance.

Then, configure your source vCenter, being the vCenter that you are upgrading from.

Enter your old VCSA hostname, password, SSO port and the hostname, username and password for the ESXi host your current VCSA is running on.

Select your appliance size and datastore. For the appliance size there are very little reasons to use anything but tiny when running in a lab environment.

As the last step, configure the temporary network.

The temporary network is the port group on your new ESXi host which should be reachable from your other VCSA appliance. For the Network Address, the subnet mask and the gateway, keep in mind that these are not the IP addresses of your new vCenter, but a temporary IP address that will be used while the new VSCA is migrating data from the old VCSA. As such, it should not be an existing IP address. In addition, ensure DNS servers are entered and you can resolve the hostname of your old vCenter and ESXi host on these DNS servers, otherwise your installation will fail.

Review the settings, click complete and wait until the installation is done. This can take anywhere between 15 minutes up to 90 minutes. Keep in mind that your browser might not always refresh, but if you wish to follow the status you can always open the console of your new VCSA VM.

After the upgrade is complete, you should be presented with the following screen:

Launch the web client (or if you have already configured ports to be forwarded in Ravello connect from your own computer) and try to log in with your administrator@vsphere.local credentials.

If the vSphere web client doesn't load, ensure that you have the desktop experience role installed, whcih is required to load all vSphere web client components. This can be done through the "Add roles and features" wizard included in windows, or easier, through the following powershell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Desktop-Experience

After logging in, you will be presented with your new vCenter 6 web client. If you open the help -> About VMware vSphere in the top right, you should see the new version number.

And that's it for the Windows vCenter upgrade! Afterwards, you can proceed with the "Upgrading ESXi" if you wish to upgrade your ESXi hosts to version 6 as well.

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