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The overall process is detailed and needs to consider not only different VMware products, but also VMware Tools, virtual hardware of every VM and/or VMware vSAN and the VMFS version of the underlying storage. In a large environment, this can quickly become a difficult task as many of those products are interconnected.
But it's not difficult if you know what to upgrade first and what's next on the list. Let's first enumerate the different products which are right now part of VMware portfolio.
Note: This list of products does not include VMware Horizon, which will need a separate blog post. VMware Horizon, with view composer, load balancers, app volume manager, and other Horizon suite products, also has specific rules for upgrade as the Horizon View product is highly tightened into vCenter Server; not upgrading in the correct order simply breaks things.
The correct order ^
Below you'll see a list of different VMware products in the right order and with a description of what each product does. The VMware portfolio of products has become very large. We are no longer working in environments with only VMware vCenter Server and ESXi hosts. Other monitoring, backup, and optimization products are "hooked" as well, so those environments can get quite complex when trying to maintain them.
- vRSLCM: VMware vRealize Suite Lifecycle Manager. This product suite has been long time part of VMware offering and is a real pillar.
- vRLI: VMware vRealize Log Insight. A dedicated VMware product that collects logs for your whole environment, starting with ESXi hosts and ending with vCenter Server.
- vROPs: VMware vRealize Operations Manager is the main datacenter monitoring solution. However, vROPs also has functions to automate workloads based on rules that are more intuitive than the vCenter Server rules.
- vRNI: VMware vRealize Network Insight. This is a young product that enables monitoring and visibility into networking, for multi-cloud environments and for environments using VMware NSX.
- vRA: VMware vRealize Automation comprises the vRA appliance and IaaS components (Model Manager, vCloud Automation Center Manager Service, etc.). It has significantly enhanced its integration with VMware NSX to provide even more virtual networking and security capabilities.
- VR: The vSphere replication product used for replicating virtual machines (VMs) to remote datacenters and keeping stand-by copies of the current production environment. In the event of failure, VR can start those standby VMs (also called replicas) and continue the recovery process.
- VMware VDP: vADP-based backup by VMware. This product is still in production, even if VMware has announced its phase-out.
- SRM: VMware Site Recovery Manager is for automating and orchestrating disaster recovery (DR) plans between local and remote or between different remote datacenters. Now based on Linux, SRM is deployed as a virtual appliance.
- NSX-T: VMware NSX-T supports cloud-native applications (containers) and bare-metal workloads.
- vCenter Server: The core piece of the vSphere infrastructure, which can be linked into other vCenter Server systems to form a linked-mode operational model that spans multiple datacenters and allows centralized management from a single location.
- ESXi: VMware hypervisor with the latest release, ESXi 7.0b.
- VMware Tools: Does not need to be introduced, I think. It is installed in every VM and provides up-to-date drivers and security policies.
- Virtual Hardware: VMware virtual hardware is determined by hardware version. The latest hardware version is version 17, introduced with ESXi 7.0.
- VSAN/VMFS: VMware VMFS version 6 is the latest file system. vSAN has its own file system.
You might have multiple products in your environment that were installed with different versions, and they run connected to the same vCenter Server environment. In this case, you should first upgrade the one with the lowest sequence number. Once done, proceed with the next upgrade. Check this VMware KB article 78221, which has detailed, up-to-date version numbers that need to be taken into consideration.
The various VMware products are updated in sequence, and their compatibility with vSphere 7.x is maintained with different product releases. VMware ESXi 7.0b has recently been released. This patch release brings new NVMe device serviceability features with LED management capability. In addition, the VMware Quick Boot update to some HP ProLiant systems has been added.
VMware is currently working on an integration of a product/function in vCenter Server that would automatically scan your environment and let you know which products you should upgrade and in which order. The current release of vCenter 7 can detect some VMware products installed in the environment and show you whether those products can operate or need to be upgraded, and if so, to which version.
Final words ^
Upgrading and maintaining large VMware environments where public/private clouds are part of the game is ever more complex. It is important for IT administrators that manage those systems to upgrade different products in the right order; otherwise, connections are broken, products stop working, and part of the environment can become non-operational. As usual, the necessary backup before upgrade is the number 1 task to execute.
Future releases of vCenter Server will include additional integrations of different products installed in the environment and will make the upgrade and maintenance process easier.