Five ways to update VMware Tools in vSphere

It is important to update the VMware Tools in vSphere on a regular basis. If you don't update VMware Tools, you'll not only get a yellow warning message that "VMware Tools is outdated on this virtual machine," but you'll also be missing the latest performance and compatibility improvements.
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Vladan Seget

Vladan Seget is as an independent consultant, professional blogger, vExpert 2009-2016, VCAP5-DCA/DCD, VCP, and MCSA. He has been working for over 15 years as a system engineer.
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You can find the option to "Check and upgrade VMware Tools before each power on" through the vSphere Web Client. Select the virtual machine (VM), go to VM Hardware, and click Edit.

Check and upgrade VMware Tools before each power on

Check and upgrade VMware Tools before each power on

It is worth noting that the VMware Tools ISO is located on each ESXi host and that you can change the symbolic link to a shared location. This is usually the better option, as you might have different ESXi releases within your cluster. In addition, vMotioning a VM to a host that does not have the latest VMware Tools ISO will trigger the warning message mentioned above.

Let's look at the different ways for updating VMware Tools. The popularity of the methods varies. However, it's good to know all the ways, as one day you might work in an environment where your favorite method is not feasible. For instance, a heterogeneous environment with very large clusters requires a different method than a system with just a few VMs.

The vSphere Web Client ^

To install VMware Tools through the vSphere Web Client, just select the VM and click on Install VMware Tools.

Update VMware Tools via the vSphere Web Client

Update VMware Tools via the vSphere Web Client

It's important to note that you can only update the VM Tools on guests other than Windows and Linux (such as Solaris, FreeBSD, and macOS) using the manual interactive method. There is currently no automatic update for the VM Tools for these operating systems.

The method for upgrading VMware Tools through the vSphere Web Client has another advantage: You can select multiple VMs and initiate the update of VM Tools on those VMs simultaneously.

VMware Update Manager (VUM) ^

This method is for users who set up the vSphere Update Manager (VUM) in previous releases of vSphere or for users already running vSphere 6.5 where VUM is preinstalled within the vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA) running on the Linux Photon OS. For this to work, you must first enable the VMware Tools upgrade as I explained above.

VUM will then trigger the updates for individual VMs according to baselines. You can use VUM to configure multiple VMs, so if a new version is available, the Tools will update whenever a guest reboots.

VUM supports immediate and deferred updates at a scheduled time. VUM can also remediate powered-off or suspended VMs and then return them to their initial states after the update. VUM is great tool for updating large environments; however, keep in mind that the process isn't easy.

In-guest updates ^

A systray icon on Windows guests informs VM and application owners if a VMware Tools update is available and allows them to trigger the update process manually.

VMware Tools icon in the systray

VMware Tools icon in the systray

On Linux guests, users have to execute the command-line utility vmware-toolbox-cmd if they want to update VMware Tools. The tool is also available on Windows. However, on Linux this tool only supports the VMware Tools ISOs. The Open VM Tools (OVT) developed by distribution maintainers use a different update method as described below.

PowerCLI ^

PowerCLI provides a powerful option for updating VMware Tools in large environments. With this method, you can target specific VM groups in many different ways, such as by cluster, guest OS version, or VM state.

Here is an example:

This command updates VMware Tools on all virtual machines with names that begin with "VM." Note that the VM must be powered on. For more information, please read the vSphere PowerCLI documentation guide.

Native Linux package management ^

This method does not concern VMware Tools but the Open VM Tools maintained and developed by Linux distribution owners. You can update OVT packages via the native Linux update process. The commands vary depending on the Linux distribution (apt-get, yum, etc.).

On a Red Hat Linux box, you would run this command:

Note that you can view the Open VM Tools through the vSphere Web Client.

Open VM Tools in the vSphere Web Client

Open VM Tools in the vSphere Web Client

Wrap-up ^

I have listed several ways to update VMware Tools, all of which VMware officially supports. Starting with version 10, the VMware Tools ISOs are also available for download directly from My VMware. Installers for current guests are separate from those for older legacy guest operating systems. In the future, ISOs for guests other than Windows and Linux will be available exclusively via download and not bundled with ESXi.

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1 Comment
  1. Profile gravatar of Paolo Maffezzoli
    Paolo Maffezzoli 6 days ago

    Thanks for your interesting article. Just a question about VM and VMware tool update done by PowerCLI.  How can I know if reboot is required after update?

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