In the last couple of articles we’ve been exploring what’s new in ESXi 5 and the subsequent 5.1 release and have gone over the process of upgrading the vCenter components of your vSphere infrastructure to version 5.1. This article is going to describe to process of using the vCenter Update Manager plug-in to update your hosts without having to know CLI commands.
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Jim Jones

Jim Jones has been a SysAdmin for 15 years and is currently working as a Sr. Network Administrator in West Virginia, USA. Honored to be elected a vExpert and Veeam Vanguard, Jim can be found on Twitter @k00laidIT and at his personal site, koolaid.info.
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Introduction to Update Manager ^

Update Manager is a component of vSphere that has to be installed separately, both on the server end as well as within the VI Client. Typically with a traditional, Windows based vCenter install Update Manager is installed on the same server, but you have the option of installing it elsewhere and then pointing it to your vCenter during the installation. With the vCenter appliance this is the only deployment model.

The primary use of Update Manager is to push out VMware supplied patches that are automatically downloaded to your Update Manager server. By default dynamically update baselines for Critical and Non-critical patches are created for hosts and VMware Tools and Hardware upgrades are created for Virtual Machines. You can choose to attach any or all to a given host, virtual machine, datacenter, resource pool, or vCenter through the Update Manager tab in the VI Client.

Update Manager for Upgrades ^

There are four basic steps to pushing out an ESXi upgrade via Update Manager:

  1. Upload the ISO to a VMFS datastore
  2. Create an Update Manager upgrade baseline
  3. Attach and scan your hosts against the baseline
  4. Remediate your host(s) to install the upgrade

While that pretty much sums things up it is a little more complicated than that. Uploading the ISO to a VMFS datastore is simple enough, so we’ll skip that step, but let’s walk through the rest.

Create an Update Manager upgrade baseline ^

  1. In Update Manager click the Admin View link in the top right, then choose the ESXi Images tab.
  2. Choose Import ESXi Image, find your ISO file and then follow through the steps.
  3. Make sure you choose to Create a baseline using the ESXi image.

Import ESXi Image

Import ESXi Image

Attach and scan your hosts against the baseline ^

  1. If you are still in the UM Admin View, click back on Compliance View. Because I am a lazy admin, I tend to like to attach my baselines as far up the tree as possible so I only have to do it once. Click on the highest point all of your hosts that should be effect by this upgrade can be (typically either the vCenter server or your Datacenter) and choose Update Manager there.
  2. Now under the Attached Baselines window right click and choose Attach
  3. Check the box for the baseline you’ve just created and then the Attach button.
  4. Now, go ahead and choose Scan at this level to scan all your hosts against the new baseline. Make sure the Upgrades checkbox is selected.

Remediate your host(s) to install the upgrade ^

  1. First things first, I always manually put my host or hosts into maintenance mode prior to trying to remediate updates or upgrades. As part of the upgrade process it will put your host into maintenance mode, moving any and all VMs off to your other hosts, but I like controlling it a little better. There are always those “special” VMs you want to be careful with.
  2. With the 5.1 upgrade I’ve found that I have to reboot each host before the upgrade successfully runs, so a reboot at this point probably isn’t a bad idea.
  3. Now select the host or cluster you wish to upgrade. If you have a lot of hosts and plenty of servers to run your VMs what you may want to do is put a subset of your hosts into maintenance mode, create a new cluster, move the hosts you wish to upgrade there, and then remediate the cluster, allowing you to do more than one at a time without shutting everything down.
  4. Once in Update Manager for the host or cluster you choose click the Remediate button.
  5. This will launch a little wizard you go through (screen shots below) that includes accepting the EULA, choosing what to do with any running VMs, etc.
  6. The highlights to make sure you take note of is choosing to remove third-party software or not (depends on the situation) and the Cluster Remediation Options. On this screen I always make sure to check all the boxes. This ensures that HA, FT, and DPM is not running on the hosts prior to the attempt to upgrade, tells them to upgrade hosts concurrently if more than one host is selected, and what to do with powered off VMs if it has to enter maintenance mode (shouldn’t matter.)
  7. Once you hit Finish the upgrade will begin. You can follow along in the Tasks section of the VI client for the host or cluster. If you click on the Remediate Entity task then choose Show in the lower screen it will show you what’s been done. This screen isn’t the greatest at auto updating so you will want to periodically hit F5.
  8. In my experience the update process involves two reboots from the time you hit Finish until your host is available again. With the Dell PowerEdge R710s we run the upgrade process took about 40 minutes per host.

Remediation Selection

Remediation Selection

Cleanup work and things to do ^

After you have upgraded all your hosts there are a few things you will want to do to make sure you get all of the advantages of your upgrade. These include:

  1. Scan your upgraded host again for Patches and Updates and go ahead and install those while you are still in Maintenance Mode. Unless you are installing on day 1 of the version being live there are most likely going to be some bug fixes and security patches.
  2. Install the updated VMware tools on each of your Virtual Machines (when possible). Some specialized appliances do not support VMware Tools.
  3. Shutting down the Virtual Machines when possible and choosing to Upgrade Hardware. Make sure that VMware Tools have been updated prior to doing this because you may be missing drivers otherwise leaving your VMs unavailable.
  4. Install the vShield Manager appliance as vShield Endpoint is now included for free with your ESXi host. vShield Endpoint is essentially anti-virus for all your Virtual Machines running at the host level.
  5. Just as cleanup, if you have updated all of your hosts you may choose to remove the upgrade baseline and remove the ISO from both your Update Manager inventory and the datastore.

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