VMware vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA) 6.5 provides an interesting tool allowing you to migrate a vCenter server installed on a Windows system into VCSA.

There's support for migrating Windows vCenter on vSphere versions 5.5 and 6.0. However, if you'd like to migrate a Windows-based vCenter server version 6.5 to VCSA 6.5, you cannot. You can only migrate from vCenter 5.5 to 6.5 or from 6.0 to 6.5.

You can migrate whether you're running vCenter and the VMware Platform Services Controller (PSC) virtual machines (VMs) separately or as an all-in-one implementation on a single VM. Perhaps future releases of VCSA will also support migrating vCenter Windows 6.5 to VCSA 6.5, but for now it is an unsupported scenario.

Why migrate from Windows vCenter to VCSA 6.5? ^

  • Windows licensing cost: VMware Photon OS, which is the base Linux system used for VCSA 6.5, is free. Conversely, Windows licenses are costly. Photon OS has significant reductions in boot times and vCenter application startup times. VMware owns the stack, and this is beneficial for patching and support.
  • VMware Update Manager (VUM): is built-in within VCSA 6.5. You don't have to install a database server and the VUM software on separate Windows machines as you would if you have installed your vCenter server on Windows. It comes with VCSA 6.5.
VMware vSphere Update Manager (VUM)

VMware vSphere Update Manager (VUM)

  • Native High Availability: allows you to protect vCenter server against hardware and software failures. Failover within the vCenter High Availability (HA) cluster can occur when an entire node goes down (in a host failure for example) or when certain key services fail. Note that I discussed this in my previous post: High Availability of vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA) with active-passive configuration.
  • Backup and Restore: VCSA 6.5 has built-in backup and restore features. This is out-of-the-box (OOB) functionality. You can back up vCenter server and PSC appliances directly from the graphical user interface. The backup consists of a set of files that it will stream to another storage location using SCP, HTTP(s), or FTP(s) protocols. This backup fully supports VCSA with embedded and external PSCs.
Built in backup for VMware VCSA

Built in backup for VMware VCSA

Where to find the migration tool and how to start it? ^

Before you start, you should make a backup of your old vCenter server, just in case. Better safe than sorry. Then you have to launch a small executable on your existing Windows vCenter server, and only then you can execute the migration assistant from the main VCSA Installation window.

Step 1: Go to your existing vCenter server running on Windows and execute the VMware Migration Assistant from the VMware VCSA 6.5 installation ISO:

VMware Migration Assistant

VMware Migration Assistant

Step 2: Go back to your management workstation or laptop, which can be Windows, Mac, or Linux, and then execute the main installer. The image below shows the Windows installer present on the VCSA 6.5 ISO image.

VCSA installer executable

VCSA installer executable

The main installation window appears and shows you the different installation, backup, or migration options. We can expect VMware to enhance this screen further in the next version of vSphere.

VCSA 6.5 installer with the Migrate option

VCSA 6.5 installer with the Migrate option

After you start the migration, you'll see what happens next.

Stage 1:

  • Connect to the source server and chose a target (ESXi or vCenter).
  • Set up the target appliance, deployment size, datastore, and network.
Different stages of the migration process

Different stages of the migration process

Stage 2:

  • The second stage completes the appliance setup and copies data from the source Windows vCenter server to the deployed appliance.

What is migrated (copied)? ^

The migration will copy quite a few things, and you can choose from three radio buttons depending on what you need to keep.

You can migrate (copy):

  • Configuration
  • Configuration, events, and tasks
  • Configuration, events, tasks, and performance metrics

If you want to copy and keep only the configuration (first option), the migration process will finish faster.

Stage 2 of the VCSA 6.5 migration

Stage 2 of the VCSA 6.5 migration

After the copy succeeds, the source vCenter server shuts down. This allows the system to configure the same network settings as the source vCenter.

If you've already migrated your backup software to the latest version supporting vSphere 6.5, then you won't have to reconfigure anything. All network identities are the same, with the same vCenter certificates, licensing, and so on.

Shutting down the source vCenter server

Shutting down the source vCenter server

After this you should see a final screen that recaps the migration process. You're done with the migration. VMware has done quite a good job making sure that the process is as easy as possible for the admin.

Completing the migration process

Completing the migration process

Expect this process to be long. In my lab, it took me about 40 minutes to execute the migration process from start to finish.

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If you still want to stay on the Windows-based vCenter, there is no problem. There is an in-place migration option too. So at the end, you'll keep your vCenter on Windows, but you'll have to upgrade the components (vCenter server, single sign-on, vSphere Web Client, or the inventory service) one by one. And if you're using VUM (not mandatory) then you'll have to proceed with a VUM upgrade too. The VCSA 6.5 migration tool facilitates all of this.

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