One of the lesser known built-in products in VMware vSphere is the vSphere Update Manager (VUM). In this post, we'll be targeting only vCenter Server running as a virtual appliance (VCSA) and not on Windows.

Vladan Seget

Vladan Seget is an independent consultant, professional blogger, vExpert 2009-2019, VCAP-DCA/DCD and MCSA. He has been working for over 20 years as a system engineer.

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VUM has been part of the whole package for several VCSA releases. In fact, VUM integration to VCSA was introduced with vSphere 6.5. You can access VUM directly from within the same console and you don't need to install any add-ons (which is a requirements for installations on Windows systems).

As such, many users simply did not use this product and have only limited knowledge of how helpful it can be for repetitive tasks when maintaining a VMware infrastructure.

Configuring VMware vSphere Update Manager ^

Since there are many guides to upgrading or patching ESXi hosts via VUM, let's focus on the configuration and VM-level upgrades which might interest you even more.

Access VUM directly after login via the vSphere Web client. There is a shortcut icon and menu item on the left as well. Both direct you to the Update Manager.

VMware vSphere Update Manager access icon

VMware vSphere Update Manager access icon

VUM can maintain hosts and clusters up-to-date and ensure the latest security patches are deployed. VUM can also fully automate the cluster maintenance operations by doing the following:

  1. Migrating all VMs from a host
  2. Putting the host into maintenance mode
  3. Installing patches, rebooting, and exiting maintenance mode
  4. Patching another host by migrating all VMs from that host

VUM can also automate most of the VM-level operations, such as:

  • Upgrading VM hardware on all (or specific) VMs within the overall infrastructure
  • Upgrading VM tools (including VM reboot)
  • Scheduling the above operations

These operations are very repetitive. With VUM, you don't have to sit all night in front of your cluster to perform those operations manually, whether you're maintaining cluster hardware or upgrading the VM hardware level on 500+ VMs.

Here's another tip for configuring the settings within vSphere Update Manager (VUM). By default, the settings may not be optimal for your infrastructure if you're planning a VM hardware upgrade. VUM can be configured to take a snapshot before the upgrade. This enables rolling back changes if you spot any problems after you have upgraded you VM's hardware level.

To get there, click VUM icon > Settings > Remediate > VMs.

Change the default settings for VMs and snapshots in VUM

Change the default settings for VMs and snapshots in VUM

Upgrading the VM hardware level is like changing a motherboard on an existing system. Sometimes you can have set of hardware configured on a VM that might not work as expected after you upgrade the VM hardware level. Some VMs might have directly attached hardware, such as hardware dongles used for software licensing, or USB flash drives.

Correct configuration of VUM is important. You must ensure it suits your needs. Use the Administration Settings menu to change the VUM settings. It is possible to change the schedule for checking and downloading patches (the default is once daily), or you can change network settings if you're behind a proxy/firewall.

Upgrade the VM hardware level with VUM: This is a cool VUM option that enables automatically upgrading your VM's hardware to a higher version and automatically triggering an update of the VMware tools afterward. If VM reboot is necessary, it also initiates the reboot to complete the VM tools update. While this can be set at the Data Center level, I personally prefer to set this at the VM level instead. This is especially useful if you group your workloads into different categories or have business requirements.

You can also apply this setting on a per-folder basis. When selecting your Data Center folder, go to Updates > VM Hardware and select all (or individual) VMs within your folder. The status of the VM hardware is displayed on the column on the right.

VM Hardware Upgrade via VUM

VM Hardware Upgrade via VUM

A quick tip for host settings: As you can see, the default settings do not change the VM power state. In most situations, this is fine. However, sometimes you might need to change this behavior and use Suspend or Power Off, both of which you can find in the drop-down menu. You can also have a look at other options that allow you to disconnect removable media devices that might prevent the host from entering its maintenance mode.

It is also here that you can enable a quick boot for your host if your hardware supports it.

Change settings for ESXi hosts in VUM if necessary

Change settings for ESXi hosts in VUM if necessary

Upgrading VMware tools on VMs ^

After you upgrade your ESXi host, there is usually a new version of VMware tools available. You can update your VM tools on a per-VM basis, but it's a tedious task. Instead, you can let VUM handle it. Simply select your host, then select Updates > VMware Tools. After clicking Check Status, you'll get a refreshed view of your current situation. Once there, you can use the filters to filter only the VMs which have VM upgrade tools available. Then click Upgrade to Match Host.

Upgrade to match the host

Upgrade to match the host

This opens a new wizard that details the situation. You can see the details of which VMs will be upgraded along with scheduling options.

Click the scheduling options to change the default (which is immediately) and schedule the operation. There are also individual options, depending on the VM's state (Powered on, suspended, or powered off). Each of these options can be configured differently. For example, you might want to upgrade suspended and powered off VMs immediately, but schedule the VMs that are running. It's on this screen that you do this.

Scheduled upgrade of VMware tools

Scheduled upgrade of VMware tools

Conclusion ^

As you can see, it's easy and intuitive. VUM is a cool function within vSphere and admins are increasingly using it. VUM is available on any vSphere edition that has VMware vCenter Server. This means you can have the vSphere Essentials edition, which can manage only three ESXi hosts, and you can still use VUM. VUM isn't available on ESXi hosts that are not managed by vCenter Server or ESXi Free. Those systems can only be managed through the ESXi HTML5 web console. However, it does not provide any automation or scheduling capabilities.

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