vSphere Upgrade process – WHY?

IT infrastructure is nowadays crucial for every business. So if parts of the infrastruture are not running or the whole infrastructure is down, companies will not only lose money but also reputation. I was talking to a customer in my early days and we ask him “How long can you survive without your Exchange server“. The customers quick answer was 1 week. We already knew that the customer wasn’t aware about how many systems were using this server or which departments are heavily rely on a working e-Mail system and after a short conversion we were down to 1 hours maximum. Many customers don’t even know which systems are interacting with each other.

That makes the following question even more important before I even think about an upgrade. And this is independent of whatever needs to be upgraded in your environment.

The question is “WHY do I need to upgrade my environment?”

Hardware lifecycle

Let’s assume you are currently running HPE Gen8/DELL Rx20 servers and vSphere 6.0 U2. Now you need to expand an existing cluster. The only possibility is to buy actual server hardware ( HPE Gen10/DELL Rx40). But both of them are only supported with vSphere 6.0 U3 and higher. So you need to either upgrade the existing cluster to 6.0 U3 or build a new cluster with 6.0 U3 or higher.

Software lifecycle

When using VMware products there is a lifecycle matrix for every product which can be found here. In this matrix you find important dates like end of general support and end of technical guidance. Not only lifecycle but also compatibility between certain products is important. I will demonstrate this with an example.

A customer is currently running VMware View 5.3.4 and vSphere 5.5 U1. He want’s to upgrade to vSphere 6.7 U1 because vSphere 5.5 is already end of general support. Here are the steps he needs to take to get there.

  1. Upgrade to View 5.3.7 (latest maintenance release, which is required to upgrade to newer Horizon View versions, according to documentation)
  2. Upgrade to View 6.2.7/7.0.3 (latest Horizon View release which supports vSphere 5.5 U1)
  3. Upgrade to vCenter 6.0 U3 (latest vSphere version which supports View 6.2.7/7.0.3)
  4. Upgrade to ESXi 6.0 U3
  5. Upgrade to View 7.7
  6. Upgrade to vCenter 6.7 U1
  7. Upgrade to ESXi 6.7 U1

As you can see going from a really old version to a newer one can include multiple tasked. Not to mention that every single task also includes several other subtasks like upgrading Horizon agents etc. As you can see staying on a real old version can make you a lot of headache in the future. So plan your software lifecycle accordingly.

Operating Systems

If you have to use newer operating system versions like Ubuntu 18.04/Debian 9/Windows 2019 Server you also need to upgrade because these are only supported on vSphere 6.5 and higher. You can check the operating system compatibility list here.

New Features

With every new version of vSphere new features are introduced which makes your life as an virtualization administrator easier. If you have a requirement for e.g. HTML5 Client, PerVM-EVC, SMP-FT, VCSA improvements etc. you also have to upgrade to the newest version or to a version which supports your requirements.

Compliance Requirements

If you are working in the financial sector and produce payment cards you are liable to the PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). In version 3.2 of this standard SSL/TLS 1.0 is not allowed. So you would need to upgrade to a vSphere version that supports TLS 1.1/1.2 to stay compliant with this standard.

Security

The last but one of the most important reasons to upgrade your environment are security related issues. This includes Meltdown/Spectre/Spectre-NG/L1TF and all the other ones which will arise in the future.

Now that we know WHY we would need to upgrade an environments let’s go and gather all the required information we need.

My next blog post will cover how to gather important hardware information.

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