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VSphere 4.0 upgrades simple, but not without pitfalls

One IT director explains that his vSphere 4.0 upgrade went more easily than he expected, but there were still problems.

A vSphere 4.0 upgrade went smoothly for Christian Metz, the director of information technology for the Orange County United Way and an independent IT consultant. Still, the organization hit some snags when deploying VMware vSphere 4.0.

In this Q&A with News Writer Bridget Botelho, Metz describes what it was like to upgrade to vSphere 4.0.

Bridget Botelho: I am curious about the vSphere 4.0 upgrade process. Can you let me in on your experience? Christian Metz: In order to upgrade our systems, I read two VMware documents: the vSphere 4 Upgrade Guide and the vCenter Update Manager Administration Guide. These guides helped to instruct me on the process by which you upgrade your VCS [Virtual Center Server], then the hosts, and then the clients. If done correctly, this process can be simple, fast and seamless.

To upgrade the VCS, you basically download the update and install it. It's all wizard-based and very straightforward. … The host and client upgrades is where this gets a little trickier. If you have the Update Manager piece, you can very simply schedule all your upgrades to run automatically. If not, you need to use the vSphere Host Update Utility, which is an ad hoc utility [and] allows users to upgrade their hosts manually.

In my situation, I used the [VMware vCenter] Update Manager, as I had this utility available to me. The process was extremely straightforward, and I actually found it went much faster than anticipated. The other nice thing about this process is that if you have live migration and shared storage, there is no need for downtime on your systems. You can migrate all systems to host "B," upgrade host "A," then vice versa. This process will of course require host downtime, but if you can just live migrate your hosts, users will see no downtime. Other than that, the only other downtime necessary is when running the client upgrade process. There is a software and a hardware upgrade process; the systems must be shut down to do the hardware upgrade, which of course requires the server to be offline, requiring off-hours support.

While there are utilities built in to automate this process through Update Manager, I was unable to make them work correctly. Also, after speaking with VMware and other users who have tried this approach, it was the consensus that the automated utilities only work some of the time. But to be honest, I would rather do my upgrades manually to ensure everything runs smoothly.

With all that said, I must tell you that the whole thing was really quite simple and straightforward. I had put this upgrade on hold due to its seeming complexity, but once I dove in and got it done, it was much easier than I had anticipated.

Botelho: What about the infrastructure to support vSphere 4.0? Do you need new networking equipment? New servers?.

Metz: There are no new requirements on networking. There are a couple of situations where, if you incorrectly upgrade your systems, it can screw up your configurations. But for the most part, if you follow the guides I listed, you should have no issues.

[As for] new servers, there is no requirement here. It is the same as a normal VMware deployment.

Botelho: Was there a lot to learn about vSphere 4.0 before using it?

Metz: The only training requirement is the time necessary to read the two documents I [mentioned earlier]. Other than that, general working knowledge of VMware is definitely a plus, but the guides walk you through it pretty much step by step.

Post upgrade, there are some nice new features in the new VMware vSphere Client (which replaced the Virtual Infrastructure Client). To me, the best change was just in general navigation. Some of those lesser-used features that you need to get at from time to time are not available on the home screen. This makes it much easier to locate what you need and not spend a bunch of time just trying to find the feature you need.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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