Upgrading vSphere 5.5: what version should I settle with?

In April, VMware blogs posted an article for those who need to upgrade from 5.5 before end of support (documented: September 19, 2018). The article pushed users to consider:

Should I upgrade to 6.5 or 6.7?

The VMware blog article says this: consider the features and value of 6.7–do you need the new gadgets or should you stick with a more time-tested release in 6.5? (those are my words.)

What else to consider?

There’s a good bit more to consider than just features and value. Those are great starting points and will help initiate the project, but there are constraints that administrators had better consider before the upgrade. The cost of up-fitting for these constraints could push the upgrade to a lower version than the latest, shiniest 6.7.

Requirements

Do we even need to say this? If you haven’t kept up with the major changes, it could be a surprise that there are several changes in 6.7 that may not even be compatible in your infrastructure:

  • The Release notes give us a list of CPU’s you cannot use with 6.7 found under the ominous heading “Upgrades and Installations Disallowed for Unsupported CPUs
    (see another article on CPU compatibility)
  • There are similar CPU lists for vSphere 6.5, so awareness of hardware compatibility is key. You could need to only upgrade to 6.0 while you figure out your hardware plan.
  • There are many storage changes in vSphere 6.7. I’m seeing that while hardware may be compatible it can require updated firmware. Storage controllers are particularly likely to need an updated firmware. vSAN makes storage controller firmware updates easy for a lot of storage controllers, but if you’re not using vSAN it may be more of an effort.

Other VMware Products

  • VMware Horizon 7.4 is incompatible with vSphere 6.7. Using Horizon 7.4 or earlier? Stick with vSphere 6.5. The upgrade to Horizon 7.5 warrants it’s own writeup.
  • VMware NSX for vSphere 6.4 is also incompatible with vSphere 6.7. The HCL makes this clear. The Product Interpretability Matrices help here.

Backups?

How about your Backup/DR/Replication solution? Many don’t support vSphere 6.7 yet and who wants to be the one who upgraded, but now has no current backups?

For backups, the variety of solutions is worth considering. This is where a solution that runs on the Hypervisor typically has to be updated when the hypervisor gets a major release. On the other hand, a solution that runs within the virtual environment guest operating system using an agent or other mechanism can typically receive updates outside the hypervisor update cycle.

Other constraints:

There’s more to consider than just what’s here, and that’s close to the point: a thorough review of hardware, firmware, other VMware solutions and third-party solutions needs to go in prior to upgrading 5.5, and upgrading to 6.0x may be a path forward depending on your environment.

Plan and Strategize

Another strategy worth considering: it is normal to have ESXi and vCenter versions out of sync as part of a larger effort. Most of the constraints above are related to ESXi, not vCenter. Horizon and NSX can be exceptions, of course, depending on the versions.

If you’re moving from vCenter on Windows 5.5x and are making the jump to vCSA, then there’s paths forward, and you can usually bump vCenter up to your latest version before touching ESXi. In any case, vCenter always gets the upgrade before ESXi.

Here’s a simple example. You could have ESXi 5.5 / vCenter 5.5 and hardware that is–without some overhaul–incompatible with vSphere 6.5. You could plan your upgrade to run roughly this way:

  1. Upgrade vCenter to 6.5U2
  2. Upgrade ESXi to 6.0U3a.
  3. Plan your hardware upgrades to achieve compatibility to ESXi 6.5.

This would get you off 5.5 and could have you moving forward quickly.

Again, spend some quality time with the VMware Product Interoperability Matrices to validate where you want to go and your best path may make itself clear.

Upgrading to Horizon 7.4

Upgrading VMware Horizon components and the order in which that is done has been significantly improved in the last few years, but at the same time the related VDI components have changed leaving an administrator like me going back to the documentation asking…

how do I go about my upgrade again?”

Thankfully VMware has had their View Upgrades guide published for some time and it’s been updated for VMware Horizon 7.4. This is the go-to document if you’re moving from 5 or 6 with latest patch releases. (It says as much right at the beginning.)

The online documentation: https://docs.vmware.com/en/VMware-Horizon-7/7.4/horizon-upgrades/GUID-E3607442-8936-49A8-97B4-722D012FDF1E.html

The PDF: (for those who love trees so much we like to hold them in our hands…) https://docs.vmware.com/en/VMware-Horizon-7/7.4/horizon-upgrades.pdf

If you’re moving from View 7.x to 7.4 then there’s another guide that just covers patches that may be a help.
https://docs.vmware.com/en/VMware-Horizon-7/7.4/horizon-upgrades/GUID-24196067-1E50-45F0-B008-21B65448DB8F.html#GUID-24196067-1E50-45F0-B008-21B65448DB8F

That said, I still like to review the whole scope of what needs touched when there’s a new release. Essentially, I want to know how much has changed in the whole stack of software. Release notes cover it, but I sometimes like to dig into the full documentation to understand more of how things have changed.

From a whole-system upgrade, here’s the basic list from the documentation above:

  1. Back up View Composer & vCenter, halt some tasks per documentation & Upgrade Composer
    (Composer operations go down during an upgrade)
  2. Backup View Connection Server & Upgrade View Connection Server
    (non-reversible, pay attention to special ordered requirements if you’re still using security servers)
  3. Backup Security Servers & Upgrade Security Servers along with each one’s paired Connection Server
  4. Upgrade GPO’s
  5. Upgrade vCenter (if needed), then vSphere
  6. Upgrade the Horizon Agents on RDS servers or Virtual Desktops/Gold Images
  7. Upgrade Horizon Client

3 cheers for 7 easy steps to an upgrade.

But what about App Volumes, UEM, and other components that View works with? There’s a few considerations I’d like to lay out in a future post, but VMware sends you to the newly pluralized “Product Interoperability Matrices” and doesn’t clutter up their documentation with those other products, though it would be nice if there were more to alert that they do have to be considered.
https://partnerweb.vmware.com/comp_guide2/sim/interop_matrix.php

The bottom line is that for 7.4, it’s green lights for other products below at the versions specified:

UEM back to 9.0
AppVolumes back to 2.12.0
Mirage back to 5.8.1
Horizon Clients back to 3.2.0

UAG back to 2.1
IDM back to 2.9.1

NSX back to 6.2.4
vRealize Operations Manager back to 6.3 or vRealize Operations for Horizon only back to 6.5.0 (this should be upgraded at the same time if you’re using it)