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Best Upgrade Method Free ESXi 3.5 to Paid/Enterprise 4.1

Posted on 2010-09-17
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Last Modified: 2013-11-11
We're running the free version of ESXi 3.5   I wanted to find out the best way to move to the enterprise level VMware 4.1.  I understand there really isn't an upgrade path available so I need to determine the best method for accomplishing this goal.

Current Setup:

(2) Physical Hosts - Each host has approximately 4 virtual machines.
Datastore resides on local storage RAID 5 array.


We just purchased a 4TB ready NAS which will be available for use as a datastore as well (FYI).


I want to upgrade the (2) aforementioned hosts from 3.5 to 4.1.  I'd like to continue using my VMs on the existing local storage (because our local storage is quite big, but if I need to migrate servers to the NAS temporarily I can do that as well.

Please provide a step by step.  Thank you in advance!
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Question by:derrickonline
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BloodRed earned 250 total points
ID: 33702142
Your first step should be to install vCenter 4.1, on either another physical host or within a VM, then add your ESXi hosts to inventory. Add your licenses to vCenter.  

At this point if your NAS is available, configured the datastore on each host and Storage vMotion the VMs from each ESX host to your NAS.  Now you can place ESXA in Maintenance Mode and vMotion all VMs to ESXB.  Power down ESXA and boot from the ESX(i) 4.1 media, perform the installation and add to vCenter inventory once again.  Next, vMotion all VMs from ESXB to ESXA, place ESXB in Maintenance Mode and repeat the process.  

Once both ESX hosts are running 4.1 and are added to vCenter, you can create a cluster and utilize the features you paid for such as vMotion, HA, DRS, FT and svMotion.  You can svMotion your VMs back to local storage and they will function just fine, however you will lose the above mentioned features.  

Good luck!
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Expert Comment

by:bgoering
ID: 33702197
Easiest path would be to migrate the vms to your NAS, for Enterprise level either create a new vm for your vCenter server (on the NAS) or on a seperate physical box. Install vCenter server and update manager. Configure a cluster and put your 3.5 hosts in the cluster.

vmotion all of your vms to one ESX sever, then use update manager to update the empty server. vmotion all of the vms to the newly upgraded ESXi, then repeat update manager process on the other server.

Note that if you insist on using local storage for your vms many of the enterprise level features such as vmotion, HA, and DRS will be unavailable to you as they require the use of shared storage.

I know this is high level - if you want details on any of the above steps just ask

Good Luck
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33702230
Bloodred:

That's exactly the type of answer I was looking for.  My biggest concern was adding vCenter to a VM that already exists on 3.5 ESXi that's not going to be a problem??  If I install vCenter on a existing vm on 1 host running ESX 3.5 that won't pose any problem with your suggestion?  

Also, you mentioned storage vmotion the vms from each host to the nas.  Place ESXA (I assume you mean host A) into maintenance mode then storage vmotion the vms to ESXB (I assume you mean host B)?  But I thought we already storage vmotioned those vms to the NAS beforehand as mentioned in your instructions?  
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33702258
Bgoerieng:

Your solution sounds similar to Bloodred's.  I can still vMotion my 3.5 esx free version using 4.1 paid vcenter??  

You're correct about the local storage and loosing functionality.  So let's change my original question to:

I want to upgrade from FREE version of ESXi to Paid Enterprise 4.1 and move my VMs from local storage to NAS.

Why about all that precious space left on my local storage?  Can I still use that for something?  
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by:BloodRed
ID: 33702349
I mentioned svMotioning the VMs to the NAS, that moves their backend files from the local storage to the NAS.  Then I suggested performing a standard vMotion to move the running VMs from host A to host B, that way the VMs never go offline and you can re-install ESX on host A.  The first step moves the storage, the second moves the VM itself so that it is now running on host B.  That way nothing no VM files are stored on host A and no VMs are running on host A.  

There should not be an issue running vCenter as a VM under the older ESX version, so long as the VM meets the vCenter requirements.  Obvioulsy, test it out to ensure it's functioning properly though for your own peace of mind.  Also, you should have access to VMware Converter with the paid version, if you are unable to vMotion the VMs for any reason you can use Converter to clone them to the NAS, and if all else fails you can install vCenter on a laptop or workstation temporarily until your ESXi hosts are stable.  
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33702414
Bloodred:

Ahh, so your suggestion means zero downtime?  I likey likey.  :)    And that actually makes it a hell of a lot easier.  So when I'm done I can just vMotion the vms back but leave the storage vmotion (backend files) on the NAS?  

Next question, the two hosts don't have identical hardware configurations.  Their the same hardware, one has a slightly slower processor, definitely less memory, and less storage.  I know the storage won't be an issue since we will storage vmotion files, but will less memory and slower processor create any issues?  Neither are maxing the memory they have and nether hosts are taxing their processors but I'm more concerned with SLIGHTLY (very slightly) dissimilar hardware configurations.

RECAP (after this I think I feel comfortable going for it).

1.  Your solution provides ZERO downtime?

2.  Dissimilar hardware (slightly dissimilar) a problem?  Yes or no?

3.  Once I storage vMotion to NAS I can leave the backend storage vmotioned files there and just vMotion my vms from HOST B back to HOST A after HOST A is upgraded?  Same for HOST B.

4.  Can I still make use of all that local storage on my servers?  It seems like a waste to let it all go.

Thank you!  
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Assisted Solution

by:bgoering
bgoering earned 250 total points
ID: 33702452
derrickonline: yes, quite similar - it looks like we were typing at about the same time. Both solutions are correct.

Yes, if you create your vCenter server and add the 3.5 hosts first, then you can utilize svmotion to move your vms to the NAS device.

About all that precious local storage... If you have vms that you don't care about HA, DRS, and vmotion for. I have seen folks install something like openfiler and use local storage for iSCSI or NFS shares to other vms or physical boxes like a fileserver. Just be aware if that ESX host goes down or you need to take it down for maintenance you will lose access to any vms that are running locally.

Hope this helps
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Expert Comment

by:bgoering
ID: 33702465
I should note that personally I use local storage for a few infrastructure machines that I want to be able to keep up if the SAN needs to come down for maintenance. I also use local storage for OS isos.
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33702549
Great idea bgoering!  I think you covered #1 in my last question so once i get an answer for 2-4 I'll accept my answers.   Measure twice cut once right?  :)
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33702584
Actually bgoering, you nailed the last few questions I had....if I could just get an answer on #3 I can accept and leave you two alone!  :)
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by:bgoering
ID: 33702653
"3.  Once I storage vMotion to NAS I can leave the backend storage vmotioned files there and just vMotion my vms from HOST B back to HOST A after HOST A is upgraded?  Same for HOST B."

That is absolutely correct :)
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33702671
AHHH.  I'm sorry I meant question #2  not 3.  About the dissimilar hardware.
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Expert Comment

by:BloodRed
ID: 33703234
For #2, it will depend upon how different your CPUs are.  vMotion requires CPUs to have similar features, and even the same model of CPU can differ between steppings.  vSphere introduces Enhanced vMotion Compatiblity (EVC) which allows you to mask many CPU features, but you won't be able to take advantage of that until you've upgraded your ESX hosts.  What model are your two CPUs?

As long as they CPUs are fairly similar, you can always shut the VM down and move it manually or use Converter.  Not perfect, but it works.  
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Expert Comment

by:bgoering
ID: 33703548
If both hosts are Intel, or if both hosts are AMD, and they support 64 bit which is a requirement for 4.1, then you can certainly use EVC on your cluster so that vmotion, HA, and DRS will all be supported.

If your hosts are 3.5 Update 2 or above you can use the EVC feature - that is when it was introduced - so you won't necessarily have to upgrade your ESX hosts first. However if the two hosts are at different compatibility levels - that may impact your zero down time because you will have to shutdown the vm guests to add the newer host to your EVC cluster. Add your oldest processor architecture to the cluster first then select the highest EVC level it will allow you to select. You will get an error if you pick a level that is to high, no problem - just select a different radio button and try again to configure EVC.

Good Luck
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33716743
Thank you guys.  Both systems have nearly identical processors, just one has a slightly slower processor.  2.1 vs 2.5 GHz.  Nothing significant.  The memory is again lower on one, 12GB vs 32GB.  Both are HP Proliant GL350 G5s  So I suspect that vMotion shouldn't be an issue at all.  The only potential issue I see is memory contraints.  But hopefully it will be so temporary that my systems will survive the move.
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Author Comment

by:derrickonline
ID: 33736541
Guys if you're still around I need to ask another question.  I can definitely get one of my servers (server A) upgraded to 4.1 by vmotioning machines to server B.  But the problem is the server A (when it's time to temporarily vmotion ALL servers back to it) doesn't have enough physical memory to support the added load of it's own VMs plus ones it's temporarily holding while I upgrade that server.

So here's my question.  Can I just upgrade one of the hosts to 4.1 using bootable media?  So can a 3.5 host still retain 4.1 vms?  If so then how would I then go about upgrading the VMs.  Keep in mind downtime isn't a huge issue if I have to take something off line so be it.  
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