Upgrade your Virtual Hardware in a few minutes, with a twist.



I attended last months Cincinnati VMUG (VMware User Group) and was surprised to hear the responses from the audience on how many customers had not taken the plunge, and upgraded to vSphere yet.  I think there were a handful of users that had just completed the upgrade.  Sometimes I forget to step out of my own personal space and consider what others have going on in their own environments.  If your still wondering about the upgrade, Aaron has a post on some of the benefits of going from VI3 to vSphere.

Part of the process of upgrading your existing investment is the need to upgrade all of the virtual machines to the latest and greatest virtual machine hardware version 7.  Someone mentioned to me how much of a pain this was since you had to touch each virtual machine, and my response to them was “It only takes a couple of minutes”.  I wanted to prove this theory in a different way, so I mulled over it and came up with a timed video clip.  The song I chose is 2 minutes and 39 seconds, so I figured If I can knock this out within the amount of time it takes for the song to play, well then, mission accomplished.

vSphere Upgrade Thoughts

Before getting into my bizarre video clip challenge, some quick thoughts and comments from my personal experiences on the upgrade are as follows.

  • Make sure that you check the new HCL for vSphere prior to the upgrade, some of your older server hardware might not be technically compatible or supported with the new release of code.
  • Understand the licensing changes that have taken place before you begin your upgrade process.  Work with your account team or VAR and understand the features and functionality that fit your environment.  You need to ensure your current licenses get ported over so the newer licensing server will be able to register your newer ESX hosts.
  • If your going to slowly transition over to vSphere you will need to maintain a legacy license server for the older VI3 hosts until your migration is complete.
  • Testing your upgrade is a lab environment is always a good approach if you have the infrastructure.
  • If you are utilizing hardware management agents on your ESX hosts or third party backup software, make sure you get the latest agents that support the current release of vSphere.
  • If you are upgrading your existing Virtual Center database, make sure you do a backup prior to the upgrade.  We chose to “leap frog” into our new environment, so we built the new Virtual Center server from ground up then disconnected the ESX hosts out of the old into the new.
Virtual Hardware

So what is virtual hardware anyways and why do I care?  Virtual hardware is an important component of your infrastructure and you should understand what it means to you.  You must be running version 7 to leverage some of the new features you will find in vSphere like the paravirtual storage driver (pvSCSI) and the paravirtual network driver (VMXNET3).  Here is the technical definition straight out of the admin guide.

The hardware version of a virtual machine indicates the lower-level virtual hardware features supported by the virtual machine, such as BIOS, number of virtual slots, maximum number of CPUs, maximum memory configuration, and other characteristics typical to hardware.  Virtual machines with hardware versions lower than 4 can run on ESX/ESXi 4.x hosts but have reduced performance and capabilities. In particular, you cannot add or remove virtual devices on virtual machines with hardware versions lower than 4 when they reside on an ESX/ESXi 4.x host.

Here is a table that lists what each version of the virtual hardware can support and what limitations you might experience:


Get your Groove on

Here are the steps that I take in the video to upgrade the Windows virtual hardware version from 4 to 7.  Many thanks to Scott Lowe for posting these upgrade instructions to his blog, it helped our efforts tremendously as we were early adopters of vSphere.  Don’t forget to upgrade your templates so all of your future virtual machines you implement will be running version 7.

  1. Upgrade your VMware tools in the guest operating system.
  2. Once the upgrade is complete, shut the guest operating system down.
  3. Upgrade the virtual machine hardware.  (Right click virtual machine, upgrade)
  4. Add the new VMXNET3 network adapter. (now an option)
  5. Remove the old network adapter.
  6. Power on the virtual machine.
  7. Let the hardware discovery execute and add the new devices.
  8. Reboot the system.
  9. Finished.

Matt Costa is the featured artist here, the song is titled “Sweet Rose”.  Enjoy!!

  1. Screwing up machines is always faster than fixing them. It sounds like you are suggesting that the speed and hasle of touching VM's when changing them over to Virtual Hardware level 7 is the reason behind the population not doing so. I think there is more to it. I wrote about my experiences to upgrading VMs to level 7 here: http://itforme.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/side-ef

    Hope this saves someone's tail.

  2. Sketchy00,
    Thanks for the comments. What I was trying to suggest is that there is a lot of work involved in upgrading to vSphere, and this is only one of the steps that needs to be performed as part of the upgrade process. We have an environment that consists of ~1000 virtual machines so my attempt was to try to demonstrate how quickly you can knock this out.

    Introducing a change in your environment is always going to open you up to some risk. I suggest creating snapshots and testing this process out before you upgrade your production virtual machine environment. Snapshots will in fact capture changes that take place when going from version 4 to version 7.

    I read your article and that is great technical feedback for users to be aware of as they are going through this process.

  3. Ah… yeah, I suppose when you are putting it in the context of 1,000 vms, I can now understand what you were attempting to demonstrate. I was kicking myself a bit for what was an otherwise great upgrade process to vsphere, and I simply didn't pay enough attention to the virtual hardware upgrade. The ease of upgrading from virtual hardware 4 to 7 made me trivialize the matter. …my bad.

    Keep up the great posts.

  4. Makes it look simple, sure but what is done above is trivial to the process as far as the big picture goes for an Enterprise. The amount of paperwork/red tape work that this type of thing done against a massive number of VMs is the real issue. Getting an outage for so many VMs, coordinating outages for VMs with dependencies, Change Management will require backups and rollback options (rollback for hw upgrade can be a copy of the .vmx file before) etc… This is where the real time is consumed in such an upgrade

  5. I guess we have to wait a little bit for some feedback from people that actually upgraded to version 7.0 and see how they manage with it. We could debate for hours here, but the real thing is always what counts.

  6. These requirements are not so bad. It's something that I've expected, and I've already got my eyes on a used computer hardware place so I start renewing everything. Thank you for the info.

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