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Upgrading to ESXi 5.1 - Best Practices

Nov. 02, 2012
Bill Ferguson


If you are upgrading to ESXi 5.1, there are some important facts that you should consider first. Upgrading involves many stages and processes that must be performed in a specific order. Many of these processes are one-way and do not provide a "back button." If you do not use care and consideration in your upgrade plan, you could possibly lose important data and configuration; and potentially even lose contact with your servers.


Why Are You Upgrading?

If you are upgrading to vSphere 5.1, chances are good that it's because vSphere 5.1 has features and benefits that you don't have with your current version of VMware software. This paper is not long enough to even begin a discussion on all of the features and benefits that are available to you on vSphere 5.1 if it is installed properly. The bottom line is that you likely want to perform an installation or upgrade that will afford you the features and benefits that you want with as few headaches as possible.

What Are You Upgrading?

Whether you are upgrading from vSphere 4.x or vSphere 5.0, you need to understand the differences between what you have and what will be available after the upgrade. Of course, there are many new features and benefits available in vSphere 5.1 that were not part of earlier versions of vSphere; but you should also understand that some of what you may have become accustomed to using has been changed in the later versions of vSphere. These changes may not be as dramatic if you are upgrading from vSphere 5.0 rather than from vSphere 4.x.

One of the biggest differences that you will notice if you are upgrading from vSphere 4.x to ESXi 5.x is that ESX is no longer available. This means that the service console, a modified version of Red Hat Linux software, is no longer used. The service console has long been used for a management tool as well as a development environment. The service console has been replaced by a management console that you connect to using a vmkernel port. Also, if you are concerned about where you will use your scripts, you have several options for development, including the vCLI, vSphere Management Assistant (VMA), and even a PowerShell-based PowerCLI. The end result is that you will have a smaller and more secure management platform and still have plenty of tools for development.

On the other hand, if you are upgrading from vSphere 5.0 to vSphere 5.1, then your biggest differences may seem small in comparison to upgrading from vSphere 4.x. This might be especially true if you have a relatively small network. Still, there are differences that you will have to consider in regard to user accounts and authentication and even with regard to setting a vCenter Administrator account. If this has piqued your interest, then keep reading!

What Should You Do to Get Ready?

Due to changes in the software architecture, not all of the configuration files, settings, and third-party tools are guaranteed to be migrated to ESXi 5.x. Because of this, VMware strongly recommends that you note all of your configuration modifications and customizations before performing the upgrade. As a best practice, you should backup any virtual machines (VMs) that are located on the local storage of your ESX/ESXi hosts.

In addition, when you are migrating to ESXi 5.1, you should ensure the following:

- Supported server platform. For a list of supported platforms, see the VMware Compatibility Guide at
- Supported 64-bit CPU with at least two cores
- Support for LAHF and SAHF CPU instructions
- NX/XD bit enabled for the CPU in the BIOS
- To support 64-bit Guest OS on VMs, Intel VT-x, or AMD RVI must be enabled
- Minimum 2GB of physical RAM; 8GB is recommended
- One or more Gigabit or 10Gbps Ethernet controllers. For a complete list of supported controllers, see the VMware - Compatibility Guide at
- SCSI disk or local RAID LUN (with unpartitioned space)
- Supported disk controllers include basic SCSI controllers, Adaptec Ultra-160 or Ultra-320, LSI Logic Fusion-MPT, or most NCR/Symbios SCSI. Supported RAID  controllers include Dell PERC, Adaptec RAID, LSI Logic MegaRAID, HP Smart Array, or IBM ServeRAID controllers. For a complete list of supported controllers, see the  VMware Compatibility Guide at
- SATA, SAS, and SCSI are supported. IDE is not supported for disk. To use a SATA CD-ROM device on the host as a VM drive, you must use IDE emulation mode.
- Unified Extensible Firmware Interface hosts can boot from CD-ROM drives or USB media. Network booting or provisioning with VMware Auto Deploy requires legacy BIOS  firmware.

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