Using the “Forklift” Strategy To Upgrade vCenter Server

When upgrading vCenter server, there’s several different approaches available and it may be beneficial to take advantage of the opportunity to do an OS refresh or more.  I thought I’d share my own experience with upgrading from 4.0 to 4.1 as well as look at the 4.x > 5.0 recommendations.

We had a vCenter 4.0 server with a local SQL database that we wanted to upgrade to vCenter 4.1, but we wanted to upgrade to SQL 2008 R2 and Windows 2008 R2 and there were some other “legacy” elements from this build such that we would have preferred to clean up with a fresh start.  We also wanted to deploy vCenter Heartbeat so trying to do an in-place upgrade just didn’t seem right as we wanted a “cleaner” vCenter environment.

Fortunately it’s rather easy to “forklift” the vCenter database to a new server.  The first thing we would do is to build a new Windows 2008 R2 server the way we wanted it, including the network customizations to accommodate vCenter Heartbeat.  Then we installed SQL 2008 and then vCenter Server  the way we wanted it and we were ready for the “forklift”.

We used RedGate SQL Backup which was able to compress the vCenter database to less than 5% of its native size.  This allowed us to quickly copy the much smaller file over the LAN and restore the database onto the target server.  In a matter of minutes the database was up and running on the target server.

Now not all vCenter information is stored within the database.  Things like SSL certs and some vCenter configuration parameters are stored in additional files.  Here you have the choice to use VMware’s data migration tool or you can choose to move these files manually.

After a few DNS changes and re-installing plugins (like VUM and Orchestrator) we were done and with very little downtime.  No data was lost – all the performance history, permissions, cluster HA/DRS settings were intact.

Often times the first-take is that in-place upgrades are easier, but they can also be a little less “clean”.  If you have reason to desire a fresh start, don’t overlook the opportunity to build a new vCenter server and “forklift” your active configuration to it.

In the VMware vSphere 5.0 Upgrade Best Practices document, some forklift approaches are discussed in greater detail.  Don’t overlook the opportunity to get a clean start as its really not that difficult.

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