Upgrading a vSphere Essentials 4.1 ESX cluster to vSphere 5.1 with ESXi servers

Over the last few weeks, I needed to upgrade our VMware vSphere 4.1 cluster which had ESX 4.1 servers to vSphere 5.1. Trouble was, there really was not a “here’s the order to do this in” without trying to read thorough many Terrabytes of VMware documentation. So, here’s what I did and it worked for me.


In preparation, on my first ESX 4.1 server, I added a RAID SATA card and moved all the VMs to this Datastore. This left the original ESX Datastore which held the ESX VM on the older drives. The reason I did this will be evident below.


I first started by upgrading the vSphere Center Server from 4.1 to 5.1 . This was as simple as loading the 5.1 disk into the Windows 2003 server that was running vSphere Server. The only issue I found was, I now have what appears to be two versions of MSDE on the server. In reality, it’s all in the 2008 MSDE, but I just hate seeing 2005 listed in “Add or Remove Programs”. Overall, this part of the upgrade took a few hours.


Note that while I was running the upgrade, I ran back to www.vmware.com, logged into my account and asked VMware to upgrade my vSphere Center software license key from 4.1 to 5.1. I needed the key when vSphere Center 5.1 started up.


At this point, I had a vSphere Center Server running 5.1 and handling 4.1 servers. Everything was working fine and I had no lose of connectivity or any other issue.


Now for the actual ESX 4.1 server. Since I had moved all the VMs to a separate Datastore, I removed the old disks and even the controller card for the separate Datastore. I loaded a nice new Samsung 840 Pro SSD drive and proceed to boot up ESXi 5.1 update 1 CD. In about 30 minutes, I had ESXi 5.1 update 1 loaded onto the SSD and rebooting. Once I got ESXi 5.1 running, I setup the network settings and a few other things. I was still under the “60 Day license” to test/run the newly installed ESXi 5.1 system.


I shutdown the ESXi 5.1 server, reinstalled the RAID card holding the VM Datastore and booted back up. ESXi found the new Datastore and automatically added it. Thank you VMware for that simple process!


Using VMware vSphere Client I logged directly into the ESXi 5.1 server. I browsed to the RAID Datastore, found each .VMX file for each VM I was running on that box, and right clicked on it to “Add to Inventory”. I was able to put my old VMs into the new ESXi 5.1 server in just a few minutes and a few clicks. Again, ThankĀ  you VMware for another simple process.


I ran back to vmware.com. Now, this is cool. You can upgrade your ESX/ESXi 4.1 licenses one at a time [or in my case, 2 CPUs at a time]. I upgraded 2 of the 6 available CPU licenses and added the new license to vSphere Server’s license manager.


Last but not least, I then used the VMware vSphere Client to log back into the main vSphere Center. I told vSphere Center to remove the old ESX 4.1 server I had just upgraded and got the usual warnings. I removed the old server without issue. I then click on the cluster and added the new ESXi 5.1 server in it’s place. Sure enough, it came up and asked for licenses to assign. In a few clicks, I had my ESXi 5.1 server added to my mixed-mode cluster of 2 ESX 4.1 servers and now one brand new ESXi 5.1 server [with SSD enabled Datastore].


To break it down:

– Get Vmware license upgrade for vSphere Center from 4.1 to 5.1

– Upgrade your vSphere Center from 4.1 to 5.1. Just install 5.1 disk, follow instructions on disk.

– Get Vmware license upgrade for ESX/ESXi 4.1 to ESXi 5.1 [usually 2 CPUs per upgrade of your 6 in Essentials license].

– Move all VMs to a separate Datastore that you do NOT boot from.

– Install ESXi 5.1 onto server

– login to ESXi 5.1 server and reattach all VMs from separate Datastore.

– Add ESXi 5.1 server to your vSphere Center 5.1.


Other neat things to do after that:

– Install vMA appliance

– Setup backups! I used ghettoVCBv2 to save them to a NFS NAS. This is why I needed the vMA appliance.

– I logged into vSphere Center, clicked a VM running on my new ESXi 5.1 server. I wanted to move it to from the RAID Datastore to the SSD Datastore. You MUST shutdown the VM first to make this work with an Essentials only license. I right clicked on the VM, and selected “Migrate…” . I then clicked on the “Change Datastore” and followed the directions to move the VM from the RAID datastore to the SSD datastore. Just under an hour later, 100Gb VM was moved to the SSD and ready to run. Once again, ThankĀ  you VMware for another simple process.