VM Junkie

September 1, 2009

Why VMware’s ESX3 to ESX4 Upgrade Sucks

Filed under: vmware, vSphere — ermac318 @ 6:00 am

Working for a VMware partner, I’m involved in a lot of design and service engagements. Recently, we’ve gone through two major vSphere upgrades at a couple clients, and both times we’ve done what VMware refers to as a “Migration” upgrade, where we are moving VMs off of old servers onto new servers. This is great – it gives us a chance to get the customer on ESXi (for reasons I’ve spoken of previously) and it means we don’t have to go through the ESX3.x to ESX4 upgrade process, which sucks. The sad thing is, the reason it sucks is entirely VMware’s fault and could have been avoided.

Let us begin with a little background about how the new Service Console works in ESX4: Not only does it do less, it takes up more space! That’s exiting… But the real problem is that now the Service Console lives inside a VMDK file. Or at least, that’s what VMware says. But in reality, it doesn’t completely live inside a VMDK, only most of its partitions live in a VMDK. There are still two key partitions (/boot and the vmkcore partition) which live on regular, standard partitions. This means you have the following possible scenarios:

  • System has local storage or a private SAN LUN with three partitions: /boot, vmkcore, and a local VMFS3 partition where the COS VMDK lives.
  • System has local storage or a private SAN LUN with two partitions: /boot, vmkcore, and a SAN-based VMFS3 partition where the COS VMDK lives (for that server and maybe others as well).

I don’t like either of these. Why? Because beforehand, our best practices were to remove all the local VMFS partitions. This was to avoid confusion and to prevent people from accidentally placing a VM on a local volume and then wondering why VMotion didn’t work. Now, having that local VMFS volume is a necessity – unless you want to split the boot of your ESX server between one LUN with the /boot and vmkcore, and another LUN with the actual COS. This makes no sense.

Why did VMware place the Service Console disks inside a VMDK file? In the various training, this is always touted as a feature, but for the life of me I can’t think of a reason why this is a good thing. It’s not like we can Storage VMotion our Service Console VMDK (as far as I know), and it’s not like expanding our partitions and such get any easier by virtue of it being a VMDK. From where I see it, this was a dumb architectural decision, and ever since the Beta when I complained about it, I’ve always gotten the same shrug. The best answer I ever got out of VMware related to this was “well, if you don’t like it, use ESXi.”

That’s great, we’re already doing that. But what about customers who want a real upgrade path? VMware doesn’t provide one for ESX -> ESXi , other than blow the system away and start from scratch. I can’t use Update Manager to do a clean, managed upgrade from ESX to ESXi, and from where I see it VMware should’ve had that ready to go out of the gate -bBecause from what they’re telling partners and customers, ESX4 Classic is the end of the road for the Service Console. Instead, it’s write down the configuration, rip out the hard disks, and replace them with a flash device.

And that sucks.



  1. I agree on the VMDK stuff I think it’s stupid as hell. I re-installed my systems mainly to go from local disk to boot from SAN(when I originally set them up our storage system was NAS only, since replaced it with a better array).

    I prefer the big service console of ESX myself, don’t like the lack of serial console support on ESXi, though I do have about a dozen ESXi systems in the field with local storage. Also the network installer for ESX is quite a bit better than ESXi in my opinion.

    Comment by nate — September 1, 2009 @ 8:38 am

  2. The thing is the service console itself got less useful with vSphere, and over time has gotten less useful thanks to tools like PowerCLI and the like. Plus, there’s always tech support mode.
    Moreover, I don’t bother “installing” ESXi, I image USB keys. That’s way easier than any installer.

    Comment by ermac318 — September 1, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

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