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June 20, 2022

vSphere Lifecycle Manager – Getting Started

Are you tired of searching for compatibility issues and mismatches? Search no more.

 

VMware has solved this issue with vSphere Lifecycle Manager.

 

Every one of us who is familiar with VMware vSphere environments has faced the never-ending story: patching, upgrading ESXI drivers, firmware, hotfixes, and the struggle to stay in line with VMware’s compatibility matrix.

 

In the past, this important task was hard to follow and consumed a lot of valuable time.
Until now, we used an external VMware tool called Update Manager (as of version 6.5, it is now embedded into the vCenter appliance). However, this great tool did not support managing the Firmware upgrade for ESXI host and the relevant adapters, so problems remained.

 

In vSphere 7, VMware has added a new component to the vCenter Appliance, geared to replace the Update Manager and add new, improved functionality, including Firmware upgrades. The new component is called vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM).

 

vLCM is a new way to manage our vSphere environments, including upgrades and creating and enforcing a baseline for ESXI hosts in a given cluster.

 

Below is a table comparing the features of Update Manager and vLCM:

 

Update Manager vLCM
ESXI installation using Images ESXI installation using Images
ESXI Patches ESXI Patches
VMtools Upgrade VMtools Upgrade
VM Hardware upgrade VM Hardware upgrade
Physical Hardware Upgrade  (Firmware)
Managing cluster software using desired state images
Verify host hardware against the VMware Compatibility Guide (VCG) and the vSAN Hardware Compatibility List (vSAN HCL).
Automated Firmware Updates
1 Baseline can contain all packages needed for the entire stack

 

Limitations and considerations regarding vLCM:

 

• All ESXI hosts must be version 7.0 and above.
• All ESXI hosts must be stateful
• All ESXI hosts must be from the same vendor.
• Cannot manage supervisor cluster.
• Cannot manage clusters that are prepared for NSX.
• If a cluster is configured to use base images, it cannot be changed back to using baselines.
• Only Dell and HPE Servers are supported for updating firmware via vLCM.

 

So, which tool should I use? Update manager or vLCM?

 

vSphere 7.0 supports both the legacy Update Manager and the new vLCM methods of managing the upgrade process. However, only one method can be used per cluster. The vSphere administrator must decide which tool is used on a per cluster basis.

 

When there is a desire to move to vLCM, the UI offers a “Manage with a single image” button at the root of the cluster that will begin the process of transitioning that cluster to be managed by vLCM, and not by the legacy Update Manager.

 

As mentioned above, not all vendors and features are supported yet with vLCM. If we have an environment with mixed server generations and vendors such that some of our servers or cluster are not supported by vLCM, we can utilize the legacy Update Manager while we can still use the advanced capabilities of vLCM where applicable. As versions progress, we will hopefully be able to migrate more and more of our environments to the new and improved vLCM. In the meantime, the choice is yours.

 

Explanation of basic concepts when using vLCM:

 

  • ESXI Image / Depot — an ESXI version in ISO format that contains an image of VMware ESXI Server and additional components such as drivers and VIBs that are necessary for the baseline and installations. The images visible here are the official VMware Images and are not vendor-specific.

 

  • Vendor Add-on — a set of components that was created by the relevant hardware vendor, dedicated for ESXI Hosts. These add-ons can contain, for example, drivers, patches, third party solutions, hotfixes, etc. When we combine these Vendor Add-Ons with the Image Depot ISO file, we receive what is referred to as a custom image.

 

  • Firmware and Drivers Add-on -These add-ons, provided by the hardware vendor, also contain firmware updates and assist during the update process. It’s important to understand that each server type and hardware has its own recommended and supported firmware versions, as well as the corresponding drivers for that specific firmware.
  • Component — Additional components are delivered as ISO images, which are complementary to our environments. VMware and OEMs do not publish components, as VMware packages components into base images and OEMs package components into vendor add-ons. Third-party software vendors, however, can create and publish components (for example, drivers or VIBs) independently. You can add such independent components to your custom images. Examples of this are the Smart Update tool, custom build info, ilo versio, VMware tools async release, and many more.

 

Creating an Image and attaching it to a cluster:

 

Using vLCM for creating an ESXI image is an easy process. In just a few simple steps, you can manage all your clusters and datacenters with one or more custom images.

 

When we create an image mapping to a cluster, we have two options:

 

Option 1 – A New Cluster:

1) While creating the cluster, we need to enable the management of the cluster ESXI hosts using vSphere Lifecycle Manager images.

 

 

 

Option 2 – An Existing Cluster:

2) With existing clusters, we need to enable image management from the Updates tab for the cluster by selecting Image on the left and then clicking the Setup Image button, as shown in the image below:

 

 

Then, we will need to fill out the form with the relevant values and click Save.

 

 

After clicking the save button, the cluster automatically performs compatibility checks.
If the cluster is not compliant with the chosen image options, vSphere Lifecycle Manager displays a list of the hosts that are non-compliant and lists the issues with each host.

 

 

Step 2:

 

 

In Step 2, we have the option to validate our image and check the compliance against our ESXI hosts. After clicking the Finish button, The vCenter will create a notification to inform us that it will replace all existing and attached baselines from the cluster with the one we just created.

 

 

 

Double Check for the Finish Setup process:

 

 

Checking host hardware against the vendor compatibility list in the VMware HCL

 

One of the major improvements vLCM offers is the ability to check hardware firmware and verify if the host is in line with the VMware Compatibility Guide.

 

To perform this check, we click on the 3 dots located in the top right corner of vLCM.

 

 

After clicking on “Check hardware compatibility,” the checks will run automatically against the VMware HCL. When the checks are complete, we will be informed if we are currently in a supported configuration. If we are not in a supported configuration, a notification provides details about what exactly needs to be upgraded for the specific hardware we are using.

 

Troubleshooting:

In the event of any issues with the vLCM, we can find multiple new logs regarding all aspects of the vLCM components at the following path on the vCenter appliance:
/var/log/vmware/vLCM

 

 

Conclusion

vLCM has brought to the table amazing new capabilities, including the ability to manage our required firmware and the hardware vendor and third-party packages we need in our environment.
vLCM provides the ability to have one image per cluster that is constantly validated against the HCL to make sure we are always in a supported configuration, making the environment easier to manage overall.

 

No more non-compliant states between ESXI and clusters.
No more misconfiguration.
No more time is wasted on upgrading each component separately.

 

This is a major update for us vSphere Administrators who are always trying to keep our environments up to date with the best practices and highest supported versions.
I am excited to see how this tool will progress and gain more functionality in the coming releases!

 

This blog was contributed by:

Ronny Maron (Infrastructure Solution Senior Consultant), Aviv Shaar (Cloud Network Consultant ), and Nimrod Shoshani (Infrastructure Team Leader):

 

Tags:
VMware
vSphere
vCenter
vLCM
vSphere Lifecycle Manager
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