Keeping a vSphere environment up to date
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Keeping a vSphere environment up to date


Article ID: 339811


Updated On:


VMware vCenter Server VMware vSphere ESXi


This article is intended for vSphere Administrators who manage a multi-host environment with vCenter Server.

Note: The scope of this article only covers VMware vCenter, VMware vCenter Update Manager, and VMware ESX/ESXi. It does not cover other plug-ins and add-ons. Please refer to the specific documentation relating to any third-party or VMware plug-ins/add-ons when upgrading.


This describes the best practices for keeping an environment up to date with the latest security, general, and critical patches for installed products. VMware recommends that administrators keep up to date with the latest updates to proactively avoid problems, resolve bugs, reduce downtime, and close security vulnerabilities.

Upgrades and Updates

  • Upgrades are when changing major or minor release numbers, for example when upgrading from version 4.0 to 4.1 and/or from 4.x to 5.0
  • Updates are for maintenance purposes when a product remains at the same minor release number, for example when updating from 4.1 GA to 4.1 update 1 or from 5.0 GA to 5.0 update 1. The product build number can be used to determine the update level. For more information, see Correlating vCenter Server and ESX host build numbers to update levels (1014508).
  • vSphere product licensing encompasses the whole major release of the product.
For more information, see the VMware Upgrade and Update Policy.

Release Notes

Before performing any updates or upgrades, it is important to read the Release Notes for the product. You can access the Release Notes by navigating to the version of the product that you will be updating/upgrading to on the VMware Documentation page. At a minimum, review the sections Before You Begin, Compatibility and Installation, and Product Support Notices.

Upgrade Guide

More details, information, and examples can be found in the Upgrade Guide for the version of vSphere you are upgrading to, which is found on the VMware Documentation page as well. If performing an upgrade, be sure to review Upgrade Guide for considerations specific to the version of the product being installed, as well as the version of the product that already exists in your environment.

Update/Upgrade Release Notifications

For steps on how to subscribe to VMware vSphere notifications, see Subscriptions in How to update your Customer Connect profile (2086266).

vSphere Update/Upgrade Process and Best Practices

It is important to apply updates/upgrades in the correct order. An overview of the product update/upgrade order is:
  1. vCenter Server
  2. vCenter Update Manager
  3. ESX/ESXi Hosts
  4. VMware Tools (inside virtual machines)
  5. Virtual Machine Hardware Version
  6. Distributed Virtual Switches and Datastores
Note: Other software such as VMware View, Site Recovery Manager, vCenter Heartbeat, and any third-party plug-ins are outside the scope of this article. Consult the Release Notes, Best Practices, and Documentation for these products to determine how they fit in conjunction with information provided in this article.

vCenter Server
  • Download the latest vCenter Server package from the VMware vSphere download page.
  • Verify that the new version of vCenter Server is compatible with the current version of all hosts that it manages, and all other components that utilize the vCenter. This information can be found in the vCenter Server Release Notes.
  • Back up the vCenter database.
  • vCenter Server is updated/upgraded by simply running the installer for the latest version. When prompted about the database, choose to use existing database and to not re-initialize the database.
  • If vCenter Server is running in a virtual machine, take a snapshot before starting the update/upgrade. Remember to delete the snapshot shortly after confirming that the update/upgrade process was successful. For more information, see Best practices for virtual machine snapshots in the VMware environment (1025279).
  • If using Linked Mode, be sure that all linked vCenter Servers are also updated/upgraded so all build numbers match.
  • As vCenter Server is a management service, there is no host or virtual machine downtime required.
  • If upgrading to a new major release, be sure to also upgrade the license key with Customer Connect and apply the new key.

vCenter Update Manager
  • VMware vCenter Update Manager is the preferred utility for managing host patches and upgrades.
  • The installer for Update Manager is included with the vCenter Server media in the updateManager directory or in the Autorun menu.
For more information, documentation, and Release Notes for Update Manager, see the vSphere Update Manager Documentation.

ESX/ESXi Hosts
  • Verify all hardware devices (i.e. hosts, network adapters, HBAs and storage arrays are certified for the specific version of vSphere under the Hardware Compatibility List.
  • Hosts can be kept up to date within the installed minor release with Update Manager's predefined baselines:
    • Critical Host Patches
    • Non-Critical Host Patches

  • Upgrading hosts requires creating and attaching an Upgrade Baseline.
  • Baselines can be attached at the vCenter, Datacenter, Cluster, or Host levels. Attach the predefined baselines at the vCenter level to ensure all hosts are considered.
  • Remediation can be performed at the vCenter, Datacenter, Cluster, or Host levels.
  • Update Manager does not automatically patch hosts. An administrator must manually Remediate.
  • Update Manager will put a host into Maintenance Mode if required by the patches being installed, then Exit Maintenance Mode when complete.
  • Hosts in a Fully Automated DRS Cluster will automatically try to evacuate virtual machines as part of entering Maintenance Mode. This allows for Remediation to be performed at the cluster level across all hosts without any user intervention required (Orchestrated cluster patching).
  • The task for Maintenance Mode will wait at 2% until all Powered On virtual machines are migrated off or shut down. Virtual machines connected to local host resources (such as a physical DVD drive or a physical serial port) will not be able to vMotion.
  • For more information on the ESX/ESXi update process with Update Manager, see Updating an ESXi/ESX host using vCenter Update Manager (1019545).

VMware Tools
  • VMware Tools updates/upgrades can be initiated on individual virtual machines or via Update Manager.
  • Windows virtual machines require a reboot to complete a VMware Tools upgrade. Performing an Automatic Tools Upgrade will reboot the guest immediately when complete.
  • Linux virtual machines typically do not require a reboot to complete a VMware Tools upgrade, but may need to restart X if applicable.

Virtual Machine Hardware Version
  • If a host upgrade provides a new version of virtual hardware, consider upgrading virtual machines to this virtual hardware level.
  • The latest version of VMware Tools must first be installed in the guest.
  • Upgrading the virtual hardware is equivalent to upgrading a motherboard. It can only be done with the virtual machine powered off.
  • Update Manager can automate the virtual machine hardware upgrade process.
  • Be sure to consider host compatibility. For example, virtual machines on hardware version 8 cannot run on ESX/ESXi 4.x hosts. Consult the vSphere Upgrade Guide for your version of vCenter Server for details.
  • Virtual Hardware cannot be downgraded.

Distributed Virtual Switches and Datastores
  • Consult the vSphere Upgrade Guide or Release Notes for details on whether a Distributed Virtual Switch or VMFS upgrade is available.
  • These upgrades typically restrict usage only to newer hosts. For example, datastores on VMFS-5 can only be read by ESXi 5.0 hosts and later.

Additional Information

Correlating build numbers and versions of VMware products
Updating an ESXi/ESX host using VMware vCenter Update Manager 4.x, 5.x and 6.x
Best practices for using snapshots in the vSphere environment
How to update your Customer Connect profile
Mantendo o ambiente do vSphere atualizado
Mantener actualizado un entorno de vSphere