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Migrating to the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance – or – Why I’m Glad I Went to VMworld September 9, 2011

Posted by audiomatron in Uncategorized.

Last week, when I was at VMworld, I attended a session called “vCenter 5.0, what’s new, what’s cool”. As with most sessions of this type, there was a great deal of information I had heard about before. However, the value in attending sessions lies not necessarily in the content of the session, but in the Q and A at the end of the session. Part of the talk was about the new vCenter server virtual appliance. This, as stated in a previous article, has been one of the features of vSphere 5 that I have been most interested in checking out. Ever since VMware announced this new feature, one question has weighed heavily on my mind: How do you migrate from vCenter on Windows to the Appliance? That is the question I asked at the end of the session.

A little background about why I (or anyone for that matter) would want to do such a thing:

The vCenter Server virtual appliance simplifies the deployment process for vCenter, and drastically reduces the amount of time it takes to deploy and configure vCenter. Plus – and this is a big one for me – it runs as a Linux virtual appliance, so there is no need to use up a Windows license.

The initial answer to my question was that there is no easy way. I thought that if I wanted to migrate to the appliance that I would have to start fresh, but then one of the presenters told me about a “fling” that is available from VMware labs (I will link to the fling at the bottom of this article) that will migrate your clusters, datacenters, resource pools, configuration settings, and such from one vCenter to another. The fling is called InventorySnapshot. The only thing it does not migrate is historical and performance data, but if you are not concerned with that, this is a very cool way to migrate to the appliance.

I won’t go into details on the actual usage of the InventorySnapshot fling since the authors have already done that. I will, however, briefly describe my expierence using the fling in my lab.

My lab at work was running vSphere 4.1 with vCenter running on Windows 2003. The fling, which is basically a Java app that takes information about your existing vCenter configuration, and generates a PowerCLI script to migrate all of your settings from a source vCenter to a target vCenter, was very simple and straightforward to use. I deployed the new vCenter virtual appliance into my existing lab environment, configured it, and using the InventorySnapshot fling, I was able to migrate all of my inventory and settings from my old vCenter server to my new vCenter appliance in just minutes!

The Bigger Picture

The ultimate goal is to eventually upgrade my production environment to vSphere 5. VMware gives a general overview here on how to do just that. Using their steps as a guide coupled with this tool, the upgrade process for someone who also wants to migrate to the vCenter Server Virtual Applicance might look something like this:

1. Deploy the vCenter appliance
2. Migrate your inventory using the InventorySnapshot fling
3. Shutdown the old vCenter server
4. If update manager was installed on the old vCenter (as mine is), install the new version of update manager on another Windows box somewhere *
5. Use update manager to update the hosts (with the VMs vMotioned off to other hosts, of course)
6. Upgrade VMware tools on the guest OSes
7. Upgrade virtual Machine hardware on VMs to verion 8
8. Upgrade datastores to VMFS 5

Obviously, some considerations should be made, like making sure all your hardware is on the HCL for vSphere 5 and ensuring any custom VIBs you are using are available for ESXi 5.

The Asterisk *

Wondering what the asterisk was for on step 4? Well, in the Q and A part of the aforementioned VMworld session, I asked another question, “Is update manager included with the vCenter appliance?” For you see, up until that point, I was under the impression, for whatever reason, that VMware update manager has to be installed on the same server as vCenter. Sitting next to me in that session was Forbes Guthrie, one of the authors of the vSphere Design book (I promise I’m not trying to name drop to make myself look cool – I want to give credit where it is due). After I asked my question about update manager, he took a moment and explained to me that update manager does not have to be installed on the vCenter server – that it is just a windows application, so I could still use it with the vCenter appliance.

My Point?

This story only serves to further illustrate my claim that attending VMworld is a must for anyone using VMware’s products. After asking only two questions, my idea of how to upgrade to vSphere 5 went from clear as mud to clear as day!

I’m still waiting before I upgrade to vSphere 5 until Dell releases their custom ESXi bits because of an issue I ran into in my lab on a Dell server – but that is a different post for a different day. I want to upgrade so bad I can taste it (and it tastes yummy!). What about you? Have you performed an in-place upgrade to vSphere 5? I’d love to hear about it!

Link to the InventorySnapshot Fling from VMware Labs




1. Justin King (@vCenterGuy) - September 9, 2011

Good write up Marcus, and yes it was me that recommended this tool at VMworld. More to come with this in the near future – vCenterGuy

audiomatron - September 9, 2011

Cool! It’s good to be able to put a name to the person who suggested this to me. I’m bad at remembering names, so my apologies for not mentioning it in the article! Anyway, thanks for that, it was very helpful.

2. Alex Watson - October 6, 2011

Thanks for this writeup – found via Google and much appreciated!

3. Aaran - October 9, 2011

Hi, I am struggling to find the specs on the appliance. I have gone from 5 to 10 hosts and am being told SQL Express is no longer good enough. An SQL Server Standard instance license is almost 15K (Australian Dollars). I understand the appliance uses Postgres. I have been told by my VMwar sales reo the appliance only supports 5 hosts. Can you confirm if this is true?

audiomatron - October 9, 2011

My lab only has two hosts, and my production environment only has 3, so I’ve not tried it with any more. The appliance definitely does have its own embedded DB2 database, and the only external database you can use is Oracle. So even SQL standard wouldn’t work. You can still use the Windows version of vCenter, and it still has a SQL express database. From what I read, 10 hosts is too much for the local SQL express though. Have you looked at a per-processor license of SQL Standard. I don’t know how Australia dollars translate to US dollars, but in US dollars a single processor SQL standard license is about 7K dollars (still a lot, but not 15K).

Aaran - October 11, 2011

The exchange rate is actually at parity as I write this reply. $1 Australian = $1 US. The price is actually $15,823.28 ex Sales Tax (we call it GST) on my select license agreement. This is for standard edition per processor per instance.

We pay a lot more for some software here because of the “market size”. Apple do it as well with music apps and hardware. Apparently Adobe are the worst.

My preference would be for VMware to bundle SQL server using the using the ISV licensing model that Commvault This is essentially a per application license that VMware would pay and then bundle with their software.

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