As with most IT enthusiasts, I use a homelab for tinkering, troubleshooting and hopefully a bit of learning. My homelab compute consists of a single server with an i7-3770 CPU / 32GB DDR3 RAM / 1TB SSD connected to an Intel BOXDQ77MK motherboard, basically a glorified PC. While my homelab can’t run dozens of virtual machines concurrently, it’s power-efficient, cheap and importantly quiet.
I built the server back in 2013 and to date, the server has been rock solid. At one point the server even hosted this very blog for over 3 years. The version of ESXi is a bit old and overdue for an upgrade so I thought this would be a good opportunity to document the process for anyone else interested in the ESXi upgrade process. Specifically for my case, I’ll be upgrading from VMware ESXi 6.5.0 (build 5969303) to VMware ESXi 6.7 (build 15160138).
Choose your upgrade path
So there are a few different methods for upgrading ESXi hosts. In my instance, I’ll be upgrading using the ‘GUI’ method. Sometimes this is referred to as the ‘interactive’ method.
The following paragraph is taken from VMware which details more information about the ‘GUI’ upgrade method.
“Upgrade interactively by using an ESXi installer ISO image on CD/DVD or USB flash drive. You can run the ESXi 6.7 installer from a CD/DVD or USB flash drive to do an interactive upgrade. This method is appropriate for deployments with a small number of hosts. The installer works the same as for a fresh installation, but if you select a target disk that already contains an ESXi installation, the installer upgrades the host to 6.7. The installer also gives you the option to migrate some existing host settings and configuration files and to preserve the existing VMFS datastore.”https://docs.vmware.com/en/VMware-vSphere/6.7/com.vmware.esxi.upgrade.doc/GUID-FE668788-1F32-4CB2-845C-5547DD59EB48.html
Obtain the media
It’s quite simple to download the ESXi installation media from VMware. You are required to sign in to ‘My VMware’ though, fortunately the sign-up process is quite straight-forward.
Downloading the latest version of ESXi, ‘VMware vSphere Hypervisor (ESXi) 6.7U3b’ maxxed out my 50Mbps NBN connection with the total file size being around 350MB.
Mount the media
My particular server doesn’t have an optical drive nor have I had much luck with using Intel AMT to mount an ISO file, so instead I use an awesome tool called Rufus.
Rufus is a utility that helps format and create bootable USB flash drives, such as USB keys/pendrives, memory sticks, etc. I simply plug a USB stick into my computer and point Rufus to the source ISO, this process wipes all data on the USB stick so be sure to evacuate any data off the USB stick you don’t want to lose.
Enter Maintenance mode
It’s recommended to place any ESXi host into maintenance mode before performing an upgrade. It’s easy to place hosts into maintenance mode, simply shut down all VMs running on the host then right-click on the ESXi host and select ‘Enter maintenance mode’.
Boot from ESXi 6.7 installation media
The first order of business here was sorting out KVM access, which is where the Intel Q77 chipset comes into play. One of the main reasons I picked the Q77 at the time was because it came bundled with Intel Active Management Technology (AMT). AMT allows administrators to remotely manage PCs out-of-band even when the PC power is off. Using AMT requires some special software installed, namely the Intel AMT Manageability Developer Tool Kit and a supported VNC client. Once these were installed and configured, my remote access was sorted.
Opening the KVM console, I am required to provide a username and password to log into the Direct Console User Interface (DCUI). Once I’ve logged in, I can see the version of ESXi currently installed and press F12 to restart the ESXi server. At this stage I inserted the bootable USB stick created by Rufus.
During the reboot, I press F12 again as instructed by the motherboard POST screen to select ‘one-time boot device’. Your hotkey will vary depending on the server/motherboard manufacturer. This allows me to select the bootable USB stick we created using Rufus earlier.
A blue screen appears with two options, selecting the top option will start the ESXi 6.7 installer.
After the installer loads, we are required to select a disk for ESXi to be installed or upgraded. By selecting a disk that already contains ESXi previously installed it gives us the option to upgrade.
Pressing f1 on a disk containing an existing ESXi installation enables us to check if there is an existing ESXi installation.
Selecting the disk has two options, Upgrade or Install. In my case, I wish to upgrade so I choose the top option.
Confirm the upgrade to continue.
The upgrade has now started.
If you see the below message, congratulations, you have successfully upgraded ESXi, now it’s time to restart the server. Don’t forget to remove the installation media before restarting.
Exit Maintenance Mode
At this point, we want to confirm the ESXi shows the correct version and take the host out of maintenance mode. Once out of maintenance mode the VMs can be powered back on.