vSphere Distributed Switches

In vSphere networking a Distributed Switch provides centralised management for network configuration across all hosts associated to the Distributed Switch. A vSphere switch is made up of a data plane and a management plane. The data plane resides on each ESXi host and implements package switching, tagging, etc. In a vSphere Standard Switch the management plane also resides on each host, therefore each host must be configured individually which is time consuming, and prone to errors or different configuration standards. The vSphere Distributed Switch separates the management plane using the vCenter Server. By separating the management plane from the data plane we can define functionality, configuration, and standardisation across the ESXi estate.

The following image shows the architecture of a Distributed Switch, from the VMware vSphere 6.5 Documentation Centre. In this post we will walk through the setup of a vSphere Distributed Switch. A vCenter Server and vSphere Enterprise Plus licensing is required, you can sign up for a 60 day trial here.

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Create a vSphere Distributed Switch

Open the vSphere web client and right click the datacentre object, select Distributed Switch, New Distributed Switch. The wizard will load, enter a name for the Distributed Switch and click Next.

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Select the version to use and click Next. Ensure you use a version compatible with all ESXi hosts that are going to be connected to the Distributed Switch. The version can be upgraded non-disruptively, but cannot be downgraded. If you select an older version then the features listed in newer releases are not available, until such time as the Distributed Switch is upgraded.

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Configure the number of uplinks to use. An uplink is a template used to configure physical network adapters mapped from the ESXi host. We assign networks or policies to an uplink to ensure standardisation; as these are propagated to consistent physical NICs of the hosts associated with the Distributed Switch. Make sure the hosts that will use the Distributed Switch have sufficient physical NICs to meet the specified number of uplinks.

Enter a datacentre-unique name for your new port group. Distributed port groups contain networks used by virtual machines and VMkernel traffic. Settings such as NIC teaming, failover, load balancing, VLAN, security, traffic shaping , and other policies are configured on distributed port groups. Click Next.

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Review the summary page and click Finish. The Distributed Switch will now be created.

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Add Hosts

In the vSphere inventory click the networking tab and select the new Distributed Switch.

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Open the Configure tab and select Properties under the Settings menu. You can change the default settings of the virtual switch if required by clicking Edit. Read more about the properties here.

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We will now add some hosts to our new switch; from the drop down Actions menu select Add and manage hosts. Click Add hosts and Next to continue.

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Click New hosts and select the hosts to associate with the Distributed Switch. If you add multiple hosts and want to configure standardised network settings then tick the template mode box. Click Next.

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An additional page is added to the wizard, select the host to use as a template and click Next. We will configure the network settings on this host to be copied to all other hosts associated with the Distributed switch.

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Select the tasks to manage, in this example we will configure physical adapters to use for uplinks so select Manage physical adapters and click Next. Each option adds a new configuration page to the wizard.

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In the Manage physical network adapters page we assign uplinks to physical NICs. Select the physical NIC, e.g. vmnic1, and click Assign uplink. Assign a physical adapter to each uplink, the number of uplinks was determined when creating the Distributed Switch. In this example since we are using template mode we assign the uplinks and then click Apply to all. This sets the same physical network adapter settings on the other hosts. Click Next.

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Review the impact on network dependent services, such as iSCSI. If everything is green click Next.

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Review the summary page and click Finish.

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Add Distributed Port Groups

The next step is to add network configuration, known as port groups. A port group specifies port configuration options, defining how a network connection is made. The port group can contain security policies, traffic shaping policies, VLAN configuration, and so on. When a port group is created it can be used by all hosts associated with the Distributed Switch.

Right click the Distributed Switch and select Distributed Port Group. We can alter the default port group created with the Distributed Switch by selecting Manage Distributed Port Groups. Select the policies to edit and click Next.

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Click Select distributed port groups and add the default port group created earlier. Click Next and follow the wizard to configure as required.

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We can add new port groups by right clicking the Distributed Switch and selecting Distributed Port Group, New Distributed Port Group. Enter name for the port group and click Next.

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Configure the settings for the port group, in this example I have configured a port group tagged with VLAN 10. Click Next.

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Click Finish. Repeat the process if multiple port groups are required.

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Virtual machines can now be provisioned to use the networks defined in the distributed port groups. You can find out more about Distributed Switch configuration and advanced settings in the vSphere 6.5 Documentation Centre, or the VMUG Wiki.

VMware Update Manager 6.5 Install Guide

VMware vSphere 6.5 is scheduled to reach end of general support 15 October 2022, referenced in the VMware Lifecycle Matrix. See also How to Install vSphere 7.0. Upgrade to vSphere 7 can be achieved directly from vSphere 6.5.0 and above, whereas vSphere 6.0 requires an intermediate upgrade to 6.5 or 6.7 first. For more information see the VMware Upgrade Matrix. Finally, the Windows vCenter Server is now depreciated and not available with vSphere 7.0.

VMware Update Manager provides centralised patch and version management for ESXi hosts, virtual machines, and virtual appliances. Update Manager can be used to upgrade and patch ESXi hosts, install and update third-party software on hosts, upgrade virtual machine hardware, VMware Tools, and virtual appliances. This guide will cover the installation of VMware Update Manager 6.5 on Windows Server 2016. For further information on Update Manager performance and best practises, or for implementing an advanced topology in a large environment, see also the vSphere 6.5 Update Manager Performance and Best Practices post.

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Architectural Considerations

  • Update Manager 6.5 is installed on a Windows server, this can be the same server as vCenter. The Update Manager Download Service can be used for secure environments with no internet access.
  • For the vCenter Server Appliance a separate installation is not required since Update Manager is now bundled into the VCSA.
  • Update Manager must be registered with a vCenter Server instance.
  • The following Windows deployment models are recommended by VMware:
    • All-in-one model; embedded database for small environments.
    • Medium deployment mode; Update Manager and vCenter Server installed on the same Windows server with separate external databases. Recommended for most environments.
    • Large deployment model; dedicated Windows server for Update Manager, separate to vCenter Server, with external database. Recommended for deployments where datacentre instances contain over 100 hosts and 1000 virtual machines each.

Software Considerations

  • Update Manager 6.5 requires vCenter Server v6.5, can be used to upgrade and patch hosts running ESXi 5.5 and above, and install VMware Tools for Windows and Linux guests.
  • Update Manager 6.5 requires a 64-bit version of Windows; Windows Server 2008 SP2 64-bit or later.
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 should be installed on the Windows server.
  • An external database should be Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 SP2 or above, or Oracle 11g or 12c. You can review a full list of compatible versions at the Database Interoperability Matrix.
  • The user requires Oracle DBA role, or SQL sysadmin server role, or db_owner fixed database role on the Update Manager and MSDB database.
  • For environments with up to 5 hosts and 50 VMs the bundled internal installation of SQL Server 2012 Express can be used.

Other Considerations

  • A dedicated Windows server requires a minimum of 2 GB RAM for Update Manager, where Update Manager is installed on the same Windows server as vCenter there should be a minimum of 8 GB RAM.
  • VMware recommend at least 120 GB of free space on the drive where the patching repository will be stored. Use the VMware Sizing Estimator to work out how the capacity required for your environment.
  • Update Manager connects to vCenter Server on TCP port 80. ESXi hosts connect to Update Manager using ports 9084 and 902. A full list of network port requirements can be viewed in this kb.
  • FA reboot is not required post-installation of Update Manager so there is no down time.
  • Official resources – Update Manager 6.5 Documentation Centre, vSphere 6.5 Release Notes

Create Data Source

Before beginning if you intend to use Update Manager with an external SQL database be sure to install the SQL Server Native Client (if vCenter Server is installed on the same Windows server using an external database then this is likely to be already installed).

You must also configure a 64-bit ODBC data source. Data sources can be configured in Windows Server via Control Panel > Administrative Tools > ODBC Data Sources (64-bit).

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Click System DNS, Add and input the details for the external database, test the data source before continuing.

Installation

Download the VMware vCenter Server and modules for Windows VMware Downloads; this includes VMware Update Manager 6.5. Mount the ISO and right click autorun.exe, click Run as administrator. Select Server under the vSphere Update Manager menu, tick the Embedded Database Option to include the Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Express installation. Do not select this box if you intend on connecting to an external database. Click Install.

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Select the installation language and click Ok, then click Next to begin the install wizard.

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Accept the license agreement and click Next.

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Review the support information, if the Update Manager instance will not have access to the internet untick Download updates from default sources immediately after installation, otherwise click Next.

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Enter the information for the vCenter Server and click Next.

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If you are using an external database select the Data Source Name for the database and click Next. Select how Update Manager should be identified, host name or IP, accept the default ports and configure a proxy server if required, then click Next.

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Review the default installation locations, change if necessary, and click Next.

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If the installation destination has less than 120 GB of available space you will receive the warning below, click Ok to continue.

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Click Install to begin the installation.

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The installation progress status bar will be displayed.

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Once installation is complete click Finish.

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Post-Installation

After the installation has completed an Update Manager option will be added to the vSphere web client home page in the navigation panel.

Select the newly installed Update Manager. Here you can configure basic settings such as a download schedule, the default settings are pre-configured to get you up and running. Let’s have a quick look through the other tabs.

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Hosts Baselines and VM Baselines tabs list Baselines which are attached to hosts or virtual machines. A baseline contains patches, an upgrade image, etc.

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The Patch Repository contains downloaded patches, these can be attached to a baseline.

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ESXi images can be imported via the ESXi Images tab, these are uploaded as an ISO and can be vanilla ESXi images, vendor provided images, or custom created images. For assistance with creating custom ESXi image using the ESXi Image Builder see the VMware Auto Deploy Guide.

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The Update Manager settings are all fairly intuitive; download updates or upload an ESXi image, and create a baseline. Once you have a baseline go to the hosts and clusters view, select the host or virtual machine to update and browse to Manage > Update Manager.

Here you can attach baselines, check compliance, scan for updates, stage patches (downloads but doesn’t install), remediate patches (installs, host will be rebooted), or return to the Update Manager admin view.

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The Windows client cannot be used to administer Update Manager 6.5 since it is not supported in vSphere 6.5 onwards.

VMware ESXi 6.x Install Guide

VMware vSphere 6.0 reached end of general support 12 March 2020, with vSphere 6.5 scheduled for 15 October 2022, both referenced in the VMware Lifecycle Matrix. See also How to Install vSphere 7.0. Upgrade to vSphere 7 can be achieved directly from vSphere 6.5.0 and above, whereas vSphere 6.0 requires an intermediate upgrade to 6.5 or 6.7 first. For more information see the VMware Upgrade Matrix. Finally, the Windows vCenter Server and external PSC deployment models are now depreciated and not available with vSphere 7.0.

VMware ESXi is a bare-metal hypervisor deployed as a stateful or stateless install. ESXi optimises the use of a physical servers resources to be logically shared out for virtual machines. By virtualising compute we can benefit from a smaller datacentre footprint, less use of power and other hardware such as networking equipment, cost savings from server consolidation, better utilisation and management of existing resources, improved disaster recovery and availability. The graphic on the left below represents traditional workloads running on dedicated servers, the graphic on the right represents a virtualised environment with consolidated workloads.

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 Licensing

  • ESXi is available as a standalone free hypervisor, you will need to sign up for an account with VMware.
  • ESXi is available as part of the vSphere product suite with a rich feature set ranging from Standard to Enterprise Plus with Operations Management; compare editions.
  • The default license installed with ESXi provides Enterprise Plus trial capabilities for a maximum of 60 days. Before the trail expires a valid license key must be installed.

Hardware Considerations

  • ESXi 6.x supports a wide range of hardware across multiple vendors, however before proceeding check the hardware compatibility guide.
  • A host machine with at least 2 CPU cores is required.
  • ESXi 6.x supports 64-bit x86 processors released after September 2006.
  • To provide virtualisation functionality the NX/XD bit must be enabled for the CPU in the BIOS, x64 CPUs should also have the support for hardware virtualisation (Intel VT-x or AMD RVI) feature enabled.
  • ESXi 6.x requires at least 4 GB of physical RAM, however 8 GB is recommended to run virtual machines.
  • Sufficient capacity and redundancy should be provided for network and storage resources.
  • ESXi requires a boot device that is a minimum of 1 GB in size, although additional capacity is recommend:
    • USB or SD card: minimum of 4 GB to allow for extended coredump partition, VMware recommend 16 GB for additional flash cells to prolong the life of the boot media.
    • Local disk, SAN, or iSCSI LUN: a 5.2 GB disk is required for the VMFS volume and a 4 GB scratch partition. If a smaller disk is used then the /scratch partition will be located on the ESXi host ramdisk, which can hamper performance.

Other Considerations

Install

ESXi can be installed manually, which we will do in this post, scripted, or through Auto Deploy.

Boot from the ISO either by using local media or the server remote management software (iLO, DRAC, IMM).

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  • Press Enter to begin the installation wizard.
  • Press F11 to accept the license agreement.
  • The installer will now scan for available installation targets.
  • Select the destination for the ESXi installation.
  • Select the keyboard language and press Enter to continue.
  • Configure a root password and press Enter to continue.
  • Confirm the installation by pressing F11. The selected disk will be repartitioned.
  • The ESXi installation will now commence.
  • Once the installation is complete press Enter to reboot.
  • The ESXi instance will now boot.

Press F2 to enter the system menu, log in using the root password configured during installation.

Use the Configure Management Network menu to configure an IP address and DNS settings. If applicable you can also select the network adapter(s) to use for the management network, and configure the use of a VLAN.

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Press escape to return to the home screen, you will be prompted to restart the management network, press Y.

Access your host by opening a web browser and entering https:// followed by the IP or FQDN of your host with a trailing /ui. Log in as root.

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The ESXi host is now ready to start provisioning virtual machines.

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If you have installed ESXi 6.0 you have the option to access the host using the vSphere Windows client. To download and install the client open a web browser to the IP address of your ESXi host. It is recommended that you use the web interface since the Windows client is no longer supported from version 6.5 onwards.

ESXi can also be managed using the command line, for more information see Troubleshooting with ESXi Shell and ESXi Command Line Upgrades.

As a standalone host ESXi features are limited, to get the full benefits of virtualisation you should look to pool resources together by deploying a Windows vCenter Server or vCenter Server Appliance. Update Manager works alongside vCenter to patch and upgrade your ESXi hosts.