How to Install vSphere 7.0 – vCenter Server Appliance

How to Install vSphere 7.0 – vCenter Server Appliance

Introduction

This opening post in a new lab series provides a walkthrough for installing the latest iteration of vSphere 7.0; bringing cloud-native workloads to the data centre with embedded Kubernetes and Tanzu. vSphere 7.0 was initially released in June 2020, and followed up with vSphere 7.0 Update 1 in October 2020. The current version at the time of writing is vSphere 7.0 Update 1c. You can track the latest releases and build numbers in this KB article.

ESXi is the market leading hypervisor, able to abstract and pool compute resources across commodity hardware, and implement granular based controls and automation. ESXi needs to be installed first on a physical machine to provide at least one host for the vCenter virtual appliance to be deployed to. vCenter Server then provides the single management pane for physical hosts and virtual machines, along with enterprise functionality like vMotion for live workload portability, High Availability for workload failover, and Distributed Resource Scheduler for automatically balancing resources. To read about what’s new in vSphere 7 see vSphere 7 and vSAN 7 Headline New Features.

In this example vCenter Server will be deployed in a lab environment to an Intel NUC Bean Canyon running ESXi 7.0 U1C. If you’re looking for more information on running a vSphere lab on the Intel NUC range check out the VMware Homelab section of virten.net, which has some great guides and resources.

vCenter 7.0 Install Guide

Several design decisions have been removed in vSphere 7 as component topology and lifecycle management have been drastically simplified. The external Platform Services Controller (PSC) deployment model available in versions 6.0 and 6.5 has been removed, only the embedded option is offered in vSphere 7.

Furthermore, running vCenter Server on Windows has finally been deprecated, and all deployments must now use the vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA). A migration path from Windows vCenter Servers 6.5 and 6.7 to VCSA 7.0 is available. The VCSA is an optimised virtual appliance running Photon OS 3.0, and contains all the vCenter required services, such as SSO, Certificate Authority, PostgreSQL, Lifecycle Manager, etc. You can find more information on the full list of services in detail from the vCenter Server Installation and Setup documentation.

The installer file for vSphere can be downloaded here, a 60 day evaluation period is automatically applied. The vCenter Server installation bundle comes as an ISO file mountable on a Windows, Linux, or Mac device. The installer must be run from a machine with network connectivity to the ESXi host or vCenter Server where the new appliance will be deployed. The target host or vCenter must be running vSphere version 6.5 or later. For multiple or repeated installations in large environments the vCenter Server Appliance and configuration can also be silently deployed using CLI and JSON file. Make sure you review the release notes with your download before starting, in this example I am using vCenter Server 7.0 Update 1c.

The vSphere download packages available from my.vmware.com

System Requirements

  • Before beginning the installation; Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) resolution should be in place with forward and reverse DNS A records added, and replicated if applicable, for the vCenter Server hostname.
  • vCenter Server 7.0 can only be deployed to, and manage, ESXi hosts v6.5 or later. There is no direct upgrade path for hosts running ESXi v5.5 or 6.0 to v7.0.
  • If you are deploying to an ESXi host the host must not be in maintenance mode or lockdown mode. The ESXi host and all vSphere components should be configured to use Network Time Protocol (NTP), the installation can fail or the vpxd service may not be able to start if the clocks are not synchronised.
  • Check the compatibility of any third party products and plugins that might be used for backups, anti-virus, monitoring, etc. as these may need upgrading for vSphere 7.0 compatibility.
  • To check version compatibility with other VMware products, see the VMware Product Interoperability Matrices.
  • In addition to software, you should also check the hardware in use is compatible with vSphere 7 using the VMware Compatibility Guide. VMware support enterprise hardware, and therefore the Intel NUC devices are not listed. This isn’t an issue in a lab environment but should not be implemented in production.
  • The vCenter Server Appliance requires the following compute specifications, this includes vSphere Lifecycle Manager running as a service on the appliance:
    • Tiny (up to 10 hosts, 100 VMs) – 2 CPUs, 12 GB RAM
    • Small (up to 100 hosts, 1000 VMs) – 4 CPUs, 19 GB RAM
    • Medium (up to 400 hosts, 4000 VMs) – 8 CPUs, 28 GB RAM
    • Large (up to 1000 hosts, 10,000 VMs) – 16 CPUs, 37 GB RAM
    • X-Large (up to 2000 hosts, 35,000 VMs) – 24 CPUs, 56 GB RAM
  • Storage resources for the vCenter Server Appliance also vary based on the database requirements above:
    • Tiny – Default: 415 GB, Large: 1490 GB, X-Large: 3245 GB
    • Small – Default: 480 GB, Large: 1535 GB, X-Large: 3295 GB
    • Medium – Default: 700 GB, Large: 1700 GB, X-Large: 3460 GB
    • Large – Default: 1065 GB, Large: 1765 GB, X-Large: 3525 GB
    • X-Large – Default: 1805 GB, Large: 1905 GB, X-Large: 3665 GB
  • If your environment has firewalls review the list of Required ports for vCenter Server.
  • For large and enterprise environments review the vSphere 7.0 Configuration Limits.

Installation Stage 1

The vCenter Server 7 installation is practically identical to its predecessors’ versions 6.5 and 6.7. Download and mount the ISO on your computer, then browse to the corresponding directory for your operating system and open the installer file. In my case \vcsa-ui-installer\mac\installer.app. As we are installing a new instance, click Install.

vCenter 7.0 Installer: all options are consolidated into a single ISO

The installation is split into 2 stages, we begin with deploying the appliance in OVF format to an ESXi or vCenter target. The second stage configures the appliance. Note that the External PSC deployment is no longer available. Click Next.

Deploy vCenter Server: introduction page

Accept the license agreement and click Next.

Deploy vCenter Server: End User License Agreement (EULA)

Enter the FQDN or IP address of VCSA deployment target, this can be a vCenter Server or ESXi host that meets the system requirements outlined above. Enter the credentials of an administrative or root user and click Next, the installer will validate access.

When prompted with an untrusted SSL certificate warning, confirm the SHA1 thumbprint displayed is that of the target ESXi host or vCenter Server, and click Yes to accept. Also note that if you are connecting to an ESXi host you will only see networks on the local hosts standard switch when it comes to configuring network settings in an upcoming step. If you require a network on an existing vSphere Distributed Switch (VDS) then you will need to connect to the VDS source vCenter as your deployment target. Alternatively you can make this change post-deployment.

Deploy vCenter Server: deployment target settings

Enter the VM name for the VCSA, the appliance name must not be more than 80 characters in length and cannot contain the characters percent (%) forward slash (/) or backslash (\). Set the root password, which needs to be at least 8 characters, with a number, uppercase and lowercase letters, and a special character. Click Next to continue.

Deploy vCenter Server: VCSA credentials

Select the deployment size in line with the number of hosts and virtual machines that will be managed, click Next.

Deploy vCenter Server: VCSA compute and storage assignment

Select the datastore where the appliance will be deployed, choose thin provisioning if required, and click Next again.

Deploy vCenter Server: datastore and disk mode configuration

Enter the network settings to be applied to the appliance, including IPv4, DNS, and network adapter settings, then click Next.

Deploy vCenter Server: VCSA network settings

On the summary page, click Finish. The appliance will now be deployed.

Deploy vCenter Server: stage 1 installation

Installation Stage 2

Once complete the VCSA is deployed but the services aren’t running, click Continue to move on to stage 2. If at this point you find that the DNS entry was added without leaving sufficient time for client you’re working from to update; then you can still initiate the setup from https://vCenter-FQDN-or-IP:5480 when the vCenter Server hostname is resolving correctly

Deploy vCenter Server: stage 1 complete

Click Next to begin the VCSA setup.

Configure vCenter Server: stage 2

Configure the Network Time Protocol (NTP) servers to enable time synchronisation, and choose the Secure Shell (SSH) state for the appliance; this can be changed later. Then click Next.

Configure vCenter Server: NTP and SSH settings

Enter a unique Single Sign-On (SSO) domain name, the default is vsphere.local. vSphere uses SSO to communicate across its different software components through a secure token exchange mechanism. SSO users can be members of the local domain, or an external trusted source like Active Directory (AD). Most organisations use Microsoft AD and therefore the SSO domain name should not be the same as your Active Directory domain. Configure a password for the SSO administrator, and click Next.

If you already have existing vCenter Servers in an SSO domain that you want to join, using Enhanced Linked Mode functionality (up to 15), enter the administrator credentials for the existing SSO domain.

Configure vCenter Server: SSO settings

Select or deselect the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) box and click Next.

Configure vCenter Server: Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP)

Review the details on the summary page and click Finish.

Configure vCenter Server: finalise details

Click Ok to acknowledge that the VCSA setup cannot be paused or stopped once started. When the installer is complete click Close to close the wizard.

Configure vCenter Server: stage 2 complete

Post-Installation Steps

Connect to the vCenter Server after the 2-stage installation is complete using the IP address or FQDN configured from a web browser: https://vCenter-FQDN-or-IP/ui. Accessing vSphere through the Flash (FLEX) web client has been depreciated, and so the User Interface (UI) defaults to HTML5.

vCenter Server HTML5 client

Once you’re logged into vCenter you can start creating your data centre environments and adding in ESXi hosts. Both vCenter and ESXi are armed with automatic 60 day evaluation periods.

vCenter Server HTML5 client

The following steps may also be useful post-installation of vCenter Server 7.0:

  • You must apply a new vCenter Server license key before the end of the 60 day evaluation. Since this is a home lab environment I am able to use personal keys supplied by the VMware vExpert program:
    • Log into the vSphere Client using the SSO administrator credentials. An orange banner is displayed that will link you directly to the licenses page, alternatively you can select Administration from the Menu drop-down, and click Licenses.
  • Next up if you have an Active Directory domain, then you may want to add it to vCenter as an identity source. This can be configured in the Administration page under Single Sign On and Configuration.
  • The newly deployed vCenter Server can be backed up using file-based backups to a remote file share, or image-based backups of the virtual machine.:
    • For file-based backups supported protocols include FTP, FTPS, HTTP, HTTPS, SFTP, NFS, or SMB. One of the available secure protocols should be used in production environments.
    • File-based backups can be configured in the appliance management interface accessible from a web browser at https://vCenter-FQDN-or-IP:5480, using the root credentials set during deployment.
    • If needed, a file-based backup can be restored to a new vCenter Server on deployment using the Restore option in the opening vCenter Server Installer page. Review the File-Based Backup and Restore of vCenter Server documentation for a full list of included configuration.
  • Windows users may want to enable the VMware Enhanced Authentication Plug-in for integrated Windows authentication.
  • For information on applying an SSL certificate to the vCenter Server Appliance see How-to Secure vCenter Server 7 (VCSA) with a Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificate.
  • If you are having problems with starting vCenter Server double check the system requirements are all in place, then check the installation log outputs identified in the Troubleshooting vCenter Server Installation or Deployment documentation. You may also be able to generate a log bundle for VMware support if you have an appropriate support contract in place.
vCenter Server with ESXi hosts

Featured image by Jonas Svidras on Unsplash