Virtualization

VMware upgrades: Advice for beginners (and pros)

Lauren Malhoit remembers her days as a VMware newbie. Here is some advice for beginners to gain expertise, as well as a reminder to experts to be good mentors.
A few months ago I received an email regarding a blog I wrote about upgrading VMware vSphere. In short, I was asked some questions about how to approach an upgrade of vSphere in a relatively small environment. This admin was concerned about posting to the VMware forums because she felt she might be chastised for asking some basic questions. So, I answered her questions, but I also told her that the VMware forums were very welcoming and although I couldn't promise that everyone would be nice* I was fairly confident that any further questions would be answered and most people would be very respectful. I think those of us who have been engulfed in the VMware world so often forget that not everyone has been using it for the last five or ten years. There are several businesses out there that just started getting in to virtualization.

After a couple emails back and forth with this admin, I started thinking that maybe someone should address the issues that newer VMware customers are facing. So, I emailed a few people inside and outside of VMware to find out that VMware has already realized it and is striving to address this. I was so involveded in my own virtualization journey that I failed to see there were other things going on. I actually got so caught up, even while participating in SMB focus groups, that I totally forgot about these businesses. Many of us listen to the podcasts or read the blogs and think that we have so much to learn and don't always understand what is being discussed, but we forget that we still have an obligation to teach those who are just getting started.

Just tonight, I remembered my first VMware upgrade. I had apparently repressed it until now. I was a customer and had just dipped my toes into the VMware pool. It wasn't really that long ago, just about five or six years. We had a consultant come in and we ended up virtualizing about 50% of our servers right off the bat. We had some ESX 3.0 hosts and shared storage on an EMC CX4. The vCenter server and the license server were still physical servers, as was recommended at the time (not the case now). The consultants we were working with let us know that ESX 3.5 had just come out and we might as well upgrade...however, I would be doing the upgrade by myself.

This brings me to my point: I would be upgrading half of our infrastructure by myself in one night! I was new to the admin world and had never done what I thought was such a huge upgrade...by myself...in one night. I didn't know what my boss was thinking; he had more faith in me than I had in myself at the time. The consultant promised to be available by  phone if I had any major issues. Did I mention this was all supposed to be done in one night? So, I vMotioned all the VMs on one host to another host and I started the upgrade. Oh no...what do I do with the database? Do I upgrade it? Sure, why not (after I called the consultant to make sure it was okay). Then it was done. I vMotioned a VM back on to the upgraded server, tested it, and it worked. I did the other ESX hosts and everything was fine.

Here I am just five years later, doing such things in the middle of the day without any downtime. The only reason I know that I can do that, though, is because I've done it many times before. Oh...and I also asked about a million questions, read hundreds of blogs and white papers, and called support dozens of times. It wasn't until tonight that I really remembered the cold sweats I got clicking the Next, Okay, and F11 buttons, though. I still get the cold sweats when I do anything that I'm not sure about, though I try to do everything in a lab first...of course!

I guess I just want everyone out there who is new to VMware, or any technology, to know that it is absolutely okay to ask questions and get the cold sweats! You'll never learn how to do it if you've never done it before. So ask questions, get involved in the community, and go the local VMUG (or any user group). Also know that we all feel like we don't know enough, no matter how far along we are.

*Be nice to newbies in forums. We all know you know what you're talking about. So explain details, don't use acronyms that new people won't get, and be nice about it, please.

About

Lauren Malhoit has been in the IT field for over 10 years and has acquired several data center certifications. She's currently a Technology Evangelist for Cisco focusing on ACI and Nexus 9000. She has been writing for a few years for TechRepublic, Te...

4 comments
paulgopncalves01
paulgopncalves01

Nicely put! It's ok to have to cold sweats. Just do your homework and enjoy the feeling after the rush. That's usually the feeling of success!

greg.buccheri
greg.buccheri

Although I have been using VMware for many years I still dont know enough dispite all the reading, talking and using so I think that without the forums a lot less deployment would take place. You can never know everything and it's good to talk to others, I for one take great plesure in helping someone new to Vmware.

Cincinnerdi
Cincinnerdi

These are excellent points, Lauren. The continual improvements / changes make us all feel like n00bs at times! To anyone who feels intimidated by an "expert" on forums, they should remember that only the wise consider themselves humble learners. Scott Ledyard