One of the biggest improvements made to VMware’s vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) in version 5.5 is that the limitations of hosts and virtual machines has increased, and vCSA 5.5 can support up to 100 hosts and 3,000 virtual machines. This opens the possibility for larger SMBs to start using the appliance-based vCenter and lose the businesses’ Windows license requirement.

In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through an upgrade of the appliance from 5.1 to 5.5.

Upgrading vCSA from 5.1 to 5.5

There isn’t an upgrade file (.RPM, etc.) that you can copy to the appliance and run, so you’ll need to download a new appliance from After doing so, deploy the new appliance as you would any other appliance, but do not configure anything. You’ll essentially go to File | Deploy OVF and then accept most of the defaults as long as you put it on the correct network (i.e., where your current vCenter appliance resides). It should pick up default networking information from your DHCP.

After you download the new virtual appliance, follow these steps to upgrade:

  1. Take a snapshot of your existing vCenter so you can revert back to it in case anything goes wrong.
  2. In the vSphere client, go to File | Deploy OVF.
  3. Click Next through the wizard. You only need to make sure that you select the proper storage and network for the appliance to reside on. You can leave the network details blank; DHCP will give it network settings when it starts up.
  4. After the new vCenter appliance completes booting, open a browser to the old and the new vCSAs. The URL should be https://<ip_or_vCSA>:5480. You can log in as root and the default password is vmware.
  5. When you log in to the new appliance, it will automatically show you the vCenter Server Setup wizard. Accept the EULA and click Next.
  6. On the Configure Options screen, select Upgrade From Previous Version and click Next (Figure A).
  7. This takes you to the Upgrade Configuration screen. You need to copy the entire key shown there. It will look like a paragraph of gibberish essentially. You should include the words BEGIN and END at the beginning of the key and at the end of the key.
  8. Go back to the old vCenter and click the Upgrade tab (not the Update tab).
  9. In the box below the Upgrade key, paste the key from the new vCenter key.
  10. Click the Import key and stop vCenter Server. You’ll know it’s done when it says Import Successful in green at the top of the page.
  11. Copy the key it gives you after the Import is complete and go back to the new vCenter.
  12. Copy this in the second box that says Paste The Source Appliance Key Into The Field Below and click Next.
  13. Continue with the rest of the configuration setup. First, put in SSO settings, which may change since SSO has changed from vCenter 5.1 to vCenter 5.5. Put in your administrator@vsphere.local password required for SSO 5.5 and click Next.
  14. Verify that all of your hosts are listed in the Pre-Upgrade Checker and click Next.
  15. Check the summary and verify that everything is correct. Click Next.
  16. Check the box that confirms you have a backup of your vCSA and click Start.

This will start the upgrade, which will take a few minutes. You won’t see any status changes from the GUI, so you can SSH into the new appliance to see what it’s doing. We also may want to do this in order to see if and when anything fails. Type the command Tail -f /var/log/vmware/vami/upgrade.log (Figure B).

Figure A

Figure B

The new vCSA will restart at this point and take on the network settings and hostname of the old vCSA. You can log in directly to the host where vCenter resides to see when it has finished starting. Once it has finished, you can log in to the vSphere web client. If you’re unable to log in with the your Active Directory credentials as you were before, check your SSO settings and make sure your domain is still in there. You also may want to make sure all of the services have started.

Tell us what you think

If you’ve upgraded the vCSA, share your experiences and tips. Or, please post any general feedback you have about using the vCSA.