Upgrading to ESXi 5: VMware’s latest hypervisor architecture

By Julia Anderson, Assistant Site Editor

Now that VMware has officially discontinued the ESX server, your IT shop will most likely be migrating to ESXi 5, whether you like it or not. Fortunately, this latest version now offers much of the power ESX did, and includes several new features and upgrades, promising easier installation and deployment.

Since launching vSphere 5 in July 2011, VMware Inc. has recommended that all customers utilize the ESXi hypervisor architecture, as vSphere 5 -- and any subsequent updates and patch releases -- no longer includes the ESX architecture.

VMware pros currently managing ESX environments will find that ESXi 5’s new auto deploy feature makes installation and deployment simpler, but they will no longer have a full service console for command line management.

If you have questions or concerns about making the switch to ESXi, this comprehensive guide provides you with expert advice and information on key ESXi 5 features and installation best practices to help you through the upgrade.

Table of contents:

Changing hypervisor architectures: The move from ESX to ESXi

Many VMware shops have been wary of ESXi because previous versions did not feature official support for booting ESXi from a storage area networkor support for Active Directory integration. But knowing how to efficiently migrate to and install ESXi is more important than ever now that VMware has officially discontinued the ESX hypervisor architecture. Fortunately, manually installing ESXi is actually easier, and the wizard is simple compared to ESX.

VMware shops weigh ESX vs. ESXi
Two years ago, the vast majority of VMware shops used the full version of ESX, and many are still in no hurry to upgrade to ESXi despite the management benefits and installation flexibility associated with the hypervisor architecture. Migrating to ESXi may seem a daunting task, but VMware shops should start exploring strategies, especially since the vendor has stopped providing new versions of ESX.

Upgrading hosts from ESX to ESXi in eight steps
Upgrading to ESXi hosts is similar to other upgrades in that you must be fully prepared to ensure a successful transition. The suggested upgrade method stresses the need for a solid understanding of the different management techniques used for both ESX and ESXi, as well as knowledge of compatible hardware and software and a comprehensive upgrade plan.

Understanding VMware ESXi features
VMware originally designed its free bare-metal hypervisor, ESXi Server, as a compact version of ESX that allowed for a smaller 32 MB disk footprint on the host. The hypervisor architecture comes in three editions: free ESXi, ESXi Installable, and ESXi Embedded. Read up on the core ESXi features and how it integrates with vSphere Management Assistant and vSphere command-line interface (vCLI).

The top 25 ESX commands and ESXi commands
Though IT admins can manage VMware ESX hosts with the vSphere client graphical user interface, they often prefer to log into the VMware service console and use the ESX command line to troubleshoot problems. Learn the top ESX and ESXi commands to efficiently automate tasks, identify problems and performance tune your virtual machines.

Test ESXi 4.1 today, migrate smoothly from ESX tomorrow
VMware discontinued its ESX architecture with the release of vSphere 4.1,. It then became more important than ever for predominantly ESX shops to familiarize themselves with ESXi and its features, as migration became inevitable and unavoidable. Building an ESXi 4.1 test environment is one of the best ways to ready your shop for the transition.

ESX vs. ESXi: Convincing your boss to move to ESXi
The ESX vs. ESXi debate has only escalated since VMware introduced the latter in 2007. Unfortunately for ESX fans, now that the vendor has discontinued that hypervisor architecture, the debate must come to an end. Many ESX shops have avoided ESXi because it lacked the power of ESX's service console, but you can still convince your boss to make the switch, especially given that newer versions of ESXi are much more powerful than before.

What’s new in ESXi 5?

A simpler patching mechanism always gave ESXi an advantage over ESX, but many VMware shops have still neglected to make the switch. But now that ESXi 5 is the sole hypervisor architecture offered in vSphere 5, an upgrade is inevitable. Fortunately, the improvements to ESXi 5, including a new auto deploy feature, are likely to convince even the most stubborn ESX shops to begin migrating.

How to install VMware ESXi 5: Upgrading hosts and the vSphere Client
Contrary to popular belief, upgrading from ESXi 4 to ESXi 5 is neither expensive nor complicated. VMware offers the ESXi 5 software for free on its website, and, as long as you properly prepare your environment for the upgrade, you should find the download and installation procedure relatively simple.

Installing and configuring VMware ESXi 5
In order to employ VMware vSphere 5, you’ll need to be able to download, install and configure ESXiThis latest version of the hypervisor architecture requires a licensing upgrade to gain additional features and a vCenter Server agent, but configuring ESXi is not as daunting as it appears. The step-by-step instructions in this tip will help you avoid any pitfalls.

VMware Auto Deploy: ESXi installation made easy
Auto Deploy, a new feature available on VMware vSphere 5, delivers the entire ESXi hypervisor across the wire. VMware Auto Deploy installs as a service in the Windows version of vCenter, as well as the Linux version that ships as a virtual appliance, and can streamline the hypervisor installation and configuration process. Auto Deploy is not flawless, however, and learning to recognize and troubleshoot potential problems will ensure ESXi installation success.

VMware vSphere Command Line Interface: Using vCLI for ESXi management
When compared to the vSphere Client, the vSphere vCLI actually offers IT admins a powerful command-line alternative for ESXi management, and requires no additional licensing purchase. Learn how to download and install vCLI, and how to take advantage of the simpler commands to better manage your ESXi architecture.