vSphere Update Manager: Switch to vSphere Lifecycle Manager

Keeping your ESXi hosts and virtual machines updated and in sync is essential for a healthy and secure VMware virtual environment. Traditionally, this task has been handled by the vSphere Update Manager (VUM), a powerful tool that has served us well. However, VMware has introduced an evolved version management system – the vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM). It is now time to think about making the transition.

As we transition from vSphere Update Manager to this new model, understanding the capabilities of each is vital. Let’s consider vSphere Update Manager vs vSphere Lifecycle Manager and better understand the new vLCM tool.

What is VMware vSphere Update Manager (VUM)?

vSphere Update Manager (VUM) is an excellent tool integrated into VMware vCenter Server, enabling system administrators to automate and simplify the process of applying updates.

It also includes the management of applying patches and performing major upgrades to ESXi hosts, virtual machines (VMs), and virtual appliances. VUM is crucial in maintaining the security, performance, and reliability of your VMware vSphere environment.

Through vSphere Update Manager, users can create custom baselines or baseline groups representing the required state of their system – be it a certain ESXi version, critical host patches, VMware Tools version, or VM hardware level.

VUM can then check your ESXi host and VMs for compliance against these baselines and perform the necessary remediation tasks, either automatically or manually, depending on your settings.

Below is a look at a cluster that is still managed with vSphere Update Manager. You will note this as you will see the button to Manage with a single image which notes you want to transition to vSphere Lifecycle Manager.

Managing your vSphere cluster with a single image
Managing your vSphere cluster with a single image

What is vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM)?

vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM) is the next-generation management tool introduced in VMware vSphere 7 for updating VMware ESXi. It aims to provide a more streamlined, declarative, and consistent approach to maintaining and managing the lifecycle of ESXi hosts.

Unlike VUM, which operates on an imperative model (where you instruct exactly what updates or patches need to be applied), vLCM leverages a desired state model.

The new tool allows you to define the desired state for your ESXi hosts (declarative model), including the ESXi version, firmware, and drivers, and vLCM ensures the hosts match this state.

Moreover, vLCM extends its capabilities to include hardware management, allowing for full-stack firmware and driver updates directly from the vendor’s hardware support manager.

It brings all necessary elements together in the vSphere Lifecycle Manager depot, simplifying lifecycle management significantly.

It is also an “image-based” approach that you see once you transition over to vLCM from VUM.

vSphere Cluster in compliance with the vSphere Lifecycle Manager image
vSphere Cluster in compliance with the vSphere Lifecycle Manager image

vSphere Update Manager vs vSphere Lifecycle Manager

The key difference between vSphere Update Manager and vSphere Lifecycle Manager lies in their approach to lifecycle management.

VMware Update Manager operates on an imperative model where the administrator manually sets up baselines and baseline groups for updates, patches, and upgrades. They then need to monitor and remediate non-compliance manually.

While this offers flexibility, it may also lead to inconsistencies across the ESXi hosts due to human error or oversight.

On the other hand, vSphere Lifecycle Manager uses a declarative model where you define the desired end-state, and vLCM takes care of the rest. It not only applies necessary updates and patches but also ensures consistent configuration across all hosts within a cluster.

This consistent configuration is vital in complex environments where inconsistencies can lead to unpredictable behavior and troubleshooting difficulties.

In addition, vLCM brings hardware lifecycle management into the picture, which is not available with VUM to the degree it is with vLCM. This simplifies updating and managing hardware firmware and drivers, making it a unified tool for full-stack lifecycle management.

While both tools have their strengths, vLCM represents a leap forward in VMware vSphere lifecycle management, offering a more efficient, reliable, and comprehensive solution for today’s complex environments.

vSphere Update Manager: Looking back

The vSphere Update Manager, a feature embedded in the vCenter Server, has been the reliable workhorse for managing updates and upgrades for ESXi hosts, VMware Tools, and virtual appliances.

It made it possible to patch ESXi hosts and upgrade VM hardware seamlessly, ensuring your VMware vSphere environment remained current and secure.

One of the critical features of the vSphere Update Manager is its ability to create and manage baselines and baseline groups. These allowed administrators to specify which patches should be installed manually on the ESXi hosts such as ESXi 6.7 and lower.

With the help of the vSphere client, you could easily attach these baselines to multiple ESXi hosts or clusters and perform a compliance check before initiating the remediation process. However, as VUM has served its purpose, enter vLCM.

Enter vSphere Lifecycle Manager: The Future of vSphere Environment Management

Transitioning from vSphere Update Manager to vSphere Lifecycle Manager is a leap forward in ESXi lifecycle management. VMware vSphere Lifecycle Manager enhances the abilities of its predecessor, offering a unified, simplified, and more efficient method of maintaining and managing ESXi hosts.

The vSphere Lifecycle Manager incorporates a desired state model, which helps in managing ESXi hosts at the cluster level. With this tool, you can ensure that all hosts in a cluster have the same ESXi version, VMware Tools versions, and additional components.

It also utilizes the vSphere Lifecycle Manager depot, where all necessary files for upgrades and patches are stored. The idea here is to upgrade ESXi and maintain a consistent state across all hosts.

Overview of Steps to Migrate to vSphere Lifecycle Manager

Before beginning the migration process, make sure to check VMware Interoperability Matrix. This will help you ensure compatibility between your vCenter Server versions and the new ESXi version you wish to install.

  1. Prepare for the Transition: Before starting, ensure you have a complete backup of your vCenter Server Appliance and all your ESXi hosts. Using backup software is advisable here.

    Also, make sure all your hosts have the necessary network connectivity and internet access. If you’re in a secured network, offline bundle of the new ESXi version might be needed.

  2. Manage with a single image: Once ready, log into your vCenter Server and navigate to the vSphere Client. Click your vSphere cluster and click the Updates menu. Here, you will find the option to manage with a single image.

  3. Setup image: Choose the image you would like to apply along with vendor addons, firmware and drivers and any other additional components bundles you need.

  4. Convert to image-based updates: After setting up your image, the cluster is transitioned to an image-based configuration.

  5. Perform Image Compliance Check: Perform an image compliance check on the cluster to compare the current ESXi hosts with the desired state defined in the configured image.

  6. Remediation: Once all checks are complete and you’re confident with the setup, initiate the remediation process.

Step-by-Step Migration from vSphere Update Manager to vSphere Lifecycle Manager

Let’s walk through this process on an actual cluster. After clicking the Updates menu, click the Manage with a single image button.

Beginning the process to manage with a vLCM image
Beginning the process to manage with a vLCM image

Click the Setup Image button.

Setup image in vSphere Lifecycle Manager
Setup image in vSphere Lifecycle Manager

The cluster readiness will be checked.

Checking cluster readiness
Checking cluster readiness

Click the Yes, Finish Image Setup button. You will see the warning along with the dialog box noting that once completed, the cluster cannot go back to using baselines.

Finish setting up your vSphere Lifecycle Manager image
Finish setting up your vSphere Lifecycle Manager image

The cluster conversion process begins.

Converting the cluster to vSphere Lifecycle Manager image based updates 1
Converting the cluster to vSphere Lifecycle Manager image-based updates 1

If any problems exist with the image and cluster readiness, these will be noted. Below, you can see VIB files currently exist on the cluster nodes that are not contained in the vLCM image. You must either remove these installed VIBs or include these in the vLCM image.

Image compliance issues with the vSphere cluster
Image compliance issues with the vSphere cluster

As you can see below, I am removing the problematic VIBs which happen to be driver files.

Removing VIB files from an ESXi host
Removing VIB files from an ESXi host

Depending on what you uninstall, you may need to reboot.

Reboot required after removing VIB files
Reboot required after removing VIB files

After removing problematic VIBs, the errors simply go to warnings due to “future” unsupported CPUs. You can now click the Remediate all button.

vSphere cluster is now ready to remediate after errors are cleared
vSphere cluster is now ready to remediate after errors are cleared

Now, we can remediate the cluster. Click the Start Remediation button.

Review remediation impact summary
Review remediation impact summary

The hosts begin remediating.

Hosts begin remediating
Hosts begin remediating

After the remediation process completes, you should see the image compliance message, All nodes in the cluster are compliant.

All hosts compliant after remediation
All hosts compliant after remediation

Video overview of 3 ways to upgrade to ESXi 8.0

Upgrade to ESXi 8.0 in three ways

Limitations of vSphere Lifecycle Manager vs vSphere Update Manager

As with any major update or transition, there are a few considerations and potential limitations to keep in mind when switching from vSphere Update Manager (VUM) to vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM):

  1. Cluster-Based Management: While the cluster-centric approach of vLCM enhances consistency across hosts, it does mean that individual host management is not possible. vLCM applies desired images and updates at the cluster level, so it’s less flexible than VUM if you need to manage hosts individually.

  2. Limited Baseline Functionality: vLCM does not support baseline groups like VUM does. This change might require a shift in how you’ve traditionally managed updates and patches. You can still check compliance against existing attached baselines, but vLCM won’t allow you to create new ones.

  3. Requirement for vSphere 7 or Higher: vSphere Lifecycle Manager was introduced in vSphere 7. So, you can’t use it if you’re running an older version of vSphere. You would need to plan an upgrade of your entire environment to vSphere 7 or higher to take advantage of vLCM.

  4. Hardware Compatibility: vLCM’s ability to manage hardware firmware and drivers is a powerful feature, but it relies on your hardware vendors’ support for this function. If your vendor doesn’t provide a compatible hardware support manager, you may be unable to use this feature.

  5. Stateless Hosts: Stateless ESXi hosts (those installed with Auto Deploy) are not compatible with vLCM.

These limitations or changes don’t necessarily make vLCM inferior to VUM. Rather, they represent shifts in how lifecycle management is approached, with a stronger focus on consistency and integrated hardware management. As with any tool, it’s essential to understand these considerations to leverage vLCM effectively.

FAQs: Addressing Common Concerns

1. Do I need to upgrade my ESXi hosts to a specific version to use vSphere Lifecycle Manager?

To use vSphere Lifecycle Manager, your ESXi hosts should be running ESXi 7.0 or later. If you have ESXi hosts running earlier versions like ESXi 6.7, you need to upgrade ESXi to a compatible version. Your vCenter Server needs to be vCenter Server 7.0 Update 2.

2. Can I still use vSphere Update Manager if I don’t want to switch to vSphere Lifecycle Manager?

Yes, the vSphere Update Manager will still be available for now, but VMware recommends migrating to the vSphere Lifecycle Manager for future updates and better functionality. The move will be mandatory in the future as VUM is now deprecated.

3. Can I manage individual hosts with vSphere Lifecycle Manager?

No, the vSphere Lifecycle Manager manages hosts at the cluster level for consistency. If you need to manage individual hosts, you’ll need to use the vSphere Update Manager.

4. What happens to my existing baselines and baseline groups in vSphere Update Manager when I switch to vSphere Lifecycle Manager?

The vSphere Lifecycle Manager does not support baseline groups from vSphere Update Manager. However, you can still check compliance against the existing attached baselines.

Wrapping Up

Understanding the transition from vSphere Update Manager (VUM) to vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM) is critical for any VMware vSphere administrator looking to simplify, streamline, and enhance their ESXi lifecycle management strategy, while staying in a supported state.

While the vSphere Update Manager has served us well over the years, vSphere Lifecycle Manager represents the future of VMware vSphere environment management, offering a unified and more efficient approach to lifecycle management.

By shifting from a task-oriented to a desired-state model, vSphere Lifecycle Manager ensures consistency across all ESXi hosts, which is essential for maintaining a healthy and secure virtual environment. With additional capabilities, like full-stack firmware and driver updates and maintenance of the vSphere Lifecycle Manager depot, vLCM brings lifecycle management to a new level of ease and efficiency.

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Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee is the Senior Writer, Engineer and owner at Virtualizationhowto.com and has over two decades of experience in Information Technology. Having worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as in various industries, Brandon has extensive experience in various IT segments and is a strong advocate for open source technologies. Brandon holds many industry certifications, loves the outdoors and spending time with family.

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