Backup and Restore vCenter Server Appliance

Just a few weeks ago, vSphere 7 saw the light of day. And people went crazy! New ESXi servers with vSphere 7 have sprung up like mushrooms. So many people directly upgraded their homelabs, or maybe even their production systems.

This blog post, I know the last post is some time ago, will show you how you can backup your vCenter Server Appliance with their integrated backup functionality, and also how you can restore it, in case something went wrong. Except for two ways, I went through all options for backup targets and tried to find out how to configure it. So there should be at least one way how you can back up your vCenter data to a proper location in your data center.

Why is it a good idea to back up your vCenter

vCenter is your management central in terms of virtualization. You manage all your ESXi server with it, your clusters, your data center networking maybe (with NSX), you’ve got some automation running, got your host profiles, storage policies, etc. in place there. Why lose all the stuff you’ve configured over a longer period, with maybe much tinkering, try and error? Backing up vCenter is not so hard. You need a backup target, a user and a password. In vCenter 6.7 you can even schedule the backup, which makes things even easier than before, where it wasn’t possible to configure a schedule.

Supported protocols for backup

vCenter supports the following protocols for backup:

  • FTP
  • NFS
  • SMB
  • FTPS
  • SCP
  • HTTP
  • HTTPS

This guide will show you how to configure all of the above protocols, except HTTP and HTTPS. I didn’t see a sense in setting up such a configuration in my lab, because it doesn’t seem to me as such backup targets would exist in a company either. I also think that these two protocols might be the slowest, compared to all the other protocols available. In data centers, no matter if on-premises or cloud, the often-used protocols are NFS and SMB. So chances are high that there might be already a suitable backup target for vCenter. Or it can be easily created. Also, FTP is still commonly used, and we’ve got also secure options with FTPS and SCP.

Backup performance

To be honest, the backup performance was not my top priority. I wanted to configure and test all supported protocols except HTTP and HTTPS. It’s clear that performance matters, at least to a certain degree. Backup windows might be small, or systems should not be impacted with a heavy load. Before we move on, I’d like to show you how the performance was during my tests.

I’ve set up a new vCenter server appliance for this backup and restore test. It is a tiny deployment with 2 CPU, 10GB memory and default disk size (thin). There is nothing configured within vCenter, no hosts, no clusters, nothing except backup. You can see that the amount of data transferred is the same in all tests. In regards to the duration, we’ve got the SMB protocol on the first place, followed by FTPS on the second, and NFS on the third place. Yes, I’m aware of “but there’s ftp:// and not ftps://”. I’ve configured FTPS as you can see later on the screenshots, but when I executed the backup job, it was logged as “ftp”. You can spot the difference at the port used for FTPS.

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Upgrade VCSA through CLI Installer

My team and I were tasked with a global vSphere upgrade on all of our ESXi hosts, hyper-converged systems and our vCenter. We took enough time to get the inventory, check all the hosts for compatibility and test the various upgrade paths. The upgrade will be rolled out in multiple steps due to personal resources (we’re a small team and currently, it’s summer holiday season) and also to avoid too much downtime. In this blog post, I’d like to share some personal experiences regarding the upgrade of our vCenter. It didn’t work as we’ve planned. But in the end, all worked fine. I’d like also to shoutout a big thank you to my team. You guys rock!

Foreword

Before we dive deeply into the vCenter upgrade process, and what happened, I’d like to explain some steps first to better understand our approach and the upgrade process in general.

One of the milestones is (at the writing of this blog post already “was”) the upgrade of our vCenter. We’re using vCenter for our daily tasks like managing virtual workloads, deployment of new ESXi hosts, etc. But before we could upgrade our vCenter from 6.5 to 6.7, we had to do some host upgrades first. Our hyper-converged infrastructure was running 24/7 without getting much care, like care in the form of firmware upgrades. There was just not enough time to do maintenance tasks like this throughout the last few months or maybe years. Maybe some people also were just afraid of touching these systems, I don’t know for sure. The firmware was old but at least the hypervisor was on a 6.0 version and also in pretty good shape as well.

So we’ve scheduled various maintenance windows, planned the hyper-converged upgrades and made sure that we’ve downloaded everything from the manufacturer we need to succeed. The firmware upgrade went well on all hosts. One host had a full SEL log and that caused some error messages. No real issue at all, but some alerts in vCenter on that cluster we had to get rid of.

The firmware upgrade on one of the hyper-converged cluster took about 18 hours. That was expected, somehow, because the firmware was really old, and did not support higher ESXi versions that 6.0. But everything went well and we had no issues at all, expect the full SEL log which then has been cleared.

After that firmware upgrade, we were able to upgrade the ESXi version on all of the hyper-converged clusters to a 6.5 level. This was needed because of some plugins used to manage these hyper-converged systems. Ok, to let the cat out of the bag, we’re using Cisco HyperFlex and the plugin I’m talking about is that HX plugin. The version for ESXi 6.0 wasn’t supported in vCenter 6.7. That’s the reason we had to upgrade the HyperFlex systems first to ESXi 6.5.

As you know for sure, you can’t manage ESXi hosts later than 6.5 in vCenter 6.5. So we had to do a stop here for the moment, but we were now at least able to upgrade our vCenter. All other hosts were already on 6.0 since they were installed, so no issues upgrading to vCenter 6.7.

Oh, did I already mention that our vCenter doesn’t run on-premises but on a cloud provider? No, it’s not VMC on AWS, but some other IaaS provider. That didn’t make it easier.

But let’s dive into the main topic now, enough of explanation, let’s do the hard work now.

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