Wednesday, January 16, 2013

vSphere 5.1 Upgrade: Home Lab

Being a vExpert has its benefits, one of which is getting a year-long evaluation license for VMware vCloud Suite 5 Enterprise.  Since this includes vSphere 5.1 (vCenter and ESXi), I was inspired to get my home lab back up and running again.

Heads-up warning:  this stuff is never as easy as it's supposed to be.  We had an old saying at my previous employer: "it takes 100 hours"!  When someone complained that they were spending too much time on a task, the joke was always, "did you put your 100 hours in?"  Anyway, I digress...

Setting Up the Environment
The first step was getting my old/used Dell 2950 server racked and connected.  Racking it up and connecting to a KVM was easy.  Connecting it to my network was not.  I recently moved my old rack out of my office to an unfinished part of my basement - with no network drops, of course.  So I bought a small 4-port GbE switch and 50ft cable with the idea of running the cable to my existing switch still located in my office.  Since my office is in the finished part of my basement, I needed to run the cable through the ceiling and down the far wall.  I had done this several times using a draw-string to pull the cable through.  Well this time the string decided to break - I heard a snap! - the cable didn't even make it half way.

Great, now I have to figure out how to fish the cable through and find it to pull it back down near the area where my switch lives.  Long story short, there went my first 50 hours, but I did finally get the cable and new pull string through.  Did I mention that I hate pulling cable?

Physical Server Installation and Configuration
Next up - updating BIOS and component firmware of the server.  This went w/o a hitch.  The Remote Access Card works great, no need to stand in front of the server in the basement.

I then installed ESXi 5.1 to a 2GB Kingston flash drive plugged into the back of the server.  Again, installation completes successfully.  I rebooted the server, connected via the vSphere client and configured the standard settings - NTP time, local datastore, etc.

Installing the First VM
I created a VM to host the Active Directory domain controller.  I decided to use Windows Server 2012 since this was a brand new install in a new home lab network.  This allows me to explore/learn the new features of AD on Sever 2012 and give me some future-proofing.

Installing vCenter 5.1
With the domain controller up and running it was time to create a VM for vCenter 5.1.  I'm using the simple installation method since this is for a home lab and I'm keeping all of the components on the same VM.  I decided to use Windows Server 2012 again to be consistent, if for no other reason.  I know this is not supported per the compatibility list, but have read other admin using this version with success.  Not my luck though.  I got an error message stating the the installation was interrupted before it could be completed, and that I should check the logs.  Hmmm... I tried again using a different service account during the installation but no luck.  I even tried logging on as the local administrator security context and still no luck - each time I got the same error.  So vCenter 5.1 simple install on Windows Server 2012 = FAIL.  There goes another 25 hours!

At this point, I've decided to try the vCenter Server appliance.  This should actually be the easist and fastest way to deploy a new instance of vCenter, right?  There are other benefits as well: this will be the only option within the next several releases, the appliance is easy to upgrade, it includes a better, built-in database (vPostgreSQL) and most of the limitations of the 5.0 vCenter appliance have been removed.  Seems like a no-brainer.  Too bad it didn't work either(!).  I'm not sure how a brand new instance deployed on a brand new install of ESXi can fail, but it did.  The OVA deployed fine, vCenter appears to start fine, but 2 plugins failed to start: "VMware vCenter Storage Monitoring and Reporting" and " vCenter Service Status".    The error is "the request failed because the remote server took too long to respond".  Manually enabling the storage monitoring plugin works, gut the service status plugin still fails.  I'd had enough of that so I deleted the VM.  There goes another 10 hours!

Since that experiment failed, I wanted to go back to using a Windows OS which is not a bad thing since I suspect that this is what most environments will be using for some time to come.  Getting back to using a compatible OS, I deployed a Windows Server 2008 R2 VM.  Again, I start a simple installation of vCenter.  This time, I get a different (SSO) error:
Error 29148.STS configuration error.

What the heck!?!?  This is a plan, vanilla install on a newly built VM!  Now I'm losing confidence of vCenter 5.1 and SSO.  I decided to try again, this time choosing to use the local network account for the service account and making sure I choose as many defaults as possible (although I was mostly doing this previously).  And finally, SUCCESS!!! (And final 15 hours!)

I logged on to the new vCenter instance via the vSphere client, added and licensed the new ESXi host and everything looked good.

Conclusion
Whew!  At the end of the day, I wished I could have used the vCenter appliance - it would have been more than enough for my little home lab.  But the Windows-based vCenter still works great and now I'm ready to move on.

Next up:  Web Client and Update Manager installations.  I don't expect any problems (famous last words).  Later this week or early next week I'll post how this went along with the upgrade in my company's dev/test environment.  Quick preview:  SSO issues galore.