Upgrading vCenter 7 via the command line

I have vCenter installed and I want to update to When I run Update Planner > Interoperability it reports that all of my ESXi hosts are running ESXi 7.0.1. If I run the pre-update checks I get “No issues found”. When I go to the appliance to do the upgrade, both “Stage Only” and “Stage and Install” are greyed-out and unselectable.

vCenter 7 Appliance Available Updates screen

I tried a dozen different tricks, including ssh-ing into the appliance as root and editing the /etc/applmgmt/appliance/software_update_state.conf file, but nothing could enable the “Stage Only” and “Stage and Install” buttons.

Use the command line

I finally decided to try upgrading via the command line. I have backups going back 30 days. I even double-checked and yes, my NFS server has files in the backup directory for each of the past 30 days and they have data in them. There’s probably even a way to restore one of those backups if something goes horribly wrong. Onwards!

I was already logged into the vCenter appliance as root. The next thing I needed to do was to figure out where the command line tools were hidden. I found them in /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts.

Disclaimer: I work at VMware, but I have no idea if the following is an “acceptable practice” or not. If your production vCenter is broken and you have a support contract, call support. If you’re messing around on a home or test system and you don’t care how badly you screw it up, feel free to try the command line tools.

root@vcenter [ ~ ]# cd /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts
root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ls -al
total 108
drwxr-xr-x 4 root root  4096 Aug 30 18:18 .
drwxr-xr-x 4 root root  4096 Aug 30 18:18 ..
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root   205 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root   633 Aug 15 07:16 manifest-verification
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root   286 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  2056 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  3396 Aug 15 07:16
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root  4096 Aug 30 18:18 postinstallscripts
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  5207 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  4171 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root   251 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  4001 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  3910 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root 35773 Aug 15 07:16
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root  8085 Aug 15 07:16
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root  4096 Aug 30 18:18 tests

I had read somewhere that the script could do the upgrade. Let’s see what it says it supports.

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./
usage: software-packages [-h] {stage,unstage,validate,install,list} ...

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit

    stage               Stage software update packages
    unstage             Purge staged software update packages
    validate            Validate software update packages
    install             Install software update packages
    list                List details of software update packages

Stage the packages for the update

Since the appliance wasn’t letting me upgrade, I thought I’d first check to see if I already have upgrades staged.

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ list --staged
 [2021-01-22T21:45:41.022] : Packages not staged

OK. Nothing staged. How do I stage packages?

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ stage --help
usage: software-packages stage [-h] [--url [URL]] [--iso] [--acceptEulas] [--thirdParty]

optional arguments:
  -h, --help     show this help message and exit
  --url [URL]    Download software update package from URL. If no url is specified,
                 catalog/valm/vmw/8dc0de9a-feedl-1337-be0a-6ddeadbeefa3/ is used.
  --iso          Load software update packages from CD/DVD drive attached to the appliance
  --acceptEulas  accept all Eulas
  --thirdParty   Stage third party packages.--thirdParty should only be usedwith --url.

Sounds clear enough. I’ll try that:

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ stage --url --acceptEulas
 [2021-01-22T21:46:28.022] : Latest updates already installed on VCSA, Nothing to stage

Well that’s not correct. There’s definitely an update available. Re-reading help again I notice that the default URL looks something like:

I’ve obfuscated the actual URL, but that’s a vCenter 6.7.0 URL, I’m using 7.0.0, and I want 7.0.1.

I go back to the appliance web UI and click the Update > Settings button.

vCenter 7 Appliance Update screen

Settings shows a different URL for 7.0.1, so I copy and paste that into the command line:

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ stage --acceptEulas --url
 [2021-01-22T21:48:28.022] : Target VCSA version =
 [2021-01-22 21:48:28,781] : Running requirements script.....

Trust but verify

A little while later everything was staged. I decided to validate everything.

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ validate
 [2021-01-22T21:50:11.022] : For the first instance of the identity domain, this is the password given to the Administrator account.  Otherwise, this is the password of the Administrator account of the replication partner.
Enter Single Sign-On administrator password:

 [2021-01-22T21:50:22.022] : Validating software update payload
 [2021-01-22 21:50:22,327] : Running validate script.....
 [2021-01-22T21:50:26.022] : Validation successful
 [2021-01-22T21:50:26.022] : Validation process completed successfully

Then I check to see what’s staged:

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ list --staged
 [2021-01-22T21:50:45.022] :
        category: Bugfix
        leaf_services: ['vmware-pod', 'vsphere-ui', 'wcp']
        vendor: VMware, Inc.
        name: VC-7.0U1c
        size in MB: 5107
        tags: []
        version_supported: []
        productname: VMware vCenter Server
        releasedate: December 17, 2020
        updateversion: True
        allowedSourceVersions: [,]
        buildnumber: 17327517
        rebootrequired: False
        summary: {'id': 'patch.summary', 'translatable': 'In-place upgrade for vCenter appliances.', 'localized': 'In-place upgrade for vCenter appliances.'}
        type: Update
        severity: Critical
        TPP_ISO: False
        thirdPartyAvailable: False
        nonThirdPartyAvailable: True
        thirdPartyInstallation: False
        timeToInstall: 0
        requiredDiskSpace: {'/storage/core': 30.353511543273928, '/storage/seat': 32.21015625}
        eulaAcceptTime: 2021-01-22 21:48:37 UTC

Well, that shows:


Which is the version I’ve been trying to upgrade to, so that looks good.

Did I mention that I have backup copies of vCenter going back 30 days? Well I do. If this goes really sideways I’m going to have to restore one of them.

Let’s do the update!

root@vcenter [ /usr/lib/applmgmt/support/scripts ]# ./ install --staged
 [2021-01-22T21:51:23.022] : For the first instance of the identity domain, this is the password given to the Administrator account.  Otherwise, this is the password of the Administrator account of the replication partner.
Enter Single Sign-On administrator password:

 [2021-01-22T21:51:43.022] : Validating software update payload
 [2021-01-22 21:51:43,716] : Running validate script.....
 [2021-01-22T21:51:47.022] : Validation successful
 [2021-01-22 21:51:47,730] : Copying software packages 251/251
 [2021-01-22 21:55:37,642] : Running system-prepare script.....
 [2021-01-22 21:55:42,661] : Running test transaction ....
 [2021-01-22 21:55:44,678] : Running prepatch script...
 [2021-01-22 21:58:27,896] : Upgrading software packages ....
 [2021-01-22T22:02:10.022] : Setting appliance version to build 17327517
 [2021-01-22 22:02:10,242] : Running patch script.....
 [2021-01-22 22:11:34,245] : Starting all services ....
 [2021-01-22T22:11:35.022] : Services started.
 [2021-01-22T22:11:35.022] : Installation process completed successfully

That was it. The actual update took about 20 minutes, and although the UI said no reboot was necessary vCenter did reboot during the update. When it was done vCenter was running version

The vCenter appliance Update “Stage Only” and “Stage and Install” buttons are still greyed-out and unselectable, but right now there are no updates available so that’s how they should be. I’ll have to wait for the next update to see if they’re working again. If the buttons are still broken, at least now I know how to use the command line to install an update.

Hope you find this useful.

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Updating the vCenter appliance root password

If you’re like me, you rarely ssh into your vCenter appliance as “root”. However, the time comes when you need to update vCenter, you run the “Pre-Update Checks” — and because you never log into the appliance — you get the message that your root password needs to be updated before you can install the update.

So… log into the vCenter Service Management Console (https://your-vcenter:5480), click Access and then Edit. Make sure that SSH Login, DCLI, Console CLI, and BASH access are all enabled. Set the BASH timeout to 15 minutes so it gets disabled automatically when you’re done.

Once you’ve done that, ssh to the appliance.

$ ssh

VMware vCenter Server

Type: vCenter Server with an embedded Platform Services Controller

Received disconnect from port 22:2: Too many authentication failures
Disconnected from port 22

Did you get a “Received disconnect … Too many authentication failures” message? Don’t worry, no one is hacking into your vCenter, it’s just that you have more than one ssh key on your keyring and for some reason someone at VMware thought that it would be a great idea to set the vCenter ssh setting MaxAuthTries = 2. Your first ssh key counts as one try, your second ssh key counts as attempt number 2, and… you’re done. vCenter won’t let you log in.

To bypass public key authentication checks entirely use the -o PubkeyAuthentication=no parameter for ssh:

$ ssh -o PubkeyAuthentication=no

VMware vCenter Server

Type: vCenter Server with an embedded Platform Services Controller's password:
Connected to service

    * List APIs: "help api list"
    * List Plugins: "help pi list"
    * Launch BASH: "shell"


Now get to the bash shell by typing shell, then passwd to set the new password, and you can update the root password:

Command> shell
Shell access is granted to root
root@vcenter [ ~ ]# passwd
New password:
Retype new password:
passwd: password updated successfully
root@vcenter [ ~ ]# exit
Command> exit
Connection to closed.

Before you log out, run the Pre-Update Check again to verify that vCenter sees that the password has been updated. This time you should get the message “No issues found. Pre-update checks have passed.”

Hope you find this useful.

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Quickly get IP addresses of new VMs

I spin up a lot of VMs using VMware Fusion. I generally keep “clean” generic copies of a few different distros and versions of Linux servers ready to go with my login, an sshd server, ssh keys, and basic settings that I use already set up. When I need to quickly test something manually — usually some new, multi-VM distributed container orchestration or database system — I just make as many copies of the server’s *.vmwarevm file as I need, fire up the VM copies on my laptop, test whatever I need to test, then shut them down. Eventually I delete the copies and recover the disk space.

Depending on where my laptop is running I’ll get a completely random IP address for the VM from the local DHCP server. I would log into the consoles, get the IPs, then log into the various VMs from a terminal. (Cut and paste just works a whole lot better on a terminal than on the VMware console.)

However, since the console screens are up, and I repeat this pattern several times a week, I figured why not save a step and make the ephemeral VMs just show me their IP address on their consoles without having to login, so I added an “on reboot” file called /etc/cron.d/welcome on the master image which updates the /etc/issue file.

/etc/cron.d/welcome looks like this:

@reboot root (/bin/hostname; /bin/uname -a; echo; if [ -x /sbin/ip ]; then /sbin/ip addr; else /sbin/ifconfig; fi) > /etc/issue

When a new VM boots, it writes the hostname, kernel info, and the ethernet config to the /etc/issue file. /etc/issue is displayed on the screen before the login prompt, so now I can just glance at the console, see the IP address, and ssh to the new VM.

Ephemeral VM

Although you’d never want to do this on a production system, it works great for ephemeral, throw-away test VMs.

Hope you find this useful.

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