Tips for a Successful vCenter 5.0 to 5.1 Upgrade

VMware recently released an updated version of vCenter and ESXi (5.1a) for those who were running VMware View 5.1 in their environments and stuck on vSphere 5.0. There are a lot of changes introduced with vCenter 5.1, including the somewhat negatively infamous SSO service.

I went through the exercise of updating my vCenter 5.0 server to 5.1a (as my lab has View 5.1) and had a few missteps. This post contains some tips from my upgrade experience that should help you have a successful upgrade.

Reverse DNS

Make sure to have a reverse DNS zone configured for the domain controllers, vCenter, and the SQL server. While this doesn’t have to be a Windows hosted DNS zone, that’s what I normally see and use.

Here’s a screen grab from my lab’s DNS:

During the install process, the installer does a reverse lookup when you enter the FQDN of a server. If that fails, a box warns about a failed nslookup of the IP (reverse lookup). This is a good clue that your reverse lookup zone is either not configured or does not contain PTR entries for the servers.

If the lookup zone does not have PTR records for the domain controllers SSO will fail to find the domain and automatically add it as an identity source.

Avoid the Simple Install Option

The Simple Install process is used to turn the now three step update process (SSO, Inventory Service, and vCenter Server) into a one click operation. I tried it for the first time because my lab is small enough to host all of these services on a single VM. However, I found that it’s sort of like a train that keeps on flying down the tracks regardless of any issues. My vCenter server was a smoking crater that was so goobered up that I wasn’t even able to log back in with anything short of my vCenter local Administrator account. I ended up restoring my database from backup and rolling back my snapshot on the VM.

Note: Make sure to take a database backup and snapshot (or backup) your vCenter server 🙂

On the next attempt I used the three installers in a serial fashion: first the SSO installer, then Inventory Service, and finally the vCenter Server. This allowed more granular control over the process even though I was doing it all to the same server.

The update process was 100% successful via this method and I didn’t need to restart or reboot anything afterwards.

Install the vSphere Web Client

Since the SSO service is controlled via the new vSphere Web Client, I highly advise installing the vCenter Web Client server. I found the naming a bit curious, as the install option states “vSphere Web Client” as something you can install – rest assured, this installs the server / service itself, not any actual client.


Once the environment was properly configured for the upgrade, I found the process to be rather smooth. I also invite you to read Jim Millard’s article on his experience upgrading from 5.1 to 5.1a.

If you have any tips or experiences to share I invite you to add a comment below.