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Is a VMware Tools Upgrade Required When Upgrading vSphere?

I’m often asked if it is necessary to upgrade to the latest version of VMware Tools following an upgrade to the latest vSphere release.  The short answer is no, in most cases a VMware Tools upgrade is optional.   However, that is not to say you should not upgrade as it is always recommended that you run the latest version of VMware Tools.  So what’s the benefit of making the tools upgrade optional if it’s always going to be recommended?  Let me explain…

As the size of your virtual infrastructure grows tracking and upgrading the VMware Tools versions running across a large number of virtual machines can be difficult.   Fortunately, VMware recognizes this and has done a lot to help make upgrades easy by extending the tools support matrix.  The extended VMware Tools support does two things:

  1. It allows virtual machines running older versions of VMware Tools to run in a supported configuration on newer versions of ESXi.
  2. It allows virtual machines running newer versions of VMware Tools to run in a supported configuration on older versions of ESX/ESXi.

The net affect of this forward and backward compatibility is that it makes upgrading VMware Tools optional.  This allows you to upgrade your vCenter Server and vSphere hosts without having to worrying about virtual machines falling out of compliance with support requirements or having to be concerned with the need to immediately follow the upgrade with a large number of virtual machine reboots in order to upgrade VMware Tools.

One thing to note however is that while the extended support matrix does allow you to run older versions of tools on newer versions of ESXi, this does not mean you should never upgrade tools. The benefit of the extended support is not that it eliminates the need to upgrade, but that it makes upgrades easier by allowing you to schedule the VMware Tools upgrades to occur over time and in a way that will better accommodate the needs of the business.   Following the vCenter Server and vSphere host upgrades it is always recommended that you have a plan for upgrading the VMware Tools running inside your virtual machines.

Note:  Although upgrading VMware Tools is optional, it is still highly recommended.   The extended support is meant to facilitate upgrades and should not be seen as an excuse to avoid upgrading VMware Tools.

For more information on the VMware Tools extended support matrix check out the VMware Compatibility matrix located at http://partnerweb.vmware.com/comp_guide2/sim/interop_matrix.php.    To view the details for the VMware Tools support with each ESX/ESXi release:

(1) Select the radio button next to “Solution Interoperability

(2) Select “VMware ESX/ESXi” as the first solution

(3) Select “VMware Tools from VMware ESX/ESXi” as the second solution

(4) Click the “Add” button.

The results of the query is a matrix showing which VMware Tools versions are supported on which ESX/ESXi host versions:

So in summary, the extended VMware Tools support matrix facilitates vSphere upgrades by allowing older versions of VMware Tools to run in a supported configuration on newer vSphere hosts.  At the same time this extended support also allows newer versions of VMware Tools to run in a supported configuration on older vSphere hosts.  With this extended support you are able to transparently upgrade your vSphere infrastructure with no impact to the hosted virtual machines.  Following the vCenter Server and vSphere host upgrades you can then schedule the VMware Tools upgrades over a period of time and with as little disruption to the business as possible.

Get notification of new blog postings by following Kyle Gleed on Twitter:  @VMwareESXi

9 thoughts on “Is a VMware Tools Upgrade Required When Upgrading vSphere?

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