VMware Hardware Version Overview: Upgrades and Compatibility

The hardware version of a virtual machine (VM) reflects the virtual hardware features and functions that the VM supports, which in turn relate to the hardware available on a physical host. When you create a VM, you can choose either the default hardware version or an earlier version. If you choose the latter, however, this may limit the VM’s functionality. The purpose of our article is to provide a comprehensive VMware hardware version overview. By way of background, VMware is an unquestionable leader in the market of cloud computing and virtualization, with the product line rich enough to suit the needs of virtually all businesses. So far, the company has released more than 10 virtual hardware versions. Our article explains how and whether to perform the upgrades, and how to check the compatibility between the virtual hardware version and a VM’s host.

The very first step in upgrading a VM’s hardware version is to create a backup or replica, or — better still — both. NAKIVO Backup & Replication provides a full-fledged solution to assist you with this task. Download the Free Trial of NAKIVO Backup & Replication and access its various data protection features right out of the box. With our functionality, you can remain sure that your VMware-based VMs are protected and recoverable.

Basic Information

VMware offers a rich selection of devices, options, resources, etc. to configure or add to your VM. You should pay attention to compatibility, as some of the hardware devices cannot be added to certain VMs. Both the physical machine the VM is running on and this VM’s operating system are meant to support the devices or configurations that you are going to add. Moreover, you can add or configure virtual hardware only if you are running the latest available VMware VM version.

Some of the basic VM hardware devices are outlined below:

Virtual hardware includes BIOS and Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI), while its version determines the amount of virtual PCI slots, maximum number of virtual cores, maximum memory size, and other characteristics typical for a physical machine. As an example, the maximum memory size in ESXi 6.0 (hardware version 11) is 4,080 GB, while in ESXi 6.5 (hardware version 13), it is as much as 6,128 GB.

A VMware product is unable to power on a VM if its hardware version is higher than this product supports. For example, VMware Fusion 6.x (VMware hypervisor for Macintosh) can only run a VM on a VMware hardware version 10 or lower. In order to run a VM on hardware version 11, you need VMware Fusion 7.x.

Virtual hardware upgrading can be compared with the process of when you take out the hard drive and then place it into a new machine. In a virtual environment, the success of the upgrade procedure depends upon the guest OS’s resiliency in the event of hardware updates. In view of this, VMware recommends upgrading virtual machine hardware only in case you need extra functionality added in a new version. If you want to preserve compatibility with older hosts, or standardize testing and deployment in your environment, it is better to stay with an earlier VMware hardware version.

VMware Hardware Version: Compatibility for ESXi

Upgrading your VMs to the latest hardware version is a wise practice. This is crucially important for improving the overall performance and efficiency of your VMware infrastructure.

The hardware version of a VM should be upgraded to the latest version of ESXi in use.

A quick reference: VMware ESXi is an enterprise-grade hypervisor designed for creating, running, and serving virtual machines. It is designed for bare-metal installation, meaning that it does not rely on an operating system, which allows for higher security and reliability.

For a better understanding of the compatibility issue, look through the table below:

If you are creating a new VM or upgrading an existing one, pay attention to the VM compatibility settings: you need to properly select the ESXi host version that the VM can run on. Precisely put, the compatibility settings determine the virtual hardware functions that are available to a VM. Each compatibility level of virtual hardware supports several vSphere releases. For example, a VM running on ESXi 5.5 can also run on ESXi 6.0, and ESXi 6.5.

The good news for those planning a VM upgrade is that the process requires no downtime for vCenter Server (VMware’s centralized management utility) or ESXi hosts. Your VM is only unavailable during the shutdown and until the guest OS restarts.

Before You Start VMware Hardware Version Upgrade

As noted above, upgrading a VM to the latest hardware version may lead to further challenges. Therefore, the process requires careful planning and preparation. Consider performing the following steps before you get started:

For reference: VMware Tools is a set of services and modules that simplify the management of a guest operating system and enhance user interactions with it. Installed in the VM’s operating system, they provide for better performance of the VM and bring about many of the VMware products’ helpful features.

Be aware that Windows-based VMs can lose their network settings unless VMware Tools are upgraded.

Data Protection with NAKIVO Backup & Replication

The feature set of NAKIVO Backup & Replication enables infrastructure monitoring, automation of data protection activities, and disaster recovery orchestration. With our key functionality, you can back up and replicate your VMware-based workloads.

VMware Backup

Our product provides the means for performing backups of live VMs and all their application data. For VMware VMs, our solution relies on Changed Block Tracking (CBT), VMware technology allowing you to copy only those data blocks that have changed since the last backup cycle. In fact, this is a great helper for saving storage space. For higher reliability, you can store your backups onsite, offsite, and in the Amazon or Azure Clouds. Additionally, you can make sure your VM backups are valid and recoverable by either receiving screenshots test-recovered machines after each backup cycle or checking the availability of VMware Tools.

VMware Replication

Our VMware Replication functionality provides a way to keep identical copies (replicas) of your VMs on an ESXi host of your choice. Until the replica is needed, it is stored in a powered-off state and does not consume any resources. For your convenience, you can replicate data directly from backups, thus offloading your production environment. Also, our verification tools allow you to power on the VM replica to make sure it is fully functional.

The main features of NAKIVO Backup & Replication cover the following needs:

Concluding Thoughts

Upgrading your virtual hardware to the latest version provides you with great benefits, especially in terms of the available resources (size of memory, number of logical processors and virtual CPUs, etc.). However, you should pay special attention to the issue of compatibility: the hardware version of a VM must be compatible with the ESXi this VM is running on.

The functionality of NAKIVO Backup & Replication can satisfy the needs of any business scale. Book a free live demo today, see how the product works, and gain peace of mind knowing that your infrastructure can remain reliably protected at all times.

Article originally published on the NAKIVO website