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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

VCSA migration – “A problem occurred while logging in. Verify the connection details.”

So, I was trying out a Windows vCenter 5.5 to VCSA 6.5 appliance migration and at the stage where I enter the target ESX host name where the appliance will be deployed to I got the above error.

Wasted the better part of my day troubleshooting this as I could find absolutely no mention of what was causing this. The installer log had the following but that didn’t shed much light either.

Tried stuff like 1) try a different ESX host, 2) update it to a later version (it was 5.5 Build 3568722), 3) turn on the ESX Shell and SSH in case that mattered – but nothing helped!

Nothing came up regarding the “vimService creation failed: Error” line either. But then I began Googling on “vimService” and learnt that it is the vSphere Management SDK and that you access the SDK via a URL like https://servername/sdk. That got me thinking whether the VCSA installer looks to the proxy settings of the machine where I am running it from, so I turned off the proxy settings in IE – and that helped!

Who would have thought. :)

vSphere Replication does not support changing the length of a replicated disk.

Had to extend a VM disk today and got the above error. This is because the VM is replicated via vSphere Replication so you can’t simply extend the disk as you would do for any regular VM.


Here’s a top level summary of how you do it (based on this KB article).

  1. You have to break the replication. Stop it that is. But doing so deletes the replicated files, so first you want to work around that (as below).
    1. Note the current settings of the replication.
    2. Then pause the replication.
    3. Find out which datastore holds the replicated VM disks.
    4. Rename the replicated VM folder.
    5. Now you can stop the replication because you have kept a copy of the data.
  2. SSH into any ESX host that has access to the above datastore and extend the disk associated with the VMDK via vmkfstools.
  3. Rename the folder back to what it was before.
  4. Recreate the replication, but point the destination to the same datastore as above and select the folder above. vSphere Replication will ask whether you want to use the existing data as seed – answer yes.

That’s it basically.

In terms of the details, I didn’t know how to find which datastore had the replicated VM files. So I SSH’d into one of the hosts in the replicated VM cluster and ran the following:

There must be some better way, but what the heck. Once I found the path above I did the following to find other VMs in it, and using that info I was able to find the datastore name from vSphere client.

You need this datastore name for when setting up a new replication, so you can point to that.

Some more things to keep in mind are the following.

  1. Since we pause the replication rather than stop it, the folder will contain a bunch of hbr* files. Delete those.
  2. The vmkfstools command -X switch takes the new size of the disk. Not the additional amount. So if the disk is 10GB and you want to add 20GB, you specify it the argument as 30GB. If you are getting a “Failed to extend disk : One of the parameters supplied is invalid (1).” error with vmkfstools that’s probably why.

vCenter unable to connects to hosts; vSphere client gives error ‘”ServiceInstance.RetrieveContent” for object “ServiceInstance” on Server “IP-Address” failed’

Our Network team had been making some changes at work and suddenly vCenter in our London office lost connectivity with all the ESX hosts in one of our remote office. Moreover, when trying to connect from the vSphere Client to any of the remote hosts directly we were getting the following error –

client error

Connectivity from vSphere Client in the remote office to the ESX host in the same office was fine; it was only connectivity from other offices to this remote office. So it definitely indicated a network issue.

This KB article is a handy one to know what ports are required by various VMware products. Port 443 is what needs to be open to ESX hosts for vCenter Server to be able to talk to them. I did a telnet from the vCenter server to each of the remote office hosts on port 443 and it went through fine – so wasn’t a firewall issue. (Another post with port numbers, just FYI, is this one).

After a fair bit of troubleshooting we tracked the issue down to MTU.

Digressing into MTUs

Communication between two IP addresses (i.e. layer 3) happens through packets. Thus when my London vCenter Server communicates with my remote office ESX host, the two send TCP/IP packets to each other. When these packets from the vCenter Server reach the switch/ router on the same LAN as the ESX host, it becomes a layer 2 communication (because they are on the same network and it’s a matter of data reaching the ESX host from the switch/ router). In the case of Ethernet, this layer 2 communication happens via Ethernet frames. The frames encapsulate the IP packets – so the switch/ router breaks the packets and fits them into multiple frames, while the ESX host receives these frames and re-assembles the packets (and vice versa). (The picture on this Wikipedia page is worth a look to see the encapsulation). 

How much data can be held by a layer 2 frame is defined by the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU). Larger MTUs are good because you can carry more data; but they have a downside in that each frame takes longer to be transmitted, and in case of any errors more data has to be re-transmitted when the frame is resent. So a balance is important. In the case of Ethernet, RFC 894 (see errata also) defines the MTU as a maximum of 1500 bytes. In the case of other layer 2 protocols, the MTU varies: for example 4464 bytes for Token Ring; 4352 bytes for FDDI; 9180 bytes for ATM; etc. In the case of Ethernet there are now also jumbo frames, which are frames with an MTU size of 9000 bytes (see this page for a table comparing regular frames and jumbo frames) and are commonly used in iSCSI networks.

Taking the case of Ethernet, assume the MTU of all Ethernet networks is 1500 bytes. So when two devices are conversing with each other over layer 3, and this conversation spans multiple Ethernet networks, it is helpful if the devices know that the MTU of the underlying layer 2 network is 1500 bytes. That way the two devices can keep the size of their layer 3 packets to be less than 1500 bytes. Why? Because if the size of the layer 3 packets are greater than 1500 bytes, then the devices and all the routers/ switches in between will have to fragment (break) the layer 3 packets into smaller packets of less than 1500 bytes to fit it in the Ethernet frame. This is a waste of resources for all, so it’s best if the two devices know of the underlying layer 2 MTU and act accordingly.

Now, note that Ethernet MTUs are defined as a maximum of 1500 bytes. So the MTU for a particular LAN segment can be set to a lower number for whatever reason (maybe there are additional fields in the Ethernet frame and to accommodate these the data portion must be reduced). Similarly, a layer 3 conversation between when two devices can go over a mix of layer 2 networks – Ethernet, Token Ring, etc – each with a different MTU. So what is required for the two devices really is a way of knowing what’s the lowest MTU across all these layer 2 devices, so the two devices can use it as the MTU of the layer 3 packets for their conversation. This is known as the Path MTU or IP MTU – and is basically the smallest MTU of all the underlying layer 2 MTUs over which that conversation traverses. It is discovered through a process known as “Path MTU Discovery” (PMTUD) (check this Wikipedia article, or Google this term to learn more). Very briefly, in the case of IPv4 what happens is that each device sends across packets of increasing size to the other end, with a flag set that says “do not fragment this packet”. Packets of size smaller than the lowest layer 2 MTU will get through, but once the size exceeds the lowest MTU the packet will fail & return because it cannot be fragmented (due to the flag) and so is returned via ICMP to the sender. Thus the Path MTU is discovered. This check happens in both directions.

So we have layer 2 MTUs and layer 3 MTUs. Layer 2 MTUs have a maximum value that is dependent on the layer 2 network technology. But what about the minimum value? RFC 791, which defines the Internet Protocol (the IP in TCP/IP), requires that all devices supporting IP must be able to forward packets of 68 bytes without fragmenting (68 bytes because IP headers take 60 bytes size and layer 2 headers take 8 bytes size minimum) and be able to accept packets of minimum size 576 bytes either as one packet or multiple packets that require assembling. Because of this the minimum layer 2 MTU can be thought of as 68 bytes. In a practical sense, however, most IP devices accept 576 bytes without fragmenting, and since this number is higher than the values for all layer 2 networks the minimum layer 2 & layer 3 MTU can be thought of as 576 bytes.

Just for completeness I will also mention Maximum Segment Size (MSS) which is a layer 4 MTU (of sorts) that defines what’s the maximum TCP segment (which is what a TCP packet is called) that can be accepted by devices. It has a default value of 536 bytes. This is based on the 576 bytes that IP requires hosts to accept at minimum, minus 20 bytes for IP headers and 20 bytes for TCP headers. Idea behind using 576 bytes as the base is that this way the TCP segment can be expected to arrive without fragmenting. In a practical sense again, for TCP/IP traffic over Ethernet (which is the common case), since Ethernet frames have an MTU of 1500, the MSS is usually set to 1500 minus 20 minus 20 = 1460 bytes.

This is a good article I came upon. Just linking it as a reference to myself.

Back to our issue

In our case the router in the remote site had the following set in its configuration:

I am not entirely clear where it was set or why it was set, as that comes under the Network team. What this does though is tell the router not to clear the “Do Not Fragment” (DF) bit in Ethernet frames. If a DF bit is present in a frame then the router will not fragment it if the frame size is larger than the MTU (this is how PMTUD also works). I am not sure why this was set – part of some testing I suppose – but because of this larger frames were not getting through to the other side and hence failing. Our Network team removed this statement and then communication with the ESX hosts started working fine.

I wanted to write more about this statement but I am running out of time. This and this are two good links worth reading for more info. Especially the Scenario 4 section in the second link – that’s pretty much what was happening in our case, I think.

Power cycle/ Reset an HP blade server

Was getting the following error on one of our servers. It’s from ESXi. None of the NICs were working for the server (the NICs seemed to be working, just that the driver wasn’t loading). 


Power cycle required. 

I switched off and switched on the server but that didn’t help. Turns out that doesn’t actually power cycle the server (because the server still has power – doh!). What you need to do is do something called an e-fuse reset. This power cycles the blade. You have to do this by opening an SSH session to the Onboard Administrator, finding the bay number of the blade you want to power cycle, and typing the command reset server <bay number>

Good to know!

Note: The command does not appear when you type help, but it’s there:

Also, to get a list of your bays and servers use the show server list command. To do the same for interconnects use the show interconnect list command.

Install a vSphere web-client plugin offline

Trying out vCloud Air at work and I wanted to install the vCloud Air plugin for vSphere web-client. The installation kept failing though. Initially it was due to the vCenter server not having access to the Internet (not your browser, the vSphere web-client itself needs to have access) but even after I specified a proxy (check out this post on how to specify a proxy) and gave vSphere web-client access to the Internet the download would begin and fail. 


It’s possible to download the plugin, but how to add it to vSphere web-client?

Through a bit of trial and error I found a way. :)

Turns the plugins are store at C:\Program Files\VMware\Infrastructure\vSphereWebClient\plugin-packages on the server. So all you have to do is:

  1. Download the plugin zip file. 
  2. Create a folder in the above location and extract the zip file to this folder.
  3. Restart the vSphere web-client service. 

And that’s it! Then your plugin will appear under Administration > Client Plug-Ins


It’s very simple but I couldn’t find any info on how to download and install a plugin when I Googled for it, so thought I’d make a post. Hope it helps someone!

Unable to login to vSphere because the admin@system-domain password cannot be reset

vSphere 5.1 has admin@system-domain as the default admin account. vSphere 5.5 changes that to administrator@vsphere.local. However, if you upgrade from 5.1 to 5.5 the default admin account remains admin@system-domain. Which is fine and dandy until the password for this account expires. Then you are unable to reset or login! See below. :)

Trying to login as usual

1 - login

Password has expired, needs a reset

2 - reset

Reset fails though coz you can only reset for the vsphere.local domain

3 - reset fails

Missed out on taking a screenshot but if you were to try and login with administrator@vsphere.local instead you get an error that the credentials are invalid (because that account doesn’t exist!). So you are stuck!

What do you do?

Solution is to reset the admin password

When you do this vSphere automatically creates the administrator@vsphere.local account. Follow the steps in this KB article.

4 - reset password

Now you can login with administrator@vsphere.local and the generated password.

Downgrading ESXi Host

Today I upgraded one of our hosts to a newer version than what was supported by our vCenter so had to find a way of downgrading it. The host was now at “5.5 Patch 10” (which is after “5.5 Update 3”) which our vCenter version only supported versions prior to “5.5 Update 3”. (See this post for a list of build numbers and versions; see this KB article for why vCenter and the host were now incompatible).

I found this blog post and KB article that talked about downgrading and upgrading. Based on those two here’s what I did to downgrade my host.

First, some terminology. Read this blog post on what VIBs are. At a very high level a VIB file is like a zip file with some metadata and verification thrown in. They are the software packages for ESX (think of it like a .deb or .rpm file). The VIB file contains the actual files on the host that will be replaced. The metadata tells you more about the VIB file – its dependencies, requirements, issues, etc. And the verification bit lets the host verify that the VIB hasn’t been tampered with, and also allows you to have various “levels” of VIBs – those certified by VMware, those certified by partners of VMware, etc – such that you as a System Admin can decide what level of VIBs you want installed on your host.

You can install/ remove/ update VIBs via the command esxcli:

Here’s a short list of the VIBs installed on my host:

Next you have Image Profiles. These are a collection of VIBs. In fact, since any installation of ESXi is a collection of VIBs, an image profile can be thought of as defining an ESXi image. For instance, all the VIBs on my currently installed ESXi server – including 3rd party VIBs – together can be thought of as an image profile. I can then deploy this image profile to other hosts to get the exact configuration on those hosts too.

One thing to keep in mind is that image profiles are not anything tangible. As in they are not files as such, they just define the VIBs that make up the profile.

Lastly you have Software Depots. These are your equivalent of Linux package repositories. They contain VIBs and Image Profiles and are accessible online via HTTP/ HTTPS/ FTP or even offline as a ZIP file (which is a neat thing IMHO). You would point to a software depot – online or offline – and specify an image profile you want, which then pulls in the VIBs you want.

Now back to esxcli. As we saw above this command can be used to list, update, remove etc VIBs. The cool thing though is that it can work with both VIB files and software depots (either online or a ZIP file containing a bunch of VIB files). Here’s the usage for the software vib install command which deals with installing VIBs:

You have two options:

  • The -d switch can be used to specify a software depot (online or offline) along with the -n switch to specify the VIBs to be installed from this depot.
  • Or the -v switch can be used to directly specify VIBs to be installed.

The esxcli command can also work with image profiles.

Here you have just one option (coz like I said you can’t download something called an image profile – you have to necessarily use a software depot). You use the -d switch to specify a depot (online or offline) and the -p switch to specify the image profile you are interested in.

Apart from installing VIBs & image profiles, the esxcli command can also remove and update these. When it comes to image profiles though, the command can also downgrade profiles via an --allow-downgrades switch. So that’s what we use to downgrade ESXi versions. 

First find the ESXi version you want to downgrade to. In my case it was ESXi 5.5 Update 2. Go to My VMware (login with your account) and find the 5.5 Update 2 product. Download the offline bundle – which is a ZIP file (basically an offline software depot). In my case I got a file named “”. Now open this ZIP file and go to the “\profiles” folder in that. This gives you the list of profiles in this depot.


You can also get the names from a link such as this which gives more info on the release and the image profiles in it. (I came across it by Googling for “ESXi 5.5 Update 2 profile name”).

The profiles with an “s” in them only contain security fixes while the ones without an “s” contain both security and bug fixes. In my case the profile I am looking for is “ESXi-5.5.0-20140902001-standard”. I wasn’t sure if I need to go for the “no-tools” version or not, but figured I’ll stick with the “standard”.

Now, copy the ZIP file you downloaded to the host. Either upload it to the host directly, or to some shared storage, etc.

Then run a command similar to this:

That’s it! Following a host reboot you are now downgraded. Very straight-forward and easy.

vMotion is using the Management Network (and failing)

Was migrating one of our offices to a new IP scheme the other day and vMotion started failing. I had a good idea what the problem could be (coz I encountered something similar a few days ago in another context) so here’s a blog post detailing what I did.

For simplicity let’s say the hosts have two VMkernel NICs – vmk0 and vmk1. vmk0 is connected to the Management Network. vmk1 is for vMotion. Both are on separate VLANs.

When our Network admins gave out the new IPs they gave IPs from the same range for both functions. That is, for example, vmk0 had an IP (and and 10.20.4/24 on the other hosts) and vmk1 had an IP of 10.20.12/24 (and and on the other hosts).

Since both interfaces are on separate VLANs (basically separate LANs) the above setup won’t work. That’s because as far as the hosts are concerned both interfaces are on the same network yet physically they are on separate networks. Here’s the routing table on the hosts:

Notice that any traffic to the network goes via vmk0. And that includes the vMotion traffic because that too is in the same network! And since the network that vmk0 is on is physically a separate network (because it is a VLAN) this traffic will never reach the vMotion interfaces of the other hosts because they don’t know of it.

So even though you have specific vmk1 as your vMotion traffic NIC, it never gets used because of the default routes.

If you could force the outgoing traffic to specifically use vmk1 it will work. Below are the results of vmkping using the default route vs explicitly using vmk1:

The solution here is to either remove the VLANs and continue with the existing IP scheme, or to keep using VLANs but assign a different IP network for the vMotion interfaces.

Update: Came across the following from this blog post while searching for something else:

If the management network (actually the first VMkernel NIC) and the vMotion network share the same subnet (same IP-range) vMotion sends traffic across the network attached to first VMkernel NIC. It does not matter if you create a vMotion network on a different standard switch or distributed switch or assign different NICs to it, vMotion will default to the first VMkernel NIC if same IP-range/subnet is detected.

Please be aware that this behavior is only applicable to traffic that is sent by the source host. The destination host receives incoming vMotion traffic on the vMotion network!

That answered another question I had but didn’t blog about in my post above. You see, my network admins had also set the iSCSI networks to be in the same subnet as the management network – but separate VLANs – yet the iSCSI traffic was correctly flowing over that VLAN instead of defaulting to the management VMkernel NIC. Now I understand why! It’s only vMotion that defaults to the first VMkernel NIC in the same IP range/ subnet as vMotion. 


ESXi host – cannot install HA – no space left on device

These are less of notes and more of links and what I did when I encountered this issue. Just for my future self.

At work we had a host which was giving HA errors. The message was along the lines that vCenter could not contact HA. So I tried reconfiguring it for HA (right click the host and select “Reconfigure for vSphere HA”) upon which I got a new error: Cannot install the vCenter Server agent service. Cannot upload agent.

HA-errorInitially I thought it must just be a permissions issue. But it wasn’t so.

To investigate further I tried logging on to the server. I couldn’t enable SSH and ESXi Shell from the Configuration tab – it gave me an error. So I iLO’d into the server DCUI and enabled SSH and ESXi Shell. SSH still refused to let me in, and when I’d press Alt+F1 on the console to get the login prompt it was filled with messages like these: /bin/sh cant fork. Initially I thought it might be to do with HP AMS memory leak (see this and this) but it wasn’t.

I pressed Alt+F12 to see the on-screen logs. It was filled with messages like these:

alt+f12 logsBlimey!

There was nothing more I could do here basically. Couldn’t login to the server at all, heck I couldn’t even Shutdown/ Restart it gracefully via F12 in DCUI (nothing would happen). So I cold booted it and that got it working. 

It’s been about 2 hours since I did that and the server seems stable so maybe it was a one off-thing. I looked at more logs though and here’s what I found.


(Contains: Management service initialization, watchdogs, scheduled tasks and DCUI use)


(Contains: A summary of Warning and Alert log messages excerpted from the VMkernel logs)


(Contains: VMkernel Observation events)


(Contains: Core VMkernel logs, including device discovery, storage and networking device and driver events, and virtual machine startup)


(Contains: Host management service logs, including virtual machine and host Task and Events, communication with the vSphere Client and vCenter Server vpxa agent, and SDK connections.)

From these logs one thing was clear. The ESXi RAMdisk hosting the root filesystem had run out of inodes. Possibly caused by the SFCB service. Because of this the root filesystem had run out of space and everything was failing. Great!

In Linux I am used to the df command to check filesystem usage. But in ESXi df only seems to be give info on the mounted filesystems whereas vdf gives the local filesystems (like RAMdisks and Tardisks (whatever that is)).

Above output is after a reboot and all seems fine. To check the inode usage use the stat command.

Or use exscli. It gives you the free space as well as the inode count!

Note to self: Make a habit of using the esxcli command as that seems to be the VMware preferred way of doing things. Plus it’s one command with various namespaces you can use for networking and other info.

In my case things look to be fine now.

KB 2037798 talks about this problem. Apparently it is fixed via a patch released in 2013, and as far as I can tell we are properly patched so we shouldn’t have been hit by this issue. If it happens again though the same KB article talks about creating a separate RAMdisk for SFCB so even if it eats up all the inodes your root file system isn’t affected. This involves creating a new RAMdisk at boot time by modifying rc.local (nice!). The esxcli command can be used to create a new ramdisk and mount it at the mount point required by SFCB:

Turns out such an issue can also occur because of SNMP. Or if you have an HP Gen8 blade server then coz of the hpHelper.log file, which is fixed via a patch from HP (this server was a Gen8 blade but it didn’t have this log file). KB 2040707 too talks about this. Didn’t help much in my case as that didn’t seem to be my issue.

Two useful links for future reference are:

That’s all for now.

p.s. I keep talking about SFCB above but have no idea what it is. Turns out it is the CIM server for ESXi. Found this blog post on it. 

ESXI 6 seems to have a hard minimum requirement of 4GB RAM

With 2GB RAM the boot up process hangs at “User loaded successfully”

With 2.5GB RAM the boot up process goes past the above but throws many errors and eventually gives a screen with no text like below.

esxi-2.5You can login to the system by pressing F2 but all the network configuring options are grayed out. This is the case even if you boot up with 4GB RAM, configure network, then reduce RAM and reboot. The options are grayed out and you can’t ping the host. Trying to start the management services manually (Enable ESXi Shell, press Alt+F1, type /sbin/ restart doesn’t work either).

With 3GB of RAM the boot up process hangs a while at “Running rabbitmqproxy start” but then pulls through. No IP address though and I can’t configure anything (even if I configure initially by booting up with 4GB RAM). I tried repairing network settings but that simply fails.

Didn’t try with 3.5GB RAM!

With 4GB of RAM the boot up process goes normally. In my case since I was playing with the host by increasing RAM in 500MB increments the network was still bust after booting with 4GB RAM. But I was able to restore the network and get it working.

So it looks like 4GB of RAM is more of a hard minimum requirement for ESXi 6. That sucks! I am able to install ESXi 5.5 with 4GB RAM and then decrease it to 2GB post-install with no issues. In my case all these hosts run in a laptop anyway so I just need them up and running with the bare minimum. Guess I won’t be able to do that with ESXi 6 (unless someone has a workaround, I didn’t search much on this topic – just noticed today and played around a bit).

Notes on vSphere High Availability (HA)

Just some notes on vSphere HA as I reading along on that. Nothing new here …

Starting with vSphere 5.0 HA has a Master/ Slave model. One ESXi host is elected as a Master, the rest are Slaves. The Master is the one with the most number of datastores connected to it; if all ESXi hosts have the same number of datastores connected to it, the Master is the one with the largest Managed Object ID (MOID). Note that the MOID is interpreted lexically – so an MOID 99 is larger than 100. PowerCLI can be used to view the MOIDs:

Also, the MOID is a vCenter specific construct. Whenever a host, VM, datastore, etc is added to vCenter it is assigned an MOID. For instance here are the MOIDs of my datastores:

Although I haven’t used this it’s also possible to find MOIDs vSphere Managed Object Browser. See this KB article for more info.

Back to the topic – the above is how a Master is elected. There’s only one Master per cluster. When it comes to HA, the Fault Domain Manager (FDM) on this Master is responsible for most of the tasks (which is why even if vCenter is down for a while HA can continue working). vCenter checks with the Master and the Master communicates with vCenter to keep each other abreast of the cluster situation.

  • FDM is installed at /opt/vmware/fdm/fdm/
  • FDM config files are at /etc/opt/vmware/fdm/

The Master monitors the Slave hosts and if a Slave goes down/ is unreachable the Master is responsible for starting these Protected VMs elsewhere. The Master is also responsible for keeping the Slaves abreast of the cluster configuration.

Slaves are limited to monitoring VMs running with them. Slaves monitor the VM health and if a Protected VM powers down they inform the Master so it can be restarted. (Note on Protected VMs: once you enable VM monitoring on a cluster or set a VM as Protected, the VM must be powered off and powered on to be protected). Slaves also keep in touch with each other and if they find the Master is down they conduct an election to select a new Master.

The only time vCenter communicates with Slaves is when a new Master needs to be elected or when the Master reports a Slave as missing and so vCenter tries to contact it.

Slaves send network heartbeats to the Master every second. When a Master stops receiving heartbeats from a Slave it knows it is offline or partitioned/ isolated. Similarly when a Slave stops receiving heartbeats from a Master it knows the Master is offline or partitioned/ isolated.

  • If a Slave is cut off from all other hosts (Master and Slaves) it is considered isolated (caveat: you can also specify up to 10 isolation IP addresses to ping – if these are reachable but the Master and Slaves are not, the Slave does not consider itself isolated, only partitioned).
  • If a Slave is cut off from the Master and some/ none Slaves (i.e. it still has contact with some Slaves) then it is considered partitioned.

In the past if a Slave were isolated/ partitioned the Master would consider it as offline and restart its Protected VMs elsewhere. Starting with vSphere 5.0 the Master also sends a ping (ICMP packet) to the Slave to see if responds and uses datastore heartbeats to verify the Slave is really down. It could be that the Management network is down but the VM and storage networks are up, so the VMs are still functioning as expected.

Datastore heartbeats work thus (and remember they are only used in case of isolation/ partition scenarios):

  • When enabling HA for a cluster, a datastore is automatically selected (or can be selected manually by the user) to be used for datastore heartbeats.
  • On this datastore a folder called .vSphere-HA is created within which a sub-folder of name FDM-<Fault Domain ID>-<vCenter Server Name> is created. (Such a name allows the same datastore to be used by multiple clusters).
  • Each host creates a file with its MOID name in this sub-folder. Like thus:heartbeats
  • Notice the host-X-hb file above? That is created by each host (you can check the /var/log/fdm.log file on each host to see it creating this file). When a Slave does not get heartbeats from a Master it updates its file above (and also checks the timestamp of the file for the Master – if that has updates it means the Master is alive). Similarly, when a Master does not hear from a Slave it checks the Slave’s file above to see if there’s updates. This is how datastore heartbeats work.
  • If a Slave is network partitioned – i.e. it cannot contact the Master – but can see some of the other Slaves, the Master and Slave can conclude that each other is still alive from the datastore heartbeats as above.
    • If the Master is down – i.e. the Slaves think they are partitioned because actually the Master is down – they can now elect a new Master since there are no datastore heartbeats from the Master.
    • If the Slave is down – i.e. the Master is not getting any datastore heartbeats from the Slave – then it restarts the Protected VMs on other hosts. (If the Slave were actually up but had lost network access to the datastore and so cannot update heartbeats, it is as good as down because the VMs have probably crashed by now).
  • If a Slave is network isolated – i.e. it cannot contact the Master or any other Slave (nor can it ping the isolation addresses) – then the Slave adds a special bit in the host-X-poweron file above. This tells the Master that the Slave is network isolated.
    • The Master then locks the file called protectedlist. This is a list of all Protected VMs. Once the Master has locked this file, the Slave knows the Master has taken responsibility for the Protected VMs and the Slave can leave these powered on, shut down, or power off (depending on which of these is selected as the host isolation response when setting up HA).
    • The protectedlist file thus ensures that unless another host has taken over these VMs the current host will not shut down/ power off these.

Two advanced options to keep in mind:

  • I mentioned this earlier: das.isolationAddress[0-9] allow one to specify up to 10 isolation IP addresses to check before a host considers itself isolated.
  • And das.allowNetwork[0-9] allow one to specify up to 10 port groups to use for HA. See this KB article for examples.

Lastly, I haven’t read it fully but this HA Deepdive is a great resource.

vCenter and vSphere editions (5.5)

vCenter editions. Just three.

  • Essentials
  • Foundation
  • Standard

Standard is what you usually want. No limits or restrictions.

Essentials is only available when purchased as part of vSphere Essentials or vSphere Essentials Plus kits. Not sold separately. These kits are targeted for SMBs. Limited to 3 hosts of 2 CPUs each. Self-contained – cannot be used with other editions.

Foundation is also for 3 hosts only.

All editions of vCenter include the Management service, SSO, Inventory service, Orchestrator, Web client – everything. There’s no difference in the components included in each edition.

vSphere is the suite. There are three plus two edition of vSphere suite.

Two editions are the kits:

  • Essentials
  • Essentials Plus

Three editions are bundled with vCenter Operations Manager:

  • Standard
  • Enterprise
  • Enterprise Plus

The Essentials & Essentials Plus editions only work with vCenter Essentials. The Standard, Enterprise, and Enterprise Plus work with vCenter Foundation or Standard.

Essentials is pretty basic. Remember it is for 3 hosts of 2 CPUs each. Standalone. In addition you don’t get features like vMotion either. All you get is (1) Thin Provisioning, (2) Update Manager, and (3) vStorage APIs for Data Protection (VADP). Note the latter is only APIs. It is not VMware solution vSphere Data Protection (VDP). Also, no VSAN.

Essentials Plus is a bit more than basic. Once again, only for 3 hosts of 2 CPUs each. Standalone. However, in addition to the three features above you also get (4) vSphere Data Protection, (5) High Availability (HA), (6) vMotion, and (7) vSphere Replication. So you get some useful features. In fact, if I had just 3 hosts and I am unlikely to expand further this is the option I would go for – for me vMotion is very useful and so is HA. Sadly, no Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS). But you do get VSAN.

Moving on to the big boys …

Standard gives you all the above plus useful features like (8) Storage vMotion, (9) Fault Tolerance, and some more (Hot Add & vShield Endpoint). Still no DRS.

Enterprise gives you all the above plus (10) Storage APIs for Array Integration (nice! but useful only in an Enterprise context where you are likely to have a SAN array and need something like this), (11) DRS, (12) DPM, and (13) Storage APIs for Multi-pathing. As expected, features that are more useful when you have a lot of hosts and are in an Enterprise-y setup. Except DRS :) which would have been nice to have in Standard/ Essentials Plus too.

Finally, Enterprise Plus. All the above plus (13) Distributed Switches, (14) Host Profiles, (15) Auto Deploy, (16) Storage DRS – four of my favorite features – and a bunch of others like App HA, Storage IO Control, Network IO Control, etc.

vCenter – Cannot load the users for the selected domain

I spent the better part of today evening trying to sort this issue. But didn’t get any where. I don’t want to forget the stuff I learnt while troubleshooting so here’s a blog post.

Today evening I added one of my ESXi hosts to my domain. The other two wouldn’t add, until I discovered that the time on those two hosts were out of sync. I spent some time trying to troubleshoot that but didn’t get anywhere. The NTP client on these hosts was running, the ports were open, the DC (which was also the forest PDC and hence the time keeper) was reachable – but time was still out of sync.

Found an informative VMware KB article. The ntpq command (short for “NTP query”) can be used to see the status of NTP daemon on the client side. Like thus:

The command has an interactive mode (which you get into if run without any switches; read the manpage for more info). The -p switch tells ntpq to output a list of peers and their state. The KB article above suggests running this command every 2 seconds using the watch command but you don’t really need to do that.

Important points about the output of this command:

  • If it says “No association ID's returned” it means the ESXi host cannot reach the NTP server. Considering I didn’t get that, it means I have no connectivity issue.
  • If it says “***Request timed out” it means the response from the NTP server didn’t get through. That’s not my problem either.
  • If there’s an asterisk before the remote server name (like so) it means there is a huge gap between the time on the host and the time given by the NTP server. Because of the huge gap NTP is not changing the time (to avoid any issues caused by a sudden jump in the OS time). Manually restarting the NTP daemon (/etc/init.d/ntpd restart) should sort it out.
    • The output above doesn’t show it but one of my problem hosts had an asterisk. Restarting the daemon didn’t help.

The refid field shows the time stream to which the client is syncing. For instance here’s the w3tm output from my domain:

Notice the PDC has a refid of LOCL (indicating it is its own time source) while the rest have a refid of the PDC name. My ESXi host has a refid of .INIT. which means it has not received any response from the NTP server (shouldn’t the error message have been something else!?). So that’s the problem in my case.

Obviously the PDC is working because all my Windows machines are keeping correct time from it. So is vCenter. But some my ESXi hosts aren’t.

I have no idea what’s wrong. After some troubleshooting I left it because that’s when I discovered my domain had some inconsistencies. Fixing those took a while, after which I hit upon a new problem – vCenter clients wouldn’t show me vCenter or any hosts when I login with my domain accounts. Everything appears as expected under the administrator@vsphere.local account but the domain accounts return a blank.

While double-checking that the domain admin accounts still have permissions to vCenter and SSO I came across the following error:

Cannot load the users

Great! (The message is “Cannot load the users for the selected domain“).

I am using the vCenter appliance. Digging through the /var/log/messages on this I found the following entries:

Searched Google a bit but couldn’t find any resolutions. Many blog posts suggested removing vCenter from the domain and re-adding but that didn’t help. Some blog posts (and a VMware KB article) talk about ensuring reverse PTR records exist for the DCs – they do in my case. So I am drawing a blank here.

Odd thing is the appliance is correctly connected to the domain and can read the DCs and get a list of users. The appliance uses Likewise (now called PowerBroker Open) to join itself to the domain and authenticate with it. The /opt/likewise/bin directory has a bunch of commands which I used to verify domain connectivity:

All looks well! In fact, I added a user to my domain and re-ran the lw-enum-users command it correctly picked up the new user. So the appliance can definitely see my domain and get a list of users from it. The problem appears to be in the upper layers.

In /var/log/vmware/sso/ssoAdminServer.log I found the following each time I’d query the domain for users via the SSO section in the web client:

Makes no sense to me but the problem looks to be in Java/ SSO.

I tried removing AD from the list of identity sources in SSO (in the web client) and re-added it. No luck.

Tried re-adding AD but this time I used an SPN account instead of the machine account. No luck!

Finally I tried adding AD as an LDAP Server just to see if I can get it working somehow – and that clicked! :)


So while I didn’t really solve the problem I managed to work around it …

Update: Added the rest of my DCs as time sources to the ESXi hosts and restarted the ntpd service. Maybe that helped, now NTP is working on the hosts.


vSphere 5.5 Maximums

This document contains all the vSphere 5.5 maximums. Here are some of the figures for my quick reference:

Hosts per vCenter Server (Appliance)(embedded vPostgres database)100
VMs per vCenter Server (Appliance)(embedded vPostgres database)3000
Hosts per vCenter Server (Appliance)(Oracle database)1000
VMs per vCenter Server (Appliance)(Oracle database)10000
Hosts per vCenter Server (Windows)(bundled SQL Server Express database)5
VMs per vCenter Server (Windows)(bundled SQL Server Express database)50
Hosts per vCenter Server (Windows)(external database)1000
VMs per vCenter Server (Windows)(external database)10000

So the Windows install with inbuilt database is the lowest of the lot. You are better of going with the appliance (which has its own limitations of course). 

Maximums of appliance and Windows server are the same as long as they use an external database. But appliance can only use Oracle as an external database while Windows server can use SQL too.

Upgrading iLO firmware manually (working around a stuck HP logo screen when updating)

Past two weeks I have been upgrading the iLO and ROM of all our servers (a bunch of HP DL 360s basically – Gen6 to Gen8) following which I upgrade them from ESXi 4.1 to 5.5. Side by side I have also been upgrading the iLO and ROM of our LeftHand/ StoreVirtual boxes following which I upgrade them from LeftHand OS 8.5 to 12.0. Yes, I’ve been busy!

Interesting thing about the firmware upgrades is that even between servers of the same model, when upgrading with the same Service Pack for Proliant (SPP) CD version, I get different errors. Some odd ones really. For instance some servers simply power off once the SPP CD boots, others give me a Pink Screen of Death, and yet others simply hang with the pulsating HP logo.

Pink Screen

Pulsating Logo

I couldn’t find any solutions for the servers that power off (I used SPP version 2015.04, 2014.09, 2014.06 and 2013.02 – same results for all). I was able to work around the pink screen by using an older version (for instance, I was using 2015.04 and that failed but 2014.09 worked). And I sorted of worked around the pulsating logo problem.

For the pulsating logo issue apparently the fix is to upgrade iLO first and then run the SPP. In my case the servers had really ancient versions of iLO – “1.87 06/03/2009” – so I upgraded them via the iLO webpage. The blog post I link to before (and also this one) show a way of updating iLO via SSH but that didn’t work for me sadly. (Could just be the web server I was running. I used TinyWeb to run a small web server off my desktop machine).

Before upgrading iLO via SSH or the webpage, you need to get iLO first. That should be easy but I had trouble getting it. For anyone else looking for the latest and greatest version of iLO 2 this HP page is what you want (and the “Revision History” tab on that page gives you older versions too). That page lets you download versions of the firmware for flashing via Linux or Windows. I downloaded the Windows versions, right clicked on it (it’s an EXE file) via 7-Zip (any other zip tool should do), and extracted the contents. The result is a file with a name like “ilo2_225.bin”. This is the binary image of the iLO 2 firmware that you can flash via SSH or the webpage.

Flashing via the webpage is easy. Go to the “Administration” tab, click Browse to select this file, and click “Send firmware image”.

GUI firmwareUse a modern browser if you can. :-) I used the ancient version of IE on my server and that didn’t do anything, but when I used Firefox I was able to see a progress bar and the firmware actually got updated.

GUI firmware flashingAfter doing this I was able to run the SPP without any issue.

Another thing I learnt is that for the LeftHand/ StoreVirtual servers, simply upgrading the OS or patching it is enough to upgrade the ROM too. So I could have saved some time for myself with the LeftHand/ StoreVirtual servers by updating the iLO (as above) and upgrading the OS. No need to run the SPP.

On a related note, I had some servers with an “Internal Health LED failed” error even though everything seemed to be alright with them. Upgrading the iLO sorted that out!

And while on the topic of iLO I had some servers whose iLO was not responsive. I couldn’t ping the iLO IP address nor could I connect to it. I was able to fix some of those servers by completely powering off the server, removing the power cables, removing the iLO cable, waiting a few minutes, putting back the power cable and powering on the server, and once it has loaded the OS put in the iLO cable. (I have also read reports on the Internet where there was no need to remove/ re-insert the iLO cable so YMMV).

One server though had no luck – its iLO chip was faulty I guess. I tried to upgrade its iLO firmware and ROM by physically being in front of the server but it would hang at the pulsating logo as above. I think the faulty iLO was causing SPP to fail. Because of the faulty iLO though, ESXi would hang at “loading module ipmi_si_drv” for about 30 minutes each time it would boot (or when I’d run the installer to upgrade to 5.5). The solution is as detailed in this blog post. (Note: the argument is noipmiEnabled – I was mistakenly typing noipmiEnable the first few times and nothing happened). Post-install I configured the VMkernel.Boot.impiEnabled advanced configuration option to 0 (I unchecked it). This way I don’t have to enter the boot options each time.

That’s all!