Virtual Machines - Help me, help you!

Jul 05, 2021

Just as Tom Cruise implored Cuba Gooding jnr in the 1996 movie Jerry McGuire “Help me, help you!”,  I need you to consider some virtual machine (vm) house keeping if you will. And by that I’m specifically referring to updating vm tools and sometimes even your vm hardware levels.

If you think about it everything starts with the lowley vm. We install all sorts of Operating Systems and applications on them and then (🤞🏼) patch for feature updates, bug fixes, security patches etc, on a reasonably frequent basis (again 🤞🏼) but don't often pay any attention to the underlying vm . I could well be mistaken here but I'd say unless you deployed your vm recently (from Template) then there's a good chance your vm tools and hardware are out of date..... In fact, if I take a quick look at the numbers I can share some stats that might be a little concerning:

38% of vm's have up to date vm tools - wahooo, go you 38% 💪🏼👊🏼

51% of vm's have vm tools that are old - boo, less excited about this one 😩

7% of vm's don't even have vm tools installed - 😱

4% of vm's have vm tools installed but not runnning - 😳

Now these are just the stats for vm tools levels, you can guarantee that the vm hardware levels will be at best just as bad but more likely even worse! And this is because vm tools updates can be initiated directly from within MyCloudSpace, but upgrading vm hardware level requires vBridge Support to assist. From time to time we'll advise customers to update the tools and sometimes hardware levels of  vm's as part of general troubleshooting. In fact, more often that not its the first place to start when looking at a vm issue. As an aside, vm tools should be updated BEFORE vm hardware is updated. The vBridge vm templates are updated monthly to include required Windows updates, new versions of vm tools and vm hardware.

Upgrade VM Tools

Once logged into MCS, select your vm, navigate to Disks & Media, and "Mount VM Tools". When the ISO is mounted you can open it in the guest operating system and run the installer per  MCS documentation. If you want to update multiple vm's we can mount the tools installer on the back end if that helps.

Upgrade VM Hardware

The vm hardware upgrade requires vBridge support to edit the properties of a vm and schedule the upgrade which then occurs at next reboot. Do note, that successfully upgrading vm hardware is dependent on the guest operating system handling these virtual "hardware" changes and is not something that should be done lightly...... remember, you're effectively replacing the virtual hardware under the vm (think new system board, network/storage adapters etc) Based on this our recommendation would be only consider this when you need new features or functionality introduced with a new version or if advised to. Of course all new vm's deployed from Template will have be at the latest vm hardware level.

What they actually do 🤔

Ok so enough about the how and why to upgrade, what do these things actually do? Well, directly from VMware:

"VMware Tools is a suite of utilities that enhances the performance of the virtual machines guest operating system and improves management of the virtual machine"

So in short, they help the performance of the vm - the question should be why wouldn't you upgrade? Additionally they can include security updates, bug fixes for known issues and even introduce new features or functionality. If you've ever looked closely at your Windows guest's virtual network card its likely something called a VMXNET 3 adapter - that's VMware's paravirtualized NIC designed for performance and yes, its actually a component of vm tools! There are a bunch of other components (like PVRDAM, SR-IOV Passthrough, Precision Clock, Watchdog Timer, etc) which can all contribute to a better outcome/performance and stability for a vm.

It's actually vm tools that make using the remote console to a vm a workable thing... try using the console without and you'll quickly realise how painful low resolution and stuttering mouse control is!

Finally for those who like to live on the edge, we can even configure vm's to "Check and upgrade VMware Tools before each power on"...... this might be a step too far for some but saves you having to re-visit your levels every few months and may be an option for those, perhaps less critical workloads!