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VMware recalls full vSphere update over driver dramas

Interoperability issues with Ethernet controller sends vSphere 7 Update 3 back to the drawing board

VMware has removed its latest major vSphere release – Version 7, Update 3 – from its download service, citing driver interoperability problems that could cause failures during upgrades.

The move follows last week's withdrawal of vSphere 7, Update 3b after it was found to have issues that made it hard to adopt high availability configurations and an issue that VMware described as follows:

Starting with vSphere 7.0 Update 3, the inbox i40enu network driver for ESXi changes name back to i40en. This can result in ESXi failing to update with the error: "host returned esxupdate code –1"

VMware's hardware compatibility guide indicates that i40en is a driver for Intel's X710 Ethernet Controller for 10GbE backplanes. The devices are 10/40 network cards with two or four Ethernet ports and are advanced by Intel as offering "unmatched features for both server and network virtualization, flexibility for LAN and SAN networks, and proven, reliable performance".

VMware has issued a new notification that vSphere 7 Update 3 was removed from downloads after "Our review process uncovered partner driver interoperability problems which prevented certain upgrade paths from completing in some customer environments. Specifically, driver VIB changes caused naming collisions in ESXi."

Those problems "resulted in upgrade failures and related HA failures".

So why withdraw Version 7 Update 3 after already pulling Update 3b?

"Unfortunately, our quality testing and certification process missed this issue," wrote Paul Turner, VMware's veep of product management for vSphere, on behalf of the vSphere team. "We investigated options to address it with patches, however, due to certain operational complexities for our customers we removed the ESXi 7 Update 3 release from our download site."

Turner pledged to re-issue version 7 Update 3 "as soon as we have the driver issues fully resolved – which involves working with our partners". Brave users who have already implemented the Update will receive support from VMware.

Naturally, VMware promises not to stuff up like this again.

While missing a bug in an update is hardly rare – big patch releases from the likes of Microsoft nearly always break things or include imperfect fixes – this one is poorly timed for VMware because vSphere 7 Update 3 was billed as "the ultimate update release to vSphere 7, making it the best vSphere ever". Virtzilla promised that it integrated Kubernetes with vSphere more tightly than ever before, included joint work from VMware and Nvidia to ease adoption of AI workloads, improved cluster management and – irony alert – eased vSphere upgrades.

Thankfully, the release emerged in late September 2021, and most VMware users don't rush to upgrade because vSphere is not the sort of tech that can be taken lightly. Once a fixed version of the update emerges, there will still be plenty of time for its wide and enthusiastic adoption before the November 2022 end-of-life for vSphere 6.7.

That also gives developers time to play with VMware's new Tanzu Community Edition. VMware has a lot riding on that product. Execs admit that the company's approach of selling its containerised wares by targeting operations teams, and showing them that vSphere can manage containers alongside VMs, has had limited success – we're told Pivotal had just 300 or so substantial customers.

VMware's hope for Tanzu Community Edition is that developers take it for a spin and see that it offers them an easier and faster way to develop and deploy apps, generating demand for vSphere and the Tanzu platform. If that plan works, developers will ask for vSphere rather than ops teams telling developers they need to play by the rules imposed on the datacentre.

Developers, of course, know that bugs sometimes make it into production – they'll probably forgive VMware the mess of vSphere 7 Update 3. ®

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