Starting with vSphere 7.0, you can use a single image to manage all hosts in a cluster collectively. The concept of an image in the context of vSphere Lifecycle Manager is different from existing notions such as custom image, stock image, image profile, and so on.

vSphere Lifecycle Manager Images and Existing vSphere Terminology

The concept of an image that vSphere Lifecycle Manager introduces must not be confused with existing vSphere terminology related to the creation, distribution, installation, update, and customization of ESXi images.
Term Definition
ESXi image The stock ISO image that VMware delivers at a major or update ESXi release.
ESXi base image

Starting with vSphere 7.0, at each release, VMware delivers a collection of components called a base image.

You can use vSphere Lifecycle Manager to select an ESXi base image to apply to all hosts in your clusters. For further customization, you can add vendor add-ons or additional components to the base image.

OEMs use the base image to create their custom images.

Custom image A custom image is an ESXi installation image with a customized set of updates, patches, and drivers. You create custom images with vSphere ESXi Image Builder CLI. OEMs also create custom images by using the ESXi Packaging Kit. A custom image can be an ISO or ZIP file.

In vSphere 7.0, you can use custom ISO images only when you work with vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines and baseline groups. For example, you use ISO images to create upgrade baselines.

When you use vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, the combination of an ESXi base image and a vendor add-on is practically an exact equivalent of the custom image that OEMs create.

Image profile An image profile is a collection of VIBs that defines an ESXi image. You create an image profile by using vSphere ESXi Image Builder CLI. You can use the image profile to provision hosts with vSphere Auto Deploy.

Like vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, image profiles specify the software that you want to use during the installation or upgrade of an ESXi host. However, vSphere Lifecycle Manager does not work with image profiles.

vSphere Lifecycle Manager image Introduced in vSphere 7.0. A vSphere Lifecycle Managerimage is a combination of of VMware software, vendor add-on, drivers and firmware specific to the hardware in use.

What Is an Image?

A vSphere Lifecycle Manager image represents a desired software specification to be applied to all hosts in a cluster. The image is a combination of vSphere software, driver software, and desired firmware with regard to the underlying host hardware. You set up an image at a cluster level and you use the image to manage all hosts in the cluster collectively. The image that a cluster uses defines the full software set that you want to run on the ESXi hosts in the cluster: the ESXi version, additional VMware-provided software, and vendor software, such as firmware and drivers.

You can configure a cluster to use images during cluster creation or later. If you do not specify an image to be associated with a cluster during cluster creation, you can only use baselines to manage the cluster and hosts in the cluster. However, if all hosts in the cluster are stateful and run ESXi 7.0 or later, you can at any time switch to using images for cluster and host management.
Note:

If you switch to using images, you cannot revert to using baselines for the cluster. You can move the hosts to another cluster, which uses baselines, but you cannot change the cluster that already uses a single image.

Images and Solutions

When you enable a VMware product as a feature in a cluster that uses a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image, the feature automatically uploads an offline bundle with components into the vSphere Lifecycle Manager depot and adds its component to all hosts in the cluster. You cannot control the lifecycle of solution components. For example, if you export the image, solution components are not part of the exported image.

In vSphere 7.0, solutions that are integrated with vSphere Lifecycle Manager are vSphere HA and vSAN. vSphere with Kubernetes, VMware NSX-T™ Data Center, and VMware NSX ® for vSphere ® are not yet integrated and do not work with vSphere Lifecycle Manager