vSphere Lifecycle Manager enables you to manage ESXi hosts and clusters with images or baselines. vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines and vSphere Lifecycle Manager images are different in their essence, the way they work, and the features they support.

You use vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines and baseline groups to perform the following tasks.
  • Upgrade and patch ESXi hosts.
  • Install and update third-party software on ESXi hosts.
You use vSphere Lifecycle Manager images to perform the following tasks.
  • Install a desired ESXi version on all hosts in a cluster.
  • Install and update third-party software on all ESXi hosts in a cluster.
  • Update and upgrade the ESXi version on all hosts in a cluster.
  • Update the firmware of all ESXi hosts in a cluster.
  • Generate recommendations and use a recommended image for your cluster.
  • Check the hardware compatibility of hosts and clusters against the VMware Compatibility Guideand the vSAN Hardware Compatibility List.

vSphere Lifecycle Manager Images

You use vSphere Lifecycle Manager images to apply software and firmware updates to the ESXi hosts in a cluster. Using a single image to manage all hosts in a cluster ensures cluster-wide host image homogeneity.

You can use various methods and tools to deploy ESXi hosts and maintain their software lifecycle. For example, you can upgrade hosts by using VMware vSphere® ESXi™ Image Builder CLI, esxcli, vSphere Auto Deploy. The different deployment and upgrade choices involve different workflows and require you to use different ESXi image formats. When you use vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, you follow one workflow and use the same ESXi image format for all software lifecycle-related operations: install, upgrade, update, and patching, which significantly simplifies the lifecycle management process.

Understanding vSphere Lifecycle Manager Images

A vSphere Lifecycle Manager image represents a desired software specification to be applied to all hosts in a cluster. When you set up a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image, you can define the full software stack that you want to run on the hosts in a cluster: the ESXi version, additional VMware software, vendor and third-party software, for example firmware and drivers.

A vSphere Lifecycle Manager image can consist of the following four elements:
  • ESXi base image

    The base image contains an image of VMware ESXi Server and additional components, such as drivers and adapters that are necessary to boot a server. The base image is the only mandatory element in a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image. All other elements are optional.

  • Vendor add-on

    The vendor add-on is a collection of software components that OEMs create and distribute. The vendor add-on can contain drivers, patches, and solutions.

  • Firmware and drivers add-on

    The firmware and drivers add-on is a special type of vendor add-on designed to assist in the firmware update process. The firmware and drivers add-on contains firmware for a specific server type and corresponding drivers. To add a firmware and drivers add-on to your image, you must install the hardware support manager plug-in provided by the hardware vendor for the hosts in the respective cluster.

  • Independent components

    The component is the smallest discrete unit in an image. The independent components that you add to an image contain third-party software, for example drivers or adapters.

You can set up a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image for a cluster during the creation of the cluster. Alternatively, for existing clusters that you mange with vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines, you can switch from using baselines to using images at a later time.
Note:

If you switch to using images, you cannot revert to using baselines for that cluster. You can only move the hosts to a cluster that uses baselines.

The Desired State Model

The concept of images that vSphere Lifecycle Manager introduces is based on the Desired State model for managing ESXi hosts and clusters.

The desired state of an ESXi host represents both the target software and target configuration for the host as opposed to the software and configuration that it currently runs. The Desired State model is the idea of managing hosts and clusters by defining and applying a desired state instead of listing and following steps to change the current state.

vSphere Lifecycle Manager Baselines and Baseline Groups

You use baselines and baseline groups to update and upgrade the ESXi hosts in your environment. To start managing a cluster with baselines and baseline groups, you must skip setting up an image during the creation of the cluster.

Baselines

A baseline is a grouping of multiple bulletins. You can attach a baseline to an ESXi host and check the compliance of the host against the associated baseline.

Baselines can be classified according to different criteria.
  • Depending on the type of content, baselines are patch baselines, extension baselines, and upgrade baselines.

    Patch and extension baselines contain bulletins of the respective kind. Upgrade baselines contain ESXi images.

  • Depending on how the update content is selected, baselines are fixed and dynamic.
  • Depending on how they are created and managed, baselines are predefined, recommendation, or custom baselines.

Baseline Groups

A baseline group is a collection of non-conflicting baselines. You can attach the entire baseline group to an inventory object to check the compliance status of the object against all the baselines in the group as a whole.

You can combine custom baselines with any of the predefined baselines to create baseline groups.

Host baseline groups can contain a single upgrade baseline, and various patch and extension baselines.

To update or upgrade ESXi hosts by using baselines or baseline groups, you must first attach the baselines or baselines group to an inventory object.

Although you can attach baselines and baseline groups to individual objects, a more efficient method is to attach them to container objects, such as folders, vApps, clusters, and data centers. Individual vSphere objects inherit baselines attached to the parent container object. Removing an object from a container removes the inherited baselines from the object.

For more information about creating and managing baselines and baseline groups, see Creating and Working with Baselines and Baseline Groups.

What Is the Difference Between vSphere Lifecycle Manager Images and Baselines

A vSphere Lifecycle Manager baseline is a collection of bulletins. A vSphere Lifecycle Manager image is a combination of components, vendor add-on, and an ESXi base image. Some differences exist between the operations that you can perform on clusters that you manage with a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image and the operations on clusters that you manage with vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines.

Operation Baselines Images
Distribution Bulletins are distributed through online depots and as offline bundles. You can import and use ISO images to create upgrade baselines. Base image, vendor add-ons, and components are distributed through online depots and as offline bundles. You cannot use ISO images to set up a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image for a cluster.
Validation Not supported.

You do not validate a baseline before applying the updates to the hosts. You can only perform a remediation pre-check.

Supported.

You can validate a vSphere Lifecycle Manager image to check if it is applicable to all hosts in the cluster. You can also perform a remediation pre-check.

Import/Export You can create a custom baseline and attach it to different objects in the same vCenter Server instance. You cannot export baselines and distribute them across vCenter Server instances. You can export an image and use it to manage other clusters in the same or in a different vCenter Server instance. Images are portable across vCenter Server instances. You can export an image as an ISO or JSON file, but you can only import images that are in a JSON format.
Compliance checks With baselines, you can check the compliance of an object against a single or against multiple baselines. With vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, you can check the compliance of the hosts against a single image. To check the compliance against another image, you must first set up the new image.
Staging Supported.

You can stage updates to the hosts before actually installing them.

Supported.

You can stage an image to a cluster or a host in the cluster before remediation. Staging reduces ESXi downtime.

Remediation With vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines, you can remediate an object against a single baseline or against multiple baselines. So, with a single operation, you can patch and upgrade a host.

However, vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines list the updates to be applied to hosts, but the remediation result is not always predictable, because ESXi image on the hosts might change after remediation.

With vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, you can add, remove, or modify the components in the image that you use for a cluster. When you remediate the hosts against the new image, all modified components are applied to the host. So, you can upgrade and patch a host with a single remediation operation.

vSphere Lifecycle Manager images define the precise image to be applied to the hosts after remediation. No deviation from the defined image is possible after remediation. vSphere Lifecycle Manager does not allow solutions to push VIBs to the hosts.

Firmware updates Not supported. Supported.

With vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, firmware updates are carried out through firmware and drivers add-ons, which you add to the image that you use to manage a cluster. Updating firmware with images requires an OEM-provided hardware support manager plug-in, which integrates with vSphere Lifecycle Manager.

Hardware compatibility checks Not supported. Supported

You can check the hardware compatibility of the hosts in a cluster against the VMware Compatibility Guide (VCG).

You can also check the compatibility of all hosts in a vSAN-enabled cluster against the vSAN Hardware Compatibility List (vSAN HCL).

Software recommendations Limited support.

Software recommendations are only available for vSAN clusters in the form of recommendation baselines.

Supported.

Based on the hardware of the hosts in the cluster, you get recommendations about available and applicable ESXi updates or upgrades.

vCenter Server /Datacenter-level operations With vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines, you can trigger any of the main operations at the vCenter Server or data center level. With vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, you cannot operate at a vSphere Lifecycle Manager or data center level.
Virtual machine management You can upgrade the VMware Tools and virtual hardware versions of the virtual machines in a cluster that you manage with vSphere Lifecycle Manager baselines. You can upgrade the VMware Tools and virtual hardware versions of the virtual machines in a cluster that you manage with vSphere Lifecycle Manager images.
Update Manager Download Service (UMDS) Supported. Supported.
Remote Office/Branch Office (ROBO) support Not provided.

Although no specific optimization exists for ROBO deployments, you can still use baselines and baseline groups with ROBO clusters.

Provided.

With vSphere Lifecycle Manager images, you can set up a local depot and use it in ROBO environments. For more information, see Manage Depot Overrides for a Cluster.

REST APIs Not available. Available.
Support for DPU devices Not provided.

You cannot use baselines for clusters that contain hosts with DPU devices.

Provided

To manage a cluster of DPU-backed hosts, you can only use vSphere Lifecycle Manager images. All vSphere Lifecycle Manager operations that work for updating the ESXi version on the host also deliver updates to the ESXi version on the DPU device on the host.