While VMware Tools guest OS upgrades are an inconvenience in the life of a VMware ESX and VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) administrator, they need to be done. VMware Tools is a set of drivers designed to greatly improve console interaction, but also includes drivers such as disk and network devices for most operating systems. As new versions of ESX are available, the guest operating system will need to be upgraded. Having the VMware Tools running with an old version will give basic functionality, but will need to be upgraded eventually on the virtual machine (VM).
The good news there are a few ways to approach getting tools out to the guest VM. Here are a few from my bag of tricks that you can use:
Install through Windows Group Policy: For 100% virtualized Windows environments within an organizational unit (OU), this is easy for the one-time installation. This can be applied to a computer accounts OU that contain VMware-based virtual machines.
Interactive or automatic install on guest console: This option can allow the tools to be upgraded from the VMware Tools .ISO that’s mounted and run on the guest VM. Note that the automatic upgrade may require an automatic reboot of the VM. The option to install or upgrade tools is shown below:
Run VMware Tools upgrade from a UNC path. If you copy the contents of the mounted .ISO of VMware Tools to a shared path on the network, Windows-based guest VMs can run the install from that central location. This can save the work of adding permissions for junior administrators to have device mount permissions in VMware, and you can control the access entirely in the operating system.
One caveat is that installations or upgrades of VMware Tools usually cause an interruption in network connectivity by updating the network driver. Depending on the mechanism accessed and its configuration for disconnected sessions, the install may be cancelled. This can happen in certain Remote Desktop for Windows systems in particular during installations of VMware Tools.
Lastly, this challenge of updating VMware Tools is not unique to VMware ESX Server. The same challenge exists on VMware Workstation, VMware Server as well as other products, but may be solved in the same fashion.