Upgrade VMware AirWatch/Workspace ONE from version 9.1 to 9.6 and beyond: Part 1 – Prerequisites and Database Upgrade

Since working with VMware AirWatch as early as version 7.0, I’ve upgraded my environment several times after the initial consultation with professional services. While new features and bug fixes are introduced with each new version, my overall impression of the entire upgrade process remains pretty much the same from one version to the next.

As my environment includes several components commonly used by many others, I will once again discuss these components in details through several posts.

Before diving into the upgrade process, I always review all three documents listed below especially if I have not been up-to-speed with the latest and greatest for a while. I’ve also found pieces of info that are mentioned in the install guide but not the upgrade guide. These three documents and many others can be found via the VMware Workspace ONE UEM documentation link.

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As many other AirWatch admins have stated in the community forum, the documentation between different versions might not be that different at all. For example, the latest version (i.e. 9.6) still mentions about feature pack upgrade (i.e. 9.x.x) when VMware already announced dropping it in favor of minor revision (i.e. just 9.x) back in February of 2018.

To better prepare for the upgrade, I also visit this link which provides both the Self Upgrade Plan and the Pre-installation Requirements Worksheet. While they don’t necessarily reflect the same info from the latest version, they are very useful to ensure no stone is left unturned during the entire upgrade process.

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You may also consider running the Workspace ONE Validation Tool prior to upgrading to ensure your environment is ready especially if the hardware architecture remains relatively the same since VMware AirWatch was implemented. Normally, a new requirement is introduced with each upgrade, and you want to make sure your existing environment meets such requirement.

As I am writing this post, however, this validation tool is far from perfect. In my case, it reports several false positives. I’ve spoken with and confirmed my finding with VMware AirWatch technical support.

If you are familiar with the previous version of AirWatch, you may recall a similar tool named Enterprise Discovery Utility.

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Since I also have extensive experience with Blackberry UEM, I can’t help but compare Workspace ONE Validation Tool to BlackBerry UEM Readiness Tool. For this post, let’s take a look at how we can take advantage of it on the console server as an example.

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If you forget or if you are not sure about your database server info, you can always run the Update SQL Server Information tool usually located at C:\AirWatch\AirWatch 9.x\Supplemental Software\Tools\UpdateSQLServerInfo for details.

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What you see further below depends on your answer. If you select Yes, additional input will be needed.

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After the test completes, you can then hover on Details to see what the error is. You can also export the result as an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis.

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After completing all of the above, here’s a list of steps I often take at a high level to upgrade VMware AirWatch:

  1. Install .NET framework 4.6.2 and reboot server (if needed)
  2. Download and stage the installers on servers
    • Be sure to include any patches such as this one.
  3. Stop relevant VMware AirWatch and World Wide Web Publishing services
    • I prefer launching PowerShell as administrator and running this command:
      • get-service *air* | where {$_.status -eq ‘running’} | stop-service
      • get-service -displayname *world* | stop-service
  4. Disable World Wide Web Publishing service
    • This is because if the server reboots before upgrading the application server, devices will check in to a mismatched environment and subsequently un-enroll.
    • Again, run this PS command: set-service -name W3SVC -startuptype Disabled
  5. Back up VMware AirWatch database and servers (hopefully, yours are virtualized)
  6. Follow the upgrade guide and confirm either the Windows or SQL account has proper permission set on the database
    • Otherwise, you could run into an error and will have to revert back from backup
  7. Upgrade VMware AirWatch database
  8. Upgrade VMware AirWatch device service and console servers
  9. Re-enable World Wide Web Publishing service
    • You need this re-enabled so you can log back into the web console to download configuration files and installers for other auxiliary components.
  10. Upgrade remaining VMware AirWatch auxiliary components (i.e. Secure Email Gateway, VMware Tunnel, etc.)
  11. Validate the upgrade
  12. Disable specific services, if needed, if you have multiple console servers

What’s new with the latest upgrade since version 9.1? Quite a few actually and below are the ones that pertain to my environment and maybe yours as well.

  • After AirWatch version 9.3, you can skip to the latest version (no more incremental upgrade)
  • SSRS installer for reporting is no longer provided. Visit this KB for further details.

To confirm the database version before and after the upgrade, launch Microsoft SQL Management Studio and run this query: select * from DatabaseVersion

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During the database upgrade, I encountered the error below. After working with my DBA admin and a quick check in my console, I did find a duplicate account. Once I deleted it and had my DBA admin run the script provided once more, all was well and I was able to continue with my database upgrade.

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Or if necessary permission is not already in place prior to the database upgrade, you may encounter error below:

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As you upgrade the database from one version to another, it’s recommended to check and confirm with Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio.

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As there is no need to perform incremental database upgrade after version 9.3, we can now jump directly to version 9.6 and beyond. While the installer logo has changed from AirWatch to Workspace ONE, the installer window still has AirWatch in the title.

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Once the database is fully upgraded, leave both the AirWatch and World Wide Web Publishing services stopped and continue with upgrading the application (i.e. console, device services, etc.)

Click here for part 2 of this series where we will upgrade the two core components: Device Services and Console server.

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