Running a VCDX study group and some lessons learned

vhipster

I was told that no one had ever organized all of the VCDX candidates before, so I thought I would write down what we did- combined the VMUG style of sponsored meetings with a hard-core study group. At one point, we had 15 VMware architects crammed into a conference room. It was pretty awesome.

In preparation for defending the VCDX at PEX this year, I organized all the candidates I could find into a study group so that we could do mock defenses together. We ended up doing 3 weeks of mock defenses in the run-up to PEX. I also asked for a supportive vendor I met through running the DFW VMUG to help us get a conference room with a whiteboard. Steve Kaplan from Nutanix was gracious enough to exceed our expectations- we had a conference room at the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco the weekend before the…

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VMware vCloud Connector – Free

I was just reading an update on the VMware blog outlining that a really useful piece of technology has become free, please check out the post:

“The hybrid cloud team at VMware is excited to announce the general availability of vCloud Connector 2.6.

VMware vCloud Connector links vSphere-based private and public clouds via a single interface, allowing you to manage them as a single hybrid environment. You can transfer virtual machines (VMs), vApps (collections of VMs with related resource controls and network settings), and templates from one vSphere-based cloud to another. You can also set up a content library to distribute and synchronize templates across clouds and extend a single Layer 2 network from your private data center to a vSphere-based public cloud.

With vCloud Connector 2.6, VMware has converged the core and advanced versions into a single free edition with access to all vCloud Connector features. Yes, advanced edition features such as content sync and data center extension are now free! A VMware vCloud Suite license or VMware vCloud Hybrid Service subscription is no longer required to take advantage of these advanced edition features.

We have also made significant improvements to the copy operation in this release:

  • Path Optimized Copy with Retry increases the resiliency of the vCloud Connector copy operation. We have redesigned the copy operation to include a transfer buffer, before the bits are sent out to the destination node, in the source vCloud Connector node. This design change ensures transfer continuity in case of network failures.
  • Pre-Copy Checks and validations improve reliability of the vCloud Connector copy.
  • Configurable Guest Customization settings are now available, including the option to preserve Guest OS settings.
  • A New Direct or Fenced network connection mode for deployment of any vApp to a destination vCloud Director-based cloud.

Overall, we have made substantial investments to improve the reliability and functionality of the product, reducing the on-ramp from onsite data centers to public clouds such as vCloud Hybrid Service.

Download the latest version of vCloud Connector here and read more about this release in the release notes here.

To learn more about our upcoming features and capabilities, follow the vCloud blog with your favorite RSS reader, or follow our social channels at @vCloud and Facebook.com/VMwarevCloud.”

Read the post here – http://blogs.vmware.com/vcloud/2014/02/vmware-vcloud-connector-now-free.html

New Year ramblings….

This started as a post on the last day of 2013, but now it has turned into my first post of 2014. Most people make New Years resolutions or predictions, I am going to try and make some predictions but I will try and stay away from resolutions! All I will say is this, I would like to end 2014 with more knowledge than I started it. I am looking to start a masters this year and my wife is just finishing hers, so hopefully this should not be a problem.

For those of us in the summer side, it is heating up gradually and I think it will be a record breaking summer this year, we have already had a couple of very hot days and it is only the start of summer. Last year I managed to extend my technical certifications to include a number of the VMware certifications including VCAP-DCA5 and VCAP-DCD5. In June, I received notification that I had been awarded vExpert status by VMware for my contribution to the VMware community, which is fantastic. I have been lucky enough to be in a position where I have been involved in a number of large enterprise deployments in Australia and I was lucky enough to receive this nomination!

Enough about me though. Lets look at the technical stand outs for the year. VMware made a major move to drive the software defined data center strategy. The two areas covered were in Storage and Networking. Although these releases happened towards the end of the year, they are going to prove so important and they stole really important ground on Microsoft in the Cloud Services area. Microsoft released Windows 2012 R2, which in itself was an important release of its Hyper visor. Whilst I am a pro-VMware person, I recognise healthy competition in the market is a good thing. Where does that leave us with hardware?

The push towards software will leave us in a middle ground for the time being, hardware has been built for specific requirements until now, a physical server, a physical switch, a physical storage device. This has helped to separate the operational support teams until now as well. It is clear to me that that the era of building general physical switches is nearing an end, software switches will be simply overlay-ed across the top of a standard set of infrastructure that can be used for switching, compute or to drive storage layers, as VMware has started to do with NSX and VSAN.

We have to simplify how we operationally deliver and support all our environments. Delivery is too slow and support is to cumbersome. The drive to cloud will be won by the companies that are able to drive change in the quickest way. This means they will have to be able to deliver in faster and be the more flexible in support. The DevOps support model and the Agile delivery systems have to be fully applied to be able to move in a much more fluid way. Cloud companies will have to be able to add features as quickly as they are required by customers, not with a 3-6 month lead time. As the infrastructure moves to cloud the knowledge required to be in an infrastructure support team will change, being able to work with API’s and software will become the new normal! It is clear that we all need to be much more software oriented and I have seen that with a number of software based people I have worked with that are now getting more and more involved with infrastructure.

Being in IT has always required a more generalist mind and I think in the years ahead this will become more and more apparent! IT is still the engine room of all businesses, but we will have to adapt to continue being so important.

I look forward the year ahead as there are many exciting changes coming, and living in Australia we are always at the cutting edge of virtualisation and early adoption.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Virtual Desktops

I have been reading with interest the new move by Amazon into the Desktop as a Service space, with their new Hosted Workspace offering. If you are not aware of it, it can be referenced here:

http://aws.amazon.com/workspaces/

Those who know me and have worked with me, know that I have quite strong views on Virtual Desktops. I have been involved in several large scale enterprise roll outs of virtual desktops and my experiences have taught me that no one has come up with a suitable/viable option yet for doing this. Why is that? I hear you say. First of all, let me assure you my comments/opinions here are my own.

1) The need for a second device to login to the virtual desktop. If this is a personal device, then there is an expectation that the company you work for will partly fund it, or provide a yearly supplement. Or the company will provide the second device to login to the virtual desktop. Now your company has to not only manage/life-cycle the VDI but the second device as well. Ah I hear you say, but what about thin clients, it turns out they are not dramatically cheaper than a standard desktop or laptop and they still have to be maintained and in some cases licensed, if the thin client runs a cut down version of Windows for example.

2) Virtual desktops tend to be setup in a dedicated area in the datacenter, creating hotspots in a number of areas, heating/cooling and of course the strain on the network through bandwidth consumption. This can be solved in the Cloud space by spreading the risk, x% of a rack could be dedicated to desktop then that risk is not sitting in one specific area. But then there is the risk that you affect the server fleet.

3) The licensing headaches, currently certain large vendor desktop providers licensing models do not translate to cloud offerings.

4) VDI environment management, management of gold images and the risk involved. If you break one laptop with a patch update that is not so bad, if you break the gold image, this is a huge risk, thousands of employees could potentially not login.

So why use VDI at all? There are some very good use cases, that translate to Enterprise very well:

1) Off-shored support personnel, they access the systems using a desktop that is physically in another country. This is great for companies that require data sovereignty.

2) Latency sensitive applications that require to be close the server.

3) Control, as soon as a person leaves the company, their VDI can be turned off, maintaining data IP of the company.

I admit I have barely scratched the surface, I see DaaS as an immature model at best currently. As outlined I don’t see anyone with a good cloud model for DaaS as yet. For the enterprise however it can be a very good option, but the enterprise has to be prepared that it will not save them capex or opex (additional teams are required to support the VDI environment and its complexity).

It will be an interesting space to watch in the next few years, but I dont think anyone will be making any money in that area any time soon. Good luck to Amazon and to Desktone.

VMworld, vForum, vAware

A lot has happened in the world since my last post. I have already touched on vSphere 5.5, and VMware have made some superb additions to the platform. I have also had a chance to get some more experience in the last few months with the new feature set and it seems obvious to me that at a high level the two most exiting areas are:

  • VSAN
  • VMware NSX

VSAN is going to make a huge impact especially in the VDI and entry level areas. Rackmount servers are the ideal solution in this space as I feel that the blade investments people have made will not be much use for a VSAN deployment. The setup for VSAN is very straight forward, enable it at a cluster level and it will pool all the local disk together into a single datastore which is then represented to the entire cluster. Given that the setup is moving to RAIN, is anything other than RAID 0 required at the local storage configuration layer.

I was at vForum in Sydney last week and had the pleasure of meeting Martin Casado, one of the founders of Nicira (now VMware NSX). I highly recommend you catch up on one of his talks if you have the time, follow this link to catch him at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong:

http://www.openstack.org/summit/openstack-summit-hong-kong-2013/session-videos/presentation/navigating-the-transition-to-network-virtualization

I must admit to finding it difficult to find time to post at the moment. I am five months into a new challenging role, it is an incredibly exciting place to work, however there is little that I can share in this blog! My blog comments are also my own and do not reflect the company that I work for.

Where to next. I still have ambitions to complete the VCDX (which is proving a challenge to do from Australia), and who would have thought two small sons would impact my time!

Cloud Highs and Lows

(My comments are my own)

I realised that it had been quite some time since I posted anything. My last update was when VMworld was playing out and that seems like a really long time ago now.

A lot seems to have happened since then. I am very interested in the updates and look forward to Barcelona to find out what happens next.

Some other notable things have happened in the cloud space. For those of you who are not aware, if you currently navigate to http://www.nirvanix.com you will be presented the following message:

“Nirvanix Customers,

For the past seven years, we have worked to deliver cloud storage solutions. We have concluded that we must begin a wind-down of our business and we need your active participation to achieve the best outcome.

We are dedicating the resources we can to assisting our customers in either returning their data or transitioning their data to alternative providers who provide similar services including IBM SoftLayer, Amazon S3, Google Storage or Microsoft Azure.”

I think this is an interesting statement on the risks that have been taken by pushing into cloud. Nirvanix were held up as a strong cloud company, yet the fall from grace has been meteoric. What does this say about cloud in general? I think that (and remember these are my thoughts and opinions) that this highlights the requirements to examine how profits are generated in the cloud space. I think it outlines that if your business model is not right then it does not matter how good the technology is, failure is the only result.

Lets look at the positive things that are happening in the cloud space. VMware have launched their vCloud Hybrid Service, a sensible addition to there product base, if you are interested more information can be found here:

http://www.vmware.com/au/products/vcloud-hybrid-service/

The product offerings themselves are interesting, (quoted from http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/vchs/vCloud-Hybrid-Service-Tech-FAQ.pdf):

  • Dedicated Cloud

The Dedicated Cloud offering includes 30 GHz of Compute (vCPU) capacity, 120 GB of vRAM, and 6TB of Storage to start.
Also, 3 public IP’s are provided, as well as a 50 Mbps network link, burstable to 1 Gbps.

  • Virtual Private Cloud

The Virtual Private Cloud offering includes 5 GHz of Compute (vCPU) capacity, 20 GB of vRAM, and 2TB of Storage to start.
Also, 2 public IP’s are provided, as well as a 10 Mbps network link, burstable to 50 Mbps.

There has been some speculation as to the hardware used for the back end infrastructure, there is an interesting line in the tech faqs stating that “our specific hardware vendors remain subject to change.”

What will be interesting is how will this product do in the market? Will we see companies using this infrastructure as their offsite DR target for their in house datacenter? I will be interested to see the numbers in a years time. Would a logical step be to produce reference architecture for on premise private cloud to off premise vCloud Hybrid Service, I think it would be. I am doing my best to avoid naming other vendors here.

Roll on VMware Barcelona, and then for those of us in Australia, vForum in Sydney!

VMWorld – vSphere 5.5

As usual my comments are my own.

Given that it is is VMWorld this week and also I am not able to attend, maybe next year, I felt it was time to highlight some of the announcements to come out of the conference.

I found the content of the key note interesting this year, continuing the drive towards the software defined data center, I think the decision to make the products a 5.5 release shows where the focus has been (more in the network/storage space). Whilst engineering limits have been increased, there is nothing ground breaking in the core products (please feel free to disagree with me). vSphere 5.5 for instance has some new features, for instance the scale out of VSAN for example. Here is a quick overview of the updates, (more details can be found here: http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/vsphere/VMware-vSphere-Platform-Whats-New.pdf)

  • Enhancements to the use of processor C-states
  • Increase in the VMDK size to 62 TB
  • Permanent Device Loss AutoRemove
  • Full 16GB FC support
  • VMFS Heap Improvements
  • Increase in the number of support vCPUs 
  • vSphere Flash Read Cache
  • 40GB NIC Support

That is just highlight. Some of these bring VMware in line with other hypervisors, some of them are response to common issues I have witnessed on platforms, the PDL autoremove is a great addition. I have seen an issues with a single LUN take whole clusters offline.

So where is the focus right now, well it seems in the following two areas:

1) Software defined networking (building on the previous work already completed)

2) Software defined storage (to rival a number of vendors starting to offer these products to the enterprise, e.g. Gluster)

So where too next with vSphere, still the core VMware product, are we due for another core change to the internal architecture that will allow the product to scale with greater ease? I think so, but remember that is just my opinion.

It also seems to me that in other areas such as network and storage the focus is fantastic, how can we remove scaling limits. These are really game changing technologies especially in the service (cloud) provider space. The big question for me is as we push up a level in the storage/network space how do we:

1) Ensure compliance 

2) Ensure security is maintained, remember these solutions have to be rock solid from a security perspective.

Anyway, enough for today. I am going to be keeping an eye on the other announcements and I will write something more detailed around the introduction of VSAN in my next blog.