27-03-14

North West England VMUG Meeting Review – 26th March

I had the pleasure of yesterday attending the latest North West VMUG meeting at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Manchester. As usual, the event was a half day event but this time with the added extra of some free training in the morning provided by community stalwart Mike Laverick. I didn’t attend this myself, but I’m sure it was very well recieved by those that did attend.

Owing to the late withdrawal of local community hero Ricky El-Qasem, there was a slight rejig to the schedule. Dell basically provided a “twofer” session, showing off their DVS solution stack and also the new VRTX (pronounced “Vertex”) all in one server stack in a single 5U unit. We then had a session from local cloud providers 1st Easy and to round the day off, we had an interesting session from Mike Laverick around the concept of “FeedForward”.

So Dell kicked off with Simon Isherwood discussing their DVS model, and I was immediately wishing they’d call it something else as a DVS is something totally different to me – a Distributed Virtual Switch! Such is life in the IT industry that many acronyms overlap, so we just have to live with it. Not Simon’s fault, I’m sure. The purpose of the DVS is that it provides a reference architecture for deploying not just Horizon View, but Citrix XenDesktop and other solutions atop Dell hardware and services.

As many will be aware, Dell have been on a bit of an acquisition spree in the last few years, notably picking up Quest and also Wyse in that time.  That’s significant because Quest have vWorkspace, which is also a brokered VDI solution. Wyse is significant as you could argue it’s the “de facto” choice for thin and zero client solutions in a VDI deployment.

As always there were a raft of facts and figures, but some of the more telling stats were that it has been forecast that by 2016 there will be 200 million employees taking part in BYOD initiatives and Dell have noticed anecdotally that there are many more clients coming forward now looking to do something in the VDI space.

What was good to hear was that Dell are as agnostic as possible in their stack, so obviously they would prefer you to go down the all Dell route of Dell servers, professional services, networking and storage, but where brownfield sites have existing arrangements for any of the previous items, Dell can work within these boundaries to design and implement a VDI solution. The DVS model provides white papers on compatibility and scalability testing, to remove those time consuming steps from a VDI deployment project and give you some confidence on what sort of scales you can achieve.

There were other discussion items around the use of nVidia Grid and Lynx cards to provide high end graphics for VDI solutions but the thing that probably turned heads the most was the Cloud Connect stick. This is basically a stick not much bigger than a regular USB stick that has an MHL port, USB on the go support and a slot for additional SD storage. What you do is basically plug the stick into a HDMI socket (and you can loop the USB on the go cable for powered support), attach a bluetooth mouse and keyboard and it essentially becomes a thin client. The stick is around £130 and is an Android device with View, XenDesktop and Google Play support. Dell have rubbed some awesome sauce on this device!

All the thin/zero devices are managed via Cloud Client Manager, which is a web based service that provides MDM services such as device wipe, firmware updates etc. As a matter of fact, you cannot use a Cloud Connect stick unless it has access to Cloud Client Manager, according to Dell. Well worth checking out if you get the chance.

We then had a quick run through the development of the VRTX platform. It seems the main driver for the design of this solution was smaller businesses or branch offices where the server room was generally a cupboard with random bits of hardware, some four gangs stretched across the room and sone strategically placed desk fans. The purpose of VRTX is to take all of these components and shrink them down into a 5U form factor chassis. It can be rack mounted or free standing and takes up to 4 half height blade servers or 2 full height blades. It also has internal DAS storage and comes with a variety of options around configuration choices.

One feature Dell was particularly keen to emphasise was the volume of the chassis itself. Usually you would expect enterprise grade server platforms to sound like a plane taking off, and that’s usually the case, but the VRTX itself has been designed to be whisper quiet for a small office setting, so theoretically you could have it powered on in an open plan office and nobody would ever know. Dell switched it on during the presentation and I can verify it was indeed a very quiet piece of kit!

For large scale geographical deployments, there is a web based management tool with a management map so administrators can drill down and manage VRTX devices. A proof point for the solution is Caterham F1, who have consolidated their track side kit down from several flight cases down to just a few VRTX devices.

Two sneaky pictures of a powered on VRTX unit!
Two sneaky pictures of a powered on VRTX unit!

IMG_20140326_152439

 

Then came Stephen Bell, the MD of local cloud provider 1st Easy. This presentation was slightly more abstract with the title “From waterwheels to cloud”. The premise of this presentation was that during the industrial revolution, choices were made around how power was generated and the waterwheel was a fixed solution that had inherent flaws. This then lead on to the discussion on energy costs, which these days seem to be the primary driver for virtualisation.

I seem to recall Stephen said their energy costs had gone up three fold in eight years, and that trend is only set to rise. As such, they made the strategic decision to consolidate servers into VMware technologies such as vSphere and vCloud Director, to allow them to provide the same level of service but at a much smaller footprint and therefore cost. Also, as opposed to the concept of a waterwheel being a fixed and rigid design model, virtualisation and cloud had allowed them to become more agile as a service provider, and this was a key business driver from the word go.

The final main presentation was from Mike Laverick, discussing the concept of “FeedForward”. He started the session by discussing how user groups tend to be dominated by vendors, mainly because attendees fear presenting themselves. This can be for a variety of reasons, for example :-

  • “I only have a few hosts”
  • “Nobody is interested in my small project”
  • “My project failed, who wants to hear about that?”
  • “I’m boring!”
  • “I’m not confident enough to present in front of an audience”

A few years back, I was part of the Novell community in the UK and Europe and we had similar problems trying to get customers to present to the UG. The fact is, when a customer presents, it re-invigorates the audience. Instead of the same old faces and voices, and presentations about similar storage solutions for example, you get some “real world” insight into what worked, what didn’t worked, what we learned etc.

The drive now is to try and engage VMUG members to present more frequently by employing the “FeedForward” mechanism. In essence, what this is is a mentoring system, whereby a senior member of the community will help you design and present your slide deck, offer guidance on what works and what maybe doesn’t and even maybe stand up with you when you do it.

The naming as it suggests means you get constructive dialog going before you present rather than after, so it’s not feedback as such. So when you come to the big day and you present to your local VMUG, you can have confidence that what you’re presenting is interesting, factually correct and has been proof read by a different pair of eyes.

So for my sins I volunteered to present at the next meeting on June 11th, I’m thinking about discussing VMware certification. I’ve done a bagful of VCPs and VCAPs, so it seems like something I can talk about for 45 minutes!

To round things off, we had the usual vNews update from Ashley Davies. This covered topics such as vSAN and there was also some discussion on a bug with Windows 2012 when using E1000 that causes data corruption. As we use VMXNET3, we haven’t seen this thankfully, but one to be aware of.

As usual, thanks to VMUG leaders Steve Lester and Nathan Byrne and sponsors Dell and 1st Easy for another super event. The vBeers afterwards were good fun and those mini fish and chips portions were very popular!

 

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