Networking for VMware Administrators – Book Review


Much to my surprise, I bought “Networking for VMware Administrators” back in April 2014 and it has been on my “to do” list to read it since then. Regular readers will know of my recent scrapes and japes with NSX, including passing the VCP-NV exam so there was a nice dovetail with what I’ve been learning in this area and this book.

For those familiar with the VMware curcuit, Chris Wahl is a well known presenter and author and amongst other things regularly appears at VMworld and records Pluralsight videos, which I always like to use as a jump start to anything new I learn. As I’m not a networking guy, I thought I would try and start at the bottom, get a refresher on basic concepts and then move it forward to how that applies in the vSphere world. Steve Pantol is a new name to me, but the two seem to have a nice flow to how they write.

This book certainly hits the mark where that is concerned. Starting off very simply, the basic concepts of how networking evolved from the simplest idea to be where it is now takes you from the first rung on the ladder and conceptualises each new addition to networking designs, such as hubs, repeaters and switches. This then moves along to things such as VLANs and broadcast domains.

Physical networking is covered at a decent level of detail, taking into account the OSI model, and subtle but important differences between layers 2, 3 and above. I found the authors’ easy and humorous style of delivery very easy to follow and not feeling like a dry subject being rammed down your throat. Networking isn’t necessarily the most intriguing subject you’ll ever cover, but we’d be nothing without it’s essential plumbing to get us connected.   I read the book in three sittings, which is pretty good for me, as I’ve got the attention span of a gnat.

Part II of the book concentrates on virtual networking and switching, moving the focus towards vSphere and it’s networking options. Obviously this falls into two camps – standard and distributed vSwitches. There is also some content on Nexus V1000 switches, but I pretty much skipped that as I’ve never seen it and currently don’t really care about it. That being said, it’s good to know the section is there for me to refer back to if need be.

One aspect I really liked about the book overall was how choices and requirements fed into the design of the networking infrastructure, both from a physical and virtual viewpoint. Chris is a dual VCDX and it’s useful to get inside of his head and understand how to translate these sorts of issues and choices into an overall design. Especially useful if I ever get my finger out and actually submit a VCDX design!

Part III covers storage traffic on the network, namely iSCSI and NFS. I was a little surprised to see this type of content in the book, but enjoyed reading about it none the less. I suppose storage traffic falls into the cracks a little bit as it’s not “pure” VM networking, but it’s just as essential to get this part right when designing an overall solution. Bad storage == bad performance!

Again, a good emphasis on design constraints, assumptions and choices is put into this section, giving you a good steer on what should be considered when using storage protocols over the physical network (items such as dedicated, non routed VLANs, for example). One good tip I picked up was how to configure NFS to give you more NICs by using multiple exports on the NFS server and establishing separate links. As with all other sections, single points of failure are discussed and mitigated with different design choices.

Another good titbit I picked up was using traffic shaping to throttle vMotion traffic on 10Gbps Ethernet – I’d never before actually come across a good use case for traffic shaping, I’d assumed NIOC was always the way to go.

Finally section IV covers off all other “miscellaneous” networking concerns for your design and/or environment, this includes vMotion as discussed above and how to design around multiple NICs and/or connections, exploding a few myths along the way.

At 368 pages, it’s not War and Peace but also it’s not a 100 page pamphlet that skims over the important details. Like I said, I read it in around three chunks over a couple of days without it feeling like a chore. I think for anyone pursuing the VCDX route, this book is an absolute must. Not only does it help crystallise some concepts around physical and virtual networking, but there is excellent detail on how to consider your networking design and how to justify particular design decisions.

NSX is out of the scope of this book, but is such a huge topic in and of itself that I’m sure we’ll see a release on this in the not too distant future. This is a book that helps you understand networking from the ground up and how this relates to a virtual world.

That being said, it’s a highly recommended addition to your library of resources as it helps you have a meaningful conversation with networking teams, which as we all know is not the easiest thing in the world 😉

Remember if you have a VCP certification, you can buy this book from VMware Press with a 30% discount using the code you can obtain from the VCP portal. I also believe Chris donates all book profits to charity, so yet another excellent reason to add this to your collection. Other good stockists are also available!


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