12-10-15

VMworld Europe Day One

Today saw the start of VMworld Europe in Barcelona, with today being primarily for partners and TAM customers (usually some of the bigger end users). However, that doesn’t mean that the place is quiet, far from it! There are plenty of delegates already milling around, I saw a lot of queues around the breakout sessions and also for the hands on labs.

As today was partner day, I already booked my sessions on the day they were released. I know how quickly these sessions fill, and I didn’t want the hassle of queuing up outside and hoping that I would get in. The first session was around what’s new in Virtual SAN. There have been a lot of press inches given to the hyper converged storage market in the last year, and I’ve really tried to blank them out. Now the FUD seems to have calmed down, it’s good to be able to take a dispassionate look at all the different offerings out there, as they all have something to give.

My first session was with Simon Todd and was titled VMware Virtual SAN Architecture Deep Dive for Partners. 

It was interesting to note the strong numbers of customer deploying VSAN. There was a mention of 3,000 globally, which isn’t bad for a product that you could argue has only just reached a major stage of maturity. There was the usual gratuitous customer logo slide, one of which was of interest to me. United Utilities deal with water related things in the north west, and they’re a major VSAN customer.

There were other technical notes, such as VSAN being an object based file system, not a distributed one. One customer has 14PB of storage over 64 nodes, and the limitation to further scaling out that cluster is a vSphere related one, rather than a VSAN related one.

One interesting topic of discussion was whether or not to use passthrough mode for the physical disks. What this boils down to is the amount of intelligence VSAN can gather from the disks if they are in passthrough mode. Basically, there can be a lot of ‘dialog’ between the disks and VSAN if there isn’t a controller in the way. I have set it up on IBM kit in our lab at work, and I had to set it to RAID0 as I couldn’t work out how to set it to passthrough. Looks like I’ll have to go back to that one! To be honest, I wasn’t getting the performance I expected, and that looks like it’s down to me.

VSAN under the covers seems a lot more complex than I thought, so I really need to have a good read of the docs before I go ahead and rebuild our labs.

There was also an interesting thread on troubleshooting. There are two fault types in VSAN – degraded and absent. Degraded state is when (for example) an SSD is wearing out, and while it will still work for a period of time, performance will inevitably suffer and the part will ultimately go bang. Absent state is where a temporary event has occured, with the expectation that this state will be recovered from quickly. Examples of this include a host (maintenance mode) or network connection down and this affects how the VSAN cluster behaves.

There is also now the ability to perform some proactive testing, to ensure that the environment is correctly configured and performance levels can be guaranteed. These steps include a ‘mock’ creation of virtual machines and a network multicast test. Other helpful troubleshooting items include the ability to blink the LED on a disk so you don’t swap out the wrong one!

The final note from this session was the availability of the VSAN assessment tool, which is a discovery tool run on customer site, typically for a week, that gathers existing storage metrics and provides sizoing recommendations and cost savings using VSAN. This can be requested via a partner, so in this case, Frontline!

The next session I went to was Power Play :What’s New With Virtual SAN and How To Be Successful Selling It. Bit of a mouthful I’ll agree, and as I’m not much of a sales or pre-sales guy, there wasn’t a massive amount of takeaway for me from this session, but Rory Choudhari took us through the current and projected revenues for the hyperconverged market, and they’re mind boggling.

This session delved into the value proposition of Virtual SAN, mainly in terms of costs (both capital and operational) and the fact that it’s simple to set up and get going with. He suggested it could live in harmony with the storage teams and their monolithic frames, I’m not so sure myself. Not from a tech standpoint, but from a political one. It’s going to be difficult in larger, more beauracratic environments.

One interesting note was Oregon State University saving 60% using Virtual SAN as compared to refreshing their dedicated storage platform. There are now nearly 800 VASN production customers in EMEA, and this number is growing weekly. Virtual SAN6.1 also brings with it support for Microsoft and Oracle RAC clustering. There is support for OpenStack, Docker and Photon and the product comes in two versions.

If you need an all flash VSAN and/or stretched clusters, you’ll need the Advanced version. For every other use case, Standard is just fine.

After all the VSAN content I decided to switch gears and attend an NSX session called  Disaster Recovery with NSX, SRM and vRO with Gilles Chekroun. Primarily this session seemed to concentrate on the features in the new NSX 6.2 release, namely the universal objects now available (distributed router, switch, firewall) which span datacentres and vCenters. With cross vCenter vMotion, VMware have really gone all out removing vCenter as the security or functionality boundary to using many of their products, and it’s opened a whole new path of opportunity, in my opinion.

There are currently 700 NSX customers globally, with 65 paying $1m or more in their deployments. This is not just licencing costs, but also for integration with third party products such as Palo Alto, for example. Release 6.2 has 20 new features and has the concept of primary and secondary sites. The primary site hosts an NSX Manager appliance and the controller cluster, and secondary sites host only an NSX Manager appliance (so no controller clusters). Each site is aware of things such as distributed firewall rules, so when a VM is moved from one site to another, the security settings arew preserved.

Locale IDs have also been added to provide the ability to ‘name’ a site and use the ID to direct routing traffic down specific paths, either locally on that site or via another site. This was the key takeway from the session that DRis typically slow, complex and expensive, with DR tests only being invoked annually. By providing network flexibility between sites and binding in SRM and vRO for automation, some of these issues go away.

In between times I sat the VCP-CMA exam for the second time. I sat the beta release of the exam and failed it, which was a bit of a surprise as I thought I’d done quite well. Anyway, this time I went through it, some of the questions from the beta were repeated and I answered most in the same way and this time passed easily with a 410/500. This gives me the distinction of now holding a full house of current VCPs – cloud, desktop, network and datacenter virtualisation. Once VMware Education sort out the cluster f**k that is the Advanced track, I hope to do the same at that level.

Finally I went to a quick talk called 10 Reasons Why VMware Virtual SAN Is The Best Hyperconverged Solution. Rather than go chapter and verse on each point I’ll list them below for your viewing pleasure:-

  1. VSAN is built directly into the hypervisor, giving data locality and lower latency
  2. Choice – you can pick your vendor of choice (HP, Dell, etc.) And either pick a validated, pre-built solution or ‘roll your own’ from a list of compatible controllers and hard drives from the VMware HCL
  3. Scale up or scale out, don’t pay for storage you don’t need (typically large SAN installations purchase all forecasted storage up front) and grow as you go by adding disks, SAS expanders and hosts up to 64 hosts
  4. Seamless integration with the existing VMware stack – vROps adapters already exist for management, integration with View is fully supported etc
  5. Get excellent performance using industry standard parts. No need to source specialised hardware to build a solution
  6. Do more with less – achieve excellent performance and capacity without having to buy a lot of hardware, licencing, support etc
  7. If you know vSphere, you knopw VSAN. Same management console, no new tricks or skills to learn with the default settings
  8. 2000 customers using VSAN in their production environment, 65% of whom use it for business critical applications. VSAN is also now third generation
  9. Fast moving road map – version 5.5 to 6.1 in just 18 months, much faster rate of innovation than most monolithic storage providers
  10. Future proof – engineered to work with technologies such as Docker etc

All in all a pretty productive day – four sessions and a new VCP for the collection, so I can’t complain. Also great to see and chat with friends and ex-colleagues who are also over here, which is yet another great reason to come to VMworld. It’s 10,000 people, but there’s still a strong sense of community.

18-11-14

download

UK VMUG Event Review

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the fourth UK-VMUG annual conference at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull. For those that didn’t make it, I’ve put together an event review for your viewing pleasure. Apologies for the crapness of the pictures, taken with my phone unfortunately!

 

Joe Baguley Keynote

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After a brief introduction from VMUG leader Alaric Davies, the day started with the now usual keynote from Joe Baguley, CTO for EMEA. This year the keynote was entitled “Rant as a Service” and after setting the scene for around 30 minutes, the key message is still around software defined enterprise. It was my interpretation that there was a small pop at a hyper converged company whose name may or may not contain nuts on the basis that EVO:Rail and EVO:Rack can give you the same level of support and performance without having to buy into a single vendor. I’ve been feeling for a while that there isn’t a lot of love lost between the two parties, and I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t find it particularly helpful when constant implied barbs are being traded. Just my opinion!

The point of EVO:Rail is to have the infrastructure up and running within 15 minutes. The value here is that you can go to 8 partners and pick which stack and value add you want. It’s not a single vendor lock in as such, as most customers already have an existing relationship with the likes of Dell, etc. EVO:Rail is 2U in size and has four blades installed. Not dissimilar to Nutanix and UCS in that respect, though of course the UCS chassis has a larger form factor. For larger installations or special use cases such as VDI with NVIDIA graphics, the bigger EVO:Rack will be required.

One interesting line was the ongoing idea now that abstraction and obfuscation takes place in as much as key components such as disks and raid controllers are being replaced by software and public and hybrid cloud solutions. This of course is becoming transparent to the “end user” as we move towards a hybrid cloud type of world. If a disk controller fails, it’s OK, software can take care of that. Lose a data centre? That’s OK too, we’ll just move to another one in the background. I’m not sure we’re totally there with that one yet, but it’s an interesting concept none the less.

Then we had the discussion about what is “Enterprise Scale” these days? As consumer electronics demands increase exponentially (photo uploads, data requirements, data production, etc) then most things these days really are “Enterprise” grade as they have millions of people using them daily, not just the tens, hundreds or even thousands in an “enterprise” environment.

White boxes are also now are taking the place of large monolithic proprietary solutions. EVO:Rail again was mentioned as an example of this, where you get a pre-built, predictable and validated vSphere environment from whichever hardware vendor you prefer. The irony that you’re still locked into VMware technologies was missed at this point, but I think I see where the point is here.

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VMworld Update – Julian Wood

I then went to the VMworld Update session with Julian Wood. One thing I’d have to say is that there was too much to fit in for 40 minutes. That’s not Julian’s fault – as he noted, once you look into it, there are so many product releases, updates and acquisitions to keep track of that you could spend all day talking about it! There was some discussion around the vRealise suite (I’m not spelling it with a “z”!),  what that means and how there is on and off premises solutions for that now. vRealise is essentially the management and automation tools bundled into a suite, so products such as vCloud Automation Center, Log Insight, vCenter Operations Manager etc.

CloudVolumes was also discussed, where applications are installed to a VMDK and then this VMDK is connected and presented to desktops in a fraction of the time it takes to do ThinApp etc. As I was listening to this, I started to think “what are the storage requirements though?  Read intensive, or are blocks cached.  How does this work?”. “Do we require any back end infrastructure such as MS-SQL etc.?”

On the EUC side, big strides continue to be made and VMware are really competing with Citrix in the application presentation stakes, as well as adding further improvements to the core View product, including Cloud Pods (or Linked Mode for View, as I like to call it!), where you can break the current scalability limits but also provide an additional site failover for virtual desktops if required, plugging one gap in the previous product set.

vSphere Futures – Duncan Epping

The next session was with Duncan Epping. His sessions are always well attended as he’s usually on the bleeding edge of what the company is doing internally, plus I’ve found him to be pretty honest in his responses to some issues that have cropped up, especially around Virtual SAN. I made quite a few notes around what was discussed, and it’s probably easier to break them down into bullet points:-

  • All flash Virtual SAN coming, to increase the configuration options for two slot blades, where currently you need flash for cache and spinning disk for content
  • Virtual volumes (VVols) policies coming that will based per VM
  • This functionality will be based on an array that supports virtual volumes
  • IO filters directly in the hypervisor for those arrays not VVol aware
  • Storage DRS VM IOPS reservations, so we can migrate workloads to other storage if reservations are not met
  • Storage DRS has better awareness of thin provisioning, dedupe and replication
  • Resource and Availability Service is a new web based tool that uses exported DRS settings to simulate failure of resources and ensure design is correct, validating such things as Admission Control settings
  • FT support for up to 4 vCPU
  • No more vLockstep or shared VMDK for Fault Tolerance,  10Gbps networking will be required
  • The ability to vMotion “anywhere”, requirement is that both vCenters must be in same SSO domain
  • vMotion has a 10ms latency tolerance now, working on 100ms tolerance for long distances
  • The vCenter Appliance will scale as well as Windows version now, and will be the future of vCenter releases
  • SQL server supported externally for the vCenter Appliance
  • Task pane will be coming into bottom of Web Client
  • Less nested right click options to make the Web Client interface cleaner
  • Task  concurrency, performance  charts and other features will be introduced into the Web Client
  • Linked Mode will be available for the vCenter Appliance
  • Content library for ISOs etc, replicated across sites. Also includes templates, OVFs etc. Same as Hyper-V Libraries, by the sounds of it

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One very interesting thread was around Project Fargo. This in essence is a “re-imagining” of the snapshot process and will allow for the creation of Windows virtual machines in around 2 seconds. In the lab, Linux VMs were spun up in less than that, the overhead on the Windows side was mainly down to customisation and joining AD etc. Another way of thinking about it is “Linked Clones on steroids” in the sense that you have a parent virtual machine and lots of child virtual machines. Duncan’s blog entry as linked above goes into some good detail on what you can expect from this initiative.

Horizon View Architecture and Design – Barry Coombs & Peter Von Oven

I then went to the session by Barry Coombs and Peter Von Oven about Horizon View Design and Architecture. This session wasn’t really a “death by PowerPoint” session, but more a key points and brief discussion at a high level as to what you should be looking for in a good Horizon View design. There are always little nuggets or anecdotes that can be useful that maybe you haven’t come across before that only really come out of experience. One good point from this session was that you should never let the IT team speak on behalf of the end users, so in other words, don’t assume IT know necessarily what the user experience is like, because they can’t know every individual use case.

The key point of performing a desktop assessment phase and also a proof of concept was also re-iterated, and I can’t agree with this enough. To chat to IT and some end users is not enough. It’s useful as part of the whole engagement, but you also need key performance metrics and also a proof of concept to see what works and what doesn’t work. Think of a PoC as the first draft of a document that requires lots of iterations to get it “just right”. To perform a desktop assessment and some stakeholder interviews and then think you can roll an effective VDI environment first time out of the gate is total fantasy.

Any VDI deployment (whether it’s View or AN Other solution) should be an improvement on the current “physical” end user experience. Again this is a given. If you’re spending time and money replacing a solution people are familiar with and comfortable with, it needs to be visually an improvement on what they already have, or the solution will simply acquire a “bad name”. One interesting idea was the notion of having a “Departmental Champion” – an end user who wants to positively influence the outcome of the project. They can interface with other users and help cascade information and feedback backwards and forwards. This can give you a view inside the PoC that you would not normally have.

Some other brief points included not forgetting to factor in VM and graphics overhead when right sizing a solution, these are commonly forgotten about (guilty!) and user concurrency should be measured in advance. Generally I use the rule of thumb of 80% concurrency, but in an organisation that has shift patterns, this may not be appropriate. Make sure the solution scale!

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EUC Update – Peter Von Oven

My next session was another EUC session, this time with Peter Von Oven from VMware. Again, a lot of key messages came out pretty thick and fast, so a bullet point summary is included below:-

  • VMware’s strategy is still the three pillar strategy of SDDC,  EUC and Hybrid Cloud
  • AppVolumes (formerly known as CloudVolumes) will be available in December
  • Horizon Workspace can disable icons based on physical location. It’s context aware in that sense. So for example, R&D portal is not accessible from Starbucks, but is from a corporate LAN
  • Horizon Workspace provides a central point of management
  • AppVolumes will be in the Enterprise Edition of Horizon View
  • View 6 makes it possible to co-exist and transition from XenApp environments
  • Windows 2008 or 2012 server required for RDSH Application Publishing, and can mix and match if required
  • Easier than upgrade to XenApp 7.5 in the sense that a new infrastructure does not need to be stood up
  • Seamless application remoting,  even on Mac
  • Use vCOps for View and do a 60 day assessment of your environment – though I’m not sure you get the same level of information as you do with say Stratusphere FIT
  • Use thin clients not zero for unified communications in VDI
  • Fully supported by Microsoft for Lync over PCoIP
  • Webcam and mic done using USB redirection
  • Use case for Thinapp is portability and isolation, AppVolumes for performance
  • Application catalogue allows user self service of applications, can remove after 30 days etc
  • Workspace Suite is Horizon + AirWatch, includes Horizon Advanced for Workspace
  • vGPU like Citrix,  coming Q1 next year – vGPU is covered here and is essentially dedicated hardware VGA acceleration but with the consolidation ratio of sVGA. Still uses NVIDIA driver for application validation and support
  • Horizon Flex out in December, delivers containerised desktops in much the same way as the old VMware ACE product
  • No dependency for Horizon Flex on Mirage at the back end
  • Requires Flex policy management server and provides time limits, grace period, remote lock and wipe, USB lock down, etc

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Cisco and VMware – Chris Bashforth

For my final breakout of the day, I went to the Cisco partner presentation on UCS and VMware View. I have to say I didn’t find this session all that useful. I don’t know if it was due to the graveyard slot at the end of a long day or if it was just the general dryness of the topic, but I never really felt like the audience engaged with the speaker and the atmosphere fell a little flat. We were given a brief overview of UCS for those who have never seen it before and then a quick run through of the blade and chassis models available and which are recommended for VDI deployments.

I’m still quite new to UCS having been a HP guy all of my career, so there were some interesting items in there but I didn’t feel I got a lot out of this session and left a little disappointed. For those folks wanting to use NVIDIA GRID cards in their UCS deployments, you will need to use C class rackmount servers for this purpose, with two slots available per server for this purpose. B class blades are densely packed and simply do not have the space to accommodate this card.

One thing to correct is the speaker’s comment that NVIDIA vDGA will support 8 users per server – this isn’t true. Direct passthrough means that you connect the physical VGA card to the virtual desktop on a 1:1 basis. I can only assume he got mixed up with the upcoming vGPU which will be a similar passthrough arrangement, but with the ability to get a higher consolidation ratio of up to 8. If I misinterpreted these comments, please feel free to let me know.

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Closing Keynote – Chris Wahl

The closing keynote was from Chris Wahl, industry legend and double VCDX. The force is strong with this one! The session was entitled “Don’t Be a Minesweeper”. I went into the session wondering what the correlation was between stealing bits of beer from tables (my definition of a Minesweeper) and the IT industry, but it turns out he was referring to the cheesy clicky clicky game of previous Windows’ vintages. The general gist was that automation is the way forward, we’re seeing that now, and it pays dividends to be ahead of the curve by learning some scripting now. Whether that be PowerShell, PowerCLI, Python or anything else.

I did particularly enjoy Chris’s attempt at using British slang. Top marks to him for differentiating between bollocks (bad) and dog’s bollocks (very good). It’s not always easy for an American to grasp such as concept depending on whether or not said objects are canine connected, but I think he did pretty well!

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Summary

Overall it was a very good day and a hearty well done to the VMUG committee who put it all together. This was my third VMUG-UK and each time it just keeps getting bigger. I don’t know how many showed yesterday, but I heard on the Twittervine that nearly 600 had pre-registered, which is absolutely fantastic. I did wonder if the event is now starting to outgrow the venue – the solutions hall was packed and difficult to navigate and lunch and brew breaks got quite cramped for space, but that’s a relatively minor thing.

I didn’t get much chance to look at the booths in the solutions hall, but it’s difficult when you’re a partner with long standing relationships with vendors to have something new to talk about sometimes. I did however get to see some old ex-colleagues as well as chatting to some folks I hadn’t seen in years, which was great.

 

14-02-14

Are we finally seeing VMware 2.0?

I’ve been keeping a close eye on some of the news coming out of VMware Partner Exchange (PEX) this week and it left a bit of an impression on me. So much so I decided to write about it, in a change from our usual programming of study guides for VCAP. We’ll get back to that, don’t worry, but I wanted to impart my opinion on this topic because I think it’s important and wonder what other people think.

VMware as a company grew exponentially in the 2000s by introducing x86 virtualisation to the market, something which was a game changer as it meant we could put dozens of servers on one physical piece of tin, saving a lot of time and money and making admin’s lives a lot easier. I remember the first time I saw vMotion at a demo and my instinct was to be cynical and say it was all smoke and mirrors, but no, it was the real deal and so was the company and the technology.

Fast forward a few more years and as the company grew and got acquired by EMC, it started to look to broaden it’s solution stack to become a much richer software company. In 2009 they acquired SpringSource, 2010 Zimbra and 2011 SlideRocket. This was back in the day when I was still working for a VMware Partner. I did wonder at the time what the value was to VMware from acquiring these companies and their technologies. In the case of Zimbra for example, it seemed like a solution looking for a problem. Let’s be frank, the on premise e-mail platform war was won years ago by Microsoft Exchange, and even if you try and “cloudify” Zimbra, you’re still facing stiff competition from the likes of Google Apps and Office 365.

For me in many ways they made the classic business mistake – forgetting what you’re good at. If you look at the technology business, the ones that do the best have a fairly narrow focus, know what they do best and stick to it. There’s no harm in spreading yourself across different technologies or industries, but you must remain true to what you originally put you where you are. Look at Apple and Oracle as example of companies that may have dabbled in a couple of additional technologies, but in the end they’ve remained strong and successful by focusing on a couple of product lines and executing them really well to become market leaders.

Take Microsoft as an example of a company that tried to spread itself too thinly. They’ve made highly successful desktop operating systems and productivity suites for years, but that wasn’t enough and the problems and eye watering costs accrued from the likes of XBox, Windows Phone, Surface and Bing are well documented. In many ways, Microsoft still doesn’t know what it wants to be, but continues to execute on the Windows platform (including Hyper-V) and Office year on year. If Microsoft had not had so much cash in the bank to fund these failures, they’d have gone under years ago. Windows and Office still provide the financial engine that drives Microsoft.

Which brings me neatly to my point about VMware. In 2013, Zimbra was sold to Telligent Systems, SlideRocket was sold to ClearSlide and SpringSource was hived off to Pivotal (source – Wikipedia). The Zimbra announcement at least was done relatively quietly in my view and represented the epiphany VMware must have had that they were carrying too much baggage which was non strategic to the core business. Is it co-incidence that these activities have occurred since Pat Gelsinger became CEO? I’ll let you decide that.

So at PEX, a lot of focus was put on two emerging technologies – NSX and VSAN. The first one for those that don’t know is network virtualisation. This is big news and will again see VMware disrupting this market too. Cisco have already made sounds about the impact network virtualisation will have on their hiterto successful core business of network tin. If that moves into the software stack, they’ve got troubles.

VSAN is a new product which basically accumulates and aggregates local storage on ESXi hosts and presents it as shared storage. There are more features than that, but this is the basic premise – lower cost, simpler deployments and one vendor less to deal with if proprietary storage platforms are in use. Again, it’s very early days and the storage market is highly competitive right now (Nutanix being the obvious example).

I’ve seen and heard a lot of criticism about VMware in recent years, some of justified and some not. I’ve heard remarks that they’re a busted flush and Hyper-V will take over. For me, putting the focus back to core virtualisation products is entirely the right move to make and will fundamentally keep VMware relevant and market leaders in the industry for the next decade. Now that “vanity” projects have been spun off and sold, the company can keep a narrower focus and keep doing what it does best – virtualisation.

As always, your views are welcomed.