So You’re Heading to VMworld 2015

Congrats on getting to go! Let’s start with that. VMworld 2015 along with the other major tech conferences are a very cool thing for the geek inclined in that they provide you, the geek, the necessary environment to mix business, pleasure and the absolute cutting edge of our chosen field.  Last year was my first VMworld and I have to say what I find very compelling about it is the element of community that seems to be everywhere surrounding the conference. It is not at all unusual to start your day at the conference in the morning and end it in the early hours of the next morning after a full night of community events and shindigs, many of which contain content just as valuable as what you get at the actual conference.

If you are a first timer then this post is for  you as I’d like to pass on what I learned last year to save you some pain points and give you a heads up as to what I found valuable. If you are a veteran then maybe you’ll find something new here too, but in any case it’s always worth sharing information.

Geography 101 (Click for full map): First off understand where you are staying and where you are going. Last year was my first time in San Francisco and while I found it a beautiful city the information provided on the VMworld hotel options list isn’t the fullest, frankly it needs to be topographical. If you are lucky enough this year to get a hotel that is south of Market Street, congrats! you are a rare breed. If not, and you are north of Market know that everything from Market to the north and west is impressively vertical. Downhill in the mornings, uphill in the evenings. While there are shuttles, I never saw a single one last year. If you’ve been looking for a reason to buy or use a step tracker such as a Fitbit or simply using your iPhone this is it. Even with a close hotel expect anywhere from 15-20,000 steps a day.

This Is Training, Right?: Next let’s talk about session scheduling. The Schedule Builder opened up two days ago meaning that if you haven’t already got in many of the sessions you may want already show as full. By all means do not be afraid to add yourself to the waitlist or click the “Add to Interests” star icon as VMware will move sessions to bigger rooms or even add additional sessions to meet need. The flip side of the sessions argument is also don’t freak out if you don’t get what you are wanting, but because included in your conference pass is the ability to watch all the sessions online after the fact. These will generally be available online a couple of weeks after the conference.

What this leads to is my personal philosophy this year. I am planning to only do a couple of sessions a day this year, with the priority being doing the group discussions where you have the ability to interact and the Expert Led Hands-On Workshops, a new feature this year. The former allows you to bang questions off of subject matter experts and start a dialog that you may be able to expand on later in the week on topics that you are really needing help with. The latter takes the concept of the Hands On Labs and puts it more into a classroom setting where instead of here’s a lab and go freeform , everybody works through a task together. While my interests will be larger than what I actually sit in, it’s easier to find time to watch the videos the other 51 weeks of the year.

So what will I be doing with the rest of my time? Well…

VMworld Is All About Community: One of the things that I find VMworld really gets right is that for every valuable thing directly related to the conference itself (sessions, the show floor, certification, etc.) there are a great many community-led things surrounding it.  Last year brought us the inaugural VMunderground/vBrownBag Opening Acts as a precursor to the VMunderground gathering and it had some great technical content in a smaller setting, allowing for great interaction. There will be vendor events galore throughout the week, if you have a particular company or set of companies you are wanting to evaluate for a solution reach out to them and see if they are doing anything special for the conference, most likely they’ll give you an invite. Are you wanting to get certified? There are even community led certification workshops going on through the week.

The Social Media Lounge is a great place to head when your brain gets fried from the sessions and even check out some sessions yourself. To start with you’ll find there is never enough room in the main auditorium for the major keynotes so I find it better to head over to the lounge, grab a table and watch on the big screen. Go early for that as well because it will fill up too. Also there if you can’t handle another 1.5 hour session, the vBrownBag (follow #vBrownBag) guys have a dedicated area with a full plate of 15-20 minute sessions on just about any topic you can think of. Want to talk about something yourself? Be sure to reach out to the guys and they may be able to accommodate you.

To find all of the above be sure to follow the various VMworld social media methods. Adding a #VMworld column in TweetDeck is probably the first place to start, these things are being announced all the time. At some point in the near future the Gatherings page will come back and that will be a pretty full listing as well. The key, especially for us locked in the dungeon SysAdmin types, is to not be afraid to be social. You are going to be at a gathering of some of the smartest thought leaders in your chosen profession, don’t be afraid to reach out and say hi as they are generally pretty nice people.

Well, that will just about do it for me. If you are going and you see me, please do say hi. In any event enjoy yourself and be ready, it’s a great week!

vExpert 2015

The 2015 vExpert List was released today and I am honored to be on the list for the second year in a row. The vExpert program was developed to recognize those who active discuss and help others with VMware’s virtualization products in a number of ways, but notably through blogging and social media. To other vExperts that may be reading this please accept my hearty congratulations on your inclusion, whether it’s your first or your fifth time around.

While it isn’t really the point, there are a number of benefits to being a vExpert with most of them compiled and listed by Romain Decker on his website. This can include anything from swag to free or heavily discounted training to NFR licenses for your home lab from many companies in the virtualization industry.  In truth what I’ve found to be the biggest benefit is getting to know, at least virtually, some exceptionally bright people in our field.

If for some reason you either didn’t apply and or didn’t make the cut this time around and would like to be considered for inclusion there will be another round of applications this year but it hasn’t been announce yet. A best bet to be notified of when this opens would be to either follow the VMTN blog feed or the @vExpert twitter account.

VMUG Advantage Eval Experience

Do you find yourself longing for the good old days of the VMware Technical Network (VMTN)? Do you have a home lab you are wanting to use to learn more about the VMware ecosphere. Well good news, the fine folks at VMUG today announced the addition of a service called Eval Experience to their already excellent service VMUG Advantage. Eval Experience will provide 365 day evaluation licenses for a variety of VMware’s products including

  • vCenter Server Server 5 Standalone
  • vSphere with Operations Management Enterprise Plus
  • vCloud Suite Standard
  • vRealize Operations Insight
  • vRealize Operations 6 Enterprise
  • vRealize Log Insight
  • vRealize Operations for Horizon
  • Horizon Advanced Edition
  • Virtual SAN (VSAN)

That is a great list that includes the vast majority of technologies that one wanting to break into virtualization would look for. Really the only thing missing in my opinion is NSX and frankly I’m flummoxed as to why it isn’t there considering VMware’s big push in the SDN direction of late.

In any case, considering the $200 price tag for an Advantage subscription this is a good deal for evaluation licensing kit. For comparison, the best deal I ever got for Microsoft Technet (#RIP) was $250 per year. Nevermind the fact that you get a number of other discounts and services as part of your subscription.

VeeamON 2014: Conference Season Veeam Style

I write this aboard about the coolest painted plane I’ve had the pleasure of flying on, en route to Las Vegas, NV to attend and speak at the inaugural VeeamON conference being held at the Cosmopolitan.  The conference is being held by Veeam Software, one of the leaders in virtualization backup, known best for its Veeam Backup & Replication product. The conference itself represents a pretty big milestone for a global company who in my opinion has done a very solid job of getting social right from the corporate standpoint. It is also going to time well due to the pending version 8 release of Backup & Replication.

I have been working with Veeam’s Backup & Replication software for a little over four years now and find it to be both powerful as well as easy to use, a nice combination when talking about the product responsible for the safety of your data. I will be speaking about my experiences with this software package from the small government organization standpoint and how it helps us deal with some of the particular challenges that come from being in that segment. My session will be on Wednesday at 8:30 AM.

This will be my first time speaking in this type of setting so we’ll see how it goes, but there will be no shortage of seasoned veterans providing sessions. Others speaking include a great deal of the staff from Veeam including Anton Gostev, Doug Hazelman, Rick Vanover, & Ben Milligan and those are just the ones that I’m personally familiar with. Further the virtualization industry will also be well represented by the likes of Chris Wahl, Symon Perriman, and Joep Piscaer.  Finally Alexis Ohanian of Reddit will serve as the celebrity speaker. All in all for a first time event they seem to have brought some very strong speakers to the event, we’ll see if I can hold up my part.

What To Look For
One of the things that I really like about this conference is the variety of options they are providing attendees to make the most of their time. Monday is Partner day, open only to their partners, but at the same time they will be having a variety of community driven Veeam User Group sessions for the rest of us attending. Also from the community side of things there will be a few vBrownbag sessions sprinkled through Tuesday and Wednesday. These are generally much shorter, 15-20 minutes and are great for people to share little tips and tricks of the industry. I myself will be providing a session on Physical Backup Strategies on Tuesday at 8:20 talking about how we use the open source software product Areca Backup to handle the role of backing up the few physical machines I have left in my environment.

One of the biggest draws and one that will be of great importance to both me and my employer is the ability to take the Veeam Certified Engineer (VMCE) course while attending. This course, a prerequisite to being able to sit the VMCE exam, is typically $3000 US and last 5 days. At the conference they will be condensing it into 2.5 days and conference attendees are able to take the course for only $650.

Also going on as an aside to the sessions are the Lab Warz game and offsite tour of a Modern Datacenter. Registrants for Lab Warz will compete against each other to create the ultimate data protection scenario for cash and prizes. The offsite tour will take a group of attendees to the Cobalt Cheyenne datacenter to see how datacenter is done on the large scale.

Keynotes
Even f you are unable to attend yourself the Keynotes on both Tuesday and Wednesday will be streamed live.  The big news most likely will be the announcement of the general release of version 8 of Veeam’s Availability Suite which includes the Backup & Replication product as well at the Veeam ONE virtualization infrastructure monitoring package.  Both of these products have been in beta for the past few months and from my own personal experiences with them Veeam has done a very good job of making great software better.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a few surprises announcements there as well. It’s not everyday you get to host your own inaugural global event, might as well take advantage

Conclusion
I’m going to go ahead and sign out here for now. Be sure to check back later as I plan to update frequently through the week with news and information.

VMworld 2014 Rollup

Ok, so yes, it’s been more than a month since VMworld  2014 ended here in the US. I realize I’m a little late to the game in trying to get these thoughts down, but still necessary if for no other reason than for my own memory’s sake. In the mean time since getting back I’ve been a little busy; rolling out a whole new Veeam Backup infrastructure, completing my presentation for the inaugural VeeamON conference (more on that in a post later this week), and just this past weekend completing the rollout of 10 GbE for my lil’ datacenter.  All in all September has been a very busy month, but back to the matter at hand.

There have been a bunch really great write ups about what happened at VMworld 2014 such as Dan Barber’s full series and Tom Hollingsworth’s post on why Moscone just might be outgrown (it is). Because of this I’m not going to completely go down the road of covering things, but with this being my first time attending I’m going to talk about some of my key takeaways about what interested me and my impressions of the conference.

20140825_174802000_iOSBe Brave Young Admin- Pat Gelsinger opened up the conference by telling us all that we must be brave, unafraid to explore new worlds, to boldly go where no man has go… Sorry got derailed there. In short we as admins must not be afraid to branch out and try new things; stop thinking about ourselves as being the virtualization person or the network person or the storage person, etc. Instead we need to open up our tool box and be all these things in the new hyperconverged world. Now the cynic in me says we need to be brave so we won’t be afraid to buy VMware’s forays into the turf of traditionally other folks such as NSX and VSAN, but there’s a small vein of truth there. Once these technologies become more mature, and I don’t think they’re there yet, at a bare minimum we as admins are going to have to support them in some capacity.

In the Land of NSX the Network Turned vGuy Shall Be King– Last year when I went to CiscoLive I was absolutely awed by converged brain power there; not only in the networking fields but the breadth of knowledge of other technologies from virtualization to voice was amazing to me. At VMworld there were also a great deal of very, very smart people but what I found funny is almost all of them in the course of the discussion would have one portion or another of the virtualized world that was their self proclaimed weak spot (mine’s storage for those keeping track at home). Of these people it amazed me how many really didn’t have a good, fundamental knowledge of networking. In the course of one conversation with a few VCDX preppers there was a discussion of troubleshooting a particular issue in their design build out and they didn’t understand the concept of troubleshooting up the stack, something I consider day 1 type stuff.

Because of this, I continuously got the feeling the entire week that the person who came to virtualization via a networking background as opposed to a systems background is going to be a pretty desirable dude (or dudette). If nothing else I highly recommend those who come from the systems side either pick up a copy of the Chris Wahl & Steve Pantol’s Networking for VMware Administrators or check out some form of CCNA level training.

banner_LP_EVO_RAILEVO:Rail Seems Neat But Constrains Itself– In my humble opinion the big announcement of VMworld 2014 was that of a new line of products called EVO and it’s first product, EVO:Rail. EVO:Rail is developed entirely by VMware to be the drop in hyperconverged system you need to get up and running and creating VMs quickly, in 15 minutes as the boasts go. Each system will have 13 TB of usable VSAN storage backed by 4 compute nodes each with dual Ivy Bridge CPUs, 192 GB of RAM and 2x10GbE NICs, all of which tucked nicely within a 2U package. This is visualized to the admin through a brand new, HTML5 interface backed by vSphere Enterprise Plus and Log Insight.

As it was being announce this very much so excited me; aside from the storage one of these could power all my core needs. My enthusiasm waned though when I realized that you would have to go outside of the nice and simple interface to be able to access any additional storage other than what’s in the box. The official answer is that if you run out of any of the above resources you just drop in another EVO:Rail unit.  By all means though if you get a chance it is worth taking a look at. You can even play around in the interface via the EVO:Rail Hands On Lab.

I will say that I think one of the ways that VMware really go the idea right is that they aren’t trying to use this to get into the hardware business themselves, instead they create the spec and have already partnered with a handful of vendors, most notably Dell and SuperMicro, to actually build and sell the boxes.

20140824_153146365_iOSCommunity Really Does Equal Good– Yes, I know I keep harping on this but one thing VMware REALLY gets right with their conference is creating an environment where community driven side events can not only happen, but flourish. Between providing a significant chunk of valuable real estate in the Hang Space for the vBrownBag crew to do a  great deal of sessions throughout the week and things like the various tweetups or other networking events there is no shortage of things that are conference related but not necessarily created by VMware themselves. Heck they even have a sanctioned 5k race to go along with the event (29:04 finishing time for yours truly.)  Frankly, one of the most valuable chunks of time I spent all week was in the VM Underground/vBrownBag Opening Acts, a series of 6 1 hour sessions that covered the gamut of career and social media to storage and networking. All of these sessions were recorded and I would highly recommend checking them out.

Conclusion– All in all I very much enjoyed and felt I learned a great deal at VMworld 2014. The sessions that I attended, which were plentiful, were top notch and led by many of the brightest minds in the industry. I currently have an active project going on selection of our next wave of storage for our virtualized infrastructure so it was great to be able to hit the show floor and do direct comparisons between those on my short list. From an organizational standpoint I still feel like VMware still doesn’t quite have its act all the way together. With my only points of reference being the extremely mature CiscoLive events and the inaugural VeeamON event it seemed to me that VMware event staff are in a perpetual situation of playing catchup, even more so than the others. The website didn’t get updated from the previous year’s edition until right before registration opened up, and even then up until a couple of weeks before the event there were still “Coming Soon” sections to be found. Maybe a better example is the case of the ever popular VMware party. It seemed evident from the lack of announcement until right before the event that VMware was trying to find a good location where you could hold everybody for the annual VMworld Party and wasn’t having much luck. AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants is the usual choice but the Giants had a homestand. Because of this they essentially cleared out the keynote and hangspace locations, crammed as many people as possible into the room to watch the Black Keys, and whoever couldn’t fit got to watch on a big screen out on the lawns of the Yerba Buena Gardens.  In any event, I really hope they get it worked out and have a better plan for all of the above for next year.

VMworld 2014, Day 1

This morning was the opening Keynote with Pat Gelsinger and the gang and while there were some announcements (more on that later) the key take away is that the time is upon us IT folk to be brave. It is a time to cast aside concerns about cloud and your job as it currently is done because your role will be automated and start giving all your money for VMWare. No need to concern yourself with hardware, that can all be white boxed, but only think about things such as networking and storage as just small components of the greater Hyper-Converged compute nodes regardless of location. I tended to look upon this with great skepticism as I don’t think we’re quite ready or should be ready to put the network guys out to pasture, replaced with new shiny Virtualization Admins who know what an IP address is and most of the time understand what a VLAN does for you.

large_imageBut intermingled with the Mierda of Info Tech talk there were some new announcements, the biggest of which was that of a new product line, EVO, who purpose to be be the hyperconverged boxes you are looking for, putting Vmware into direct competition with the likes of Nutanix and what sounds like their own partnership VCE vBlock. In the case of the former the EVO:Rail is the ready for primetime product, with actual hardware available here to look and see through any of their partners on the product. The idea is that within a single 2U enclosure you have a series of mixed flash and spinning disks, 4 blades each containing 2 6 core CPUs, 192 GB of RAM, and 2 10 Gbps uplinks augmented by a 1 Gbps link for IPMI and remote management. All of this is powered by a vSphere Enterprise Plus level environment utilizing VSAN and distributed vSwitch masked out with a shiny new HTML5 based web client like interface. I have high hopes this means the end is near for the flash based vSphere Web Client.

The second announcement of the EVO line is EVO:Rack which is coming soon, but it is essentially a roll in rack based solution with everything you need to start up or exand your data center. If that sound familiar to you you’ve probably seen systems such as vBlock and FlexPod.  In all the take away regarding the EVO product line is get your system up and running and start deploying VMs in an exceptionally small window of time. I will say  was a bit disappointed when I actually met with the Dell folks regarding their version of the EVO:Rail product in that it provides an effective 13 TB of available datastore space and the system provides no ability to add external datastores at all.

Back into Vmware’s bread and butter in the software space there was a good deal of announcement of new versions and rebranding of their product line including vSphere 6 being in beta which we already knew, the the vCloud Hybrid product being rebranded as vCloud Air, and vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) was renamed vRealize, both of which with a few noticable upgrades.

In the training space we now have a Vmware certification track for us network folks centered around the NSX product. These certifications include the now available VCP-NV and the soon to be released VCIX (Vmware Certified Internetworking Expert) and VCDX-NV.  Interestingly they are providing horizontal opt outs for those of us already network certified by for a short period time allowing CCNAs and CCNPs to take the exam without a course requirements. If you are a current VCP you will also be able to take the exam without course requirements.

VMWorld 2014 Expectations

A little over one week from now I will be hopping a flight to San Francisco for VMWare’s VMworld Conference, my first, held at the ever popular Moscone Center. Last year I had the privilege of attending Cisco Systems’ Cisco Live but from everything I’ve seen, read and heard as well as my experience in getting even to this point VMWorld seems to be a bit of a different animal. In this post I’ll cover some of my impressions so far and things I’m looking forward to as well as a list of the sessions that I’m (at least at this point) scheduled to attend.

Costs

In terms of the price of the conference and directly related matters (outside educational events, community shindigs) VMWorld is pretty reasonable with a standard cost of $1995 knocked down to $1695 if you register early.  There also a variety of ways to even get discounts under that. In my case I was supposed to be eligible for another $100 off either because I am a VCP or from my VMUG Advantage subscription, but because of a computer system flub on their part they showed me as an Alumni of VMWorld giving me another $100, making the final $1495. I offered it up as a mistake and they said to let it go. Further I opted for the $55 5k fun run Sunday morning which isn’t bad as well as the vBrownBag/ VMUnderground Opening Acts panel educational series Sunday afternoon at the great value of free.  I highly recommend these as the line up looks great, filled with a who’s who of the virtualization social world riffing on a variety of topics.

Past that the costs get a little nuts when compared to my experience last year for Cisco in Orlando, FL.  You really couldn’t even get in the door of the conference hotels for less than $270 a night and even then many of the available options filled up within the first two weeks of registration being open. Compare that to the $139 a night I paid for the Courtyard 2 blocks from the venue in Orlando.  Further I’ve been told to expect higher than normal costs for food (the conference food is evidently atrocious and I shouldn’t really consider that an option) as well as flight cost for going across country and it really starts to add up.

Community Focus/ Party Party Party

To truly condense what I think I know about VMWorld in comparing to CLUS so far is while there is a healthy dose of outside get togethers available at CLUS VMWorld vendors seem to take the sponsored events to a whole other level.  Every single night, including Saturday when I get in there is multiple vendor or community sponsored events going on, almost all of which start with a “v,” vBreakfast, vStogies, vBeers, vFlipCup vOdgeball, etc.  They even go so far as to provide a iCalendar with nothing but theSocial Events. Further one of the nice things that I’m not personally going to be able to utilize this year is a regular’s wife organizes a variety of sponsored activities for the spouses who decide to travel as well called, aptly, Spousetivities.

All of this lends itself to the basic idea that one of the things that VMWare has fostered very well is the sense of community; that while the conference itself provides a trove of education through its sessions and such the true value of the conference is the uniting of a community that is already integrated through social media. Last year I dutifully attended a large number of sessions at CiscoLive where I truly learned a great deal, but it was the time just casually discussing things in the Social Media Hub where I truly felt enriched by the experience. VMWare seems to understand this as well.

Where in the World is Jim

As I sat down to write this and dumped the list of sessions which I’ve scheduled to do so I realized that I’ve scheduled more than I thought I had.  Another thing that I learned last year is that sessions that seemed like a great idea before hand don’t seem that great when you are in the middle of a conversation regarding a topic you are very much so interested in with people you consider far smarter than yourself.  I had this thought a number of times with people such as Chris Wahl, Jody Lemoine, Amy Arnold, and Jake Snyder.  So for that reason I don’t think I’m going to find myself shy this year to hop on the VMWorld app and dump myself out of sessions if the timing isn’t right.  The beauty of these major conferences is that all the sessions are recorded and later access is included in the cost of attendance.

Anyway, for now this is what I’m looking forward to seeing:

  • NET1214  —  NSX Certification – the Next Step in Your Networking Career
  • OPT3021-SPO  —  Size Does Matter: Performance, Uptime, Growth and You
  • INF1469  —  Extreme Performance Series: Monster VM Performance
  • INF1212  —  Best Practices in Virtualizing Remote Offices and Branch Offices with VMware
  • SDDC1600  —  Art of IT Infrastructure Design: The Way of the VCDX – Panel
  • STO3162  —  Software Defined Storage: Satisfy the Requirements of Your Application at the Granularity of a Virtual Disk with Virtual Volumes (VVols)
  • STO2754-SPO  —  New Kids on the Storage Block, File and Share: Lessons in Storage and Virtualization
  • STO2496  —  vSphere Storage Best Practices: Next-Gen Storage Technologies
  • INF1192  —  Ask the Experts : Design Advice for Small and Midsize Business
  • INF2336  —  Separating Fact from Fiction – ESXi Hypervisor Security
  • NET2745  —  vSphere Distributed Switch: Technical Deep Dive
  • INF2427  —  DRS : Advanced Concepts, Best Practices and Future Directions
  • BCO2701  —  vSphere HA Best Practices and FT Tech Preview
  • SDDC1176  —  Ask the Expert vBloggers
  • EUC2621  —  Storage Overload: How to Make Sense of Storage Choices in a VDI.next World
  • INF1601  —  Taking Reporting and Command Line Automation to the Next Level with PowerCLI
  • STO3247  —  VMware VVOL Technical Preview with Dell Storage

As you can tell my focus this year is really on storage, something I know I’m a bit weak on but also a topic that is currently my employer’s greatest need at this time.  Other than that I’m really looking forward to a lot of the panel discussions with many of the names I’ve come to know in the community.

First Impressions Are Important

While I am very much so excited for the trip for all of the reasons listed above, I really do feel like I need to put the bad out there with the good. Keep in mind that the only thing I have to compare VMWorld’s setup against is CiscoLive, a conference that when you include it’s earlier versions has been going on for 25 years, so when I talk about how the lead up to the conference experience has gone for me I really do feel like I am comparing against the gold standard.  With that disclaimer made, from a organization standpoint I feel like the conference is a bit of a mess.  With Cisco’s annual get together before you leave the conference floor for the last time registration is already open for the next year, VMWorld didn’t even have an updated website until about 3 months before the event begins. Even with that up until a couple of weeks ago there were still portions of the site labeled “coming soon.”

I could really go on and on with things that have irked me a bit, but my take on it is that the organization of VMWare’s conference really doesn’t seem to ramp up on the same time frame as Cisco, I feel like Cisco at any point in time is working at least a year or two in advance on all facets of the get together, where the feeling for me with VMworld is about 6 months out somebody went “oh crap, we forgot to plan the conference!”  It might be completely off base but that’s where I’m at.

Conclusion

All in all though I am very much so looking forward to the event. Truthfully I’ve never been further west than Minnesota so the idea of California is appealing in and of itself, but the opportunity to get together with some of the brightest minds in virtualization today as well as seeing what next both from VMWare as well as their related vendors is appealing to say the least.

If you’re going I hope to see you there and if you want to get together feel free to reach me @k00laidIT.