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.

Thoughts on the vSphere 6 Open Beta

Ahead of its annual Vmworld conference (which I will be attending this year, yay!) VMware has announced the version 6.0 of its vSphere line of products including ESXi, vCenter and just about every other VMware related topic I’ve written about here.  The company has chosen to mix it up a little bit this year in that they have made the beta program itself public, but in joining the actual program you are required to sign a NDA keeping anything you learn private. To me I take this to mean that while the wire structure is there this is still very much a work in progress, with the community at large having the opportunity to greatly influence what we are going to be seeing in the final product.

As I cannot directly talk about anything I’m learning from the beta itself I highly recommend anybody with a little space to lab go sign up for the beta, start providing feedback and try it out for yourself. Instead what I’m going to discuss here is my wish list for things to be included when 6.0 finally hits gold as well as the basics of the long discussed Virtual Volumes product that was released into beta along with vSphere.

Wish List

As I mentioned above, the beta for vSphere 6 requires a non-disclosure agreement, even if it is open to the public.  To learn what is actually coming in vSphere 6 I urge you to go join the beta for yourself as there is a great deal of information in there for those who wish to really learn and understand the product(s).  Below is a list of things that generically myself and a great many others very much so wish to see as this release comes to be.

  • Bye Bye VI- Consider this your warning, the desktop Virtual Infrastructure client should be no more this time around.  We’ve been warned for a couple of years ago that when the next major release of vSphere comes the Web Client will be the only option. While it’s a great idea and vendor integration to it seems to be becoming very handy it does make me wish for…
  • HTML 5 based web client- Seriously VMware, 2005 called and wants its website back.  The current iteration of the web client is based on Adobe Flash which means proprietary code, security bug and no iPads. In a day and time when you have available open standards to allow for similar functionality, why aren’t you using it?
  • A full featured vCenter Appliance- with vSphere 5 we began to start to see the vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) presented as a viable option to the application running on top of a Windows Server. That said it’s got some major drawbacks that in my opinion are deal breakers in terms of replacing my Windows vCenter boxes. These include
    • Update Manager support
    • Linked Mode
    • Greater database support (at a bare minimum MS-SQL)
  • Fix SSO/ Directly utilize AD/LDAP for an identity source-  SSO got better with vSphere 5.5 as compared to 5.0 and 5.1, but I am still flummoxed by the idea that Vmware feels that they need to reinvent the authentication wheel.  I would guess that the implementations they are in where there isn’t already some form of available authentication source such as Active Directory or Kerberos are few.  Please leverage those system and cut out the middle man.
  • Virtual Volumes- see below but this is a pretty good bet to be there
  • Greater IPv6- IPv6 support has been around for a while but if utilized in vSphere 5 it will break some things and still requires you to at least have a IPv4 loopback configured.
  • Marvin related things- VMware has been hinting at this all summer, the super-secret “Project Marvin.” There is a little real information and a lot of speculation going on around the internet. Essentially it is described as “the first hyperconverged infrastructure appliance” leading many to think that either VMware is about to get into the hardware game or is partnering with somebody to do the same.

Virtual Volumes

large_VVolsVirtual Volumes is storage centric feature that has been discussed and released to the public as a technical preview since at least 2012 and is a spin off idea from the original concept of VAAI. Typically when creating a new VM a VMware Admin needs to either contact the Storage Admin carve out a LUN each time, do so themselves, or what many, myself included do, create impossibly large LUNs and then have multiple VMs within which is actually pretty wasteful and negatively impacts system performance.  The goal of VVOLs is to make storage VM-centric rather than LUN-centric by leveraging that vSphere API for Array Integration (VAAI) to make the deployment of storage just a component of deploying a VM in whatever manner you choose to do so.  Put as simply as possible…

VVOLs is the storage of VM files directly on the storage system without a LUN middle man.

If you think about all the different ways you utilize storage with your virtualization strategy this makes even more sense.  You can take snapshots and create at both the VM and LUN level, what if they are one and the same?

Of course this is not going to be possible without some support from vendor ecosphere and that apparently is coming in droves.  As VVOLS enters into the beta program alongside vSphere 6 we are seeing  demonstrations of support from a variety of storage providers including Dell, NetApp, EMC, HP, Nimble Storage, Solid Fire, Tintri and open beta programs from HP, NetApp, IBM and Dell.

To really take the deep dive into what VVOLs is and how to implement I recommend reading these posts from Cormac Hogan and Duncan Epping as well as enrolling in the beta for yourself if you have some supported hardware.

Getting Started with Veeam Backup & Replication v7

Come one, come all virtualization geeks, the latest installment of Veeam‘s excellent Backup & Replication suite has arrived.  As noted in lots of places, v7 boasts a boatload of new and new-to-them features that the community has been requesting for some time.  Among these are a few that I am quite excited about as they should in theory make my job as an admin easier; built in WAN acceleration, support for tape libraries, a vSphere Web Client Plugin, and the ability to create backup copy jobs to support your basic Grandfather-Father-Son backup strategy without external help. Among the biggies are:

  • Built in WAN acceleration * – will be great for me, I’ll only need to take one backup of each VM a night now (didn’t like the rsync or xcopy methods).
  • Ability to take backups from storage snapshots * (as long as you have HP Storage devices)- According to Veeam, should be high performance, capable of near continuous data protection without impacting production performance
  • Plugin for the vSphere Web Client * – manage Veeam directly from within the vSphere Web Client
  • Self Service Recovery * – Let them eat cake!
  • Tape Library Support – Straight to tape from Veeam as long as it can directly see it.  This has been requested for a while
  • Virtual Labs for Hyper-V – Us VMware guys don’t get to have all the fun now, you can now sandbox and test backups in Hyper-V now too.
  • Parallel Processing of VMs and disks within VMs
  • Backup Copy Jobs – Built in ability to create a Grandfather-Father-Son policy on per VM and per Job basis.

* These items require the new Enterprise Plus licensing level.  While Veeam is currently giving existing customers free upgrades from Enterprise to Enterprise Plus, understand that taking the upgrade will make your support contract cost more.

There are a great deal of other new features, for more please take a look at their what’s new in v7 document.

I’ve got it installed myself and so far I am impressed.  The installation went very smoothly both on Windows Server 2008 and 2012, with a minor hiccup with the Enterprise Manager required components install requiring a reboot midway, Veeam didn’t know how to handle that so I had to cancel install, reboot, and then begin again. Along the way I learned that the Search Server (capability to search within your backup files for a give guest file) has now been built into the Enterprise Manager component, which is nice, especially if you remember to turn on the guest file system indexing setting in your jobs. 🙂

So What’s Missing?

While I am extremely happy with the obvious work that the guys at Veeam have put into this release, there are still things I wish they would get around to.  I would love to see some kind of capability in regards to physical servers, even if it is nothing more than file synchronization jobs.  Many if not most of us systems guys who manage a virtualized environment still have at least a couple physical boxes around that for one reason or another can’t or won’t be virtualized. In my case this includes a system that houses a 69 GB flat file database that is slow when virtualized no matter what we do as well as an assortment of SOHO domain controller/ file servers that because of their size and the number of people they support it doesn’t make sense to pay to setup them up virtually.  The other alternative is to manage some kind of “other” backup facility for these servers, which makes it a bit of a pain.

Further I see that the delete restore points of no longer managed VMs is still just a number of days thing, rather than having the option to turn it completely off. At no point should any backup software remove data from a backup chain without the backup admin expressly requesting the process to happen.

So What’s Next?Veeam Backup Infrastructure DiagramBecause of the capabilities the WAN Accelerator and Backup Copy Jobs now give me, I’m taking a look at completely restructuring the way that I manage my backups.  After reading documentation and working it out for myself the data flow should look something like shown to the right.  If you see any holes in what I’ve done please feel free to comment or let me know in other ways.

I’m also going to soon be working on moving the test environment to production, with the most noticeable change being the move my production backup infrastructure from Windows Storage Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012 Standard.  Why you may ask?  Server 2012 now include the ability to do volume level deduplication, something that when paired with Veeam’s already built in deduplication process should equal some pretty serious disk real estate savings.  As a test launch I’ve setup dedupe on a VM and copied approximately 250 GB of backup files over to it.  The result afterwards is Windows saved me about 10%, less than Veeam is claiming, but better than nothing.  I think when I throw some of the bigger jobs at it I will see that percentage go up.  Veeam has a good article with video about the process and I’ll have a blog on how to get Server 2012 deduplication up either here or over on 4sysops soon.