Veeam Backup Repository Best Practices Session Notes

After a couple days off I’m back to some promised VeeamON content. A nice problem that VeeamON had this year is the session choices were much more diverse and there were a lot more of them. Unfortunately this led to some overlap of some really great sessions. A friend of mine, Jaison Bailey of vBrisket fame and fortune, got tied up in another session and was unable to attend what I considered one of the best breakout sessions all week, Anton Gostev‘s Backup Repository Best Practices so he asked me to post my notes.

For those not too familiar with Veeam repos they can essentially be any manner of addressable disk space, whether local, DAS, NAS, SAN or even cloud, but when you start taking performance into account you have to get much more specific. Gostev, who is the Product Manager for Backup & Replication, lines out the way to do it right.

Anyway, here’s the notes including links to information when possible. Any notations I have are in bold and italicized.

Don’t underestimate the importance of Performance

  • Performance issues may impact RTOs

Five Factors of choosing Storage

  • Reliability
  • Fast backups
  • Fast restores
  • DR from complete storage loss
  • Lowest Cost

Ultimate backup Architecture

  • Fast, reliable primary storage for fastest backups, then backup copy to Secondary storage both onsite AND offsite
  • Limit number of RP on primary, leverage cheap secondary
  • Selectively create offsite copies to tape, dr site, or cloud

Best Repo: Low End

  • Any Windows or Linux Server
    • Can also serve as backup /backup proxy server
  • Physical server storage options
    • Local Storage
    • DAS (JBOD)
    • SAN LUN
  • Virtual
    • iSCSI LUN connected to in guest Volume

Best Backup Repo: High End

Backup Repos to Avoid

  • Low-end NAS  & appliances
    • If stuck with it, use iSCSI instead of other protocols * Ran into this myself with a Qnap array as my secondary storage, not really even feasible to run anything I/O heavy on it
  • SMB (CIFS) network shares
    • Lots of issues with existing SMB clients
    • If share is backed up by server, add actual server instead
  • VMDK on VMFS *Nothing wrong with running a repo from a virtual machine, but don’t store backups within, instead connect an iSCSI LUN directly to the VM and format NTFS
    • Extra logic on the data path- more chances for data corruption
    • Dependent on vSphere being functional
  • Windows Server 2012 Deduplication (scalability) *I get his rationale, but honestly I live and die by 2012 R2 deduplication, it just takes more care and feeding than other options. See my session’s slides for notes on how I implement it.

Immediate Future: Technologies to keep in mind

  • Server 2016 Deduplication
    • Same deduplication, far greater performance and scale (64 TB files) *This really will be a big deal in this space, there is a lot of upside to a simple dedupe ability rolled into a Windows server
  • ReFS 2.0
    • Great fit for backup repos because it has built in data corruption protection
    • Veeam is currently working on some things with it

Raw Disk

  • Raid10 whenever you can (2x write penalty, but capacity suffers)
  • Raid5 4x write penalty, greater risks)
  • Raid6 severe performance overhead (6x write penalty
  • Lookup Maximum performance per spindle
  • A single job can only keep about 6-8 spindles busy- use multiple jobs if you have them to saturate
  • RAID volume
    • Stripe Size
      • Typical I/O for Veeam is 25k-512KB
      • Windows Server 2012 defaults to 64KB
      • At least 128 KB stripe size is highly recommended
        • Huge change for things like Synthetics, etc
    • RAID array
      • Fill as many drives as possible from the start to avoid expansion
      • Low-end sorage systems have significant performance problems
    • File System
      • NTFS (Best Option)
        • Larger block size does not affect performance, but it helps avoid excessive fragmentation so 64KB block size recommend
        • Format with /L to enable larger file records
        • 16 TB max file size limit before 2012 (now 256)
        • * Full string of best practices for format NTFS partition from CLI: Format <drive:> /L /Q /FS:NTFS /A:8192
      • ReFS not ready for prime time yet
      • Other
    • Backup Job Settings
      • Always a performance vs disk space choice
      • Reverse incremental backup mode is 3x I/O per block
      • Consider forever incremental instead
      • Evaluate transform performance
      • Repository load
        • Limit concurrent jobs to a reasonable amount
        • Use ingest rate throttling for cross-SAN backups

Dedupe Storage: Pains and Gains

  • Gains
    • True global dedupe
    • Lowest cost/ TB
  • Do not use deduplicating storage as your primary backup repository!
  • But if you must leverage vendor-specific integrations, use backup modes without full backup transformation, us active fulls instead of synthetics
  • If backup performance is still bad, consider VTL
  • 16TB+ backup storage optimization for 4MB blocks (new)
  • Parallel processing may impact  dedupe ratios

Secondary Storage Best Practices

  • Vendor-specific integrations can make performance better
  • Test Backup Copy retention processing performance. If too slow consider Active Full option of backup copy jobs (new in v9)
  • If already invested and stuck
    • Use as primary storage and leverage native replication to copy backups to DR

Backup Job Settings BP

Built-In deduplication

  • Keep ON for best performance (except lowest end devices) even if it isn’t going to help you with Per VM backup files
  • Compression
    • Instead of disabling keep Optimal enabled in job and use “decompress before storing- even locally
    • Dedupe-friendly isn’t very friendly any more (new)
      • Will hinder faster recovery in v9
  • Vendor recommendations are sometimes self-serving  to achieve higher dedupe ratios but negatively effect performance

Disk-based Storage Gotchas

  • Gostev loves tape
    • Cheaper
    • Reliable
    • Read-only
    • Customer Success is the biggie
    • Tape is dead
      • Amazon, Google & 50% of Veeam customers disagree
  • Storage-level corruption
    • RAID Controllers are your worst enemies
    • Firmware and software bugs are common, too
    • VT402 Data Corruption tomorrow at 1:30 for more
  • Ransomware  possible

The 2 Part of the 3-2-1 Rule

  • 3 copies, 2 different medias, 1 offsite
  • Completely different storage type!

Storage based replication

  • Betting exclusively on storage-based replication will cost you your job
  • Pros:
    • Fantastic performance
    • Efficient bandwidth utilization
  • Cons:
    • Replicates bad data too
    • Backups remain in a single fault domain

Backup Copy vs. Storage-Based Copy

  • Pros:
    • Breaks the data loop (isolated source and target storage)
    • Implicitly validates all source data during its operation
    • Includes backup files health check
  • Cons:
    • Higher load on backup storage

Make Tape out of drives

  • Low End:
    • Use rotated drives
    • Supported for both primary & backup copy jobs
  • Mid-range:
    • Keep an off-site copy off-prem (cloud)
  • High End:
    • Use hardware-based WORM solutions

Virtualize your Repository (SOBR)

  • simplify backup storage and backup job management
  • Reduce storage hardware spending by allowing disks to be fully utilized
  • Improve backup storage performance and scalability

 

Getting Started with rConfig on CentOS 7

I’ve been a long time user of RANCID for change management on network devices but frankly it’s always left me feeling a little bit of a pain to use and not particularly modern. I recently decided it was time for my OpenNMS/RANCID server to be rebuilt, moving OpenNMS up to a CentOS 7 installation and in doing so thought it was time to start looking around for an network device configuration management alternative. As is many times the way in the SMB space, this isn’t a task that actual budgetary dollars are going to go towards so off to Open Source land I went!  rConfig immediately caught my eye, looking to me like RANCID’s hipper, younger brother what with its built in web GUI (through which you can actually add your devices), scheduled tasks that don’t require you to manually edit cron, etc. The fact that rConfig specifically targets CentOS as its underlaying OS was just a whole other layer of awesomesauce on top of everything else.

While rConfig’s website has a couple of really nice guides once you create a site login and use it, much to my dismay I found that they hadn’t been updated for CentOS 7 and while working through them I found that there are actually some pretty significant differences that effect the setup of rConfig. Some difference of minor (no more iptables, it’s firewalld) but it seems httpd has had a bit of an overhaul. Luckily I was not walking the virgin trail and through some trial, error and most importantly google I’ve now got my system up and running. In this post I’m going to walk through the process of setting up rConfig on a CentOS minimal install with network connectivity with hopes that 1) it may help you, the two reader’s I’ve got, and 2) when I inevitably have to do this again I’ll have documentation at hand.

Before we get into it I will say there are few artistic licenses I’ve taken with rConfig’s basic setup.

  1. I’ll be skipping over the network configuration portion of the basic setup guide. CentOS7 has done a great job of having a single configuration screen at install where you setup your networking among other things.
  2. The system is designed to run on MySQL but for a variety of reasons I prefer MariaDB. The portions of the creator’s config guide that deal with these components are different from what you see here but will work just fine if you do them they way described.
  3. I’m virtualized kind of guy so I’ll be installing the newly supported open-vm-tools as part of the config guide. Of course, if you aren’t installing on ESXi you won’t be needing these.
  4. Finally before proceeding please be sure to go ahead and run a yum update to make sure everything’s up to date and you really do have connectivity.

Disabling Stuff

Even with the minimal installation there are things you need to stop to make things work nice, namely the security measures. If you are installing this in the will this would be a serious no no, but for a smaller shop behind a well configured firewall it should be ok.

vi /etc/sysconfig/selinux

Once in the file you need to change the “ SELINUX=enforcing ” line to “ SELINUX=disabled “. To do that hit “i” and then use vi like notepad with the arrow keys. When done hit Esc to exit insert mode and “ :wq ” to save and exit.

Installing the Prerequisites

Since we did the minimal install there are lots of things we need to install. If you are root on the box you should be able to just cut and paste the following into the cli and everything gets installed. As mentioned in the original Basic Config Guide, you will probably want to cut and past each line to make sure everything gets installed smoothly.

Autostart Services

Now that we’ve installed all that stuff it does us no good if it isn’t running. CentOS 6 used the command chkconfig on|off to control service autostart. In CentOS 7 all service manipulation is now done under the systemctl command. Don’t worry too much, if you use chkconfig or service start both at this point will still alias to the correct commands.

Finalize Disable of SELinux

One of the hard parts for me was getting the step 5/6 in the build guide to work correctly. If you don’t do it the install won’t complete, but it also doesn’t work right out of the box. To fix this the first line in prerequisites installs the attr package which contains the setfattr executable. Once that’s installed the following checks to see if the ‘.’ is still in the root directories ACLs and removes it from the /home directory. By all means if you know of a better way to accomplish this (I thought of putting the install in the /opt directory) please let me know in the comments or on twitter.

MySQL Secure Installation on MariaDB

MariaDB accepts any commands you would normally use with MySQL. the mysql_secure_installation script is a great way to go from baseline to well secured quickly and is installed by default. The script is designed to

  • Set root password
  • Remove anonymous users
  • Disallow root logon remotely
  • Remove test database and access to it
  • Finally reload the privilege tables

I tend to take all of the defaults with the exception of I allow root login remotely for easier management. Again, this would be a very bad idea for databases with external access.

Then follow the prompts from there.

As a follow up you may want to allow remote access to the database server for management tools such as Navicat or Heidi SQL. To do so enter the following where X.X.X.X is the IP address you will be administering from. Alternatively you can use root@’%’ to allow access from anywhere.


Configure VSFTPd FTP Software

Now that we’ve got the basics of setting up the OS and the underlying applications out of the way let’s get to the business of setting up rConfig for the first time. First we need to edit the sudoers file to allow the apache account access to various applications. Begin editing the sudoers file with the visudo  command, arrow your way to the bottom of the file and enter the following:

rConfig Installation

First you are going to need to download the rConfig zip file from their website. Unfortunately the website doesn’t seem to work with wget so you will need to download it to a computer with a GUI  and then upload it via SFTP to your rConfig server. (ugh) Once the file is uploaded to your /home directory back at your server CLI do the following commands

Next we need to copy the the httpd.conf file over to /etc/httpd/conf directory. This is where I had the most issues of all in that the conf file included is for httpd in CentOS 6 and there are some module differences between 6 and 7. Attached here is a modified version that I was able to get working successfully after a bunch of failures. The file found here (httpd.txt) will need to replace the existing httpd.conf before the webapp will successfully start. If the file is copied to the /home/rconfig directory the shell commands would be

As long as the httpd service starts backup up correctly you should now be good to go with the web portion of the installation which is pretty point and click. Again for the sake of brevity just follow along at the rconfig installation guide starting with section rConfig web installation and follow along to the end. We’ll get into setting up devices in a later post, but it is a pretty simple process if you are used to working with networking command lines.

Community and the Rural IT Professional

I was born and raised in a small area between Charleston and Huntington, WV. While I recognized my hometown, Scott Depot, was a small town growing up I thought of both those cities as just that, proper cities with all the benefits and drawbacks that go with them. As I grew older and my worldly view wider I came to realize that what I considered the big city was to many a minor suburb, but never the less it was and still is my home.

This lack of size and economic opportunity has never stood out more than when I began my career in Information Technology. After graduating from Marshall University with what I still believe to be a very respectable skill set many of my fellow graduates flocked to bigger areas such as Columbus, OH, RTP and Atlanta. I chose for a variety of reasons to stick around here and make a career of it and all in all while not always the most stable it has been fairly successful.

There are very few large datacenters here with most datacenters being composed of a handful of racks. Some go to work for various service providers, others enter the VAR space and I found my niche in what I like to call the Hyper Converged Administrator role. The HCA tends to wear most if not all of the hats; virtualization, storage, networking, server administration, etc. I consider myself somewhat blessed that I’ve managed to avoid the actual desktop admin stuff for most of my career, but still some of that too.

In the past couple of years I’ve got more and more active within the social IT community by way of conference attendance, social media and blogging and while it hasn’t necessarily changed the direction my career is going it has radically changed it in that I have found great opportunities for growing my personal knowledge. This growth in some cases has been very strictly technology related by way of pushing me to explore new facets of IT systems management I didn’t previously consider as well as access to very knowledgeable people who are usually very eager to point you in the right direction when asked. In other ways this knowledge while IT related is more oblique in that I feel like I now have a much better understanding of what life is like on the other side of the various fences (vendors, VARs, datacenter admins, etc) than I ever did before. This latter knowledge base has greatly changed how I approach some of the more political parts of IT such as vendor management and internal project pitches.

While the global Internet community is great I find that the missing piece is still facetime. The richness of communication when I’m at conferences is more personal than anything that is done online and I find myself somewhat jealous of those in areas large enough to support user groups of any kind of size. In the past year I’ve got to know VMware User Group (VMUG) leaders from Louisville, Kansas City, Phoenix and Portland as well as the guys behind the excellent career oriented community vBrisket and enjoying hearing tales of what’s involved in getting their regular meetings together and wish I could do the same here.

Personally my goal for the coming year is to do a bit of travel and attend the meetings of some of the User Groups listed above. If you are local here in the WV IT community reach out and let’s figure out how to do something here. There may not be a lot of us here but that’s an even better reason to get to know each other and share the knowledge.

Presenting at VeeamON 2015: Design, Manage and Test Your Data Protection with Veeam Availabilty Suite

Last week I was presented with the honor of being invited to speak at Veeam Software‘s annual user conference, VeeamON. While this was not my first time doing so I was very happy with the end result this year, with 30-40 attendees and positive feedback both from people I knew beforehand as well as new acquaintances who attended.

My session is what I like to think of as the 1-1000 MPH with Veeam, specifically targeting the SMB space but with lots of general guidelines for how to get your DR system up and running fast and as error-free as possible. Some of the things I do with Veeam buck the Best Practices guide but we have been able to maintain high levels of protection over many years without much interruption. The session starts with the basics of designing your DR plan, then designing your Veeam infrastructure components to suit your needs, followed by tips for the actual implementation and other tricks and gotchas I’ve run into over the years.

Anyway due to the amount of information that was covered I promised attendee’s that I would put my slide deck out here for reference so here it is. If anybody has comments, questions or anything in between please feel free to reach out to me either through the comments here or on twitter. For attendees please keep an eye on your e-mail and the #VeeamON hashtag as the videos of all presentations should be made available in the coming weeks.

Let’s See How This Goes: Getting Started with vDM30in30

For those of you that don’t know the idea of #vDM30in30 (virtual Design Master: 30 articles in 30 days) started last year by the same fine folks that bring you vDM with the stated goal of getting people to write more and become better writers. You can learn more about the basic rules in Eric Wright’s (aka discoposse) post announcing this year’s event. I caught up to the idea a little late in the game to make any kind of effort at it, but this year due to my writer’s funk of late I’ve decided to give it a go.

So what do I expect to write about? Since I’m freshly back from Veeam Software‘s annual VeeamON conference expect quite a bit of content related to that. Also I’ve had a few ideas regarding career and community here lately so there will be quite a bit of that as well. Past that? I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

If you are interested in participating yourself really the only two things you need to remember is to write/create content anywhere (go setup a blogger.com account if you don’t have a site yet) and then post to social media with the #vDM30in30 hashtag, that’s it! If you don’t feel like you are ready for that kind of commitment, trust me, I get you, then you can still follow along and learn from everybody else using the same hashtag. For those of you who are participating good job and I look forward to learning from you!

Quick How To: A restart from a previous installation or update is pending.

Just a quickie from an issue I ran into today trying to upgrade vCenter 5.5 to Update 3, or at least the SSO component of it. Immediately after running the installer I was presented with an MSI error “A restart from a previous installation or update is pending. Please restart your system before you run vCenter Single Sign-On installer.” Trying to be a good little SysAdmin I dutifully rebooted, repeatedly, each having no effect on the issue. I’ve seen different versions of this error in the past so I had an idea of where to go but it seems to require googling each time. This is caused by there being data present in the “PendingFileRenameOperations” value of the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager key. Simply checking this key and clearing out any data within will remove the flag and allow the installation to proceed.

In this case I had an HP print driver doing what they do best and gumming up the works. I’d love to say this is the first time I’ve been done in by a print driver but you all would know I’m lying. 🙂

VMworld 2015: What We Know So Far

As the first general keynote is wrapping up here in San Francisco I’ve been trying to keep track of what’s been announced this morning both in the keynote but also by way of the blogsphere. Long story short my take is there isn’t any thing new for the traditional vSphere customer, but if you are ready to start moving some of those workloads to the cloud there is going to be plenty of new things to enable what VMware is calling the hybrid cloud (repeatedly); the ability to support both your legacy apps (you know what we’re actually using) as well the new, shiny cloud native apps your developers are deploying at the speed of light.

Please forgive the notes based format found below, but I wanted to get the information out there.

Announcements so far:

  • Picture2-1024x475EVO SDDC Manager
    • “Single Pain of Glass for managing all the hardware in your datacenter racks including
      • EVO:Rail for compute, storage
      • Partner networking devices for management, spine and top of rack
      • Rack power distribution
      • Covers vRealize Suite, NSX 6.2, VSAN 6.1, vSphere 6
    • Is this the EVO:Rack they hinted at last year?
    • http://www.vmware.com/radius/vmworld-2015-the-end-of-the-beginning-lets-go/
  • Vmware Integrated OpenStack 2
    • Updates to the Kilo release, enabling features including
      • Expanded language support
      • Multi-region, multi-hypervisor support
      • Load Balancing as a Service
      • Autoscaling
  • vSphere Integrated Containers & Photon Support
    • Enables the truly hybrid cloud, with Photon/Bonneville/ESXi handling life under vCenter and Photon Machine powering your Cloud Native Apps
  • Project SkyScraper; hybrid cloud capabilities for vSphere allowing for extending DC to public cloud while supporting on premises standard concerns like security and business continuity ideas
    • Cross Cloud vMotion & content sync between on-prem and vCloud Air
    • vCloud Air Hybrid Cloud Manager- free download behind fee based capability
  • NSX 6.2 update allowing for deeper integration with the physical devices below it
    • Allows for the microsegmentation of physical servers, big differentiator past when compared to Cisco ACI
    • Will need partners, not known at this point but I’m guessing not Cisco
    • Also now supports cross vCenter vMotion over VXLAN
    • Has a TraceFlow capability allowing visability to what data is passing through
    • Announced late last week that there are now over 700 NSX customers, about double what was announced at Vmworld last year
    • Greater reliability through support for a secondary NSX manager that will take over if the primary fails
    • http://www.crn.com/news/networking/300077934/vmware-gets-physical-with-latest-nsx-software-defined-networking-update.htm
  • VSAN 6.1
    • 3rd total release
    • VSAN Stretched Cluster support, can now have geographically diverse clusters with synchronous replication between sites
    • VSAN for ROBO- Seems interesting, can have large number of 2 node VSAN clusters at your Remote Offices that are then centrally managed through vCenter.
      • Does it make use of stretched cluster for for data protection per site?
    • Now supports native Windows and Oracle clustering methods, WSFC and RAC
    • New high performance hardware supportd in ULLtra DIMM SSDs and NVM interfaces
    • New management features such as a Web Client Health Check plugin for VSAN and a management pack for vROPS
  • SRM 6.1
    • Stretched Cluster as well, seems to be the theme this year
    • Storage Policy Protection Groups; uses tags 1. tag a VM; 2. tag a datastore; protect the datastore with SRM
    • http://www.viktorious.nl/2015/08/31/vmworld-2015-srm-6-1-whats-new-stretched-cluster-support-and-more/
  • Other:
    • vSphere Content Library will be able to sync content between on-prem and vCloud Air bidirectionally
    • Vmware identity services, VMW’s assault on Active Directory

Where In The VMworld Is Jim?

Two weeks from today the official start to VMworld 2015 begins and to say I am excited to head out is a bit of an understatement. VMworld is a great place to learn more about a different branch of virtualization, see the bleeding edge of this technology and meet new people or renew conversations with some of the brightest minds in the industry. I myself will be focusing on VDI, specifically in the case of Disaster Recovery, and looking at Hyper-Converged systems this year along with all the other fun stuff. While this is only my second year going I’ve found that one of the biggest challenges to VMworld is schedule management; if you are interested in the social/community side of things you can very well go 20 hours a day Sunday through Thursday. Even with that you are going to be challenged to hit all the things you want because there is a great deal of overlap. With a paid conference attendance you (or VMUG Advantage membership) you will be able to view the vast majority of sessions online after the fact, but that doesn’t help with the get out and meet people stuff.

Since by nature I am a schedule driven kind of guy I took some time this weekend to kind of map out the whats and the wheres to what I want to do and in hopes of getting to meet up with the 5 people who may read this blog I’ll throw a copy of it out here. The sessions are still in flux because there a few that are full that I still  hope to make it into, especially a couple of the Expert Led HOL Workshops, but I think I’ve got the rest of it worked out. Hope to see you there!

Sessions (So Far:)

8/31 10:00-11:30 Keynote General Keynote
9/1 10:30-12:00 ELW-MBL-1651 Horizon 6 Advanced Workshop
9/1 12:30-1:30 INF-4535 5 Functions of Software Defined Availability
9/1 3:30-4:30 INF-5211 Automating Everything VMware with PowerCLI
9/2 9:30-10:30 STO-6552-GD Meet the VVols Engineering Team with Patrick Dirks
9/2 11:00-12:00 INF-6396-GD Platform Security with Mike Foley
9/2 2:30-3:30 INF-5123 Managing vSphere 6 Deployments & Upgrades, Part 2
9/3 10:30-11:30 EUC-5067 NSX and Horizon Ref. Architecture
9/3 12:00-1:00 INF-4529 VMware Certificate Management for Mere Mortals

vBrownBag TechTalks in the VMworld Hangspace

8/31 1:15 Gina Minks- Why you need to #BackThatSaaSUp
8/31 2:00 Jaison Baily and the vBrisket Community
8/31 3:00 In Tech We Trust Podcast

Socially:

Saturday: Inbound
Sunday: Aug. 30
8-11 AM vBreakfast Mel’s Drive-In
1-4 PM Vmunderground/vBrownBag Opening Acts City View at Metreon
4-7 PM Welcome Reception VMworld Solution Exchange
8-11 PM Vmunderground WUpaaS City View at Metreon
Monday: Aug. 31
5-6 PM SolidFire vExpert VIP Dinner Thirsty Bear Brewing
6-9 PM SolidFire Pursuit of Hoppiness Thirsty Bear Brewing
7-11 PM vBrisket Party Southpaw BBQ
Tuesday: Sept. 1
2:30-4 PM VMworld Bloggers Meetup VMworld Hang Space
4:30-6 PM VMworld Hall Crawl Solutions Exchange
7-10 PM vExpert Party Julia Morgan Ballroom
8 PM-12-AM Veeam Party City View at the Metreon
Wednesday Sept. 2
5-7 PM Red Hat Happy Hour Restaurant LuLu
7:30-10:30 PM VMworld Party AT&T Park
Thursday: Sept. 3
3 PM- ? vFootball Pete’s Tavern

Proud to be a Veeam Vanguard

On July 27th Rick Vanover over on the Veeam Blog announced the inaugural class of what is known as the Veeam Vanguard of which I am honored to have been selected as a member. What the heck is a Veeam Vanguard? While best described in Rick’s announcement blog post, my take is that this group is composed of members of the IT and virtualization global community who are Veeam users and go above and beyond in sharing their knowledge of the ins and outs of the various Veeam products.  Frankly I am flabbergasted to be named and wish to thank them for the nomination.

Without getting too gushy or fanboyish, I have found over the years that Veeam’s products tend to solve problems we all deal with in a virtualized world. Backup & Replication especially had made my day in, day out life easier because I know my data is nice and protected and I can test just about anything I want to do without effecting the production environment.

In closing I just want to say congrats to all of the other nominees and that I look forward to seeing what you have to share. To say the group is geographically diverse is an understatement as Veeam was ever so nice to include the nationalities of all members, it’s very cool to see so many flags represented. Many included I’ve followed on twitter and the blogspace for quite some time, while are others are new to me but in the end I’m sure there will be some great knowledge shared and I look forward to getting to know you.

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!