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Reflections on VMworld 2014

October 27th, 2014 No comments
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VMworld 2014

A familiar sight – blue skies and the VMworld logo

Summary: A recap of the major announcement and my thoughts on both the announcements and the conference. It’s a long post because I use it as a personal record of thoughts – feel free to skim read!

Like last year I arrived in Barcelona on the Sunday so I had more time to settle in. This was my first conference as a VMware Partner but unfortunately Monday, Partner day, was a bit of a wash out for me due to some registration issues which preventing me getting into the sessions (and lunch!). I probably need to allow myself some time to adjust my perspective and learn the partner side of the fence and it’s unfair to judge when I didn’t attend but looking at session titles most of the partner sessions appeared to be sales focused rather than roadmap or vision which would have interested me more.  I guess everyone’s interested in those so they become general sessions. Which brings me nicely to the keynote presentations….

The keynotes

I’ve come to accept and almost enjoy the reality that Europe plays second fiddle to the US conference, which means the bulk of new announcement have already been made at the US show. My first ever blogpost was ranting about why the US show was the obvious one to attend but I now find I enjoy the gap as it gives me time to digest, investigate, and dwell on what’s new. It is a smaller show with less vendors, sessions etc but there’s still no way you can see or learn everything that’s on offer in the three or four days so it’s equally worth attending.

I think the buzz was a bit more balanced across the product suite this year. Two years ago felt like it was all about storage with the mass market adoption of caching, flash, scale out and hybrid arrays whereas last year was all about NSX. This year NSX was clearly still buzzing (top HOL by a mile) and storage continued it’s disruptive evolution (PernixData, VAIO, VSAN) but the announcement of EVO:RAIL got the most column inches. vCloud Air products, vRealize Automation adoption and some of the DevOps focus were also capturing plenty of the discussions and sessions. While VMware may be propping up ‘legacy’ applications until the Web 2.0/AWS crowd take over the world (;-)) it’s still a vibrant, exciting, and quick moving place – and therefore enjoyable!

I’ll recap the major announcements that caught my eye. When you look past the vRealize rebranding itself there are new releases – though most aren’t available until later this year (not too long to wait though);

  • SDDC (core infra)
    • EVORAIL smallEVO:RAIL (and later EVO:RACK) will allow VMware’s partners to compete with the existing hyperconverged vendors, while also selling more VMware licences.
    • vSphere 6 was NOT released but continues as an open beta. I’m on the beta and there are some great new features on the way (vSMP could be a game changer, vVOLs are an improvement but have taken too long to arrive) but this is somewhat overdue given VMware’s previous two year per major release lifecycle.
    • NSX 6.1 was announced (and released). NSX continues to grab mindshare but I think it’s going to be a long adoption cycle (as I’ve written previously).
  • Hybrid cloud
    • vCloud Air continues to evolve at a rapid pace. New services such as vRealize Air Mobile and vRealize Air Automation are the first to be announced but more will no doubt show up in short order.
    • vRealize Automation is being released on an aggresive six monthly release cycle which everyone is struggling to keep up with but it reflects the importance VMware attach to this product.
  • dockerMisc
    • VMware purchased CloudVolumes and rebranded it to AppVolumes. I first came across this technology last year via CloudCast episode 87 which is worth a listen as background. Interesting stuff and one to watch.
    • Docker integration was announced (the cynics would say to keep the DevOps crowd happy).  I agree that containers and VMs complement each other but I think containers are still a threat to VMware  in some use cases – after all containers run on any hypervisor so they level the playing field somewhat and containers without VMware are largely free….

If you want them all Latoga Labs have posted a comprehensive list of announcements at the US conference and you can supplement it with this list of announcements at Barcelona.

Reading between the lines – my thoughts

VMware’s entry in the hyperconverged space is both a big event and a non-event. It’s big news because it will increase adoption of hyperconverged infrastructure, particularly in the SMB space, through increased awareness and because EVO:RAIL is backed by large vendors. It’s a non-event in that EVO:RAIL doesn’t offer anything new other than form factor – it’s standard VMware technologies and you could already get similar (some would say superior) products from the likes of Nutanix and Simplivity and others. I’ll be posting my (generally positive) thoughts on EVO:RAIL soon.

NSX is here to stay. A cutdown version, NSX Lite, looks set to become a core part of vSphere at some point in the future, probably towards the end of 2015 (my guess). It may not have mass market adoption yet but there’s a lot of interest and actual customer deployments. It’s already baked into vCloud Air and will be part of the EVO:RACK stack when it’s released. VMware are clearly ‘betting the business’ on NSX succeeding.

The introduction last year of VMware’s own vCloud Hybrid Service, now known as vCloud Air (part of this year’s rebrand) makes it clear that even VMware’s partners weren’t keeping up so VMware have decided to compete their own way and create a public cloud where they can integrate the latest and greatest on a schedule they control. For some partners this evolution may be a challenge in the long term (is there still enough scope for adding value?) but for now it seems the partner network is alive and well. vCloud Air feels already gets as much focus from VMware as the vSphere suite, despite being only a year old, so I imagine we’ll see this pushed even more in the future. Whether they can really compete with the big four (AWS, Azure, Google, Rackspace) is yet to be seen – for Cloud IaaS VMware are still in the ‘niche’ quadrant according to Gartner.

Competition is forcing VMware’s hand. The tagline for this year’s conference was ‘No Limit’ and the keynote was peppered with references to being ‘brave’ (and last year’s tagline was a not too dissimilar ‘Deny convention’). I think VMware are trying to encourage their customers to accelerate their pace of adoption and change. In 2012 I wrote about customers struggling to keep up and still think it’s a problem today. Likewise competition is forcing VMware to release products throughout the year rather than at the conference. Five years ago everything was released at VMworld whereas the last few major releases have come outside conference time – VSAN, vCHS, even the vSphere 6 beta. VMworld is still a great marketing platform but major releases can now arrive at any time of year.

I’ve not very familiar with OpenStack but VMware’s development of an OpenStack distribution feels like they’re hedging their bets. If OpenStack adoption increases VMware have a stake in it and if not then there’s less competition. Time (and more educated folks) will tell.

Breakout Sessions/Hands On Labs

hols2014

The HOLs were as popular as always

I only attended a few sessions this year – frankly I don’t know where the four days went! As all the sessions are online after the event I don’t prioritise them as much as I probably should, given that I rarely find time to watch them later! I was also more focused on work related technologies rather than new features as I was attending on company time rather than on my own time.

  • Site Recovery Manager 101: What’s New (BCO2394) – this was an introductory session which frankly I attended my mistake! I did learn a few new things and there was a nice tip at the end to check out another session (BCO1916.2 – Site Recovery Manager and Stretched Storage: Tech Preview of a New Approach to Active-Active Data Centers) which was covering a new SRM use case in combination with a MetroCluster. I didn’t have time to catch that session live but will be downloading it later.
  • Multi-Site Data Center Solutions with VMware NSX (NET1974 ). When I attended the NSX ICM course there was a lot of discussion around NSX being a single datacentre solution so I was curious what this session was going to cover. This was a great session, and covered both enterprise and cloud use cases and was surprisingly easy to digest for a complex topic – that’s the sign of a good speaker (Ray Badavari). Well worth a watch.
  • Veeam Availability suite v8 deep dive (STO2905-SPO). This session highlighted the new features in the upcoming v8 release along with some useful best practices. The failover plans look useful (very similar to SRM failover plans) and I can see a use case for SureReplica (test/dev sandbox for replica VMs) although many of the other features are just ‘nice to have’ rather than revolutionary – WAN acceleration for replication jobs (backup-copy jobs only in v7), network traffic encryption, Netapp integration etc.

I only found time for a few labs although I did find them useful (see also the full list of HOLs available in Barcelona). You can now take these labs online.

  •  HOL-SDC-1423 – vCloud Suite Networking. I need to improve my networking knowledge and getting more familiar with vCNS and NSX is high on my list. I found this lab hard going – not technically difficult, just boring! Note to self – don’t take labs at the end of a long day when tired as it’s not productive!
  • HOL-SDC-1428 – VMware EVO:RAIL Introduction. I enjoyed this lab, simple though it is. It gives you a chance to get hands on with the simple GUI available with the EVO:RAIL.
  • HOL-SDC-1429 – Virtual Volumes Tech Preview. This provided hands experience and helped me understand how actually administering vVol’s might work rather than just the theory of how they advance profile based management. Now we just have to wait for vSphere6 to be released…

The Solutions Exchange

chad at vmworld

Chad Sakacc pulls in the crowds

I didn’t make it to the vendor side of VMworld until late Wednesday and even then I spent less time than in previous years. The usual vendor enticements were on offer although I felt like the gimmicks and giveaways were slightly abated this year – less iPads, more t-shirts. This is a good thing, provided they can also provide technical information! I challenge myself every year to ‘take the pulse’ of the vendor ecosystem – who’s new, who’s thriving, who’s struggling, who’s going to be the next big thing? This year I thought the developments in the I/O path were one to watch so I checked out a few related vendors;

  • Pernix Data. I first saw these guys via Storage Field Day 3 back in April 2013 – that might not seem too long ago but in this industry it’s an age.Their ‘flash virtualisation platform’ is a read and write cache which operates across distributed hosts in a cluster to accelerate your I/O. I’ve also met with their CTO Satyam Vaghani on several occasions as I’m always impressed but both their technology and ambitions. Along with Proximal Data (who I saw at SFD2) these companies have been talking about the I/O path’s potential for a couple of years. There’s a reason it’s called a platform not just a product. Prior to VMworld this year PernixData launched v2.0 of their FVP platform which includes using RAM as a distributed cache. Good stuff!
  • Diablo Technologies. These guys deliver ultraDIMMs which essentially embed storage into your existing DIMM slots, facilitating blazing fast access in the process. In this thoughful introduction to Diablo by Justin Warren he tackles the technology and possible use cases. It’s certainly an interesting idea but are there enough use cases? I was hoping to see Diablo at TechFieldDay Extra but sadly they presented on the Thursday when I couldn’t attend – time to watch the videos I guess.
  • SanDisk. I spoke to FlashSoft (a division of SanDisk) back in 2012 when server side SANs were just getting started and PernixData etc were just coming out of stealth. Since then server-side caching has grown in popularity and this year SanDisk have partnered with VMware on the upcoming VAIO filters. FlashSoft never stuck me as the most popular flash cache solution so it’s interesting that VMware choose them as a partner. I wonder what this opening up of the APIs means to PernixData?

Here’s some further info and thoughts on some of these developments from Chris Wahl, Niels Hagoort, and Cormac Hogan. I was surprised that Proximal Data weren’t in attendance but their news page and twitter feed have been very quiet lately – maybe all is not well. I should also have spoken to Infinio and Atlantis Computing (as they operate in this space) but ran out of time.

For the first time (that I’m aware of) Oracle were in attendance. Given their licencing and certification/support stance on VMware it was brave to say the least! I’m familiar with their ‘converged’ infrastructure offering, the OVCA, having had some exposure to it at my previous employer but I didn’t find time to have a chat about it. I was surprised when Gartner put Oracle in the ‘leaders’ quadrant for converged infrastructure a few months ago (along with VCE, Netapp, and Cisco) but they must be doing something right. Whenever I mention OVM to anyone it gets short shrift though I’m not sure if that’s owing to actual knowledge or just because it’s ‘clever’ to bad mouth Oracle in the VMware world – personally I’ve never used OVM.

One of the interesting stands I always take time to visit is the VMware R&D team, now wrapped under the banner of ‘the office of the CTO’. They tend to pick a couple of ongoing projects and this year was no exception;

  • autoscaleAuto-scaling applications (Download the full PDF here).  I spoke to Xiaoyun Zhu who explained that they’re working on allowing applications to automatically scale out either vertically or horizontally based on a set of criteria. I remember trying to do something similar with dev/test environments and quickly found that while amending VMs is trivial that’s the tip of the iceberg – the application may need reconfiguring (buffers, caches etc) as will middleware and determining the ‘trigger’ for the initial memory upgrade is not always simple. How do you determine when to scale up vs out? What’s ‘typical’ performance for an app? What if only one tier in a multi-tier application needs to scale? What if scaling one tier has a knock on effect and you need to scale out every tier? The kind of machine learning used to create dynamic thresholds in vRealize Operations is probably being used here and I can see great value in the ability to adapt a whole application on the fly. On the other hand much can already be done with the publically available APIs and I can’t see how VMware would keep up with application revisions.  This was also on display last year with a slightly reduced scope so it’s obviously not a quick win!
  • http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00I9PVKKC/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0R9D23NVWYH3S7MY7NPV&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455344027&pf_rd_i=468294High Performance Computing (Download the full PDF here). The last release of vSphere came with some specific features aimed at low latency applications but they come with considerable constraints to core features like vMotion. VMware aren’t resting on their laurels and are continuing to find ways of supporting low latency without constraints. High Performance Computing refers to Grid Computing and is often used in the sciences where crunching large numbers is commonplace. I had a good chat about the challenges and progress with Josh Simons from the HPC division.
    In these environments milliseconds count – if you want to understand why and enjoy a good read try Michael Lewis’s FlashBoys which tells the story behind high frequency trading! I read this on the flights to and from Barcelona so it won’t take too long but is recommended.

I also visited the VMware shop and found the selection of books now available to be very sobering! Compared to the early days of VMware there’s been an explosion in the complexity and breadth of topics you need to know. Two books caught my eye and are now on my Xmas wishlist – Cloud Computing by Thomas Erl  and cloud networking by Gary Lee.

Community Events

The blogger/community lounge (where I spent quite a bit of time) was nicely placed near the hands on labs and by the hang space. The vBrownBags (US agenda and sessions, Barcelona agenda), Engineers Unplugged (with guests Nick Howell and Gabriel Chapman), and VMworld TV crews were all in attendance doing their thing although sadly theCube wasn’t present as they only cover the larger US show. Lots of good content as always but sadly I missed this year’s vSoup VMworld podcast due to a clash with TechFieldDay Extra. This is the first time I’ve missed it since it started running in 2011. Instead they got John ‘the dude’ Troyer as a guest so it’s probably safe to assume I’ve lost my place for next year! Sad panda. :-(

TFDx

Yours truly debating EVO:RAIL

Taking my own advice I also went to the Meet an Expert sessions and had a couple of one on one sessions with VMware experts (Ninad Desai and Gurusimran Khalsa). This gave me the chance to put my question about the future of vCD directly to VMware staff although I had to go through quite a few people before I found someone who could give me a satisfactory answer (thanks Scott Harrison)! I’ve got a blogpost in the offing about this particular topic.

They often run one in the US but for the first time GestaltIT ran the TechFieldDay Extra event at the EMEA conference and I was invited as a delegate. I only saw two sponsors (X-IO and VMTurbo) as I could only attend one afternoon but both were interesting and as always there were good conversations both on and off camera with the other delegates (Andrea Mauro, Joep Piscaer, Arjan Timmerman, Marco Broekken, Martin Glassborrow, Nigel Poulton, Eric Ableson, Hans De Leenheer, & José Luis Gómez). It was fairly brief compared to a full event over a few days but still enjoyable and nice to meet a few new people who I’ve followed on twitter for a while. I was familiar with VMTurbo but X-IO were new to me – I’ll be posting my thoughts on both shortly. There was also a roundtable discussion on converged infrastructure which centred on EVO:RAIL – you can check out the videos by clicking on the logos below;

VMTurboLogoSm                             XIO-logo-wpcf_100x43

baby VMworld

For my 5 week old VCDX in the making…

I watched a few of the vBrownBag sessions – one on SSO by Frank Buechsel (@fbuechsel) and another good one from Gabriel Chapman on converged infra which was commendable for including actual customer numbers. I also caught, more by chance than design, the vExpert daily which is always fun if not overly informational. The vBrownbag sessions felt a bit unloved stuck to the side of the hangspace and I wonder if it wouldn’t be better within the Solutions Exchange, given that people are used to watching presentations there? I expect that wouldn’t work as it would have cost implications. I should also mention the portable whiteboard I got from vBrownBag – maybe it’s a novelty but at least potentially useful! The vBrownBag sessions were recorded and are all online via their YouTube page.

I didn’t party as hard this year as I’ve got a newborn at home so sleep (and a VMware vest!) was more of a priority – I skipped the vExpert/VCDX party, the Veeam party, and the official VMworld party. It also gave me a chance to write up notes, something I’d promised myself I’d do a better job of. I did kickstart the conference with the vRockstar party at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was great. I’ve got to know a lot of people over the last five years and it’s great to have a catch up over a drink and some tech chat. I spent much more time chatting about industry trends and canvassing opinion than previous years. I did make the PernixData party (great venue) and had a good chat with Ather Beg from Xtravirt and Chris Dearden, Ricky El-Qasem from Veeam and Canopy Cloud respectively.

VMware certification exams – 25% discounts (2014 offer)

October 13th, 2014 No comments
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Igreenf you’re in the market to take a VMware certification exam, there’s some good news – provided you’re quick. For the next couple of days (while VMworld Barcelona is running, Oct 13th-17th 2014) you can book the VCP and VCAP exams at a cool 25% offeven if you’re not at the conference! This isn’t quite as good as last year’s 50% discount but every little helps. If you want to blitz some of the new certification tracks recently announced you’re not limited to just one – study your little legs off and you could save even more by taking multiple exams….

The codes you need to register with are;

  • 2014VW25 – for the VCP exams (VCP-DV, VCP-DT,VCP-Cloud,VCP-NV)
  • 2014VWADV25 – for the VCAP exams (VCAP-DCA, VCAP-DCD, VCAP-CID, VCAP-CIA, VCAP-DTD, VCAP-DTA, VCIX-NV)

Conditions:

  • You MUST book the exam while VMworld Barcelona is running. You don’t have to be attending the conference, it’s just the period of time the offer is valid.
  • You MUST take the exam by the end of the year.

What are you waiting for? Head over to VMware Certification and get registered certification junkies!

Categories: VMware Tags: , ,

Making the most of VMworld Barcelona 2014

September 30th, 2014 No comments
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vmworld2014-tag-cloud

Tag cloud generated from the content catalogue of VMworld 2014

In just under two weeks I’m heading to Barcelona for VMworld Europe. This will be my fifth year attending and I thought I’d pass on my recommendations for making the most of the conference. This isn’t a ‘book flights, wear trainers, collect swag’ kind of blogpost – remember, it’s a conference, nothing more, nothing less. Don’t be bamboozled by the hype.

1. Prepare in advance

  1. Review what was announced at VMworld in August (here, here, and here via Brian Gracely, Kyle Hilgendorf, & LatogaLabs respectively) so you don’t waste your time rediscovering the wheel. While the European show is playing second fiddle we do at least have the advantage that useful analysis is now available (thoughts on EVO:RAIL, Why VAIO will change everything, and thoughts on the Docker and Openstack announcements).
  2. Before you go reach out to people with similar interests and arrange to meet them, even if it’s informal over breakfast or a beer in the evening. The VMworld schedule builder lists speaker details and most people are easy to find via Twitter or LinkedIn and most are more than happy to engage with people (that’s why they’re speakers after all).
  3. Watch some of the VMworld sessions which are online from the US show in August. If you’ve booked time in your schedule for one of those sessions it’s time you can reuse more productively. Watching sessions in advance gives you more time to soak up new information and lets you think of questions to ask while at the conference.
  4. Write a blogpost on getting the most out of the conference and publish it. :-)

2. Spend your time doing the stuff you can only do at the conference.

  1. There’s lots of opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and make some excellent contacts, but it’s also quite easy to waste time either intentionally or unintentionally (late night parties take their toll). Most sessions are recorded, the keynotes are usually a repeat of the US keynotes with minor updates, and the lazy web provides deeper insight a few days later when full details emerge and people have had time to digest everything.
  2. If you go to sessions, ask questions! Some are designed to be interactive and watching a recording afterwards may not have the same value as participating – the vExpert Storage Game Show (STO2997-STO) and Ask the Expert vBloggers (SDDC1176) are good examples.
  3. The group discussions are an organised goldmine. Go to them and discuss.
  4. There are 50% discounts on taking certification exams during VMworld Europe, but the VCAP ones take a half day each which is valuable time lost.

3. Interact 

  1. The most valuable use of your time is speaking to people who have the same needs as you, along with product experts. The calibre of people at VMworld is second to none, though finding them among the thousands of attendees can be a challenge. See above point about preparation!
  2. Engage with the community via the vBrownBag sessions, TechFieldDay Extra (featuring yours truly),  the bloggers area and the hangspace.
  3. Join the VMUG organisation and find your local VMUG –  you’ll be glad you did.
  4. Tweet, blog, chat, drink!

4. Stay focused during the conference

  1. Set yourself an agenda and know what you want to achieve before you go. Maybe you want it to be a networking event where you meet up with old friends and share a beer, or maybe you want to focus on using the three or four days to soak up new information. Stick to it.
  2. You will suffer information overload during the event. Compensate by taking notes and make clear actions for follow up when you get home.
  3. Follow up when you get home. I have several folders of info, contacts, things to do etc from previous years and I haven’t always used them. That’s wasted opportunities.

More information about what, when, why, along with social media, parties etc can be found on Andrea Mauro’s comprehensive blogpost.

If you haven’t already it’s not too late to register!banner-eu-registerNow

Note that this link will let VMware know you registered via my blog, which may (or may not!) help me get kudos with their social media program in the future. Registrations much appreciated!

Categories: VMware, VMworld Tags: ,

Thoughts on VMware’s NSX ICM course

September 26th, 2014 No comments
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trainingSummary: My thoughts on the new NSX Install, Configure, Manage (ICM) course, based on sitting the beta course (the usual beta caveats therefore apply).

Back in June I sat the beta of the VMware NSX Install, Configure, Manage course at VMware’s head office (at Frimley in the UK) and I thought it would be worth detailing my thoughts and experiences now that the course is publically available. This post won’t describe the course agenda in detail as you can read the official course description (along with prices, booking info, schedules etc) but from a quick look at the agenda I’d say the content hasn’t changed much.

Do I need to be a network guru?

Before booking the course, my first concern was the target audience. For those unfamiliar with my background I’m a compute and storage guy, not a network guru, so I was curious how well I’d cope with the networking material. I spoke to the trainer in advance (Paul McSharry, who I knew from my Design Workshop a few years ago) who advised that CCNA equivalent knowledge would be fine, and even pulled a few strings to add an extra place and get me on the course after it filled up. Thanks Paul! :-)

Although the intended audience is described as “Experienced system administrators that specialize in networking” we were told that VMware are targeting the course at vSphere admins, not network admins (apparently there will be a different course released in the future). This is borne out via the official, minimal,  prerequisites listed below which have very little network focus;

  • System administration experience on Microsoft Windows or Linux operating system
  • Understanding of concepts presented in the VMware Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals course for VCA-DCV certification

Despite meeting those quite happily I found some sections challenging, particularly around VXLAN. Knowledge of network overlay concepts, and VXLAN in particular, is essential. I’ve done lots of work with vSphere but not much with vCloud, so hadn’t really worked with VXLAN in any depth and there’s a lot of terminology to understand – VTEP, UTEP, MTEP, and LIF to mention a few. VXLAN is also used in Cisco’s competing ACI product (as explained by Gary Kinghorn from Cisco) so it’s well worth learning even if you’re not going down the NSX route. Some background knowledge of routing protocols such as OSPF and BGP etc would also be beneficial. If you’ve worked with the vCNS interface, you’ll have a good headstart as NSX looks very similar.

What does the course cover?

The course content is 50% instructor led and 50% lab time and in summary covers the following topics (much of the content is available publically, and for free, on various blog series – see my links at the bottom for more info);

  • NSX Manager/controllers/clusters
  • NSX Edge Gateway appliances (basically upgraded vShield Edge)
  • Logical switching, routing, VPNs, load balancers, and firewalls (including microsegmentation)

nsx-featuresFor me the biggest benefit was access to hands on experience with NSX – unless you’re lucky enough to work with it via your company the only option is the two online HOLs (NSX for vSphere and NSX for multi-hypervisors). I believe access will become more widespread soon but it’s been frustrating many people while they wait for access to a product that’s supposedly GA.

In my case I was very lucky to have an exceedingly well educated bunch on the course with me, including Michael Haines (who works for VMware and helped create the vCloud Architecture Toolkit among other publications) and some guys who were doing the bootstrap program towards the VCDX-NV. This stimulated some great debate and meant someone in the room could answer any question I threw at them (probably in their sleep). Most courses won’t benefit from this level of expertise but it’s always worth learning from other candidates on courses regardless.

The 17 labs do a good job of slowly building up an internal network, adding multiple networks with routing, integrating it with external networks and adding VPNs, firewalls etc. As you’d expect it showcases the flexibility enabled by virtualising networks, such as the ability to move L3 networks around and microsegmentation (a killer feature say VMware). I found the labs short on context and too focused on ‘click here, type this’ rather than scenerio based – you weren’t always encouraged to think about what you were achieving and why. Overall I enjoyed the labs and felt they were very useful.

Disappointingly there was minimal coverage of the multi-hypervisor version of NSX – our instructor dug out an NSX-MH (multi-hypervisor) introduction document (including a feature comparison) for us but it would have been nice to see more included upfront.

One noticeable change compared to previous courses is the use of online course notes, rather than a printed book. The notes are provided to you before the course starts (which is good) although you do need to install an application (rather than cloud availability) which is not so good. Like most people on the course I’d taken a laptop which allowed me to have the course manual on one screen while you work on the provided desktop, much like the VMworld HOLs. Personally I still prefer a printed book that I can stick on a shelf. A year from now when I want to reference something from the course I probably won’t be able to find the application/content (VitalSource Bookshelf) because I’ll have a new laptop etc, whereas a book would still be sitting on a shelf. That’s because I’m an old dog though – your mileage may vary! ;-)

Obviously this course is also the recommended learning path if you’re intending to take the new VCP-NV certification. If you’re already a VCP then the course is optional. I’m not sure if I’ll bother taking this exam as aside from the course I’m not using NSX day to day but if you are Paul has created a series of multiple choice NSX quizzes in similar style to a VCP exam – it’s worth taking to test your knowledge after the course. A couple of people have written up their VCP-NV exam experiences here, here, and here. There are aslo some videos over at the vBrownBag site covering objective 1 and objective 2 and I’m sure there’s more to come.

Final thoughts

I think it’s well worth taking the course even if you’re not a network guru. As the virtualisation landscape has evolved everyone has needed to learn more about compute, storage, and networking and this looks likely to continue. I’ve heard that vCNS (in many ways a predecessor of NSX) is no longer being developed and that going forward NSX (in some form) will be the core networking component for vSphere. If that’s the case then everyone needs to be familiar with it, just as they need to understand vSwitches today.

Having said that I can’t see it being a quick adoption for NSX, and therefore there’s no immediate requirement to learn the product. VMware are promising that NSX will simplify your operations, but in the short term that’s not what I see. You’ll likely be running NSX plus ‘legacy’ physical networks for a long time, plus NSX will lead to new management toolsets (think vCOPs for networking) and integration points which will take time to mature. You still need to adjust your underlying MTU settings and despite being part of the ‘software defined’ world some hardware issues will no doubt need to be tackled (think VSAN-like teething issues).

Having spent a bit more time with NSX I do now have a better understanding of where it fits. Most of the course delegates felt it was largely beneficial to large enterprises and service providers as the automation it enables requires coding and a high degree of competency. It’s also a bit rough round the edges – for example you have to have full administrator access in vCentre to use NSX, so forget delegating limited rights to your network team. Previously I’d thought NSX offered network virtualisation that would allow a layer 2 network to span datacentres (ie layer 3) but NSX only works within a single datacentre (largely a VXLAN limitation I believe). That’s set to change in the future apparently so watch this space.

As an incentive for early learners you get a 50% VCP-NV exam discount if you take the exam before the 19th of December.

Where to find more information on NSX

Most of the information in the course can already be found online (for free) although unless your company is deploying NSX, and you therefore have access to the binaries, hands on experience is limited to the two HOLs (NSX for vSphere and NSX for multi-hypervisors);

As a further alternative you can search Google for  SDN, NFV, NSX, OpenDaylight, Pyretic etc and say goodbye to any spare time for years to come….

Categories: Cloud, VMware Tags: , , , ,

Evolution of the IT Pro (staying relevant in 2014 and beyond)

June 9th, 2014 1 comment
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Bob-the-BuilderSummary: The IT function is becoming a broker of services but, until that happens, infrastructure engineers will likely to fall into the ‘builder broker’ camp – you’ll need to be able to ‘stitch together’ different services but you’ll also need to build them and understand what’s ‘under the hood’.

For a few years now infrastructure engineers have been hearing how cloud computing is going to change their jobs, potentially putting many out of work. Plenty has been written about whether this will result in a net gain or loss of IT jobs (here, here, and here plus in one my first blogposts I talked about changing roles) but whatever your stance it’s undeniable that the nature of IT jobs will change – technology never stands still for long.

This isn’t theoretical or a shift that’ll start in ten years – changes are happening right now.

Gartner recently identified ‘IT as a service broker’ in their top ten technology trends for 2014 and I’d agree with those that say skills such as virtualisation are no longer enough. Here’s a few things I’ve being asked for in the last few months which is why I’m adding my voice to the ‘service broker’ trend;

  • Knowledge of alternative virtualisation/cloud platforms. “Should we be considering Hyper-V? Openstack? Oracle VM?”
  • How can we integrate Amazon’s VPC with our internal dev/test environments?
  • If we buy into a third parties managed services, what’s the impact on our production platform and technology roadmap?

The news columns are filling up with articles about changing skillsets;

Still not convinced? VMware’s flagship cloud product, vCAC, exists to orchestrate resources across multiple clouds from AWS, RackSpace, Azure and others so this talk of ‘brokering’ across heterogeneous systems is also where VMware see the future.

The requirement for inhouse engineering expertise isn’t going to disappear overnight so you’ve got time to adjust, but for many the future may be more about integrating services together than building them.

How do you stay relevant?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? I’ve listed my opinions below although for alternative advice Steve Beaver wrote a great article for The Virtualization Practice at the end of last year (“Get off the hypervisor and into the cloud”) which mirrors my thoughts exactly. If I’d read it before writing this I probably wouldn’t have bothered!

  1. Focus on technical expertise. As the industry coalesces towards service providers and consumers the providers need the best people they can find as the impact (at scale) is magnified. Automation is a key trend for this role as self-service is a key tenet of cloud. Luckily, while ‘compute’ has already been disrupted by virtualisation both storage and network are just getting started which will generate demand for those who keep up with technology developments.
  2. Focus on becoming an IT broker. This means getting a wide knowledge of different solutions and architectures (AWS, VMware, OpenStack, understand SOA principles, federation, integration patterns etc) and know how to implement and integrate them. You’ll also have to get closer to the business and be able to translate business requirements such that you can satisfy them via the available services. Some would argue that this is crossing over to the role of a business analyst, and they may be right.

If you’re going to go deep on technology, go work for a vendor, ISP, or big IT consultancy (sooner rather than later).

If you’re going for the broker/business analyst role make sure you’re building up your business knowledge, with less focus on the low level nuts and bolts.

Pick one or the other, but don’t stand still. Taking my own advice I’ve just taken a role with a service provider. Let’s see how this plays out! :-)

An introduction to Puppet

November 19th, 2013 No comments
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puppetPerfectly positioned to provide automation for the infrastructure providing both private and public clouds (and a darling of the burgeoning DevOps scene), Puppet has seen a groundswell of adoption in recent years. It’s undoubtedly very capable but may not be what some enterprises expect.

For those not familiar with Puppet it’s a tool which helps to automate system administration tasks. They’ve managed to build a large mindshare and strong brand recognition although it’s still a relatively small company of around 190 staff globally, headquartered out of Portland, Oregon in the US. The London based team is actively growing (interested in a job with PuppetLabs?) and the first usergroup meeting in London recently attracted 45 people at pretty short notice. Their financial results speak for themselves with year on year sales more than tripling and over 9 million downloads. Pretty impressive for a company which in 2010 only had 11 staff! They’re not the only show in town (Chef, Salt Stack, & Ansible are notable competition) but they seem to be getting the most traction.

Puppet’s success lies in the VM sprawl ushered in by virtualisation combined with the availability of cloud infrastructures which can scale rapidly and on demand. If you need to quickly spin up hundreds, maybe thousands, of servers and guarantee that their configuration is identical and correct, how would you do it?  How do you manage the rapid releases required by your software development lifecycle, especially if you’re aiming for continuous delivery? How do you deal with configuration drift in your test and development environments? This is where Puppet comes to the rescue.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Puppet as a configuration management tool since 2009 when it first popped up on my radar (maybe it was Thoughtworks Radar). At the time I was looking for tools to help deploy RedHat Linux 4.6 but sadly I didn’t opt for Puppet – in hindsight I consider that a missed opportunity! Earlier this year it was covered at the London VMUG and I’ve recently had conversations with PuppetLabs staff both at VMworld Europe (Jose Palafox) and in the UK (Steve Thwaites). Have a read of the official PuppetLab intro then continue reading to get my initial thoughts.

Puppet comes in two flavours Read more…

VMworld 2013 Barcelona wrapup

October 28th, 2013 2 comments
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2013-10-14 10.29.38Summary: Some new (and actually exciting) announcements, some good conversations about the challenges VMware face in the next few years, and business as usual in the solutions exchange, HOL, and general sessions. Still a conference worth attending!

As I’ve done for the last couple of years (2012, 2011, 2010) I recently attended VMworld Europe, which was in Barcelona for the second year. As you can see from my photo on the right, it looks much the same as last year (unsurprisingly)! Blue skies, warm weather, and a large conference venue stocked to the gills with techies and technology…

The keynotes

IMG_2596

VMware’s timeline – what will it say in a couple of years time?

As is the case every year I’ve been the keynotes are largely a repeat of the US sessions with a few additions to keep the masses happy. Typically it’s management products that get announced at Europe although this year I’m glad to say they felt more substantial than previous years (a full list can be found on the official VMworld blog);

  • vCAC v6.0 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year) including vFabric Application Director and integration with Puppet.
  • Log Insight v1.5 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year)
  • vCOPs v5.8 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year)
  • In the EUC space VMware announced the acquisition of Desktone, a ‘desktop-as-a-service’ company. Given the complexity of VDI I think this has a lot of potential to increase adoption.
  • vCHS to launch in the UK in Q1 2014. The vCHS Online Marketplace was also launched although I’ve not had a chance to look at it yet.

nsxThe vCAC integration with vFabric Application Director and Puppet look like great additions (and allowed VMware to jump on the DevOps bandwagon) and the announcment that vCHS will be available in the UK early next year is welcome. NSX conversations were a recurring theme throughout the four days – everyone agrees that it looks good but also agrees that adoption faces quite a few challenges and the fact that pricing is a per-VM model won’t help. I’m no longer quite as grumpy or pessimistic as I was after VMworld US but I still think VMware are in for a tough few years. Read more…

Categories: Cloud, Storage, VMware Tags:

VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide – my thoughts

October 16th, 2013 1 comment
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vcap-dcdSummary: A good book which is ideal for those new to design with plenty of real world examples and exam preparation tips.

I’ve been meaning to take my VCAP5-DCD certification for a couple of years but still haven’t made the required time available.  I attended the Design Workshop (last year) and was lucky enough to have Paul McSharry as my instructor – I’d not met him previously but I was familiar with his work through his website (www.elasticsky.co.uk) and via Twitter.

Now Paul’s written the official VMware Press certification guide to the VCAP5-DCD exam. This book takes a slightly different approach compared to other study resources as it includes a practice test and considers the mental transition a VCP-DCV certified engineer might need to make when moving into design. To quote Paul;

I decided to approach the guide with the mindset of a VCP5-DCV qualified engineer who has yet to complete a full design.

 How do you make the transition from engineer to architect? Whats the process? 

I like the format of the book and found Paul’s writing style to be very easy to read. In many ways the VCAP5-DCD is a less technical exam compared to the VCAP5-DCA but there are some concepts which can be hard to wrap your brain around if you’re used to an operational focus (which I am). There has been plenty of discussion on the web around functional vs non-functional, logical vs physical designs, and constraints, risks, assumptions, and requirements and Paul’s book tackles them all pretty well.

One thing you’ll notice when you look at the contents page is Read more…

Categories: VMware Tags: , ,

VMware certification exams – 50% discounts (2013 offer)

October 14th, 2013 13 comments
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defy-conventionIf you’re in the market to take a VMware certification exam, there’s some good news – provided you’re quick. For the next couple of days (while VMworld Barcelona is running, Oct 14th-17th 2013) you can book the VCP and VCAP exams at a cool 50% offeven if you’re not at the conference! For VCP that’s a saving of approx £50 and more like £200 for the VCAP exams! If you want to blitz some of the new certification tracks recently announced you’re not limited to just one – study your little legs off and you could save even more by taking multiple exams….

The codes you need to register with are;

  • VWBAR50 – for the VCP exams (VCP-DV, VCP-DT,VCP-Cloud,VMware IaaS, VMware View)
  • VWADVBAR50 – for the VCAP exams (VCAP-DCA, VCAP-DCD, VCAP-CID, VCAP-CIA, VCAP-DTD)

UPDATE 15th Oct: There is also a code for the new VCA exams (completely free) which looks to be good until the end of the month (October 2013).
CORRECTION 15th Oct: I incorrectly stated the VCAP code as VMADVBAR50, which has now been corrected (as above).

Conditions:

  • You MUST book the exam while VMworld Barcelona is running. You don’t have to be attending the conference, it’s just the period of time the offer is valid.
  • You MUST take the exam by the end of the year.

What are you waiting for? Head over to VMware Certification and get registered certification junkies!

Categories: VMware Tags: , ,

Converged infrastructure: an introduction

September 9th, 2013 No comments
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For the last couple of years adoption of ‘converged infrastructure’ has been on the rise but until recently it wasn’t something I’d needed to understand beyond general market awareness and personal curiosity. I was familiar with some of the available solutions (in particular VCE’s vBlock and Netapp’s Flexpod) but I also knew there were plenty of other converged solutions which I wasn’t so familiar with. When the topic was raised at my company I realised that I needed to know more.

Google research quickly found a converged infrastructure primer at Wikibon which had the quotable “Nearly 2/3rds of the infrastructure that supports enterprise applications will be packaged in some type of converged solution by 2017“. The Wikibon report is well worth a read but it didn’t quite answer the questions I had, so I decided to delve into the various solutions myself. Before I continue I’ll review what’s meant by ‘converged infrastructure’ with a Wikipedia definition;

Converged infrastructure packages multiple information technology (IT) components into a single, optimized computing solution. Components of a converged infrastructure solution include servers, data storage devices, networking equipment and software for IT infrastructure management, automation and orchestration.

In a series of blogposts over the coming months I’m planning to summarize the converged offerings from various vendors including VCE, Netapp, HP, Oracle, IBM, Dell, Hitachi. If I find time I’ll also cover the newer ‘hyperconverged’ offerings from Nutanix, Scale Computing, Pivot3 and Simplivity. This is largely for my own benefit and as a record of my thoughts – there’s quite a bit of material out there already so it may turn into a compilation of links. I don’t want to rediscover the wheel!

Q. Will this series of blogposts tell you which converged solution you should choose?
A. Nope. There are many factors behind these decisions and I (unfortunately) don’t have real world experience of them all.

CI solutions vary considerably in their degree of convergence and use cases. Steve Chambers (previously of VCE, now CanopyCloud) has a good visualisation of the various solutions on a ‘convergence’ scale. If you haven’t read it already I’d strongly recommend you do so before continuing.

Why converged infrastructure?

Before I delve into the solutions let’s have a look at some factors which are common to them all – there’s no point looking at any solution unless you know how it’s going to add value.

  • Management. The management and orchestration tools are often what add real value to these solutions and that’s typically the component that people aren’t familiar with. Run a POC to understand how effective these new tools are. Do they offer and API?
  • Simplicity – validated architectures, preconfigured and integrated stacks of hardware and software, and built in automation all promise to ease the support burden of deploying and operating infrastructure. Who do you call to resolve problems? Will you be caught between vendors blaming each others components or is there a single point of contact/resolution? While a greenfield deployment may be simpler, if you add it to the existing mix (rather than as a replacement) then you’ve added complexity to your environment, and potentially increased your TCO rather than reduced it. Changes to existing processes may also impact job roles – maybe you won’t need a storage admin for example – which can be a benefit but may require considerable change and entail uncertainty for existing staff.
  • Flexibility – Is deploying a large block of compute/network/storage granular enough for your project? Many vendors are now producing a range of solutions to counter this potential issue. While deployment may be quicker, consider ongoing operations – because the engineered systems need to be validated by the vendor you may not be able to take advantage of the newest hardware or software releases, including security patches. For example Oracle’s Exalogic v2, released in July 2012, ships with Linux v5 despite v6 being released in February 2011. The CPU’s were Intel’s Westmere processors (launched in Jan 2011) instead of the E5 Romley line which were released in March 2012. This isn’t just Oracle – to varying degrees this will hold true for any ‘engineered’ system.
  • Interoperability. Can you replicate data to your existing infrastructure or another flavour of converged infrastructure? What about backups, monitoring etc – can you plumb them into existing processes and tools? Is there an API?
  • Risk. CI solutions can reduce the risk of operational issues – buy a 100 seat VDI block which has been designed and pretested for that purpose and you should be more confident that 100 users can work without issue. But what if your needs grow to 125 VDI users? Supplier management is also a factor – if a single vendor is now responsible for compute, networks, and storage, vendor lock in becomes more significant but consolidating vendors can also be a benefit.
  • Cost. CI is a great idea and easy to grasp concept but there’s no such thing as a free lunch – someone is doing the integration work (both software and hardware) and that has to be paid for. CI solutions aren’t cheap and tend to have a large initial outlay (although Oracle have recently announce a leasing scheme which some are sceptical of!) so may be more suited to greenfield sites or larger projects. TCO is a complex issue but also bear in mind support costs – engineered systems can be expensive if you need to customize them after deployment. CI system’s integrated nature may affect your refresh cycle and have an impact on your purchasing process.
  • Workload. Interestingly virtualisation promised a future where the hardware didn’t matter but the current bundling of CI solutions could be seen as a step backwards (as eloquently described by Theron Conrey in this blogpost ‘Is converged infrastructure a crutch?‘). There’s an interesting trend of extending the convergence through to the application tier as seen in Oracle’s Exadata/Exalogic, VCE’s’specialised’ solutions (SAP Hana etc) and Netapp’s Flexpod Select solutions. This promises certification/validation through the entire stack but does raise an interesting situation where the application teams (who are closer to the business) increasingly influence infrastructure decisions…

There’s a thought provoking article at Computer Weekly discussing modular datacentres which takes the converged concept even further. Why bolt together building blocks in your datacentre when you can buy a complete datacentre in a box. Convergence on a larger scale! Next thing you know they’ll be using shipping containers for datacentres… :-)

Further Reading

Converged infrastructure primer (Wikibon)

Management of converged infrastructures (the Virtualization Practice)

Engineers Unplugged session on hyperconverged infrastructure (7 mins)

The Future of Convergence think tank (2hr video)

EMC’s white paper “Time for Converged Infrastructure?” – some good points but with an obvious bias

Containerized datacenters – is a box a good fit?

Converged infrastructure and Object Oriented programming

The state of Converged infrastructure (Zenoss 2013 survey results)