The Amazingness That Will Be vSphere 6.5

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The Amazingness That Will Be vSphere 6.5

n case you haven't heard the news, VMware announced vSphere 6.5 at VMworld Europe this year.  The software hasn't actually released yet, and as usual I wouldn't recommend anyone jumps on the bandwagon at the .0 release (unless you have test environments).  Nobody wants to be that first gazelle across the river!

Make no mistake, there are a TON of new features and enhancements in this version, which you should be checking out on VMware's press releases.  I don't want to cover them all, as you'd need a gallon of coffee to make it through, but I did want to talk about a few of them that I'm personally excited about.

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Going above and beyond for customers

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Going above and beyond for customers

In today’s competitive market, “satisfactory service” is no longer adequate. Businesses have to exceed customer expectations in delivering exceptional services. But as a professional service organization, it is very difficult to gauge what that is. So……how do we do it?   

Each customer comes with different needs and expectations.  As we work closely with our customers, we need to determine how we fit into their plans and how much they are willing to invest in the relationship.  The key is to identify which role the customer wants us to play. Whether it be a “service provider” or a “trusted partner.”  With that said, given the services we offer and reputation we always aim for all customers to consider us as the latter.

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How to stay ahead as we migrate away from traditional route switch

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How to stay ahead as we migrate away from traditional route switch

For the past ten years, I have been a traditional route/switch network engineer.  I have worked with spanning-tree environments that needed to be cleaned up.  I've helped transition between protocols like MSTP, STP, and Rapid-PVST.  I've looked at the routing protocols and helped migrate from RIP to EIGRP or OSPF.  Looking at the WAN, we have MPLS, DMVPNs, and other carrier-grade circuits running various IGPs or BGP.  I've worked in the data center and held firm my delineation where the network ends and other teams begin.  But, is that the world we live in today?  No. For the past five years, I have become more intimately involved in technologies such as storage (storage pools, LUNs), server virtualization (multi-hypervisor, configurations, deployments), security, load balancing, and more.  That said, I know I'm not the only one.  I hear this from companies who are going through the transition or those that have completed it.  Some companies will maintain this segregation and siloed environments for a while, but the shift is here and the time to evolve is now.

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How To Select the Right Converged Infrastructure - One Size Doesn't Fit All

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How To Select the Right Converged Infrastructure - One Size Doesn't Fit All

My intent of writing this is not to convince people of the value and benefit of converged infrastructure.  There is tremendous value and benefit in buying a solution that has been designed, architected and built to work together seamlessly, as opposed to building a solution from scratch by integrating different products.  The market is already showing a significant shift towards organizations adopting and implementing converged infrastructures.  Instead, my intent is to help an organization understand how to evaluate their environment to ensure that they adopt the right solution.  The solution that meets their unique needs today, and into the future.  For that reason, I do believe that selecting a manufacturer with a line of products to meet varying needs is important.   

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Customer enablement...a story to define our brand

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Customer enablement...a story to define our brand

We recently had the opportunity to present to a client of ours an offering that provides business insights by leveraging call data analytics. This data was finally available to analyze as a result of a long-term engagement that touched all of the customers 550 plus retail locations.  The engagement included other positive outcomes as well including the consolidation of all locations into a single unified communications platform, eliminating a multitude of telephony solutions that were not updated or integrated and didn’t provide any business value beyond taking phone calls.  Needless to say, the conversation about call data analytics was inspiring. For the first time, our customer is able to obtain individualized data from every location and use that data to make critical business decisions.

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Firewalling within SDN - Bending the Unbendable

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Firewalling within SDN - Bending the Unbendable

Software-defined networking continues to be a hot topic for businesses looking to streamline their networks and data centers.  With single pane of glass management, SDN offerings ease management workload as well as offer powerful automation tasks to enable your team to work smarter. Cisco’s offering to this realm, ACI, follows suit.  Under the covers, ACI functions by bending the traditional understanding of routing and switching.  IP addresses, MAC addresses, VLAN tags, and other familiar networking components are treated more abstractly, with the fabric doing much of the heavy lifting for you.  But what if you’re looking to take your SDN network to the next level: for example, how would an ASA firewall, abiding by the strict rules of traditional networking, mix with an SDN environment?

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Giving the customer a better understanding of their environment on their terms

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Giving the customer a better understanding of their environment on their terms

As a Solutions Architect (Pre-Sales Engineer) part of my job is not only to help customers keep their environment running at an optimal level but also help the customer understand their environment.  This may entail weeks of work to understand application mapping or a couple of hours to understand capacity trends. I’ll focus on the latter and most common requests. In my 19 years of IT, most of them have been spent on the customer side I’ve always tried to partner with an Integrator/VAR I trust. Integrators have helped me keep updated on the latest technology trends, been able to referenced architectures in a similar environment, helped troubleshoot issues and provided analysis of my environment.  They would collect logs/data, use some “Magic tools” behind the scenes and several days later present to me great recommendations and wonderful reports about my environment. I would take this new information, put it together with my current knowledge and make some changes or adjustment to my environment.  All systems would be performing at peak performance, your “boss” pats you on the back and tells you what a great job you’re doing! Everything is great and the “IT Gods” smile down on you….ok I made up that part about the “boss.” 

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How Data Analytics and IOT “helped” America win the Ryder Cup

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How Data Analytics and IOT “helped” America win the Ryder Cup

IOT and Data Analytics are two popular buzzwords in the technology world today, whether you’re talking about consumer products such as Nest Thermostats or Cisco’s Connect Streaming Analytics platform.  During the Ryder Cup this past weekend, there was much talk about the American Ryder Cup task force’s use of Data Analytics, but how did they capture the necessary data and use it to beat out the competition? Many may think that this is simply a manual process of counting how many fairways you hit or how many putts you made. Then taking that data and figuring where you gained or lost strokes, this is not at all the case with the PGA elite, who use a very concise controlled process utilizing a system called Shotlink.  Shotlink which involves various IOT devices, captures over 70 data points and then uploads the raw data to a central location to be “analyzed” with several tools. During an interview, Captain Davis Love stated that all of these captured data points were analyzed and the results were used to make critical decisions such as

-         Who would be Captains picks

-         Pairings

-         Who should tee off first

-         How to set up the course to benefit the Americans

just to list a few. While benign as separate data points, when put together and properly analyzed the data can significantly impact the decisions listed. Davis credits this data and approach for having made a big contribution to the team’s success.

 

Unfortunately or fortunately many of us do not have access to Shotlink.  However, there are many tools available to the average consumer that would give the novice golfer some of those same stats, Game Golf and Arccos are two that come to mind. These devices can track

-         Fairways Hit

-         Greens in Regulation

-         Approach

all of the information is available in real-time, through apps and cloud dashboard. While the capabilities of these tools still have room to improve, the idea of having this data real time to improve your golf game is a reality.

 

Golf is certainly not the only sport or industry leveraging various IOT devices & Data Analytics, but it may be the one in which the use and outcomes of these tools are most easily seen as well as understood.  The idea of connecting devices and applications is not new, but the sources, speeds, and details certainly are.  So how can IOT and Data Analytics affect your company’s business?  The answer obviously depends on a number of factors including your industry and what your current strategy is around the use of these tools.  While together these technologies seem to have progressed the quickest in the manufacturing industry for use in things such as organizing tools, maintaining traceability of components and monitoring equipment to predict/prevent breakdown, there is a swell of interest and deployment within the energy, transportation and healthcare verticals.

 

Simply stated IOT and Data Analytics are all around us. Whether it’s helping the Americans win back the Ryder Cup, setting the temperature on your Nest Thermostat or companies leveraging the connected world to gain a business advantage it's increasingly becoming the norm.  I suspect that come the next Ryder Cup the use of Data Analytics will be high enough that its use will no longer help to ensure victory as much as the failure to do so will assure a loss for the teams who have refused to adapt, and the same can be said for companies who decide to take a similar approach.

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A Step by Step Look at vSphere Maintenance Mode Interactions

I've noticed over the years that while VMware admins tend to really understand maintenance mode, a lot of others in adjacent spaces (storage, network, etc.) have a very murky perspective on it.  In fact, I'd bet that if you sat down a storage person at vCenter and told them to evacuate a host with MM, odds are they would be really confused when the task hung or failed.  I know I was the first time I tried it.

In case you don't know, maintenance mode is an option for a host that is designed to non-disruptively clear off any running VMs via vMotion (and possibly powered down/suspended VMs) in order for "something" to be done to that host.  A lot of times this is just a reboot.  Most of our lives ("us" being storage guys) are spent directing other people to do this.  "Just put it in maintenance mode," we tell the VMware admin.  We know implicitly that this is going to vMotion all the guests off of it automatically.  But really this isn't always true.  Actually it is only true in one case.

Maintenance mode is always an option for a host, regardless of whether the cluster has DRS enabled or what mode it is in.  But the behavior of MM is contingent on the DRS settings for the cluster.

When enabled, DRS has three different modes of operation.  Briefly those are:

  • Manual - This option generates DRS recommendations that the VMware admin can apply, but it does not automatically move or place VMs
  • Partially Automated - This option also generates DRS recommendations, and also does not automatically move VMs.  However it does attempt to balance the cluster by placing VMs on specific hosts when those guests are powered on.
  • Fully Automated - This option automatically places VMs at power on, as well as actively moves VMs to balance the cluster load.  There is an additional slider that controls how conservatively (infrequent) or aggressively (frequent) the moves happen.

So you have a cluster with DRS enabled in partially automated mode and you go to maintenance mode a host, and it just sits and spins.  Eventually the task times out and fails.  Why?

This is because maintenance mode actually generates DRS move recommendations, and in partially automated mode (as well as manual mode) DRS won't automatically apply move recommendations.  The host is waiting for you to either manually relocate VMs or apply the generated recommendations.  Here I've put a host in MM in a Manual mode cluster, and you can see the DRS recommendations available.

But those recommendations will just sit there until applied, and the host will sit waiting to enter maintenance mode until you either apply those recommendations or you manually migrate with vMotion.

One good thing about the DRS recommendations is that there isn't really a need to disable or tweak DRS when entering MM, even in fully automated mode.  Think about it - if DRS is responsible for ensuring balanced load across all hosts, then as a host was evacuating VMs for MM it would say "hey, there is a free host with nothing on it, we should load that up!"  It would be moving stuff on while MM was moving stuff off.  But because DRS is MM aware we don't have to worry about that.

Another nice thing about MM is that it won't complete until the VMs are migrated off.  So say you didn't know about all these details around MM not being fully automated in certain clusters.  It isn't going to actually put the host into MM while there are still running VMs on it, causing an outage.  The MM task will simply time out and fail.

So we have four DRS options for a given cluster.  Here are how they break down with MM:

  • DRS Disabled - in this case a host will start to enter maintenance mode, but will not complete until all VMs are evacuated. Because DRS is disabled, an administrator is required to manually migrate all VMs to other hosts with vMotion.
  • DRS Enabled, Manual or Partially Automated - Similar to DRS disabled, the host will start to enter but won't complete until all VMs are evacuated.  Manual migration via vMotion is still an option but an easier way is to go to the DRS recommendations page which should have recommendations to evacuate all guests because the host is entering MM.  Then you can just apply the recommendations.
  • DRS Enabled, Fully Automated - This mode will automatically evacuate the host with no administrator intervention required.

Here are some other things to keep in mind.

First, HA should have no meaningful interaction with maintenance mode because there should be no outage (guest or host) during the process.  There is a maintenance option with HA, seen here.

This is intended for anyone doing network maintenance on the management network.  Essentially if the management network goes down but the guest networks are up, we don't want a full cluster freak out.  But again, no need to monkey with this if you are just doing maintenance mode.

Second, aside from random reboots vSphere Update Manager is going to be a big source of MM as well.  If you are applying new VIBs or patching, it is likely going to need to put hosts in MM, and it will follow the same rules as regular MM (behavior is based on DRS settings).  This is really important to note if you have scheduled patch updates which you expect to complete automatically after hours!  If your DRS cluster is in anything other than Fully Automated, you will require administrator intervention to complete the process.

Next, don't forget about any VM Overrides with respect to the DRS settings.  Sometimes in fully automated clusters, you may have VM Overrides set for VMs that you don't want moving during the day, like VOIP related servers.  If a VM Override sets a VM to Partially Automated or Manual, that will also require administrator intervention.

Finally, the conservative/aggressive setting.  Because MM is tied into DRS and generates DRS recommendations there isn't really an issue no matter where this slider is.  However for the paranoid with fully automated DRS, you can adjust the slider to the most conservative setting which will essentially stop generating DRS moves based on load balancing but still honor moves for MM and affinity settings.

An interesting question here is, what if I have anti-affinity rules that would be violated by the MM setting?  An easy enough thing to check as I only have two hosts in my lab.  I created an anti-affinity rule for two VMs:

With my cluster in Partially Automated mode and the VMs distributed on separate hosts, I tried to put one host into MM and then checked the DRS recommendations.

Notice that while there are two recommended moves here, there is not a move for linuxdns which is also on that host.  This is because that move would violate the anti-affinity rule I put in place.  So I have to manually migrate that VM with vMotion.

Also kind of interesting is that the vMotion compatibility checker will also recognize that a host is going into MM and not let you vMotion to it.

After the vMotion completes, the host goes into MM like normal.  Same thing if the cluster is in Fully Automated mode as well.

So in summary, when using MM make sure to keep the cluster DRS settings, as well as any VM overrides and affinity/anti-affinity rules, in mind so that your MM and updates aren't impacted.  It is likely that with a larger cluster, anti-affinity rules can still be satisfied even with hosts going into MM, but remember that there are also different kinds of affinity rules as well as VUM having the ability to execute some patching in parallel if you have enough resources in your cluster...so multiple hosts may be going into MM at the same time.  There are a lot of different configuration options but hopefully this post will help clear up the behavior for you.

 

Joel Cason

ROVE | Senior Technical Consultant

Joel.Cason@withrove.com

@raid_zero

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4 proven ways to update or implement your disaster recovery plan without breaking the bank

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4 proven ways to update or implement your disaster recovery plan without breaking the bank

There was a time when many organizations rolled the dice with limited or non-existent IT Disaster Recovery (DR) plans for their business.  Unless they were very large companies who understood the risk or were regulated industries (i.e. Banks, Financial Organizations, Pharma, Healthcare, etc.) they simply ignored the risk.  However, those were the days when resiliency typically came at a significant cost.  While many IT leaders highlighted the risk, the organization as a whole looked the other way, focusing their investments in other parts of the business.  However, while there is still a cost associated with this, the options to provide resiliency have increased while the cost continues to decrease in providing a level of preparedness that can meet the goals of most organizations. 

Cloud Based IaaS

Regardless of the infrastructure stack you are running, there is likely a cloud based infrastructure as a Service offering.  With zero or very limited capital outlay, organizations have substantial IT firepower at their disposal – ready when required.  Yes, there are costs associated with replication and connectivity, but these services have substantially decreased the costs associated with this level of resiliency.  Based on an organization’s RTO and RPO, solutions from simple replication with the ability to “turn up” capacity as required to true Active/Active scenarios, there is a cost effective model to meet any demand. 

Software as a Service

Software as a Service for key applications is becoming more commonplace.  Inherently, most of these services have built-in resiliency.  However, understanding each provider’s resiliency is a key component of any due diligence.  Additionally, understanding how each application interacts with and fits into an organization’s overall business continuity plan is critical.  Just assuming a SaaS model provides the resiliency and can continue to operate while other systems fail can leave IT leaders in a vulnerable spot in a true emergency.

Converged & Hyper-Converged Infrastructures

With the emergence of converged and hyper-converged products, deployment and upkeep on remote systems has dramatically decreased.  Integrated systems can now be deployed to remote locations to provide resiliency for entire infrastructure stacks or a subset of key systems.  Ongoing maintenance of these systems is simplified and the cost of ongoing support is drastically reduced. 

SD-WAN

Software Defined WAN opens up a number of options for providing redundancy for the network.  In the past, network connectivity to remote locations has added to the cost barriers of providing necessary resiliency.  SD-WAN reduces the reliance on more expensive private WAN solutions, opening the door for more options to improve redundant connectivity to remote locations.

And the list goes on… I’ve barely scratched the surface of the options available to IT leaders that enable them to provide the resiliency required to ensure key systems are available to the business during unplanned outages.  The multitude of options at different cost levels provide no room for an IT leader to leave themselves unprepared for an unplanned outage. 

While the options for building in resiliency have exploded, finding and architecting the right solution can be difficult.  Technologies continue to leapfrog each other with rapid advancement in capabilities.  The key is finding the right partner to help wade through the options and develop the solution that meets the needs of each individual organization. 

 

Ron Byczynski

ROVE | VP, Professional Services

Ron.Byczynski@withrove.com

 

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