Two Weeks of Dell, VMware and TechEd

It’s been a while since I’ve worked with VMware to any serious nature but for the last two weeks, I’ve been working with a customer to deploy vSphere 5.5 on a new Dell Vrtx chassis. I’ve seen the Dell Vrtx on display at VMUG conferences gone by and it sure is an interesting proposition but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to work with it real world.

All in all, the Dell Vrtx is a really nice system, everything seems to be well planned and thought out.  The web interface for managing the chassis works but it is slow at times to open pages and refresh information, bearable. The remote KVM console to the blades themselves is Java based so results may vary whether it works or not; I really dislike Java based systems and wish more vendors would start to use HTML5 for their interfaces. There is an apparent lack of information on the Dell Website about the Vrtx system. There is a wealth of configuration guides and best practice documents for the Vrtx but all of these seem be so highly pitched that they lack actual technical details. Another issue is the Dell parts catalogue doesn’t really acknowledge the existance of the Vrtx system; I was talking to someone about extending the system with some Fibre Channel HBAs for FC storage connectivity but of all of the FC HBAs for sale on the Dell website, only a single port 4Gbps HBA is listed as supported which I can’t believe for one minute given the PCIe slots in the Vrtx are, well, PCIe slots. Disk performance on the Shared PERC controller is pretty impressive but networking needs to be taken with caution. If you are using the PowerEdge M620 half-height blade, it only exposes two 1GbE Ethernet interfaces to the internal switch plane on the chassis whereas the full height PowerEdge M520 blade exposes four 1GbE Ethernet interfaces and I would have really liked to have seen all four interfaces on the half-height blade, especially when building virtualization solutions with VMware vSphere or Microsoft Windows Server Hyper-V.

I haven’t really worked with VMware too much since vSphere 5.0 and working with vSphere 5.5, not an awful lot has changed. After talking with the customer in question, we opted to deploy the vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA). vCSA in previous releases of vSphere was a bit lacklustre in it’s configuration maximums but in 5.5, this has been addressed and it can now be used as a serious alternative to a Windows Server running vCenter. The OVA virtual appliance is 1.8GB on disk and deploys really quickly, and the setup is fast and simple. vSphere Update Manager (VUM) isn’t supported under Linux or on the vCSA so you do still need to run a Windows Server for VUM but as not everyone opts to deploy VUM, that’s not a big deal really. What I would say to the vCSA though is if you plan to use local authentication and not the VMware SSO service with Active Directory integration then I would still consider the Windows Server. Reason for this being that with the vCSA, you cannot provision and manage new users and password via the vSphere Web Client and instead you have to SSH onto the appliance and manage the users from the VI CLI. With the Windows Server then we can obviously do this with the Users and Groups MMC Console which is much easier if you are of the Microsoft persuasion. If you are using the VMware SSO service and Active Directory integration then this will not be a problem for you though.

Keeping it on the VMware train, I’m looking forward to a day out to the VMware UK User Group Conference VMUG in Coventry in two weeks. I’ve been for the last three years and had a really good and informative day every time I’ve been.

Being so busy on the customer project and with my head buried in VMware, I’ve been really slow on the uptake of TechEd Europe news which bothers me but fear not, thanks to Channel 9, I’ve got a nice list of sessions to watch and enjoy from the comfort of my sofa but with there being so many sessions that I’m interested in, it’s going to take me a fair old chunk of time to plough through them.

Learning Styles from Scott Lowe

I had the privilege of attending VMUG UK at the National Motorcycle Museum this week for the second year running. I felt like I got more out of it this year, in part due to the fact that I wasn’t spending half the time overwhelmed by attending my first proper IT conference (albeit a local free one).

One of the interesting things to come out of it for me was the closing keynote from Scott Lowe, entitled “Stay Sharp and Relevant in IT”. During this keynote, Scott talks about topics he feels are relevant to IT Pro’s learning over the next twelve months in order for them to stay relevant. What was interesting for me wasn’t actually the subject matters we defined, but the chatter before it surrounding learning.

All my IT life, I’ve studied and obtained my certifications predominantly using bookings and self-study, a hard thing to do for someone who’s never really liked reading too much. I took some time last night to take some online tests and assessments to try and calculate my learning style, and wow: it’s amazing how you can find yourself in printed verse doing these tests.

Based on the results of about four or five different tests I took, I come out every time as a kinesthetic learner. This means that I learn best from the act of doing with hands-on interaction, touching things. When I think about how I go by my daily life and compare the information online relating to kinesthetic learning it just all fits into place.

Take this report at Dirjournal for example (http://www.dirjournal.com/guides/study-tips-for-kinesthetic-learners/). They say that kinesthetic learners are likely to fidget and can’t sit still for long periods and when forced to do so, often resort to tapping or bouncing their feet and legs and like to fiddle and play with inanimate objects like pens or pencils when in classes. These two attributes alone describe exactly my behaviour when at work at my desk or when in classes learning new topics. Kinesthetic learners also find it hard to read materials and are more attracted to reading or looking and content when it is visually appealing which explains my passion for good design and striking documentation and materials.

So now that I’ve identified how I learn best and what I should be doing to aid my learning, I think it’s time to cut back on the books and get my hands dirty with more home labs and play time, and hopefully, that will give me the motivation and inspiration to learn more, faster and to be a better IT Pro.

I want to thank Scott for his keynote at VMUG for making me think to stop and asses my learning style, identify it and to help me to help myself. Thanks Scott 🙂