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.

Breaking the Duck

It’s been over 18 months since I last sat an IT Pro exam of some description and frankly that was far, far too long. I should really have taken my TOGAF 9 exams last year as a minimum as the Architecting the Enterprise course I attended in London in May included the vouchers for the combined TOGAF exam, but it just never happened.

Today though, I finally broke the duck on my exam sitting and took my VMware Certified Professional 5 Datacenter Virtualization (VCP5-DV) exam and passed it. Maximum score for the exam is 500 and the minimum passing score is 300. I scored 380 which works out to be just shy of 80%. I wasn’t thrilled with the result, but I was happy to pass it first time round.

I got lots of questions on VMware FT which is probably my weakest area of the product after spending a lot of time researching iSCSI and NFS to square up on my existing Fibre Channel knowledge to cover all the storage topics. Although I’ve now passed the exam, I’m going to continue my research to try and brush up more of Fault Tolerance.

Next up? Well, my Cisco CCENT qualification expires in April this year, so I’ve got three months to pass my ICND2 exam to gain my CCNA or I lose the earlier CCENT and have to sit both exams again. Luckily, my networking knowledge has grown a lot since the first time I sat ICND2 and failed it about two and a half years ago, so I’m confident with some new research and studying into serial connections, IPv6 and a few other bits, I will be able to pass that exam.

Onwards and upwards…..

Configuring VMware Data Protection Appliance (VDP)

Yesterday, I had the chance to stand up a VMware Data Protection (VDP) appliance virtual machine. This is the replacement for VDR in vSphere 5.0 and upwards and is based on the EMC Avamar product.

When configuring the VDP appliance for the first time using the https://hostname:9543/vdp-configure URL, you are asked for credentials to connect to vCenter. The interface tells you that this is used to register with vCenter, but what it doesn’t tell you is that this account is actually then used for on-going access to vCenter and creating and deleting the snapshots on the VMs it is backing up. Therefore, make sure you use a service account and not your own account.

There is also a requirement for this account to be directly permissioned in vCenter and not via a nested group membership, so make sure you do this before attempting the registration.

VMware vSphere 4.1 and VCP Web Links

Having just finished the course for vSphere 4.1 today, it’s going to be all hands on deck revising this stuff for VCP for the next week or so. Here is a list of useful links for vShpere and ESX/ESXi related knowledge which will liekyl help others along with myself in my quest to obtain VCP.

http://vmetc.com/2008/02/12/best-practices-for-esx-host-partitions/

http://www.vmware.com/pdf/vsphere4/r40/vsp_40_config_max.pdf

http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/virtualization-pro/choosing-a-block-size-when-creating-vmfs-datastores/

http://vmware-land.com/esxcfg-help.html

http://pubs.vmware.com/vsp40/wwhelp/wwhimpl/js/html/wwhelp.htm#href=install/c_vc_hw.html

http://www.vmware.com/pdf/vsp_vum_40_admin_guide.pdf

I will be updating this list on an on-going basis with all of the resources I come across.

Lastly, I cannot and will not vouch for any of these sites. These are merely just sites I have found to be useful for me.