Want to go to VMworld 2015? Win a trip from SimpliVity!

VMworld is a great gathering of all things VMware and I think that everyone should have the chance to go.  Unfortunately, it can also be an expensive gathering, which might be cost prohibitive for some potential attendees.  Good news though, because my employer, SimpliVity, is giving away 3 sets of tickets that include hotel and airfare.  All you have to do is click below and enter for a chance to win.

VMworld Social Contest

Winners will be announced on July 17th, 24th, and 31st.  Good luck to everyone!

VSPEX Blue – Evo:Rail and more!

VSPEX Blue Today EMC announced it’s latest product, the VSPEX Blue!  This 2U hyper converged offering is based of of VMware’s EVO:Rail platform that was announced last year.  While most everyone reading this is familiar with the EVO:Rail platform, the VSPEX Blue offering expands on this to give even more to the administrator.

For those of you unfamiliar, EVO:Rail offers a simplified VMware cluster setup that lets you go from power on to provisioning virtual machines in about 15 minutes with limited interaction from the administrator.  For more information about the software and basic interface, read this blog post from Duncan Epping.

So what do you get?

On the outside, each VSPEX Blue appliance is a standard Phoenix 2U chassis that contains 4 nodes.  Each node contains 2 gigabit ethernet ports, and 4 storage drives to make it vSan compliant.  The diagram below explains in detail what to expect from a hardware perspective.

VSPEX Blue Hardware

One differentiating factor in the hardware is that this is the first EVO:Rail solution to offer both a standard and performance model.  The only difference is that the standard has 128GB of ram and the performance has 192GB.  The below slide explains what you get in each node.

VSPEX Blue Node

 

So what sets this apart from the other vendors?

That is an interesting question.  While there is a slight hardware differentiation in RAM options, the biggest differences come in the form of software.  On top of the standard VMware offering comes the VSPEX Blue Manager.  This is built into the standard EVO interface, so what you get is extra options in a familiar presentation.  A key section is the hardware manager which allows you to view the hardware status of each component in the appliance in an interface that reminds me of Unisphere.

VSPEX Blue Manager Appliance View

 

You can visualize exactly which part has failed and this makes it easy for the administrator to replace the parts themselves.  Tied with this also comes the EMC Remote support options including ESRS found on EMC’s traditional storage platforms.  You can click right from the VSPEX Blue Manager interface and get knowledge base access and live chat available to you.  EMC will be handling the support for all issues relating to the VSPEX Blue appliance and will interface with VMware as needed.  The administrator will not need to call 1 company for hardware and another for software.

The other major addition from EMC is the VSPEX Blue Marketplace.  This is a great place to click and automatically deploy additional VMware related software solutions.  When VSPEX Blue goes GA in 2 weeks, it will launch with the following options from the marketplace:

  • EMC Recoverpoint for VMs (Licensed for 15 VMs per appliance)
  • CloudArray Virtual Edition (1 TB of cache and 10TB of cloud storage)
  • vSphere Data Protection Advanced (Alowing you to backup to Avamar and Datadomain)

VSPEX Blue MarketThis is just to start, as the product evolves more offerings will be available from EMC and from partners.

My take on this offering

So after looking at all the launch partners, it’s clear that while EMC is last to market, they haven’t just been wasting their time.  This is the first appliance i’ve seen that offered something more than just the standard EVO:Rail offering and laid the groundwork for a bigger ecosystem.  Given that this is the first instance that there are 2 different hardware offerings, i can see some people saying that EMCs relationship with VMware allowed them something special.  My understanding (and i could be wrong about the specifics on this) is that this option is available to all partners, so we may see some new offerings from the existing launch partners as well.

This appliance is also a partner only sale, so EMC Sales reps won’t be selling them directly (unless you want to buy a lot of them) and they will be sourced directly from the OEM manufacturers, which means the partner will be in charge of delivery instead of EMC.

VSPEX Offerings

Finally, this offering now really shows the VSPEX offerings at all sizes.  With the internalization of VCE, EMC can now offer converged options for small, medium, and large business.  And no i’m not going to talk about that 4th option in the photo above.

 

VMworld 2013 in pictures

VMworld 2013 - Day 3 331San Francisco is an amazing city (and also an expensive city).  I finally was approved for travel to this city after trying the past two years, so I wanted to make it count.  I had heard so many great things about VMworld from years past and I was looking forward to all it had to offer before, during, and after the show.  With only a few days in the city and a lot to accomplish, my adventure began on saturday.

 

Saturday night kicked off the first VMworld activity (if you don’t count booth assembly or hanging in the alumni lounge).  Simon Seagrave hosted a spectacular vBeers event to kick things off and it was packed the the point it was spilling out on to the sidewalk.  I met a lot of really cool people (including several people I follow on twitter) and I even got to try out google glass (I need to find one that fits people with glasses).

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 1 189_HDRThe next day started off with some sight seeing and a bit of a walking tour of SF.  Google maps really need to start telling me about elevation changes because some of those streets were straight up (or down depending on the direction you were going)!

 

Sunday afternoon was home to the 4th (or 5th depending on who you ask) vOdgeball tournament and this year did not disapoint.  My understanding was that this was the biggest it has been and major props to the teams competing, the refs for making quick calls, and the fans for surviving stray balls.

VMworld 2013 - Day 1 568

While team EMC was victorious in winning, the real winners was the wounded warriors program who received around $14,000 in donations.

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 2 367That evening we witnessed the opening of the show floor.  I have to say, the EMC booth was amazing and was one of 2 double decker booths on the show floor.  It seemed like every time I was at the booth it was packed full of people and this is always a great sign.  After 3 hours of booths, beer, and food, it was time for the biggest social media meet up of the week.  I’m referring to the VMunderground party.  This year it was held at an art gallery (that was surprisingly vacant of art) and had plenty of room to talk, eat, and mingle.

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 2 066All this has happened and the show doesn’t even start really until Monday morning.  The opening keynote delivered by former EMCer Pat Gelsinger did not disappoint.  Major announcements about the release of vSphere 5.5 which included two new features: VSAN and NSX.  VSAN is VMwares take on software defined storage and NSX is the result of the Nicira acquisition last year and completes their software defined networking portfolio.  There are plenty of great blogs out there discussing these technologies and I can’t wait to see what is done with this technology down the road.

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 2 392VMworld 2013 - Day 2 518At the EMC booth, Chad Sakac didn’t disappoint either.  He has a way with words and seems to be able to fire up the crowd no matter where he is.  Of course it helps when you have goodies to wow people like a VMAX that has a fridge built into it.

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 3 127Tuesday provided even more information about the new technologies announced the day before.  It was also a great day to do hands on labs.  VMware provided a huge hands on lab area, but for people wanting to try out EMC specific labs, we also brought our own booth setup to handle several labs at a time across the entire EMC portfolio.

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 3 565Tuesday night was the vendor parties and EMC, Cisco, and Intel banded together to bring you Cloudfest!.  We took over Ghirardelli square to bring the ultimate combination of music, food, and chocolate.  As evidence by the photo to the right, this place was packed!  The bands were great and delivered some amazing covers of popular songs by Queen, The Police, and others.  I was told this was one of the best parties of the night and people were still talking about it up through the end of VMworld.

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 4 080VMworld 2013 - Day 4 220On Wednesday, the EMC booth had a t-shirt meet up.  Everywhere you looked was a sea of EMC datacenter hero shirts (I think there were more than at EMC World).  This was the final day the show floor was open and even after 3 days of presentations, booth attendance was still very high (including some special guests like Pat dropping by).

VMworld 2013 - Day 4 249

 

VMworld 2013 - Day 4 279That night was the VMworld Party.  They took over AT&T park and turned it into a cVMworld 2013 - Day 4 301ounty fair!  The midway games were great however I still maintain that they were rigged since the same people kept winning (and I won nothing).  Both Train and Imagine Dragons did a great job.  This has to be one of the best customer appreciation parties I have been to and I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming years as other events step up!

 

All in all VMworld was a great event.  I met more people than I can remember (including about half of the people I follow on twitter).  I learned a lot about upcoming technology and the solutions they play.  To see the full collection of my photos (all 154 of them) I have posted them to google+.

VMworld 2013 - Day 3 342

VMworld – The EMC presence and where to find me

With VMworld getting underway in just a few hours, i thought i’d talk about EMC’s presence at the show and where you can find me.  EMC will have 2 booths this year.  We have the main booth which is 2 floors and full of awesome!  The main floor area will have a social media wall, a presentation theater, a prize wheel, and plenty of stations to learn about all that we have to offer.  The upstairs area will be an EMC Elect space for all Elect members in attendance.  Have you nominated someone (or yourself) yet?

 

The other area will be in the back corner and it is an EMC Hands on lab (Powered by vLab!) area where you can try our latest and greatest solutions in a virtual environment.  This is separate

wpid-Screen-Shot-2013-08-25-at-10.11.37-AM.png

I urge everyone to stop by the booths and check them out, and you may even find yourself in a picture up on one of our posts!  Which brings me to where i’ll be.  This year i am acting as official EMC photographer for the event.  I will be EVERYWHERE gathering photos of all things EMC.  So be sure to attend one of our sessions or anything else listed on the vPass page and you may wind up in our photo album.  When i’m not shooting photos, you’ll find me hanging out around the EMC booth or in the VMworld hang space.  At night, you can find me at one of VMworld’s many social gatherings.

 

Speaking of social gatherings, are you going to Cloudfest?  For those of you who don’t know, Cloudfest is a customer appreciation party cosponsored by EMC, Cisco, and Intel.  It’s going to be the best party tuesday night.  For those of you who have already signed up, be sure to pick up your invitation at the EMC Booth.  If you didn’t get a chance to sign up, there will be more tickets given out, so talk to the booth staff and see if you can get one, or become friends with an EMC Elect member who might be able to get you in.  I hope to see everyone there.

 wpid-image003.jpg

Thats it for now, but be sure to check out the EMC VMworld vPass page to cover all things going on at this year’s show.

VMworld – Introducing the Software-Defined 7

With VMworld a week away, I wanted to start talking about the goings on at the event and how I will be contributing to the community.  This year, we have seven EMC Elect Social Champions (also known as the “Software Defined 7″) who will be attending VMworld and offering live coverage of the event.  I am honored to be one of those members this year and will be your goto contact for EMC party related information (more onthat later) as well as taking photos of the entire show.

This year, EMC has several break out sessions, as well as a large double decker booth on the show floor, hands on labs, and a customer appreciation event.  A full list of all the events can be found here.  A member of the software defined seven has volunteered to be the social champion for a break out session or event and will be your contact for any questions as well as blogging & tweeting the content from the session.  They will become the goto person for asking questions during the event wether you are attending or playing the home game.

 

For those of you who cannot attend, but want to stay up to date on all things EMC at VMworld, i encourage you to visit the Virtual Pass page on ECN where we have everything EMC is doing all in one space.  There is even a discussion thread to talk about the show (thanks to a suggestion from Luigi).

A quick fix for the VNX

If you are a customer, partner, or EMC employee and you are subscribed to the ETA notifications list, you probably got a heads up about potential incompatibility between the VNX, RecoverPoint, and VAAI under certain conditions.  For those of you who are not subscribed, fellow blogger Cormac Hogan wrote a quick little post about the issue.

 

I’m proud to announce that there is a fix available for this and it can be found in VNX Block OE 05.32.000.5.206 (released this week).  Simply apply this fix (you can do it yourself using USM).  For those of you with a FILE front end, make sure you update to 7.1.71.1 as well.

 

If you are an EMC Customer (with support zone credentials), you can read the full description of solution emc327099 (now stored on the new knowledgebase solution powered by Salesforce).  If the direct link is not working, simply login to http://support.emc.com and search for “emc327099” and your first result should be the solution.

My VCP5 experience and a Workstation 9 giveaway!

VMW_10Q3_LGO_CERTIFIED_PRO_4For those of you who follow me on Twitter or Google+, you may have noticed that I recently passed my VCP5.  This exam was a long time in the making, but every time I would go to take it, something would come up.  Originally, I was scheduled to start the new year with my VCP5 exam, but a last minute trip to Seattle forced me to reschedule my exam for February.  When I rescheduled my exam for February, I had no idea I would be starting my new job, but as luck would have it, I scheduled it for the same week.  So once again, I rescheduled for March.  Hopefully this explains why I had been so quiet with my blog lately as I had spent a lot of my available time leading up to the exam studying.  Even though I switched into a marketing role, I’m still keeping my technical side.  I committed to passing this exam and even made it part of my goals with EMC.

 

The good news is that my studying paid off.  I passed my VCP5 with a better score than I got on the VCP4!  A few of my biggest takeaways from the exam were as follows:

  • Gone are the majority of the questions about minimums and maximums (I think I had only 1)
  • Even more questions were about real world examples
  • There was a heavy focus on performance troubleshooting and identification
  • Several questions focused on HA, DRS, and FT
  • Only a handful had images, so be sure to paint a mental picture from the descriptions

 

My exam prep consisted of many different resources.  I started off by reviewing the material found in 3 books:

I also reviewed the study guide and exam prep questions put together by Mike Preston.  This guide is very comprehensive and full of great information.  Simon Long also has practice exam questions on the VCP5 as well and was one of my primary resources when studying for my VCP4.

 

The final resource I used in my preparation was the recordings of the vBrownBag.  They went through every section of the VCP5 exam blueprint and is great to listen to.  I only wish that they did it again so that I could have asked my questions live.

 

So on to the giveaway.  One of the rewards for passing the VCP5 is a free VMware Workstation 9 license.  I want to give back to the community that has helped me so much, so I’m giving this key away to someone who needs it.  Wining this license key is simple:

  • Make sure you are following me on twitter
  • Leave a comment here telling me something about your VCP5 exam experience (or study plans if you haven’t taken the exam).  A helpful tip, a gotcha, anything will do and there is no wrong answer here!
  • Make sure that you also put your twitter handle in your comment (I will need this to DM you if you win)

The winner will be selected at random and you will earn an extra entry if you tweet about this blog post and mention my twitter handle in the tweet.  I’m going to to do this quick, so the contest will close at 12:01 AM Eastern on April 1st, 2013 and I will contact the winner shortly after that.

VNX INYO MR1–The Future is Now

EMC World 2012 - Day 1 150With a new year, comes a HUGE update to the VNX family.  As Chad Sakac reveled earlier in the year, INYO was the code name for the VNX FILE OE 7.1 and BLOCK OE 05.32 code release that surfaced last year.  Now, the time has come for a major update to the code, and with it some exciting new features.

 

VNX OE for FILE

On the FILE side, the biggest (and what I think is the most exciting) feature coming is support for SMB 3.0 and the VNX is the first array to support this.  Back in October of 2012, Microsoft released it’s latest versions of the Windows Operating system (Windows 8 and Server 2012).  With that came the latest enhancements to the SMB protocol (for more information, click here to read a great blog post by Microsoft).  With this upgrade (and the use of the SMB 3.0 protocol) you get a much less disruptive failover which includes keeping the open state of a file and file lock.  You will also notice enhanced throughput by being able to take advantage of the Multi Path IO over SMB 3.0 without the need to configure LACP or EtherChannel.

 

VNX OE for BLOCK

On the BLOCK side, the VNX gains support for ODX support and the ability to Offloaded copies to the array.  This cuts down on host CPU as well as SAN bandwidth as the transfers don’t leave the array.  This is done by breaking down the copy into a series of tokens and passing them between the hosts while the data is passed between luns (as demonstrated in the chart below)

image

A couple of things to note.  This does require an enabler, but you do not need to reboot the SP for that.  You will have to reboot the host for that (it’s a limitation of Microsoft, not EMC).  You will have to use Microsoft MPIO or the latest versions of PowerPath as well as an NTFS file system (with an allocation size of 8k or larger for better performance).

 

Also included with this release was several enhancements revolving around VAAI support on the VNX.  Most this included the XCOPY fix as described in solution emc313487 as well as a big performance improvement to VAAI Fastclones.  Chad has more on that subject here.

 

Unisphere Service Manager

Finally, there was also another enhancement that I wish I had when I was in tech support.  Starting with the new version of Unisphere Service Manager (1.2.26.1.0068) you will now find a 1-click health check available after the main login.  You may remember a previous blog post I did on how to run health checks on the VNX.  Now you can run a single check to verify the health of your array (BLOCK, FILE, or Unified).  Just click the health check link on the right hand side.  I have attached a screen shot below to show what the output of a healthy array looks like.

image

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and enjoy these new enhancements.  Remember, you don’t have to wait for EMC to upgrade your array, you can do it yourself using USM.

VNX iSCSI and TCP Delayed Acknowledgement

vnx-5500I recently sat in on an internal VNX (and CLARiiON) performance crash course that was put together to help our new hires get up to speed.  Once of the things that stuck out to me was the subject of iSCSI and how it works with host TCP delayed acknowledgement (Delayed ACK).

 

Background Information

So what is delayed ACK?  As part of TCP, for every packet that is sent to a destination server, that server must send some sort of acknowledgement back to the source server.  This way the source server knows the information was successfully transmitted.  This adds a good amount of overhead, so in an effort to improve performance, TCP Delayed Acknowledgement (RFC 1122) was created which allows a destination server to respond to every 2nd packet instead.  This has become so popular, that support for delayed ACK is enabled by default in many popular client operating systems including Microsoft Windows and VMware ESX/i.

 

The problem with this is that many storage arrays do not support delayed ACK for one reason or another (usualy has to do with chipset drivers).  What happens in this case is that the array will send a packet, it will then wait for an acknowledgement before sending a 2nd packet.  Meanwhile, the host is waiting for a 2nd packet before sending an acknowledgement.  This standoff between the array and the host will last until the acknowledgement timeout (usually around 200ms) before continuing on.  This wreaks havoc on performance if every packet has to wait 200 milliseconds before sending another.  So if you’ve setup iSCSI and you are immediately seeing a performance issue, check your hosts to see if Delayed ACK is enabled, and turn it off to see if performance improves.

 

Disabling Delayed ACK in Microsoft Windows

 

In Microsoft Windows operating systems, you can simply set the TcpAckFrequency registry value to 1.  More information can be found Microsoft kb 328890.  On a side note, I found that if the registry value is missing, you can create it in the path specified in the kb and reboot the host.

 

Disabling Delayed ACK in VMware ESX and ESXiimage

VMware has created KB 1002598 to address this as well.  This adjustment is made per adapter instance and you can change this setting on a discovery address, a target, or (in my case) globally.  Once you’ve made your change, reboot the host and enjoy the performance boost.

 

I hope you’ve found this information useful.  It may not solve your iSCSI performance problem, but it is a good place to start.

A few initial thoughts about VMware vSphere 5.1

654375636VMware released vSphere 5.1 this past week, and while there is a large amount of people who have been holding off on upgrading, I have had the pleasure of upgrading both my home lab and the non production lab I use at the office.  Having played with it for a few days now, I wanted to share my first impressions.

 

The upgrade process

imagePrevious vCenter server upgrades simply consisted of just upgrading the server component (and the upgrade and away you go.  Now VMware has introduced two new components to the mix: vCenter Inventory Service & vCenter Single sign-on.  To take a lot of the guess work out of this, VMware provided the “simple installer” to the mix.  This runs through each of the setup applications in the proper order and makes the process very simple and I applaud VMware for this.  A couple things to note:

  • As with all vSphere upgrades, make sure you upgrade vCenter server BEFORE you upgrade any hosts.
  • If you plan on using LDAP authentication, make sure that you are logged in with an LDAP account when you install the single sign-on service.
  • If an upgrade fails during the “simple install”, you will need to continue installation by hand.
  • You won’t need to reboot the vCenter Server machine after the upgrade, the upgrade process will restart all the required services for you.
  • After upgrading the hosts, they did not automatically reconnect to vCenter, and you have to click reconnect on them.

Since I run my vCenter server with an internal database and on a virtual machine, I was able to simply snapshot the VM in the event that something went wrong.  Luckily nothing did and both my upgrades went smooth.

 

vCenter Server 5.1

imageOne of the things I noticed right away was the startup time of vCenter server from boot up.  It is at least 4x longer than vCenter server 5.0 and earlier.  A simple look at task manager during the start up process shows that the java process is eating up most of my CPU, so my guess is this delayed startup is due to the revamped web interface being used.  Needless to say, it threw me for a loop the first time and I thought my upgrade had been borked.  So just keep that in mind that it may take 20 minutes or so for vCenter to come up and be stable.

 

Now when using the standard vSphere client to connect, you will notice things are very similar to older versions.  This is be expected as I believe VMware is trying to make a shift to everyone using the Web Interface (more on this later).  Do keep in mind that the regular vCenter client does not give you access to all of the new features.  One of the big ones to note, is that the new enhanced vMotion can only be found in the web client (again more on this later).

 

vCenter Web Client

imageIt’s clear that VMware has spent a lot of time improving upon the web interface and it shows.  That’s good news for Mac users as they now have a fully functioning method for administering the environment.

 

Right away, you’ll notice a new icon that is not present in the standard vCenter client.  VMware has included vCenter Orchestrator right into the mix and I hope this is a sign of more plugins to be installed.  With that being said, I was disappointed to see that the update manager was not present in the web client, so you must still use the classic vCenter client to perform those updates.

 

One of the things I noticed (and was pointed out by Frank Denneman) was that the new Enhanced vMotion (the one that lets you change both hosts and datastores while the guest is powered on) can ONLY be found in the web client.  I’m not sure this was the best play by VMware, but my guess is that VMware’s long term plan is to make the web client the primary interface for management.

 

Final Thoughts

As with every upgrade, I’m always amazed by the refinement that is introduced.  More and more drawn out processes are being simplified and it seems like VMware really cares about the advanced users as well as those just getting started.  As with any major upgrade, first adopters have some challenges and I wanted to list out a few things that you should be aware of before you upgrade:

As with all my blog posts, I like to hear from the readers.  If you had a good or a bad upgrade experience, let me know in the comments.