Training, Professional Services or Do I Try it Myself?

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

-John Wooden

Training, professional service or do it yourself (DYI)? This is becoming a very common question for most of my clients and I would guess for the industry as a whole. While I am speaking specifically of virtualization (hypervisor), this of course could apply to many aspects of the current data center. So what is an IT team supposed to do? When does a system administrator admit he/she cannot complete task at head and in a way stick his own neck out? Where does budgets come into place vs. deliverables such as timelines, service levels etc? All very interesting questions, but answers are a bit complex.


Personally I am proponent of education in all aspect of like not just the technical side. However, training has some serious drawbacks and may not be a true option when looked at carefully. For one it is much more time consuming than most people realize or maybe want to admit. Plus ones absorption rate varies widely between individuals. I know people who touch something once and are “experts” while on the other hand people who have done the same thing a hundred times still needs reminders how to finish the task. Not to mention that the individual trainer/provider makes a huge difference. Lastly, classes usually require time away from the office and can put a person in a worst situation than before trying to catch up and learn new stuff at the same time.

With that said, there is a huge upside here. This learn to fish mentality provides higher adoption rate, customer satisfaction and allows the customer be less dependent on a particular partner or vendor. All in my opinion can be a huge value add for getting some classroom & lab time.

 Professional Services

Of course I want to be careful here since I work for a professional service (PS) company. The drawbacks are nothing new. It tends to be expensive and add up to 30% to projects budget. Managing the PS partner at times can be difficult and a time waste almost breaking even with doing it yourself. Plus, and it is a big plus, it puts the requestor in a vulnerable position with both his management and the PS partner. One, he/she s vouching for this service and in a way sticking their respected necks out while at the same time admitting they don’t have the capacity to do this themselves. The PS partner thinks they are dependent on them and lets be honest most of the time they are, and tend to use that to their advantage whether they do good work or not.

The good news if that you find a good partner most of these problems solve themselves. Value partners will not only do the work but train you as they move through the process meeting SLA’s and budgets. They will do their work in a timely manner putting your project ahead of schedule and make you the advocate look like a rock star. They are fair on price and try to work within your budget range and adapt as needed. Finally, someone else is on the hook and can, good or bad, be a scapegoat if the project ever goes sideways. Food for thought.

Do It Yourself

My favorite because it tends to be my motto but tends to get me in trouble more often than not. For one if you are lacking the base foundation of skillsets you could end up costing yourself a lot more time and money than expected.  With that I mean, It tends not to be a good use of company resources and your time could be better used doing the tasks you’re a good at.  And then the biggest negative, and I see this every working day of my career, is that it isn’t done right and causes huge headaches in the short or long term. Poor performance almost always boils down to bad infrastructure designs that a quality PS partner would have avoided in the beginning.

However there are some upside to the DIY approach. For instance people tend to learn best by doing and it pushes you to expand your knowledge. The cost aspect if avoiding the above mistakes can be huge and set up a dependence that is unmatched. You own the keys to your data center and no one is driving but you! This is a huge advantage when negotiating with vendors, partners, and even management. Lastly, It provides you the best job security I could imagine. As the designer and implementer you become almost irreplaceable as no one wants to reverse engineer your solutions.  Now granted this is only the case if it is done right and you don’t cause a huge outage.

Final Thoughts

In the end I tell clients a mixture of all of these tends to be the best fit. Of course depending on the scope and product I do recommend certain avenues. If it is tier 1 and 99.999 uptime application then by all means spending a few dollars here and there would be a great investment to ensure success. If it is a low priority project that needs little success and are not under a time crunch then it is great to roll up your sleeves and get to work. The one thing I will say is that education and classes should be included with every project. If you are not learning how things work you will always be susceptible to be vendor locked, and no one wants that except the vendors.

vSphere 5 License Entitlements Tool


Still don’t understand the new vSphere licensing model? Can’t quite comprehend what you are entitled to from your existing vSphere environment? Need hard cost proof why you should or shouldn’t upgrade to vSphere 5? Tired of all of these rhetorical questions?

Good news below is a link to VMware’s vSphere Licensing Advisor. This is a tool that will let you to look at your 4.1, 4.0, or 3.5 environments and see what you are entitled to.

A Few Notes:

  • The tool requires JRE 1.6 or higher.
  • Editions are displayed as their vSphere 5.0 equivalents using standard entitlement paths.
  • If you have vCenter Servers in linked mode, you will need to connect to each vCenter Server.
  • The tool displays vRAM usage and capacity at the single point in time the data is gathered.
  • The tool will work in environments with Virtual Infrastructure 3.5, vSphere 4.0 and vSphere 4.1. Environments with vCenter Server 4.x managing Virtual Infrastructure 3.5 hosts are not supported with this tool.

Running Hyper-V in vCenter!

With the announcement of vCenter Operations a few months ago I was thinking about how vCenter and how useful this interface has become over the last few years. For whatever reason I started to wonder if vCenter could handle the management of non-vSphere virtual machines. As I had a few conversations I was met with some weird expressions and utter confusion. “Why would you want to?” seemed to be a common response, more on that later.

I knew that Microsoft Virtual Machine Manager claims to manage VMware VM’s (I wouldn’t vouch for the performance ) so I was sure VMware had some sort of tool of their own, right?  After some research it turns out I was half right.


Lets back up and explain the why. First and my favorite response is always “why not?” If it can be done, why not prove it. Second and a more responsible and applicable reason is because hyper-v is free.* I am not saying replace your VMware environment, I am saying from a cost perspective if you wanted to spin up a few fully functioning VM’s for test/dev or branch office tier 3 applications hyper-v is a good and inexpensive choice.

The Solution

The part why I was only partially correct. So it turns out there is a program called vCenter XVP Manager and Converter, and it does just that.  As stated from their website.

VMware vCenter XVP Manager and Converter provides basic virtualization management capabilities for non-vSphere hypervisor platforms towards enabling centralized visibility and control across heterogeneous virtual infrastructures. It also simplifies and enables easy migrations of virtual machines from non-vSphere virtualization platforms to VMware vSphere.

But, and it’s a big but, it is part of VMware Lab’s department and isn’t fully supported. So while it is a tool that exists, I can’t claim it is a full-fledged product. With that said use at your own risk.

Fine Print

It is new and doesn’t look like it was tested very much as the forums are looking a bit full. The technical requirements are a little strict. For example you actually need Virtual Machine Manager running and the host must also have Windows Remote Management (WinRM) v1.1. Performance and features are limited with its primary purpose bridge to managing a mixed environment.

*I don’t want to get bogged down on true cost of Hyper-V, it has been overly communicated if you want more information feel free to Google it, but just know nothing is free and you do end up paying something for Hyper-V.

Below is some more details and I have provided some links.


  • Management of the following Microsoft Hyper-V platforms:
    • Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008
    • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 (64-bit) with Hyper-V role enabled
    • Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2
    • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V role enabled
  • Familiar vCenter Server graphical user interface for navigating through and managing non-vSphere inventory
  • Ease of virtual machine migrations from non-vSphere hosts to vSphere inventory
  • Compatible with VMware vCenter Server 4.0 & 4.1
  • Scalable up to management of 50 non-vSphere hosts

If you find it interesting:

-Here is a link on a guide to Hyper-V Features for the VMware administrator.

Some Helpful Citrix Pre-Implementation Questions

Think about taking the VDI plunge? Don’t know where to start? Well if you were thinking about XenDesktop and wanted a Pre-implementation checklist you are in luck! Below is pretty standard cheat sheet of things to consider before and during the architecture of  that VDI solution. Remember it is better to take a little time now and go over these questions and have solid answers vs. guessing as you go, food for thought.

  • Server Hardware that is Virtualization ready?
  • Is your BIOS up-to-date?
  • To have all of your storage and networking components operational?
  • Is your Active Directory set-up? Domain Account? Organizational Unit?
  • DNS?
  • DHCP?
  • Static IP Addresses for the XenDesktop Components?
  • What about sufficient Storage space to hold all the related data?
  • Is your License Server up and running? Do you have the XenDesktop license file available?
  • DVD ISO?  Or media? Don’t want to be caught without this…
  • Virtualization layer up and running? Optimized? Tested?
  • Have you set-up your Desktop Delivery Layer? Web Interface? Controllers?
  • OS Delivery Layer? Machine Creation Services? Provisioning Srvices?
  • Lets not forget the Application Delivery Layer? Where is it located; locally, hosted, streamed (app-v, XenApp)?
  • User Layer, Local, roaming, mandatory?
  • Are Policies defined in AD or the local database?
  • Is the database SQL express or SQL server?
  • What about High Availability options?
  • Will you be implementing Remote Access?
  • What are your Desktop groups? Win 7 XP? Vista?
  • RAM? How many vCPU”S?

I know its a lot I know, but its fun right?

Using vCenter to Centralize User Authentication

A common issue I have seen lately is with smaller customers adopting a larger virtual environment is the use of individual host admins/users. When you only have a few starter ESX/ESXi hosts it can be easy to forgot to plan out a large deployment scenario as your environment starts to grow.

It really only takes a few moments to update an admin on a server or two. But what do you do when you have to manage 10 hosts? You would have to manually login and change all of these machines including adding users, changing your password, or making system changes. This can add a lot of time to simple tasks.

A good example of this: Lets say you currently have 2 hosts in their environment with 3 admins. Then add 3 more hosts and 2 more admins, now all of sudden you are managing 5 separate hosts and 5 admins. Imagine adding another 5 hosts?!

Fortunately managing individual login on separate ESX and ESXi hosts can be managed centrally with VMware vCenter Server.  This obviously greatly reduces the amount of time needed to manage multiple host and administrators on separate hosts.

Since vCenter Server is a Windows-based application it plays very well with Active directory and you can take the same approach of managing your user groups.  Once it is set-up, the authorized user can then login using the vSphere Client to either the vCenter Server that would connect to the ESX/ESXi host.

A thing to note about this set-up.

Once you have this process set-up, your organization should stick with it and be consistent. This is because the Wndows-based vCenter server doesn’t reconcile the user accounts with the local ESX/ESXi host’s database (they are completely separate).  This means if you create an account on a local ESX/ESXi host and then the admin tries to login with that through the vCenter Server it won’t recognize the user credentials the same is true if you made an account on the vCenter and you try and manage it through vCenter.

Hopefully this will save you some time!

vSphere installation Best Practice

Mounting a VMFS Datastore Using ESXi Install CD

Recovering an ESXi install that won’t boot can be a frustrating and difficult process. What do you do if the usual options don’t work; repair option on the install cd or booting ESXi from a USB stick? As well, wouldn’t it be nice if you were in a rush and just needed to get information off the VMFS datastore rather than rebuild the whole host? Good news, there is a way to mount a datastore to gain access to the information.

  1. Boot from an install disk, press ALT+F1 to get the console.
  2. Login with using the user root (password will be blank)
  3. Run ls /vmfs/devices/disks/ to validate that ESXi can see the host disk
  4. Load the vmfs3 driver using the vmkload_mod command.
  5. Now run vmkfstools –V to mount your existing datastores
  6. Finally, use SSH or SCP to copy files from the datastore to another location.

Hopefully this will save you time if you have an ESXi go down and all you need is to access the data to a new host.

5 Tips To Help You Pick a SAN

Today I had a great conversation with a customer about picking a SAN vendor. It was a very eye opening discussion because I could fully empathize with his predicament. This person was allocated a set amount of budget for storage that needs to be in production working well for at least 4 years. If you stand back and think about it, that is a large task to accomplish. You know, predicating the future. To further highlight the difficulty you need to predict something that is anything but a stationary target. This technology changes by the second, literally. It reminds of buying cassette tapes and someone telling me in 10 years everything would be digital.

What makes the decision even trickier is that there isn’t a good, better best solution out there. There are hundreds of options, configurations, and features to go over. Do you go EMC, NetApp, Equallogic, LeftHand, 3PAR, HP, IBM, Hitachi, etc… It is my humble opinion a difficult if not impossible challenge. However grim it may sound there are a few things to look for when narrowing down a vendor. One piece of clarification, I don’t personally endorse one manufacturer or solution over the other. They have all their strengths and opportunities declaring a clear and concise winner would be naïve at best.

  1. Build for growth not budget: When I go over qualifications of a project some basic questions always come up. Budget? Timeframe? Etc.. But what I found to be realistic and is more specific, what do you need now and what will you need in the future? And be very generous with that figure. Budget twice as much as you think because you probably will be short anyways. Plus asking for more today seems always easier than asking for more later when it actually costs more and not in the budget.
  2. Must have vs. Nice to have: Picking a storage vendor gets much simpler if you can list a set rule of “must haves” vs. “nice to haves” based on your infrastructure. For example, if you “must have” fiber channel, that narrows it down. Converged network, even better, less choices. Primary de-dupe, really narrows it down. Please don’t throw out typical expensive vendors here either; pricing is much more competitive that it has been in the past.
  3. New vs. Old: This is a hard one to figure out. There are 5+ year old technologies out there that have stood the test of time and are just as good now as then. However, there are new upcoming vendors with game changing items that could fit very well into environment. They even tend to be discounts for early adopters. So who do you pick? I don’t know personally, I like to listen to the new stuff first then challenge the main stays and see when they might release that feature.
  4. Acquisition Target:  If you think the vendor you pick will be purchased don’t shy away. This tends to work in the customers favor (outside a few exceptions), plus we see a lot of extra love during acquisitions to make sure customers are happy.
  5. Marketing is just marketing: Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) as it often referred to, is just a one sided conversation. It is big bucks for these vendors to plant seeds of doubt in you the buyer. If you listened to every pitch you would find the same pattern of presenting a feature and pointing out why the other guys same feature doesn’t work as well. Some of it is true, but most of it is skewed. Best way to avoid this, match your personal environment and solutions needs to what the SAN can provide. Ignore the rest, it will just confuse you.

EMC MirrorView Insight and SRM

I came across this video today and thought it was pretty interesting, specifically if you are an EMC shop. MirrorView insight for VMware (MVIV) is included with the VMware Site Recovery Manager Storage Replication Adapter (SRA) for EMC MirrorView and works with VMware’s SRM for a extra layer of DR. This tool is included for free and can be installed with your CLARiiON box.

MirrorView Insight complements the Site Recovery Manager (SRM) framework by providing failback capability for test purposes. It also provides detailed mapping of VMware filesystems and their replication relationships. See Video Below:


CapIQ Can Help Streamline Your Virtual Environment

One the primary goals for IT is usually better efficiency, which tends to be a contestant obstacle as new and larger technologies are released. VMware and virtual machines is no exception to this challenge. VMware does make a tool that is pretty helpful when it comes to managing and planning your capacity needs. Capacity IQ uses the following tools to help predict what physical resources will be necessary to run a virtual machine within your performance SLA’s:

  • Physical Capacity-CPU, memory, disk space, I/O, etc…
  • Virtual Machine Capacity- Measurement of abstract capacity. Basically converting physical properties into virtual machine measurements.
  • Past through Present Trends- Tracks speed of capacity and gives insight of where and how fast it is increasing, decreasing or staying stagnate.
  • Estimated Time Remaining- This helps with planning for future upgrades and refreshes.

Once you have gone through the program and looked at the different dashboards you should be able to go through an extensive amount of information. You can now turn that data and optimize your host for capacity regaining unused resources. To do this select the Views tab, select Virtual Machine Optimization – Summary.

And you should see something below:

Which will give you the following:

  • Assess Virtual Machine Capacity usage.
  • Identify Oversized Virtual Machines.
  • Identify Undersized Virtual Machines.
  • Discover Idle Virtual Machines.
  • Discover Powered-off Virtual Machines.

You can also use a helpful tool that will allow the creation of scenarios. These “what-if” scenarios would show how capacity could change based on certain conditional changes without making actual changes to your virtual infrastructure. This is really helpful for when you want to know what deploying an application would do to your environment in advance versus just throwing it in your environment and hoping for the best.


MSRP is $495.00 per processor and you licenese it based off of vCenter servers.


Mananging capacity can be one of the most difficult parts of managing and infrastructure. Getting the most of what you have and knowing when to upgrade or expand can feel a lot like playing the stock market. CapIQ can help resolve most of these issues.

More Information.

Forgotten Tool:VMware vCenter Orchestrator

VMware makes a tool that in my personal opinion is often overlooked. vCenter Orchestrator can be used to set-up custom automated workflows. You can automate any of the 800 plus tasks that are possible with vCenter (create virtual machines, start virtual machines etc…) You can also leverage this tool to use with 3rd party solutions like service desk, change management systems, and other solutions.


  • Drag and drop components into workflows
  • There are several out of box workflows that are included. A good example of this would be a startup notification when a virtual machine is powered on.
  • Comprehensive list of functionality, a lot of which can be done by novice IT administrators.
  • Can be used with VMwares Lifecycle Manager for added functionality.


  • It is free and comes with vCenter Server!!

Why You Should Care:

Well one, time is important, you would be surprised how many of these tasks people do manually. Once Orchestrator is installed and running a lot of the mundane task can be assigned, I like to think of it as a personal assistant for your VM’s. Also, we have found that some customers actually pay professional services or for 3rd party applications when a lot of these features are included, so using this can save you some money.

Last Minute Notes:

  • Orchestrator requires a database (MySQL, SQL, and PostgreSQL) to store information such as workflows, users, roles, and permissions.
  • You will also need a LDAP server (Active Directory, eDirectory, or Sun Java Directory).
  • Make sure you set-up a static  or fixed IP.
  • Because of workloads, best practices states that the database and the Orchestrator server are on separate hosts.

More Information:

VMware vCenter Orchestrator Documentation

VMware vCenter Orchestrator Overview