vCloud Director 1.5 New Features Overview

Part of the big announcements prior to VMworld this year was the announcement of vCloud Director 1.5. If you haven’t heard of vCloud director it was popularly known in the past as VMware Lab Manager (RIP).  With version 1 under its belt VMware is releasing version 1.5 and added a few new features. Below are a few of the most important (in my humble opinion) that will have the greatest impact for people already on vCloud Director.

First, and I am really excited about this, is the addition of Fast Provisioning. This feature uses linked clones so you can provision VMs from a template rather a full copy. This will allow for provisioning of a VM in seconds vs. who knows how long and will help cut your storage cost significantly. NetApp does something similar if you haven’t seen their product, I would check it out as well.

Fast Provisioning is great for the following:

  • Cloning production and pre-production workloads
  • Demo and trial environments
  • Test and Dev
  • Support Desk
  • And much much more

Second, they increased the enhancements of the vCloud API. This helps fit vCloud into existing environments with baked IT management tools. With added messaging it will be able to provide notifications to your various systems; backup, monitoring, CMDB, IPAM, and network tools for example. There is also some new SDK’s coming and better use of query service.

 

Third, they added a significant increase in support for their Microsoft SQL Database. You can actually build a vCloud Director environment using a Microsoft SQL database for all of the configuration data, which will help if you are highly invested in a Microsoft SQL database. Now you can get rid of that Oracle License you been hanging on to.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the expansion of vShield support and will be integrating with IPSec VPN and added Firewall capabilities. More details to come on this, but know that when setting up secure cloud environments that there will be secure ways to connect external-internal cloud through a secure interface. Think DR and onsite cloud sites synching.

More to come, but excited to see this product line evolve.

Running Multiple Hypervisors Under vCenter: A Quick Look At Hotlink

Over the last couple weeks a very common question I am getting from customers is around switching off of VMware and onto another hypervisor. Usually when we go through the exercise to determine if this is something within their comfort zone we find quickly that the idea of rip and replace is much more of a burden than keeping the current infrastructure. But with that said, things are a changing and people are looking at a plan B so they are not married to a specific vendor incase of some sort of dramatic change, lets say pricing or feature set for example.

Until recently I could honestly say there wasn’t any alternatives that we would recommend that was apples to apples in features and scalability etc. Plus, even if a customer moved to a lateral competitor (Citrix or Hyper-v) they same “locked in” situation would occur. Now, only if there was a product that could manage all the different types of hyper-visors with the best of bread management software on a single platform?

Well we are all in luck because there is a new company that promises to help with this situation. Hotlink was founded last year and will be launching their new product, Hotlink SuperVISOR, very soon and I can say looking over their spec sheets that I am excited to see if this will be as advertised!

What Is it exactly:

In its simplest form it is a layer that sits in-between the hypervisor layer and your management console (vCenter for example).  Using their unique tools set including virtual object bus, transformation technology, proxy and integration services it allows for heterogeneous environment. This means, good or bad, you can run a multitude of different hypervisors under one single platform.

Benefits:

One thing that I do like about this technology is that it does take advantage of your best of breed products. For example, its first management plugin is designed for VMware vCenter and looking over the feature set this is a wise decision. Customer familiar with working in this management console will find the transition smooth with little to no disruption allowing them to leverage existing skills.

As well, you can now mix and match your hypervisors to match your application needs. This both increases efficiency and decreases cost as you put enterprise class programs on VMWare which is expensive and put tier 3 applications on Hyper-v which is less expensive. This puts you in a position to avoid vendor lock-in and if you are already running multiple hypervisors provide a single management console reducing your opex.

Unknowns:

I want to be careful when pointing out good vs. bad when reviewing this product because to be transparent I haven’t seen a demo copy or tested it in the lab as of yet. So instead I just have a lot of questions about the functionality, performance and other technical details.

For starters, I am not sure on the performance overhead of my host machines? I don’t know what this does to my environment if lets say I structurally built around VMware now running several different products under the same hood? I don’t know how this would affect my storage infrastructure and included API’s from EMC, NetApp, etc? Design, deployment, troubleshooting are all questions at this point. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I will say I would be a bit nervous putting this layer in my environment without a firm understanding of all impacts it would put on my infrastructure.

What it won’t solve:

It still won’t address any licensing issues around cost reduction. True you could say move your file servers to Hyper-v which is free with Windows server licenses and only keep your primary machines under VMware but that falls into the 80/20 principle and willing to bet that most of your production applications are high to mission critical and cannot afford any downtime, which is why people move to VMware and pay the extra premium.  However it could help lead down the path were you could give VMware a solid threat to migrate and have a powerful tool at your disposal.

Pricing:

The base price for the SuperVISOR platform is $25k, which includes support for vSphere + 1 other hypervisor and 5 hosts. That is all the details I have at this point. As I hear more I will update this posting.

Conclusion:

Overall this is a great step forward and depending on execution could change the virtualization landscape. I would assume that there will be a group of similar products over the next couple months as this idea gains traction. So I will be curious to see how fast Hotlink can move to market and get adoption going. Looking to seeing more updates.

It is Offical VMware and Digital Fuel Are One

If you haven’t heard yet VMware acquired a SaaS IT financial management firm, Digital Fuel. There was a quiet announcement in June but for the most part it flew under the radar as most people were not familiar with their offerings. As of July Digital Fuel has closed and is now officially part of VMware.

Digital Fuel has been around for a while and they focus on the ability for companies to plan, manage, report etc. on the value and cost of a cloud based environment. In other words, they allow for detailed reporting on each cost of a piece of a cloud system. So for example, if HR spins up a virtual machine and hosts on the same host as AP you could actually figure out their share of the project and bill it back to the appropriate department.

I like this purchase for a few reasons. First, managing any IT project is complex, let alone a CLOUD or SaaS model and most IT departments end up carrying the budget burden of undefined expenses. Internal departments love assigning misc. and technology cost back to the IT department. Management then can’t find the difference between operations, productions, or separate capital project. It sucks if you are IT director trying to explain mysterious charges to your department.

Second, it shows the new direction the VMware is heading. It is feeling more and more that they are getting out of the traditional hypervisor business. From the new products and other acquisitions you see them evolving to more of a virtualization management company focusing on the different aspects of SaaS, application development, and cloud infrastructure.

Thirdly, it shows VMware moving up the enterprise stack. While VMware has 250,000+ customers the vast majority or in the mid market space, contrasting with Digital Fuel who focused primarily on fortune 100 companies like Cicso, Dell, GE, IBM etc.  This will allow VMware to start to play with some of previous dominant players in this space, specifically IBM software, Oracle, and SAP. There very well could be a power shift in the core enterprise accounts over the next couple years.

Some More Details:

Below is some of the quotes from the press release and related documents.

“Cloud computing represents a fundamentally new model for IT, enabling enterprises to realize unprecedented gains in operational efficiency, while also understanding, managing and optimizing IT resources based on granular business metrics,” said Boaz Chalamish, VP and General Manager, VMware. “New levels of financial visibility and control in cloud environments will enable CIOs to engage with the CFO, line of business stakeholders and others around how IT investments translate to real business value. As an authority on helping organizations navigate the business operations of IT, Digital Fuel will add a significant capability to our portfolio, broadening beyond operational management to include business-centric capabilities.”

And

Digital Fuel’s portfolio for IT costing, budget, chargeback, cost optimization, vendor management and SLA management integrates with a broad set of systems, applications, data sources and third-party management technologies to deliver comprehensive, unified financial analysis.  These offerings, offered both on-premise within an enterprise datacenter and delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS) models for maximum flexibility, will complement VMware’s portfolio of management solutions including vCenter Chargeback and Service Manager. The acquisition of Digital Fuel will enable VMware’s enterprise customers to:

  • Engage more effectively with business stakeholders through meaningful measurements and reports, including a Bill of IT Services, chargeback, service level reporting, and vendor scorecards.
  • Gain complete, consolidated visibility into IT costs (Capex, Opex and Service costs) across a broad range of financial data sources.
  • Manage IT agendas with deep financial discipline, leveraging fact-based decisions across the IT portfolio to make informed financial trade-offs aligned to business priorities.

From Ramin Sayar, VP, Marketing, Blog:

This is why VMware is acquiring Digital Fuel. It’s about providing our customers with the deep visibility and the right measurement tools they need to manage IT in the right way. Specifically, I’m talking about the ability to measure the costs and SLAs associated with a particular IT service whether sourced internally through your private cloud or externally from a cloud or SaaS provider. So you can stand up and have a fact-based, numbers-driven discussion with your CFO or CEO. And the combination of VMware and Digital Fuel is a perfect fit for this. The acquisition brings together our deep insight into the dynamically changing virtual infrastructure which is the very foundation for cloud computing, as well as our growing portfolio of application and end user computing solutions that are re-defining how IT is enabling your business processes. The combination of these solutions with Digital Fuel’s pioneering capabilities gives you the unprecedented ability to manage every aspect of your services from a financial – and business – perspective.

vCenter Operations: Expensive? Maybe, But It Is Worth It!

If you didn’t know, today is national vCenter Operations day!

So I thought it would be useful to go over some of the finer points of this product. I am however, going to do things a little backwards. With some of the earlier reviews people were pointing out that the licensing and cost of this product is a bit high, its per VM again.  Now compared to other monitoring tools, I would agree, but what people are forgetting is that the model of per CPU will be going away across the board at some point and the all you can eat model is a thing of the past.

Price:

  • Standard: $1,250 for a 25 VM pack or $50 a server.
  • Advanced: $3,125 for a 25 VM pack or $125 a server.
  • Enterprise: $34,250 for a 25 VM pack or $1,370 a server, and not that isn’t a typo.

Why so much?

Because it is a useful and valuable tool, because too many people deploy their virtual environment blindly using excel sheets and homemade solutions, because people don’t know what is going on before it is too late, and many more good reasons. Some argue they have a monitoring solution; this will compliment the solution and add much more value. The truth is people of have a production server environment can’t afford not to have this solution. Slow performance cause slow productivity, which equals real lost dollars.

 Features:

 Standard

  • Designed to work with vCenter
  • Performance analytics, automatically identities building performance issues and their root causes
  • Optimizes resource usage and maintains configuration compliance
  • Real-time capacity metrics
  • Configuration Change Events (huge value here)

 Advanced

  • All of the above plus
  • vCenter CapacityIQ

Enterprise

  • All of the above plus
  • More advanced features
  • vCenter Configuration Manager

The real scoop

It is a must have if you have any high performance applications, more than 10 VM’s (25 packs I know) but still, or any tier one applications. Its true, in my opinion it should be included for free, but it is a high quality product that carries a lot value.

More Information:

http://www.vmware.com/products/vcenter-operations/overview.html

vShield 5: New Security Features Coming Soon

 

VMware vShield 5 was announced around the same time as vSphere 5 but for some reason it sort of flew under the radar. Some would say it had something to due to the licensing drama, but who really knows. What I do know is that 1) securing VM’s is an evolving problem that has been limited to hardware enforcement  and 2) VMware is starting to invest significant more resources towards their vShield suite since its launch in August 2010.

If your remember vShield includes vShield App, vShield Edge, and vShield Endpoint and if you curious what was included in more detail with that launch you can find more here from my previous post. In short it was a good start but not a full solution.

 So What’s New:

vShield App now includes Data Security designated for compliance confidence, think data scanning. This hypervisor-based application aware-firewall will create and enforce dynamic application boundries, aka trust zones based on policies vs. physical boundaries of yesteryear. This should help cut down on the hardware costs!

There is now a collaboration with RSA (Another EMC company, no surprise here) that is designed to “optimize the security for virtual and cloud environments.”  “This security protocol will enable enterprises to discover and classify sensitive data residing within the virtual machines.” So if someone is sending Social Security cards, credit cards, or personal information it can within the VM detect this leak. Plus it is host based and agent-less.

Also, based on pre-defined templates, 80 or so, you will now be able to select policies that affect your business, not sure yet if you can modify these presets or not. These policies scan the VM forsensitive data and report back the findings. You can even set a policy if it finds this data it will isolate this VM keeping the sensitive information in its trust zone. Performance shouldn’t be impacted much since it will be using a virtual appliance. The thing to note is that it will report and isolate, see below.

 Doe this solve our Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Problem?

Not so fast. They still have a long way to go. Remember detect, report and isolate not detect, report and block.  To be clear this is a just a detection tool with minor policy enforcement. It will be more clear come demo time at VMworld, but it is missing some key components to be a full DLP solution. For example it doesn’t detect data leaks in transit, won’t prohibit moving data to the cloud, and doesn’t go in-depth enough to protect ultra sensitive data.  It is a good start, and there will be a future release with API’s to integrate to other DLP software.

 Cost:

The VMware vShield 5 is expected to be available in Q3 2011 and individual products will be licensed per VM (noticing a trend?) starting at $50 per VM retail. The vShield products can also be purchased together as a vShield bundle for $300 per VM.

More Information:

http://www.vmware.com/products/vshield/overview.html

 

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

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:


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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.

Price:

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

Summary:

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.