Monthly Archives: September 2014

Making the most of VMworld Barcelona 2014

In just under two weeks I’m heading to Barcelona for VMworld Europe. This will be my fifth year attending and I thought I’d pass on my recommendations for making the most of the conference. This isn’t a ‘book flights, wear trainers, collect swag’ kind of blogpost – remember, it’s a conference, nothing more, nothing less. Don’t be bamboozled by the hype.

1. Prepare in advance

  1. Review what was announced at VMworld in August (here, here, and here via Brian Gracely, Kyle Hilgendorf, & LatogaLabs respectively) so you don’t waste your time rediscovering the wheel. While the European show is playing second fiddle we do at least have the advantage that useful analysis is now available (thoughts on EVO:RAIL, Why VAIO will change everything, and thoughts on the Docker and Openstack announcements).
  2. Before you go reach out to people with similar interests and arrange to meet them, even if it’s informal over breakfast or a beer in the evening. The VMworld schedule builder lists speaker details and most people are easy to find via Twitter or LinkedIn and most are more than happy to engage with people (that’s why they’re speakers after all).
  3. Watch some of the VMworld sessions which are online from the US show in August. If you’ve booked time in your schedule for one of those sessions it’s time you can reuse more productively. Watching sessions in advance gives you more time to soak up new information and lets you think of questions to ask while at the conference.
  4. Write a blogpost on getting the most out of the conference and publish it. 🙂

2. Spend your time doing the stuff you can only do at the conference.

  1. There’s lots of opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and make some excellent contacts, but it’s also quite easy to waste time either intentionally or unintentionally (late night parties take their toll). Most sessions are recorded, the keynotes are usually a repeat of the US keynotes with minor updates, and the lazy web provides deeper insight a few days later when full details emerge and people have had time to digest everything.
  2. If you go to sessions, ask questions! Some are designed to be interactive and watching a recording afterwards may not have the same value as participating – the vExpert Storage Game Show (STO2997-STO) and Ask the Expert vBloggers (SDDC1176) are good examples.
  3. The group discussions are an organised goldmine. Go to them and discuss.
  4. There are 50% discounts on taking certification exams during VMworld Europe, but the VCAP ones take a half day each which is valuable time lost.

3. Interact 

  1. The most valuable use of your time is speaking to people who have the same needs as you, along with product experts. The calibre of people at VMworld is second to none, though finding them among the thousands of attendees can be a challenge. See above point about preparation!
  2. Engage with the community via the vBrownBag sessions, TechFieldDay Extra (featuring yours truly),  the bloggers area and the hangspace.
  3. Join the VMUG organisation and find your local VMUG –  you’ll be glad you did.
  4. Tweet, blog, chat, drink!

4. Stay focused during the conference

  1. Set yourself an agenda and know what you want to achieve before you go. Maybe you want it to be a networking event where you meet up with old friends and share a beer, or maybe you want to focus on using the three or four days to soak up new information. Stick to it.
  2. You will suffer information overload during the event. Compensate by taking notes and make clear actions for follow up when you get home.
  3. Follow up when you get home. I have several folders of info, contacts, things to do etc from previous years and I haven’t always used them. That’s wasted opportunities.

More information about what, when, why, along with social media, parties etc can be found on Andrea Mauro’s comprehensive blogpost.

If you haven’t already it’s not too late to register!banner-eu-registerNow

Note that this link will let VMware know you registered via my blog, which may (or may not!) help me get kudos with their social media program in the future. Registrations much appreciated!

Thoughts on VMware’s NSX ICM course

Summary: My thoughts on the new NSX Install, Configure, Manage (ICM) course, based on sitting the beta course (the usual beta caveats therefore apply).

Back in June I sat the beta of the VMware NSX Install, Configure, Manage course at VMware’s head office (at Frimley in the UK) and I thought it would be worth detailing my thoughts and experiences now that the course is publically available. This post won’t describe the course agenda in detail as you can read the official course description (along with prices, booking info, schedules etc) but from a quick look at the agenda I’d say the content hasn’t changed much.

Do I need to be a network guru?

Before booking the course, my first concern was the target audience. For those unfamiliar with my background I’m a compute and storage guy, not a network guru, so I was curious how well I’d cope with the networking material. I spoke to the trainer in advance (Paul McSharry, who I knew from my Design Workshop a few years ago) who advised that CCNA equivalent knowledge would be fine, and even pulled a few strings to add an extra place and get me on the course after it filled up. Thanks Paul! 🙂

Although the intended audience is described as “Experienced system administrators that specialize in networking” we were told that VMware are targeting the course at vSphere admins, not network admins (apparently there will be a different course released in the future). This is borne out via the official, minimal,  prerequisites listed below which have very little network focus;

  • System administration experience on Microsoft Windows or Linux operating system
  • Understanding of concepts presented in the VMware Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals course for VCA-DCV certification

Despite meeting those quite happily I found some sections challenging, particularly around VXLAN. Knowledge of network overlay concepts, and VXLAN in particular, is essential. I’ve done lots of work with vSphere but not much with vCloud, so hadn’t really worked with VXLAN in any depth and there’s a lot of terminology to understand – VTEP, UTEP, MTEP, and LIF to mention a few. VXLAN is also used in Cisco’s competing ACI product (as explained by Gary Kinghorn from Cisco) so it’s well worth learning even if you’re not going down the NSX route. Some background knowledge of routing protocols such as OSPF and BGP etc would also be beneficial. If you’ve worked with the vCNS interface, you’ll have a good headstart as NSX looks very similar.

What does the course cover?

The course content is 50% instructor led and 50% lab time and in summary covers the following topics (much of the content is available publically, and for free, on various blog series – see my links at the bottom for more info);

  • NSX Manager/controllers/clusters
  • NSX Edge Gateway appliances (basically upgraded vShield Edge)
  • Logical switching, routing, VPNs, load balancers, and firewalls (including microsegmentation)

nsx-featuresFor me the biggest benefit was access to hands on experience with NSX – unless you’re lucky enough to work with it via your company the only option is the two online HOLs (NSX for vSphere and NSX for multi-hypervisors). I believe access will become more widespread soon but it’s been frustrating many people while they wait for access to a product that’s supposedly GA.

In my case I was very lucky to have an exceedingly well educated bunch on the course with me, including Michael Haines (who works for VMware and helped create the vCloud Architecture Toolkit among other publications) and some guys who were doing the bootstrap program towards the VCDX-NV. This stimulated some great debate and meant someone in the room could answer any question I threw at them (probably in their sleep). Most courses won’t benefit from this level of expertise but it’s always worth learning from other candidates on courses regardless.

The 17 labs do a good job of slowly building up an internal network, adding multiple networks with routing, integrating it with external networks and adding VPNs, firewalls etc. As you’d expect it showcases the flexibility enabled by virtualising networks, such as the ability to move L3 networks around and microsegmentation (a killer feature say VMware). I found the labs short on context and too focused on ‘click here, type this’ rather than scenerio based – you weren’t always encouraged to think about what you were achieving and why. Overall I enjoyed the labs and felt they were very useful.

Disappointingly there was minimal coverage of the multi-hypervisor version of NSX – our instructor dug out an NSX-MH (multi-hypervisor) introduction document (including a feature comparison) for us but it would have been nice to see more included upfront.

One noticeable change compared to previous courses is the use of online course notes, rather than a printed book. The notes are provided to you before the course starts (which is good) although you do need to install an application (rather than cloud availability) which is not so good. Like most people on the course I’d taken a laptop which allowed me to have the course manual on one screen while you work on the provided desktop, much like the VMworld HOLs. Personally I still prefer a printed book that I can stick on a shelf. A year from now when I want to reference something from the course I probably won’t be able to find the application/content (VitalSource Bookshelf) because I’ll have a new laptop etc, whereas a book would still be sitting on a shelf. That’s because I’m an old dog though – your mileage may vary! 😉

Obviously this course is also the recommended learning path if you’re intending to take the new VCP-NV certification. If you’re already a VCP then the course is optional. I’m not sure if I’ll bother taking this exam as aside from the course I’m not using NSX day to day but if you are Paul has created a series of multiple choice NSX quizzes in similar style to a VCP exam – it’s worth taking to test your knowledge after the course. A couple of people have written up their VCP-NV exam experiences here, here, and here. There are aslo some videos over at the vBrownBag site covering objective 1 and objective 2 and I’m sure there’s more to come.

Final thoughts

I think it’s well worth taking the course even if you’re not a network guru. As the virtualisation landscape has evolved everyone has needed to learn more about compute, storage, and networking and this looks likely to continue. I’ve heard that vCNS (in many ways a predecessor of NSX) is no longer being developed and that going forward NSX (in some form) will be the core networking component for vSphere. If that’s the case then everyone needs to be familiar with it, just as they need to understand vSwitches today.

Having said that I can’t see it being a quick adoption for NSX, and therefore there’s no immediate requirement to learn the product. VMware are promising that NSX will simplify your operations, but in the short term that’s not what I see. You’ll likely be running NSX plus ‘legacy’ physical networks for a long time, plus NSX will lead to new management toolsets (think vCOPs for networking) and integration points which will take time to mature. You still need to adjust your underlying MTU settings and despite being part of the ‘software defined’ world some hardware issues will no doubt need to be tackled (think VSAN-like teething issues).

Having spent a bit more time with NSX I do now have a better understanding of where it fits. Most of the course delegates felt it was largely beneficial to large enterprises and service providers as the automation it enables requires coding and a high degree of competency. It’s also a bit rough round the edges – for example you have to have full administrator access in vCentre to use NSX, so forget delegating limited rights to your network team. Previously I’d thought NSX offered network virtualisation that would allow a layer 2 network to span datacentres (ie layer 3) but NSX only works within a single datacentre (largely a VXLAN limitation I believe). That’s set to change in the future apparently so watch this space.

As an incentive for early learners you get a 50% VCP-NV exam discount if you take the exam before the 19th of December.

Where to find more information on NSX

Most of the information in the course can already be found online (for free) although unless your company is deploying NSX, and you therefore have access to the binaries, hands on experience is limited to the two HOLs (NSX for vSphere and NSX for multi-hypervisors);

As a further alternative you can search Google for  SDN, NFV, NSX, OpenDaylight, Pyretic etc and say goodbye to any spare time for years to come….