Category Archives: Cloud

Thoughts on VMware’s NSX ICM course

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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! ūüôā

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 Рsee 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 http://www.eta-i.org/provigil.html 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! ūüėČ

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….

Evolution of the IT Pro (staying relevant in 2014 and beyond)

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Bob-the-BuilderSummary: The IT function is becoming a broker of services but, until that happens, infrastructure engineers will¬†likely to fall into the ‘builder broker’ camp – you’ll need to be able to ‘stitch together’ different services but you’ll also need to build them¬†and understand what’s ‘under the hood’.

For a few years now infrastructure engineers have been hearing how cloud computing is going to change their jobs, potentially putting many out of work.¬†Plenty has been written about whether this will result in a net gain or loss of IT jobs (here, here, and here plus in one my first blogposts I talked about changing roles) but whatever your stance it’s undeniable that the nature of IT¬†jobs will change – technology never stands still for long.

This isn’t theoretical or a shift¬†that’ll start¬†in ten years – changes are¬†happening right now.

Gartner¬†recently identified ‘IT as a service broker’ in their top ten technology trends for 2014 and I’d agree with those that say¬†skills such as virtualisation¬†are no longer enough. Here’s a few things I’ve being asked for in the last few months which is why I’m adding my voice to the¬†‘service broker’ trend;

  • Knowledge of alternative virtualisation/cloud platforms. “Should we be considering Hyper-V? Openstack? Oracle VM?”
  • How can we integrate Amazon’s VPC with our internal dev/test environments?
  • If we buy into a third parties managed services, what’s the impact on our production platform and technology roadmap?

The news columns are filling up with articles about changing skillsets;

Still not convinced? VMware’s flagship cloud product,¬†vCAC, exists to orchestrate¬†resources across multiple clouds http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/allergy/ from AWS, RackSpace, Azure and others so this talk of ‘brokering’ across heterogeneous systems is¬†also where VMware¬†see the future.

The requirement for inhouse engineering expertise isn’t going to disappear overnight so you’ve got time to adjust, but for many¬†the future may be more about integrating services together than building them.

How do you stay relevant?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? I’ve listed¬†my opinions below although for alternative¬†advice Steve Beaver wrote a great article for The Virtualization Practice at the end of last year (“Get off the hypervisor and into the cloud”) which mirrors my thoughts exactly. If I’d read it before writing this I probably wouldn’t have bothered!

  1. Focus on¬†technical expertise. As the industry coalesces towards service providers and consumers the providers need the best people they can find as the impact (at scale) is magnified. Automation is a key trend for this role as self-service is a key tenet of cloud. Luckily, while ‘compute’ has already been disrupted by virtualisation both storage and network are just getting started which will generate demand for those who keep up with technology developments.
  2. Focus on becoming an IT broker. This means getting a wide knowledge of different solutions and architectures (AWS, VMware, OpenStack, understand SOA principles, federation, integration patterns etc) and know how to implement and integrate them. You’ll also have to get closer to the business and be able to translate business requirements such that you can satisfy them via the available services. Some would argue that this is crossing over to the role of a business analyst, and they may be right.

If you’re going to go deep on technology, go work for a vendor, ISP, or big IT consultancy (sooner rather than later).

If you’re going for the broker/business analyst role make sure you’re building up your business knowledge,¬†with less focus on¬†the low level nuts and bolts.

Pick one or the other, but don’t stand still. Taking my own advice I’ve just taken a role with a service provider. Let’s see how this plays out! ūüôā

VMworld 2013 Barcelona wrapup

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2013-10-14 10.29.38Summary: Some new (and actually exciting) announcements, some good conversations about the challenges VMware face in the next few years, and business as usual in the solutions exchange, HOL, and general sessions. Still a conference worth attending!

As I’ve done for the last couple of years (2012, 2011, 2010) I recently attended VMworld Europe, which was in Barcelona for the second year. As you can see from my photo on the right, it looks much the same as last year (unsurprisingly)! Blue skies, warm weather, and a large conference venue stocked to the gills with techies and technology…

The keynotes

IMG_2596
VMware’s timeline – what will it say in a couple of years time?

As is the case every year I’ve been the keynotes are largely a repeat of the US sessions with a few additions to keep the masses happy. Typically it’s management products that get announced at Europe although this year I’m glad to say they felt more substantial than previous years (a full list can be found on the official VMworld blog);

  • vCAC v6.0 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year) including vFabric Application Director and integration with Puppet.
  • Log Insight v1.5 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year)
  • vCOPs v5.8 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year)
  • In the EUC space VMware announced the acquisition of Desktone, a ‘desktop-as-a-service’ company. Given the complexity of VDI I think this has a lot of potential to increase adoption.
  • vCHS to launch in the UK in Q1 2014. The vCHS Online Marketplace was also launched although I’ve not had a chance to look at it yet.

nsxThe vCAC integration with vFabric Application Director and Puppet look like great additions (and allowed VMware to jump on the DevOps bandwagon) and the announcment that vCHS will be available in the UK early next year is welcome. NSX conversations were a recurring theme throughout the four days – everyone agrees that it looks good but also agrees that adoption faces quite a few challenges and the fact that pricing is a per-VM model won’t help. I’m no longer quite as grumpy or pessimistic as I was after VMworld US but I still think VMware are in for a tough few years. Continue reading VMworld 2013 Barcelona wrapup

VMworld 2013 – Is it just me?

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vmworld2013logo-300x169Overall I guess I feel disappointed. Over the last week I’ve been trying to keep up with developments from VMworld and to be honest it’s not been as tough as I thought because most of the announcements were already known quantities and very little ‘new’ information was given. I see this as a reflection of the growth and maturity of VMware – release cycles are getting longer, innovation takes longer to gestate, and the low hanging fruit of ‘wow’ features has been exhausted (and having written that I see Chris Wolf’s article which says much the same thing. I’m in good company). Chris Wahl’s blog has full details of the new stuff.

caveatUPDATE 4th Sept: It’s been pointed out to me that as a vExpert and blogger I do tend to have early access to both information and beta releases so what I consider new and what most attendees consider new is different. Fair comment.

Eric Siebert, a long time veteran of VMworld and the technology involved, has a great writeup of the main announcements along with his thoughts, which largely mirror my own. Maybe we’ve been spoilt over the years by the ‘cool’ factor of the vMotion and svMotion, maybe I woke up on the wrong side of bed, or maybe VMware aren’t delivering the goods as they used to.

vSphere ticks along

vSphere has been on a two year release cycle for major versions but that seems to have slipped. The next release of the core vSphere platform will be out later this year (probably at VMworld Barcelona as with v5.1 last year) but even when it does v5.5 is not much to write home about;

  • SSO has been rewritten but it probably shouldn’t have been released as it was in the first place :oops:. OK, there are a few new features too.
  • New maximums will probably only help the minority
  • VSAN might be nice but isn’t even in beta yet and will still be an extra cost when it is released.
  • We still have two clients, both of which are required. The web client has been improved but they haven’t discontinued the GUI client as expected.
  • App HA is apparently significantly improved from previous editions but application support is still limited. Good for MS SQL maybe but there’s no Oracle, SAP etc. It’s also an Enterprise+ feature. SMP support for VMware’s FT feature (which could be great) is still just a technical preview with no release date.
  • OK – vSphere Flash Read Cache is a nice addition, as is lifting the 2TB VMDK limit and OSX support for the remote console (a personal gripe there) ūüôā Shame vFRC is also Enterprise+ only…
  • OK – the vCSA can now handle larger environments, but vCenter is still not a scalable, highly available service. Yeah, I’m grumpy.

If you look at the benefits they’re largely for the admin or behind the scenes. If I have to justify time and resource to upgrade my hosts, what benefit does the business get? I’m on Enterprise licencing, so precious little sadly. ūüôĀ

reality

vCloud Suite still isn’t as compelling as it should be

With public vs private vs hybrid cloud all the rage I can understand why VMware aren’t focusing on the hypervisor so I was expecting a big vCloud push. There was much fanfare about the launch of VMware’s public cloud, vCHS, but I’m still unconvinced;

  • It’s launch is US only and is potentially missing some key functionality (though I think some of those referenced features are less in demand for enterprise apps). I accept that the US cloud market leads the world but as a European this leaves me somewhat in limbo – I’m sure it’ll reach us eventually but Amazon and Azure (among others) are already available….
  • I’ve not seen any official statement from VMware so take it with a pinch of salt, but vCD looks like it’s on the chopping block and being replaced by vCAC (though both are still included in v5.5). This is a product that’s been at the pinnacle of VMware’s spearhead into the cloud market and it’s being ‘retired’ at only three years old? What about the vCloud Service Providers? Apparently it’ll live on for them but for how long? The launch of vCHS probably didn’t please too many service providers and this move looks set to alienate them further, along with many http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/accutane/ customers who have invested in vCD. One of the big selling points for vCHS is the seamless experience of running VMware’s stack for both your private and public clouds, but how do I start down that road today? Should I buy into the vCloud Suite and invest in vCloud Director knowing it’s going away? By the same token I know vCAC is going to change significantly in the next year or two and today it lacks key functionality like multi-tenancy. Maybe I should wait a year or two and see how things pan out? In that case, where’s the synergy in vCHS? Unfortunately VMware don’t have a great history in providing seamless upgrade paths – need I mention Lab Manager, Stage Manager, VDP…

After VMworld last year I speculated that VMware needed to accelerate their customer’s journey to the cloud or suffer and I don’t think this reshuffle/repositioning helps matters. For something of such strategic importance would you want to be an early adopter of the vCAC/vCD amalgamation? Dynamic Ops were initially a competitor to vCD, then post VMware acquisition they became mutually beneficial, and now vCAC is becoming the primary cloud solution. VMware have always excelled at promoting a vision which helped get ‘buy in’ – you knew that when you were ready for the next step it’d be waiting for you. Now I’m not so sure. On the bright side the pricing for the vCloud Suite seems better than I realised. Looking at pricing for vSphere Enterprise+ vs vCloud Standard it’s almost the same despite the fact you also get vCD, vCAC, and vCOPS with the vCloud suite.

fojtaUPDATE 1st Sept: A twitter conversation with Tom Fojta and Dave Hill, both of whom work for VMware (though tweets are their own) implied that vCD may not be retired but merely realigned because enterprise and service providers need different solutions. This makes more sense as it will at least minimise the disruption. Let’s hope there’s some official clarification from VMware soon as I’m not the only one with concerns.

UPDATE 4th Sept: VMware have now provided a directional statement which confirms how this will affect customers, how functionality will migrate to vSphere/vCAC, and clarifies that vCD will continue in use with service providers.

EUC moves forward

I’m not much of an end user computing guy as my company haven’t bought into it conceptually, and with the release of the Horizon suite earlier this year we finally have some of the products VMware have been talking about for the last few years. I’m excited about the possibility of desktops in the cloud but Brian Madden, a well known VDI guru, seems to think the vision is spot on but execution and delivery are lacking.

SDDC is a grand vision but can it succeed?

I like the idea of the software defined datacenter but it’s going to be a tough sell for VMware. It’s disrupting major technologies, networks and storage, which are well embedded in the datacenter which puts them in competition with many of their major partners.

Storage is going through an exciting time and VMware are now beginning to promote their storage credentials. With the addition of VSAN and vFRC they’re pushing vSphere storage towards the ‘software defined’ concept they’ve coined¬† although I was hoping for some advance on the Virsto acquisition. The announcements and sessions around NSX, VMware’s network hypervisor, do look interesting and if they can be successful we’re in for quite a ride! Maybe this is where VMware can recapture some of that magic they had four or five years ago. Even if they succeed the SDDC will arrive slowly because of financial, technical, and social factors. Given the potential complexity and disruption introduced by SDDC we need a clear value statement otherwise the perception may be that we’ll all be better off in a cloud where someone else manages it for us…

The process of writing and researching this article has actually made me more optimistic and I still think VMware have huge potential to innovate and disrupt (in a positive way) the datacentre of the future.¬†I think I’m just grumpy because we still don’t have the VMTN Subscription! I’m sure I’ll soak up the boundless energy VMworld Barcelona generates and be back to my optimistic self later in the year.

Cloud threatens VMware

Cloud spells the end for Microsoft Technet software subscriptions

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——- UPDATE July 3rd 2012 —— If you don’t want to see MS Technet discontinued considering signing up to this petition. It’s going to need much more than the 750 signatures (as of this morning) to effect change however!

Yesterday Microsoft announced that it is retiring the popular Technet Subscription service which IT Pros have been using to access software for well over a decade. On Twitter the reaction seemed to be one of surprise and general disapproval and I feel much the same – I’ve had a subscription for the last eight years although I’ve used it less and less over the last few years as my focus has moved through VMware and storage to more general architecture. Microsoft summed up the rationale for the move quite succintly;

In recent years, we have seen a usage shift from paid to free evaluation experiences and resources.  As a result, Microsoft has decided to retire the TechNet Subscriptions service and will discontinue sales on August 31, 2013.

Microsoft will focus on growing and improving our free offerings for IT professionals, including evaluation resources through the TechNet Evaluation Center, expert-led learning through the Microsoft Virtual Academy, and community-moderated technical support through the TechNet Forums.

All these are free internet services but this isn’t surprising – over the last ten years Technet has gone from shipping on floppy disks through to packs of CD/DVD through to online downloads and now online labs exclusively. Companies like Google and mobile phone app stores have popularised the freemium model to the point where it’s the defacto expectation.

Interestingly this seems to be the same approach that VMware are taking. In 2007 they disontinued a a software subscription service (the VMTN subscriptions) although in recent years as their portfolio has diversified there has been a groundswell of support for its return. Despite http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/alcoholism/ this and some online pharmacy uk talk from people within VMware, nothing has surfaced over the last eighteen months but they are currently pushing a beta of their online labs (much like Microsoft’s Virtual Academy). I posted about the rise of ‘cloud labs’ last year and this seems to confirm the trend. As I pointed out in that article the online labs don’t cater to all use cases – installations are often missing from the online labs for example. There will also be issues with integration testing. If I just want to test a Microsoft product then the Virtual Academy is fine, but what if I want to test a multi-tier application which runs on Windows? For the foreseeable future there are going to be times when you need to build your own evaluation labs whether that’s inhouse or in clouds like vCloud or AWS.

I’d still like to see VMware provide better alternatives for testing/evaluating software and Microsoft will still offer the MSDN Subscription service for those who need more than the online labs can provide.

There’s something satisfying about ‘owning’ software which isn’t the same when it’s presented online – I suspect the buzz of getting the latest copy of some product and installing it on your own kit has brought many a techie into our industry but the truth is ‘the business’ don’t care about that – they just want the end result, a running application delivering value. Surely this is the evolution that we as IT pros are evangelising – ‘the cloud’ can and is disrupting the status quo in many areas, including our own. To abuse a popular saying, the cloud giveth, and the cloud taketh away!

What do you think? Is the demise of Technet a sign of the times, or is Microsoft out of tune with its customers?