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Introducing VMware Cloud Automation Services (CAS)

My focus on a day-to-day basis for most of the last five years has been on cloud automation and orchestration, more specifically with VMware vRealize Automation (vRA) and VMware vRealize Orchestrator (vRO). I’ve worked with a variety of customers in different verticals (government, finance, service provider) to help them design and deploy an automation platform and create services to automate many use-cases, both common and unique.

So naturally, my interest in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that does the job too was always going to manifest itself. The day has arrived though that VMware are officially launching that service. Yesterday, January 15th 2019, VMware Cloud Automation Services became generally available.

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vCAC 6.1 Removes VM NICs when a description is changed

Maybe my google foo is broken, but I couldn’t see any mention of this in VMware’s KB library. I’m trying to find out if it’s also an issue in vRA 6.2 too.

Edit 14/05/2015: I’m reliably informed that this is fixed in 6.2.

So, what’s the problem?

Well, I was demonstrating how it was possible to change the description of a VM in vCAC via the “Edit” resource action and how it would also result in the vCenter VM being updated.

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So, with the description added, I hit Submit. The description is added to the Virtual Machine in vCAC and also vCenter. I then went to to demonstrate a custom action that executes a vRO workflow and was surprised when it failed and complained about the identity of the network being used.

A brief bit of head-scratching later, and I discovered that vCAC believed the VM to have no network interface:

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The VM’s properties confirmed, that as far as vCAC was concerned, this VM was not connected to any network! However, looking at vCenter, the story was very different:

 

For anyone familiar with vCAC, the solution is easy. And, in fact, vCAC will fix the issue itself in under 24 hours. Forcing vCAC to refresh the vCenter inventory clears up the discrepancy:

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Clearly an odd “feature” of the vCAC portal and I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it but for using the same VM for a particular resource action that needed the VM’s network properties.

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vCAC 6.1 goes GA

Ping! It’s baked and out of the oven at last. vCAC 6.1 has hit a download server near you.

I’ve been waiting for this for a while now, so what’s new? From my perspective some of the most interesting new bits are:

  • Tighter Puppet integration
  • Enhanced support for NSX (including the use of NSX / vCNS workflows as actions in the vCAC Advanced Service Designer) – I need to try this out!
  • vCenter Orchestrator plugin enabled scripting of entities including Catalog, Approvals, Entitlements, Advanced Service Designer etc (I’ve wanted this for a while now)
  • vCAC support for Windows Server 2012 SP1 R2 (.NET 4.5.1)

But there’s plenty more (see the Release Notes).

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vCO “Plugin” for NSX

If you’re starting to get your hands dirty with NSX and want to automate some operations using vCenter Orchestrator (vCO), there’s now a plugin for it that’s been released into the community by Christophe Decanini (who writes on the vCOTeam blog and works for VMware).

It’s not a traditional plugin for vCenter Orchestrator in the same way that there are plugins for vCenter / vCAC / Infoblox etc. Instead it’s built on the Dynamic Types plugin that was launched with version 5.5 Update 1 of vCO.

The goal of the plugin is to create the ability to offer NSX “as-a-service” operations as catalog items within vCAC. The creation and manipulation of security groups and policies along with the ability to associate VMs with these objects can all be offered as options for users to select within the vCAC catalog using this plugin.

If you’re not using vCAC then the plugin could still be used within your own workflows.

The plugin was released on the VMware Communities site yesterday.

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Pluralsight launch their first vCAC course

If you’re lucky enough to have a Pluralsight subscription already, then you will already have access to this course. If not, maybe it could be an incentive to get one if you have an interest in vCAC (vCloud Automation Center).

Yesterday, online training provider Pluralsight launched their first course aimed at vCAC entitled “Introduction to VMware vCloud Automation Center (vCAC)“. The course is authored by Brian Tobia, who has produced a number of other courses for Pluralsight as well.

As the name of the course suggests, it’s intended as an introduction to vCAC. If you’re at all familiar with vCAC, it’s not the simplest of products to get to grips with. There are a lot of components to it and it’s undergoing a period of intensive development and change at present. That might make you wonder how long this course will be current. Without having sat through it all, I couldn’t answer that but the table of contents suggest that it deals a lot with the concepts and entities that make up vCAC rather than digging into the nuts and bolts too much. Presumably, that will come with more advanced courses.

Starting "Introduction to VMware vCloud Automation Center (vCAC)"on my iPad

Starting “Introduction to VMware vCloud Automation Center (vCAC)”on my iPad

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vCHS in the UK

vCHS-in-the-UK1I was fortunate and privileged recently to be invited to the UK launch event for VMware’s vCloud Hybrid Service in the UK. The first of many planned deployments in the EMEA region for VMware.

VMware’s vCloud Hybrid Service became public in the US in September last year.  Swiftly afterwards, VMware announced their plans to bring the service to EMEA in 2014 and, as of Tuesday 25th February, it is generally available in Europe.

Besides being a blogger, I’m also fortunate to work for a leading VMware Partner in EMEA (Xtravirt). As we’re one of the few Hybrid Cloud certified partners (at the time of writing), I’m hoping to be working on some vCHS projects in the near future. Exciting!

Why the UK and Why now?

The feedback from EMEA customers indicated that many of them were concerned about data locality and the sovereignty of their datacenters. A Vanson Bourne survey of 200 IT decision makers conducted earlier this year on behalf of VMware indicated that:

  • 86% recognised a business need to keep data within UK borders
  • 85% said current clouds were not integrated with their own internal infrastructure
  • 81% said that they need to make public cloud as easy to manage and control as their own infrastructure

The Launch Event

The launch of the service in London was anticipated for several weeks following a beta programme that was oversubscribed ten-fold. Initially, vCHS will be available via a single UK data centre.  An additional data centre is due to come online in the 2nd quarter of this year and VMware already have plans to expand the service into more European countries.

The relative importance to VMware of this launch was perhaps best emphasized by the presence of their CEO, Pat Gelsinger, who flew in from California for it.  VMware have invested heavily in vCHS and will continue to do so as demand for public cloud services grows. Pat’s presence underlined to me the importance that VMware places on vCHS in their future.

During Pat’s talk, he gave an overview of how he and VMware see that we’re in the middle of a shift from an appliance era to one of mobile cloud. vCHS is one of the ways that VMware are using to move with that shift. He also mentioned about how he’d recently had to write a cheque for $1.5Bn for VMware’s purchase of AirWatch. I thought I’d try it out to see what it felt like…

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I guess it’d be more impressive if I actually had that money in my account! If anyone else tries this, tell me if you use Dr Evil’s voice when writing it out.

Much of the remaining time at the event was dedicated to a Q&A panel involving many of the UK / EMEA’s top brass and vCHS product managers.

vCHS Benefits – A Customer Perspective

Obviously, VMware weren’t the first to market with a public cloud offering (think Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure for instance), but a significant portion of the launch briefing was focused around how vCHS benefits existing VMware customers more than a move to a 3rd party cloud provider does.  For this, two of the service’s beta participants talked about their experiences.

Betfair’s business activities, as part of the online gaming industry, are heavily regulated within the UK. One of their IT challenges is providing the business with sufficient agility to grow and develop. However, Betfair found that the potential benefits of cloud economics are balanced against the complexity of maintaining regulatory compliance when using cloud service providers. The key differentiator that they picked out in vCHS for them was the integration with their existing virtual platform (vSphere). Being able to migrate workloads from their on-premise platform to their dedicated vCHS space and (using other parts of the vCloud Suite) presenting business users with a single interface to request and manage virtual infrastructure made their adoption of vCHS for development and testing purposes possible.

Cancer Research UK’s story is similar. Their key driver is to reduce their spend on “tin and wires” as they’re not an IT business. As a charity, regular and predictable costs are far more preferable to infrequent capital outlays for growth and hardware refreshes. Cancer Research wanted something they could just plug into and use to maximize their IT efficiency and move away from legacy systems.

Thinking about these use cases, there’s certainly clear benefits for both customers.

Use Cases

vCHS has several use cases and benefits. Key amongst the benefits is the ability to utilise existing vSphere management products and interfaces to manage your estate. Such integration is going to be a big selling point in my opinion.

As for use cases, here are just a few:

  • Use as a Disaster Recovery datacenter
  • Migrate from existing  Virtual Infrastructure and reduce your physical datacenter assets
  • SMEs could use it to host workloads that require Enterprise vSphere features and keep test and development systems in house
  • Affordable means to grow IT infrastructure without capital investement

Put another way, if you imagine an organisation with an existing virtual datacenter, their usage of it is likely to look something like this:

vchs-use-case

  • 75 – 90% (ish) is used by running services
  • 10 – 25 % might be reserved for high availability and maintenance constraints
  • A few percent might be available to support business growth

That’s a reasonable chunk of resources that are required (and must be paid for) that don’t run any workloads under normal conditions.

Imagine though if the business had datacenter resilience requirements that necessitated a second datacenter for DR:

vchs-use-case-with-dr

The organisation has to pay for a lot more hardware and software that might never be required and that will have to kept up-to-date over time. (Of course, they could run workloads in both datacenters and fail over should DR be required but the amount of resources required wouldn’t reduce much.)

Using vCHS, such an organisation could very easily do any or all of the following:

  • Use vCHS for DR. They’d have to pay for storage used and they’d need a pretty chunky network connection but surely they have that anyway. In the evnt of needing to failover, they pay for the resource used.
  • Use vCHS to support business growth without having to invest in capital equipment.
  • Migrate their workloads to vCHS rather than refresh on-premise hardware and use multiple vCHS datacenters for resilience.

The opportunities are both interesting and exciting to me.

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vCAC 5.2 – Accidental Deletion of a non-vCAC VM

It was tempting to call this article “vCAC Ate My VM” but it’s not a useful description of what it’s actually about.

I was onsite with a customer recently when an odd bit of behaviour occurred whilst testing some out some code in the BuildingMachine stub. I’ve reproduced what happened in my home lab and while it’s a bit worrying and probably a bug, I’d hesitate to ring the alarm bells too loudly.

A bit of scene setting is required to explain this first.

  • The customer wanted to use user specified machine names. The blueprints in use have been configured to request a machine name from the person requesting a VM.
  • This name is also used for the VM’s guest OS hostname during the customization of the VM. Understandably this has to be unique within the DNS zone / network being used.
  • The vCenter being used as a vCAC endpoint is the same one that “owns” the vCAC infrastructure and many other production VMs. However vCAC has it’s own cluster to consume resources from.

The customer wanted to ensure that users couldn’t request a VM name that was already in use. vCAC does its own checking to ensure that the same name is not used with vCAC itself. However, it does not check for existing VMs in vSphere. This is why I was adding some code to the WFStubBuildingMachine workflow.

The solution that I had was a simple piece of PowerCLI that connected to the vCenter server, checked to see if the requested VM name was in use in any of the other clusters and failed the request if it was. Fairly simple and it worked. What I saw however was that the existing VM was destroyed by vCAC. Luckily it was a test one and not a production one. However, given that the vCenter server also managed non-vCAC VMs, this was a bit worrying and why I have been investigating it in my lab.

To reproduce the issue, I needed two clusters in my homelab (which I already had):

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One for management VMs and one resource cluster for vCAC to provision into.

I created a simple VM from a vSphere template called “testvm” in my MGMT cluster that would be my guinea pig. I then built a quick vCAC 5.2 server and configured my vCenter server’s “RES” cluster as a Compute Resource. With a reservation in place and a simple blueprint I was ready to test.

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Having verified that I could create VMs via vCAC with custom names successfully, I then went about customising the WFStubBuildingMachine workflow so that it would exit in a “Failed” state. Adam Bohle has a posting that explains how to accomplish this, I simplified it a bit as I didn’t need all of the logic in place, just a failure.

Using the vCAC Designer, I simply added a step to return a Failed state from WFStubBuildingMachine and sent the change back to the Model Manager.

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After another quick test, I could see that as soon as any request hit the “Building Machine” stage, it failed and vCAC would dispose of the VM. The important thing to realise is that in the lifecycle of a vCAC machine, “Building Machine” means that nothing has been created yet outside of vCAC. No cloning in vSphere has taken place. So disposing of a failed request at this stage should not really involve vCenter at all.

Now the real test…

This time I made a vCAC request for a VM called “testvm” (remember that it’s in my MGMT cluster and vCAC is set to use only my RES cluster for VMs).

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As expected, the requests fails at the “Building Machine” stage and vCAC disposes of the VM.

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Back in vCenter “testvm” is still there and running ok. This is good. As I’d hoped, vCAC doesn’t touch something that’s in another cluster.

If the “testvm” machine is moved to the RES cluster though, what then? Boom! vCAC jumps into a Disposing stage as expected but deletes the non-vCAC VM from vCenter that has the same name!

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Whilst this probably shouldn’t happen, what I was doing here wasn’t good practice anyway. The cluster that vCAC provisions into should only be used by vCAC. There should be no other VMs in there at all.

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Google Reader RIP, Should I Care?

Yesterday, Google announced that as of July 1st 2013 they are retiring the Google Reader service. It was one of several stories that caused some bloating of my twitter timeline as scores of people that I follow picked up on it.

My initial reaction was not a good one. I started using Google Reader only a few years ago but it has become a trusted and valuable way for me to consume information and news from the industry that I work in. Its absence will have a considerable impact on my daily activities.

Having slept on it though, I’m certainly a lot more relaxed about it. Yes, it’s going to have an impact but have Google actually just provided me with a catalyst to change the way that I consume information? I mean, I could easily just swap to using another service. Feedly, for example, even have processes in place to allow you to migrate from Google Reader (something that may have contributed to their site being incredibly slow last night after the Google announcement broke). But does Googles decision point towards a trend of moving away from RSS? What then is the alternative way of reading updates from the various sites and feeds that I have been following?

I don’t have a clear answer to any of these questions just yet but I’m going to be thinking about alternatives now. In the short term, moving my collection of feeds to another service seems to be the logical thing to do. After all, that’s one of the benefits of cloud services – portability. It will only be the work of a few minutes and I can carry on reading my RSS feeds on any of my devices beyond the end of June.

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Get Your Homelab in the Clouds with AutoLab

screenshot327Since we have a small but significant following of people who run home labs here on vSpecialist, I thought I’d mention a limited offer that may be of interest.

If you’re not familiar with AutoLab, it’s designed to produce a nested vSphere 5.1, 5.0 or 4.1 lab environment with minimum effort. Prebuilt Open Source VMs and the shell of other VMs are used along with automation for the installation of operating systems and applications into these VMs with the end result being a useful home lab that you can stand up from scratch in a short amount of time.

Anyway, it’s possible to get an AutoLab setup and running in the cloud and BareMetalCloud actually offer it as a service. Mike Laverick has some discount codes available (use MAGICMIKE100) to the first 100 people to take up the service. Check out his post on the topic for more details and help on getting started.