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Review: Learning PowerCLI

0167EN_Learning PowerCLI_CoverUnless you’re new to vSphere, you’ll probably have heard about PowerCLI. You may already be using it regularly or perhaps you’ve found the occasional use for it and used one or more of the many excellent scripts that can be found on the internet. Either way, unless you’re an advanced user (or even a guru) of PowerCLI, there’s a book that’s been released recently that could be worth a look.

Learning PowerCLI”, by Robert van den Nieuwendijk, was released just a few weeks ago from publishers Packt Publishing. The author has posted many times on his blog with useful scripts, one-liners and tips for using PowerCLI in the past. Several times an issue that I’ve had has lead me to his blog so I was very interested to see if his knowledge and experience had translated well into book form.

Although I did read through the book from cover to cover, it’s not really that sort of book. PowerCLI and Powershell are technologies that you can easily dip into when a specific need arises and I found that trying to absorb the entire contents of the book was hard-going. That shouldn’t be taken as any sort of slight against the author’s writing style, it’s just the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to being the kind of book that you can’t put down. It is, though, the kind of book that you want to pick up and learn from. I’ve been using Powershell and PowerCLI for many years and I was surprised at the number of things that I learned!

The book starts simply enough by covering the installation and instantiation of PowerCLI as well as proving a few common examples of PowerCLI’s most commonly used cmdlets so that a reader new to the technology can see some immediate benefit. Before things get too heavy, Robert covers some of the most useful Powershell commands available: Get-Help, Get-Command and Get-Member. He also covers a number of useful Powershell tips and best practices whilst simultaneously keeping the reader’s mind on PowerCLI before delving into some more focussed topics, such as:

  • Working with vSphere hosts
  • Working with Virtual Machines
  • Working with Virtual Networks and Storage
  • Managing core vSphere / vCenter functionality

As I’ve already stated, I found the book very useful as it taught me a number of things I didn’t already know, allowing me to correct some bad scripting habits and improve a number of areas of scripts that I’m producing for a current project. People with a very strong grasp of Powershell and PowerCLI already might find that there’s a limit to what they gain from the book but beginners and intermediates alike should find that there’s plenty to take away and use.

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VMware vCenter Operations Manager Essentials

6961EN_mockupcover_norLate last year and earlier this year I had the great pleasure of being a technical reviewer for a book that’s now available.

VMware vCenter Operations Manager Essentials by Lauren Malhoit (of AdaptingIT podcast fame) has just been published by Packt Publishing. It takes readers through the steps of deploying and configuring vCOps (as many refer to it), through a tour of the dashboard and data navigation techniques, and finally covers some of the more complex integrations with other VMware and 3rd party products that are possible.

If you’re a user (or potential user) of vCenter Operations Manager then you may want to have a look. You can find out more about the book (and buy it) from one of these links*:

* Other retailers exist but I’ll leave you to search them out for yourself 🙂

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Pluralsight iOS App offers offline course viewing

I swapped my TrainSignal subscription over to Pluralsight over the weekend. Following the acquisition of TrainSignal last month, integration of their courseware into Pluralsight has moved along very quickly.

As well as providing TrainSignal subscribers with access to Pluralsight’s catalog of courses, the iOS app provides a piece of functionality that I’ve been waiting for – offline viewing on my iPad. Hooray!

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Multimon: Software My Chiropractor Made Me Buy

Well, he didn’t exactly do that. The big frown and look of disapproval at the photo I had been instructed to take of my work area told me almost all I needed to know about what he was about to say.

I work from home quite often and although I’ve never had a problem with how my desk is arranged etc, it came up when I needed to visit a chiropractor for the first time in my life. He wasn’t too impressed with where my laptop was on my desk and my second screen that I used for my Fusion VM, Twitter and my less used apps. After he explained all of the reasons why, he then proceeded to suggest what I needed to do to remedy the problems that he perceived. I’ve taken his advice and interpreted it in the way that suits my methods of working best.

Instead of raising the height of my laptop by about 12 inches, I’ve demoted it to “second screen” status and  rarely run anything on it whilst it’s on my desk. My second screen has been promoted to primary display and its height and position are where my chiropractor would want them. I’ve even replaced it with something bigger and better so that I have oodles of desktop space.

Great. The problem now is that OSX (Mountain Lion) is quite frankly pants at handling multiple displays and I don’t want to spend ages rearranging desktops and application windows every time I unhook my laptop to go to the office or a client site. Supposedly the next version of OSX (called Mavericks presumably because they ran out of big cat names) fixes a lot of these problems but I think I’ll go mad waiting for it.

In the meantime, Multimon does exactly what I want it to do. It remembers settings for different monitors, duplicates application menus on different displays, can resize and reposition app windows via shortcut keys and restores my app window positions when I reconnect and disconnect the external display.

I suspect he won’t let me deduct the cost of the software from the fee for the next appointment I have though…

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TrainSignal Online – 1 Month On…

trainsignalIt’s been just over a month since TrainSignal switched to providing their courses only via an online model and binned the idea of shipping DVDs around the world.

Although they kept their plans under wraps fairly well (at least they did as far as I know), it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise to anyone that they changed their model. You only have to look back another month or so to one of the UK’s big high street names going to the wall to see further evidence that physical media is just not as popular anymore.

I had been planning to purchase one of TrainSignal’s courses just prior to them making the switch. Good job I waited eh? But after giving it a week or so to bed in, I subscribed and I now have access to the whole training catalog.

Logging in, the dashboard (below) gives you the ability to browse and take courses, take practice exams, see what’s new etc.

screenshot334

You can see my progress having a look at David Davis and Jake Robinson’s “VMware vCloud Director Essentials” course. There’s also a link that will let you download the Silverlight based offline player.

The offline player, as it says on the tin, allows you to download courses to view when you don’t have an internet connection handy. It requires you to authenticate using your TrainSignal account and you’ll need to connect the player to the internet every few days or so for it to re-authenticate. Once in, you can browse the course catalog and select courses for download.

offlineplayer

The player’s fairly responsive and I’ve had no issues with it… save one. As stated on their website, TrainSignal do not yet offer an offline player for mobile devices (e.g. iPads etc). For me, that’s a bit of a detractor.

Overall, I like what TrainSignal have done. I can pick and choose whichever courses I want and hopefully the catalog will grow nicely. I do want an iPad app for it though!

Note: I didn’t clarify when I first wrote this that TrainSignal have offered their courses online for some time but not as a subscription model. Thanks to Ricky El-Qasem.

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First Impressions: PHD Virtual Backup 6.2 (with Cloud Hook)

screenshot323As I mentioned in my recent Cloud Backups post, I’m trying out a few virtualisation backup products to help me out with a prototype infrastructure that I’ve been working on. I want to store a backup of the various VMs that I’ve setup outside the infrastructure that I’ve setup – effectively offsite.

By happy circumstance, PHD Virtual had a beta running for version 6.2 of their backup product that includes “CloudHook”. It’s a module that enables integration with cloud storage providers for the purposes of backup, archiving and disaster recovery. The 6.2 release covers the backup aspect, and future releases will add in archiving and DR functionality. Thanks to Patrick Redknap, I managed to hop onto the beta and try it out. (Note that the screenshots below come from a beta release and may have changed for GA.)

PHD’s Virtual Backup product is delivered as a Virtual Backup Appliance. I was initially wary of production services running on dedicated virtual appliances a few years ago but I’ve changed my view over time and I now really like using them. (That’s probably a subject for a different post though.) I won’t go through the mechanics of the installation in nauseating detail, but basically it breaks down to the following high-level steps:

  1. Download and unzip the virtual appliance
  2. Use the vSphere Client to import and deploy the appliance (requires 8Gb disk space, 1 vCPU, 1Gb Memory and connection to 1 Port Group in it’s default configuration)
  3. Open the VM’s console and enter some network information
  4. Reboot the appliance
  5. Install the PHD Virtual Backup Client

Configuring the appliance for use is pretty straightforward although if, like I was, you have to make multiple hops to get to your data center (RDP over RDP over VPN for complicated reasons that I can’t go into), you might find that the PHD Virtual client doesn’t play too nicely with a lack of screen space. I could only just get to the “Save” button. (Granted, it’s an unlikely situation to be in though.) The minimum required is to connect the appliance to vCenter (see the General tab of the Configuration section):

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Normally at this point you’d expect to have to configure some disk space local to the backup appliance (or network storage space). Well, you still do really but you actually have a choice to make; where do you want to backup to? Continue Reading

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TrainSignal Moves to Online Subscription Model

The first ever TrainSignal course that I “took” was David Davis’ VMware vSphere 4 training. I had heard lots about it from a few people on Twitter and several others in person and I wanted to use it to fill in a few gaps in readiness for my VCP4 exam. I’ve since been through a few other courses and they’ve all been great.

What’s changed between then and now is TrainSignal’s transition from supplying only DVDs, through adding online access to purchased course, to finally switching to a subscription only model.

It’s a move that makes a great deal of sense and it’d be worth a subscription to get access to course related to technologies that I don’t use as often. There is even an offline player but it’s currently limited to desktop computers (Windows / OSX).

One thing that I would like to see though is a way to view courses offline on mobile devices. I recently used Handbrake to transfer my copy of Scott Lowe’s Designing VMware Infrastructure to my iPad so I could work through it anywhere. At about 800Mb though, I would only want to download that ahead of time and not via 3G when on a train.

Still, good move TrainSignal. I like it.

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Diagnosing and Troubleshooting PowerShell Remoting

hicks_cover150I was having a little difficulty with PowerShell remoting the other day and a colleague of mine dug up a link to a forthcoming book entitled “PowerShell Deep Dives” by Jeffery Hicks, Richard Siddaway, Oisin Grehan, and Aleksandar Nikolic.

Chapter 1 of the book, “Diagnosing and troubleshooting PowerShell remoting“, is available via the publisher’s website as a preview chapter and was very useful in solving my issue. The rest of the book looks like it will be interesting too if the chapter headings are anything to go by. Apparently it should be released this Spring.

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New vOPS Server Explorer 6.3

dell-vkernelA new version of vOPS Server Explorer is being launched today by vKernel (who were acquired by Quest and subsequently Dell).

The company have a history of releasing free tools to assist vSphere administrators and the new version of vOPS Server Explorer builds on this reputation by bringing in an additional subset of functionality from their commercial product (vOPS Server Standard).

Of course, as a free tool, one of its aims is to prove its value and help generate sales of the full, commercial product. I don’t think that should stop anyone trying it out though – you can’t knock a free tool. I used one of vKernel’s early tools to highlight a growing issue for a customer.

So, what’s new in this version?

Environment Explorer

This is actually a pre-existing component in vOPS Server Explorer but some additional functionality has been added in this release:

  • Potential zombie VMs are highlighted.
  • The savings possible from resizing VMs are now shown (although the costs are pre-configured in this free version).
  • The dashboard has a new tile that highlights the major changes to the infrastructure made over the last week.

environment-explorer

Storage Explorer

This component exists in the commercial vOPS Server Standard already but now some of the functionality is being brought into vOPS Server Explorer. It exists to show consolidated statistics and issues related to storage.

One of the things that I like about this component is that so many different pieces of data are visible and accessible in one place. For example, for each datastore you can easily see both the VMFS version and the path selection policy. Also, hover the mouse over a datastore and you can see useful tootips (for example you might see that 16% of a datastore’s throughput comes from a single VM).

You can also see VM capacity information (as long as your VMs have VMtools installed) and any warnings about actual or potential performance issues. Naturally the warning thresholds are not configurable in vOPS Server Explorer but only in the full vOPS Server Standard product. The free version is also limited to the top 10 datastores.

storage-explorer

Change Explorer

This component is intended to show a history / overview of changes made within a virtual infrastructure. Again, it’s built on functionality available in the full product but provides some useful insights into changes that have occurred.

It contains filtering functionality that allows you to search for actions taken by specific users or for actions taken on particular VI objects. Each change comes with an associated impact risk (that is configurable in the commercial version) to allow you to view the highest impact changes only for instance.

change-explorer

Download

vOPS Server Explorer 6.3 is available for download at: http://www.vkernel.com/download/server-explorer

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Symantec vExpert Briefing Day 29th March 2012

Symantec, I am so sorry.

There, my apology is out there. Now I ought to explain it…

Back in March I responded to a thread on the vExpert forum about a briefing day that Symantec were planning to host at the headquarters in Mountain View. (I’m actually a former Symantec employee – via an acquisition – but that’s not exactly relevant.) Fortunately I was working in the Bay Area at the time and, as I was due to fly back the following day, my workload was light enough to allow me to attend. What follows is a description, or review, of the day. Obviously I should have posted this about 5 months ago (hence the apology) but things got a little busy around then and this has been sitting in my Drafts since then.

Now you know and it’s time for me to get back to my brief review of the day…

The day was organised by Jordan Pusey (@JordanPusey), an Alliance Marketing Manager for Symantec. He coordinated getting everyone there. The criteria that had been set was that the vExperts had to be US based and, except for me, they were. I was one of six vExperts and we were more than outnumbered by people from Symantec! 🙂 Present were:

  • Shane Williford (@coolsport00) – A virtualisation guru on Experts Exchange
  • Bilal Hashmi (@hashmibilal) – Author of cloud-buddy.com
  • James Bowling (@vSential) – Author of vSential.com
  • Chris Nakagaki (@zsoldier) – Author of zsoldier.com
  • Ryan Makamson (@virt_pimp) – VMUG leader

And on the Symantec side there were numerous people whose names I didn’t catch (another apology to Symantec) as well as:

  • Kristine Mitchell (@kmitchel) – NetBackup Product Marketing Manager
  • Renee Carlisle (@SymRenRPM) – NetBackup Product Manager
  • Abdul Rasheed (@AbdulRasheed127) – Technical Marketer
  • Sean Doherty (@SeanDinfo) – CTO of Symantec’s Enterprise Security Group (and a fellow Brit)
So, what was the day all about? Well this was the outline plan that we were given:
Time Topic Speaker
12:00 – 12:30 Reception/Lunch Dale Zabriskie, Symantec Evangelist
12:30 – 1:15 Virtualization Security Todd Zambrovitz, Sr. Product Marketing Mgr, VirtualizationColin Gibbens, Principle Product Manager, Information and Security Group
1:15 – 2:00 Virtualization Security discussion Dale Zabriskie, Moderator
2:00 – 2:30 Break
2:30 – 3:30 V-Ray and Virtual Backup George Winter, Staff Technical Product Manager, Backup
3:30 – 4:30 Virtual Backup Discussion Dale Zabriskie, Moderator
4:30 – 5:30 ApplicationHA Desmond Chan, Sr. Product Manager, Storage and Availability Group
5:30 – 7:00 Dinner with the vExperts

On the face of it I was slightly worried that this might have been a bit of a sales-oriented day but I need not have been concerned. Right from the outset the purpose of the topics was set out. Basically Symantec wanted to talk about their products and solutions in the context of how such technologies were being used day-to-day. So, taking backup as an example, they wanted to understand what challenges we perceived there were in the virtual infrastructure backup space. Yes, we talked about the various pros and cons of their products but as people who use such technologies and implement them. Essentially you could say that we were helping them fine tune their products a bit through some very interesting discussions.

Besides backups, we talked for quite some time about virtualisation security, anti-virus and HA. There was quite a long discussion about the merits and demerits of agentless anti-virus that I made quite a few notes on.

So what did I get out of it? Well, I wasn’t paid to be there. I ought to get that out of the way straight off. Aside from meeting some very well switched on people at a major vendor, I met 5 other very knowledgable and opinionated vExperts and I got to talk about technology with them all. That for me is what I wanted.

I did take away several thoughts that I won’t share now but that might become the subjects of future posts (when I get the time to research them and write it all up). Oh, and I also walked away with a portable battery that helped power my iPad on the flight back 🙂

It was a great day, I enjoyed it a lot and I’m grateful to Symantec for inviting me along.