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Review: Trainsignal VMware vSphere 5 Training

vmware vsphere training

I’ve been a big fan of Trainsignal’s courses for some time now. You never forget your first one and for me that was “VMware vSphere Pro Series Training Vol1”.

Time has flown by though. Trainsignal have since released a number of new courses, several of them VMware focused. I have some of them in my library and there are also some that I couldn’t justify purchasing at the time.

With all of the changes in vSphere 5 I thought it a good idea to get hold of Trainsignal’s latest and greatest as part of my VCP5 preparations. I’ve done a fair bit of work with vSphere 5 but there were always going to be bits that I was less familiar with. What the training offers is the opportunity to bone up on those weaker areas and brush up on the bits that you’re more familiar with already courtesy of two knowledgable and well-informed virtualisation experts: David Davis and Elias Khnaser.

The training comes on 3 DVDs containing a series of screencast videos covering all of the content but there’s also the ability to watch the videos online if you want. At its simplest you can just pop one of the DVDs into your laptop and get started or there are iPod optimised copies also available for importing into iTunes. Pulling your iPhone out of your pocket on the tube in London and learning about VMware Data Recovery is almost priceless as the time would be otherwise wasted.

As a VCP5 resource it’s not everything that you need. Don’t forget that:

  • You need to have attended a VMware course to qualify for the VCP5 (or hold a VCP4 already)
  • There’s no substitute for practical experience

That said, it’s an excellent place to start building or refresh your knowledge and I’d totally recommend the course to almost anyone with an interest in vSphere 5. It’s not without its flaws, I spotted one or two typos and sometimes a iPhone isn’t the best device on which to see large and detailed captures of the vSphere Client! Also, there were some very minor inconsistencies between different videos but these were when opinions were being offered and were not related to factual content. Not something that concerned me, I just picked it up.

Overall an excellent resource. Hats off to Elias, David and the Trainsignal team.

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Review: Administering VMware Site Recovery Manager 5.0

Aside from the hypervisor (ESXi) and vCenter, one of VMware’s longer serving Enterprise products is Site Recovery Manager (SRM). Originally launched in June 2008 as a version 1.0 product, SRM promised to make the act of failing a virtual infrastructure over to a Disaster Recovery (DR) site simpler. To sum its functionality up in the simplest way possible SRM was “automation for DR”.

DR has always been a tricky topic from an IT perspective. A bit like insurance for your car, you hope that you never need to use it. Sometimes it’s also possible to delude yourself into thinking that it’ll never happen to you. Continue Reading

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Top 10 Virtualisation Blogs

It’s been over a year since the last poll was held to determine which were the top 10 virtualisation blogs on the internet. At the time this one was written only by me and wasn’t even registered with vsphere-land.com for the vote.

A lot can change in 12 months. Jeremy now co-authors the blog with me and has written plenty of brilliant articles. We’re also registered on vsphere-land.com (Eric Siebert’s site) and it’s voting time once more.

The world is full of award ceremonies and polls, each important to those involved. The thing to remember about blogging is that people don’t often get paid for it. Many of the sites don’t carry any sponsorship and with all of them the considerable effort to keep writing comes from passion and interest in the subject. A little positive feedback from readers makes a big difference.

So if you can spare 2 or 3 minutes of your time to vote for your favourite virtualisation bloggers, I know they’d appreciate it. Cheers!

VOTE HERE

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What’s New in PHD Virtual Backup 5.3

I’ve just been catching up on some blog feeds and emails that I haven’t had a chance to read in recent weeks. Apparently PHD Virtual dropped version 5.3 of their backup and replication product on the world.

It’s now more efficient and each Virtual Backup Appliance (VBA) can handle 8 concurrent backup / restore operations.

The replication features of the product look handy too with the ability to use a portable drive to “seed” replicated servers thus minimising the amount of WAN traffic transmitted.

There’s a “What’s New” 7 minute video on YouTube that explains all of these bits that I just watched. Now I just need to find some time to run it up in the lab!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Eft4kJnTADQ

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Review: First UKVMUG 03/11/2011

I could make this my shortest ever post and just say that it was a brilliant event but that’s hardly useful information for anyone. I did seriously consider it though.

So, in case you weren’t able to attend or simply didn’t know about it, last week saw the UK’s first ever national VMUG take place at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull. Ordinarily the UK hosts three VMUG meetings (London, Northern and Scottish) at regular intervals throughout the year but the VMware User Group (VMUG) organisation wanted to try out a UK-wide meeting.

Continue Reading

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VMworld Solutions Exchange

For some the Solutions Exchange at VMworld is the place to get free pens and stress balls in between conference sessions. For others, myself included, it’s an opportunity to learn about products related to or supporting the virtualisation industry. I spent several hours in there talking to representatives of several vendors with products that I have either used in the past, might use on upcoming projects or that I am just curious about.

What follows is a summary or overview of some of the vendors (besides the VMware stand of course) that I visited.

QNAP

I’ve included QNAP and visited them for one fairly simple reason – I own one of their devices! Ok, my QNAP NAS is fairly small (two drives in a RAID 1 configuration) and I mostly use it as a file server, media server and NFS datastore, but it’s very versatile.

Historically most of their models seemed fairly directed at small offices / homes / small businesses. This made their appearance at VMworld a little surprising in some respects. QNAP, it seems, have grander plans than the SOHO customer market. Last month they launched two newer and larger devices (the x79 series) that seem to be directed at the SME market.

QNAP’s devices have been VMware certified for a couple of years now and mine has worked well (albeit a little slowly) as an NFS / iSCSI storage location. This certification has been maintained on each of QNAP’s new models since that time and is no different now. So a single device with up to 12 drive spindles must surely be directed at the SME market. Indeed my conversation with the QNAP representative seemed to back that thought up.

Tintri

Ever since Duncan Epping first blogged about Tintri I have kept half an eye on them. The Tintri’s primary object of concern is the virtual disk. That is to say, rather than being a block storage device that offers LUNs or datastores for storing files and managing VMs as a collection of files, Tintri offer a single NFS datastore that manages VMs as a deployment of one or more virtual disks.

Inside the Tintri are a mere 8 disk spindles and 2.5Tb of SSDs. In total 13.5Tb of useable space is presented to connecting ESXi hosts and the device and storage are managed through a web interface – not that much management is normally necessary. Once the device is configured it can more or less be left to handle things itself.

The design aim of the Tintri is that all hosted VMs are served from the SSDs onboard. Tintri’s software (the clever bit) employs a mixture of techniques including in-line de-duplication to achieve this aim. The management interface then shows two fairly useful gauges for use by virtual infrastructure administrators. One shows available capacity, the other shows available performance. This latter gauge is the important one. Whilst it is at less than 100%, there’s enough performance available to deploy more VMs. Use it all up though the performance will drop off significantly.

Tintri appear to have made a very logical step forward in the evolution of storage for virtual infrastructures. They have a little way to go still. Although they introduced dual controllers into their devices recently and these controllers can be upgraded independently of each other, they still lack any form of replication and are not yet VAAI capable.

The future looks bright for Tintri if they can add those two little features (rumoured to be arriving early next year). There are certainly some compelling use cases but Tintri will find themselves battling against the more established storage vendors. Bigger marketing and sales  budgets vs new but exciting technology. It will be an interesting competition.

Mike Laverick also had a recent vendorwag with Tintri that’s worth a listen.

Xsigo

I recently spent 12 months working for a Xsigo customer. Xsigo are enjoying fairly healthy interest (and presumably sales too) in their products. Having a single, high bandwidth connection to an ESXi host for all of it’s I/O may worry some and confuse others but there are some advantages to it. Simpler cabling is one of course.

Xsigo works by presenting virtual NICs to the host over a Converged Network Adapter (CNA). These NICs can be assigned to different Standard / Distributed vSwitches as required. On the Xsigo Director the virtual NICs are connected to local uplinks (either fibre channel, 1Gb Ethernet or 10Gb Ethernet). These uplinks can be shared by more than one virtual NIC and via the various configuration options you can segregate traffic quite neatly and apply differing QoS policies.

Later versions of the software running on the Directors offer greater configuration and reporting potential than was previously possible and in previous years Xsigo have been used to drive VMworld’s Hands-on-Labs.

Competition for Xsigo comes from the established network vendors (e.g. Cisco). At present though the 20 / 40 Gb bandwidth available between hosts using Xsigo is a better headline than other vendors can offer. It won’t remain that way for long in my opinion.

vKernel

I’ve been meaning to try out vOperations Suite 4 for a few weeks now. In light of VMware’s product launches at VMworld I couldn’t help but pop by and have a chat.

I’m reasonably familiar with what vKernel offer and whilst I don’t have an immediate need in that area I was keen to find out how they felt about the upcoming release of vCenter Operations Suite 5 (interesting how similar the names are). The impression that I was given (although I was hardly expecting panic anyway) was that they are fairly unconcerned. They don’t see VMware as their big competition in this area. Their product is priced differently and they see this as a big differentiator. In fact they were more concerned at promoting their new, free tool (vScope Explorer) which launches this week.

Here, like a few other vendors, vKernel are giving away a limited subset of the functionality that they offer in their full products for free. Without wishing to teach anyone to suck marketing eggs, the purpose of this is to get people used to using their tools, provide them with useful and valuable information and then be there to pick up some business afterwards. Nothing wrong with that at all and the demo that I saw whilst Eric Sloof was interviewing Jonathan Klick of vKernel was good.

Nimbula

Nimbula Director (coincidentally at version 1.5 like vCD) was on my list as a possible product for use in an upcoming project. Like vCD it is a Cloud Management System but it uses KVM as the hypervisor of choice. Nimbula was formed by some of the team that developed Amazon EC2 (the company’s public cloud offering) and integration with it is one of the key features. Indeed. you can either use Nimbula to manage EC2 instances, deploy and manage local hosts or a combination of the two. It also works with VMware’s Cloud Foundry. Small, presumably relatively unsupported, Nimbula deployments are free.

Nimbula have a great looking product that has plenty of automation and scalability built in. There are features a plenty and a RESTful HTTP API if you want or need it. The demo that I was shown was fairly slick at any rate. My only concern is that if you already have one hypervisor, why would you want another? Whether it proves useful for my project is another matter.

Zeus / Riverbed and F5

My primary reason for visiting Riverbed (who now own the Zeus Traffic Manager – a virtual appliance that offers highly configurable load balancing) was to talk to them about their APIs for a project that I’m working on. So I was told, they do have a RESTful web services API available that allows any configuration possible through the management interface to be completed programmatically. Job accomplished thanks to the nice people on the stand.

Something I’d like to look into in the future however is some sort of comparison in performance between virtual and physical load balancers. F5, who I also visited, maintain that physical is the only way to go and that virtual appliances put too much strain on virtual resources to be effective. It’d be interesting to see the two pitted against each other in some sort of objective test. I’ll have to google and see if anyone has done that already.

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CloudCamp – The Return

It’s been about a year since I last went to CloudCamp. In honour of my return and as an homage to CloudCamp London’s compere, Simon Wardley, I have adorned this post with a suitable image. Ta-da! (For those who are bewildered, Simon has a fixation with kittens in his presentations.)

The reason that it’s been so long since I attended a meeting (that sounds bad but you know what I mean) is that I found them to be a bit similar and not really relevant to what I was doing at the time. A few changes in personal circumstances also had an effect. But, having recently started a new job where cloud computing is very much a part of it, I felt the time was right to go again. It also helped that the venue for this meeting was in the crypt at St James Church, Clerkenwell – just a 5 minute walk from my office.

Armed with a beer and in the company Mr Radnidge (@vinternals) what follows is a brief overview of the evening (partly at the request of Ed Grigson (@egrigson) and Simon May (@simonster), neither of whom could be there).

Things kicked off with Simon Wardley’s presentation. His thoughts about what had recently been bothering him about cloud included a number of slides, themes and thought streams from his presentation to OSCON 2010 (you can see that presentation here or view the slides here) but it wasn’t nearly as long. He spent a couple of minutes explaining cloud in terms of Everett Rogers‘ theories around the “Diffusion of Innovations”. Essentially this boils down to new technologies being adopted in a fairly predictable way over time as they evolve and mature.

Assuming that I’ve interpreted him correctly (remember the beer), cloud services were presented as being at the top end of this curve (i.e. computer consumption is fairly ubiquitous and mature).  The screenshot on the right is the slide that I’m referring to here (the y-axis is ubiquity).

Whilst from a computing perspective that’s probably true, if you consider cloud as a separate product type then I’d argue that it is much further down the curve. There is still debate about what cloud is and there is a great deal of innovation still going on. Add to that the adoption of cloud services is fairly low (at least as far as enterprises are concerned) and I think that you end up with a different picture.

That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong and I’d be happy to talk at length with anyone on the topic. Don’t get me wrong or shoot me though, I still enjoyed the presentation and it’s given me a lot to think about on its own.

After that warm up, things moved on to the lightning talks. For the un-initiated these are 5 minute presentations on cloud related subjects that are supposed to be vendor neutral, not about consulting and should avoid lots of speculation about the future.

One of the talks (that got laughs for the wrong reasons – problems with the slide deck) was about trust and security in the cloud. Another was about the Cloud Legal Project, a Microsoft funded but independent study into cloud service contracts. I found this one very interesting not because I’m a closet lawyer or anything but because it’s something that’s often over-looked and could have quite significant consequences at some point. It could also be a barrier to entry for some enterprises where the cloud is concerned. In fact, it was so well received that it actually ran over its 5 minute slot.

After the lightning talks came the “un-panel”, chaired by Joe Baguley (recently appointed Chief Cloud Technologist at VMware) and featuring volunteers from the audience. Discussion and questions focused heavily on cloud legalities (further evidence that the CLP presentation struck a chord), agility in the cloud, trust / security and the barriers to cloud adoption presented by the older generation.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the discussions. I came away though with several things to think about it more depth though. Well worth the time spent in my opinion.

Once the meeting was wrapped up it was beer and pizza time. Time to chat with other attendees and presenters. I got to chat for a while with two alumni (Dan Young and  Dimitri Koutsos) from a hosting company that I used to work for as well as having a long chat with Guy Chapman about a whole range of topics.

Cloud services and solutions are about more than just the technology and it’s those bits, the thinking bits, that CloudCamp is for. An evening well spent in my opinion.

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Review: VMware vSphere PowerCLI Reference

It’s difficult to be objective when you know (and like) some of the authors. Fortunately it’s not a problem in this case since I don’t have anything bad to say about their work anyway so I don’t need to be diplomatic!

Of course it could be argued that anything I say here might not be totally impartial but I leave it to you, the reader, to make that decision – I just wanted to be open and clear from the start.

“Clear” is definitely a word I’d use when describing the book. With a subject like this, which isn’t exactly what you would call bedtime reading, any confusion would make the book unreadable. Maybe this is helped in my case by the fact that I’ve been using PowerCLI and PowerShell for quite a while now although I certainly wouldn’t put myself anywhere near being in the same league as the authors.

Having some exposure to PowerShell I think is probably a pre-requisite for this book. Or at least you should have a willingness to learn a bit about the language first as the book drops you into some fairly sizable scripts right from the start (assuming you go from cover to cover that is). Thank fully these scripts can be obtained from the publisher’s website – the days of typing in programs from a magazine are long gone!

One of the things that I like most about the book is that many of the day-to-day Virtual Infrastructure tasks that most people do repetitively through the GUI have been converted into PowerCLI scripts. Not all of them will be immediately useful to everyone but they give you the flexibility to change how you work whilst at the same time being fairly easy to follow. Having the way that PowerCLI works with the vCenter API explained (with examples) at various stages should give any reader the confidence to strike out on their own. Just remember to test any modifications on a non-production system!

My only criticism of the book is one that is general to books of this type. Inevitably, by the time that they are written, edited and published the technology is on the cusp of moving on and it is possible for such books to become outdated quite quickly. In my opinion, PowerCLI is here to stay. PowerShell is certainly gaining lots of traction in the IT industry and so as a foundation for scripting VMware vSphere this book should be a good read for some time to come, even if a little tweaking is necessary in the future to make the documented scripts work with the latest versions of PowerCLI.

The only other thing (and this is a note for the publishers / amazon and the reason that it only gets four stars) is that it would be great they offered a bundle of the print book and an electronic version (e.g. Kindle) for a reasonable price. I know a fair few people like me who would like that sort of combination. Actually, offering an electronic version at all would be good – I gather from Jonathan Medd’s interview on the #vsoup podcast that there were formatting issues with the script samples that the publisher is working on.

Otherwise an excellent book!