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Getting Back on the Blogging Horse

horseI don’t want this to turn into a daft post about new year’s resolutions but its probably going to feel a bit like that when I’ve finished writing it. For that you have my apologies.

2012 was a roller coaster year for me. I spent nearly half of it out of the country and gave myself a little too much to my day job in the later months. The net result was that I did not do some of the things that I set out to do: I didn’t write as many blog articles as I had planned to; I didn’t update or obtain the certifications that I wanted to do; I didn’t give back to the VMware virtualisation community all that I wanted to; I didn’t spend enough time on the technologies, projects and tasks that most interest me.

Don’t misunderstand, it was still a good ride but I’m taking steps to redress the balance now and I expect 2013 to be different. For starters, I am filling my spare time with some VCAP5 preparation and I’m going to be covering which materials I have been using soon. I actually had the opportunity last year to sit the VCAP5-DCA beta exam but I cancelled my booking to prioritise a prickly situation in my day job.
I also have some more content on the way for this blog, some of which I started on months ago but never got around to posting. In part this came down to the work balance challenge that I’ve had but also a tendency that I developed to try and write things in one go rather than just banging out a draft and allowing myself to edit later. The latter method is more likely to produce a published blog post based on my experience.

As I predicted, I’m heading into resolution territory – sorry about that. Perhaps an un-resolution (see Simon Seagrave’s post about those for more detail) would be more appropriate! Anyway, I’m back on the blogging horse now.

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I’m back…

It’s been a while now since I’ve been able to give blogging (or anything) my full attention. For the last five months I’ve mostly been in the San Francisco Bay Area helping my employer establish a US presence. Ironically, I’ve been staying just a few miles from Palo Alto and certainly close enough to the Moscone Center to have attended VMworld had I still been out there. Alas, it wasn’t to be. I’m very jealous of my fellow LonVMUG members, the many other vExperts I’m fortunate to have spoken with and everyone else going as well. Make the most of it!

Keeping on top of things whilst your family is over 5000 miles away isn’t easy and so I haven’t had the opportunity to write as much as I would want to. But now I’m back and it’s time to pick up where I left off. I have a few half-written posts to try and pick up and a fair few ideas that I’ve had for other things too.

Before I get started, here are a few of the non-work highlights of my time in California:

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vGeek TV

I thought I’d save this for a Friday morning – something to make the weekend happen earlier maybe?

It started earlier in the week. Mike Laverick, Steve Bruck and Stu McHugh had a twitter conversation that led to one of them coming up with “V Factor”, the Geek alternative to ITV’s “X Factor”.

This spawned several minutes of additional vGeek televisual programme ideas being suggested by a number of tweeters. For your brief enjoyment, here are all of the ones I managed to capture at the time:

  • VMUGrats
  • Cache in the Attic
  • The only way is ESX
  • v Factor
  • The Amazing vRace
  • EMCbeebies
  • VMotion Street
  • QuestEnders
  • OLEoaks
  • VMerdale
  • ‘DRS’ (Doctors)
  • A vSpecialist Abroad
  • Buffy the VM Slayer
  • Deadliest Cache
  • 24-Hours – shift
  • The vShield
  • Married … With a vAdmin
  • McCloud
  • vSphere Five-0
  • News at VMTN
  • Brothers in ARMs
  • How I Met Your Motherboard
  • Sons of Affinity
  • ESX and the Single Girl
  • The HA/DRS Theory
  • ESX and the City
  • Time Veeam
  • Two and a half Clusters
  • An Idiot Admin
  • Derren Brown: vExperiments
  • Joanna Lumley’s Geek Odyssey
  • ESXTOP Gear
  • I’m a Celebrity vMotion me out of here!
  • PowerHell’s Kitchen
  • CLI: Command Line Instructions
  • The vmX Files
  • Gordon Ramsay’s Virtualisation Nightmares
  • Downtime Abbey
  • What not to VMware
  • How to look good Consolidated

I’ll get my coat!

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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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VMworld: Thank you!

This has been my first visit to VMworld and my first industry conference and I just wanted to say a big, public thank you to a number of people.

  • Thank you John Troyer for arranging a conference pass for me.
  • Thank you to my company, Virtual Clarity, for encouraging and supporting my attendance.
  • Thank you to the hundreds of people who organised, setup and facilitated the conference.
  • Thank you to Denmark for playing host to 7000+ geeks.
  • Finally, thank you VMware for the content, the event, practically inventing this industry and continuing to innovate.

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Two Heads Are Better Than One…

It’s time for me to announce that vSpecialist.co.uk is now going to be a multi-author site. A former colleague of mine, Jeremy Bowman, has caught the writing bug and I’m pleased to announce that he’s going to be writing articles here. In fact, he’s already put several up!

Jeremy’s currently at VMworld in Las Vegas (I’m envious) so please do say “hello” if you happen to meet him.

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UK VMUG: A Date for your Diaries!

For several years now I have been a fairly regular attender of the London VMware User Group (VMUG) here in the UK. They’re a fantatsic opportunity to meet other people who:

  • Work in the virtualisation space (and usually share a passion for it)
  • Work with different ancillary products and technologies than you’re used to
  • Work in different ways than you’re used
  • Have different opinions on how to achieve the same IT related goals
  • Have loads of great stories and experiences to share

On top of all of that you get to learn lots of new things and pick the brains of some industry luminaries, oh and have a few beers with them afterwards.

There are also VMUGs held regularly in the North of England (Leeds usually) and sometimes in Scotland as well I believe. I’ve only made it to the Northern VMUG once and never as far as Scotland. Now though, there’s an event that is intended to bring all of these groups together.

The date for the UK’s first National VMUG has been set. It will be on Thursday November 3rd 2011 at the National MotorCycle Museum in the midlands (actually quite handy for me). Current sponsors are VMware and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

A precise agenda hasn’t been set at the time of writing but the all day event (8.00am to 5.00pm) will include the following:

  • Multiple tracks
  • Keynote speakers
  • Exhibitor area with VMware partners
  • VMware educational sessions
  • Complimentary breakfast and lunch

Registration is open now, just head to the MyVMUG site. I plan to go and I look forward to meeting lots of people there too!

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vExpert 2011… Surely not?

“Don’t call me Shirley!”

I love that joke but “surely not” was my response when John Troyer’s email popped into my inbox this morning.

Since that time I’ve had a veritable deluge of congratulations from all quarters. Along with the award itself that means a lot to me so this is a big public thank you to everyone really, especially John Troyer and vExpert panel.

Obviously the bar has been set now. Time to get my bottom in gear.

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London VMUG July 2011

It’s not even a month since the last London VMUG event and the agenda for the next one has been released.

The next meeting is on Thursday 14th July and is sponsored by Arista, Embotics and Vision Solutions.

The London VMUG Steering Committee are delighted to invite you to our next event. Following on from the success of the new format unveiled at the May 12th VMUG, we will continue with multiple tracks and a vCOPS focused lab, along with a Genius Bar from VMware GSS to answer any burning issues you might have.  Details are below and we are grateful to our sponsors – Arista Networks, Embotics and Vision Solutions.

IMPORTANT: If you wish to participate in Alan’s PowerCLI session and/or lab, you MUST bring your own laptop/client device please! For the lab, you will need View 4.6 client installed (or admin rights to install it).

Agenda

Plenary sessions in Capital
10.00 – 10.15 – Welcome, Alaric Davies, Chairman
10.15 – 11.00 – Arista Networks, John Peach, Senior System Architect – Cloudvision for the Virtualised Environment
11.00 – 11.45 – Embotics, Martin Sajkowski, EMEA Operations & Colin Jacks, Senior Solutions Specialist – Private Cloud Management Made Simple
11.45 – 12.15 – Break inThames where our sponsors will be exhibiting
12.15 – 13.00 – Double-Take by Vision Solutions – Christian Willis, Technical Director: Meeting the Availability Challenges of physical, Virtual and Geographically Dispersed Systems
13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch in Thames where our sponsors will be exhibiting

Track 1

14.00 – 14.50 – Mark Stockham, VMware  – vCOPS Advanced
15.00 – 15.50 – Mike Laverick – SRM Futures
16.00 – 16.50 – David Owen – How converged infrastructure enables (MP – “cloud” I think)

Track 2

14.00 – 14.50 – Julian Wood – Thinking, building & scripting globally
15.00 – 15.50 – Alan Renouf – How to save your time with PowerCLI Cloud
16.00 – 16.50 –  Colin Fernandez, VMware –  Managing IT as we evolve to Cloud computing

17.00 – Close
17.00 – Onward Drinks at Pavilion End, 23 Watling Street, EC4M 9BR

Please note the agenda is subject to change.

Registration is handled through the MyVMUG website and a direct link to the event can be found here.

I’m quite excited by the agenda. There are lots of clever people presenting on some very interesting topics and it’ll be a challenge to choose between them.

I look forward to meeting everyone there.

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New Tax Year… New Job

The two are not entirely unrelated. Although I only got into contracting by accident I have been considering returning to permanent work for some time. However, it was the imminent end of the tax year that set things in motion. Well, that and a timely tweet from Mr Darren Woollard (@dawoo) – I owe him beer.

The end of March (and the UK tax year) signalled the end of my contract with my public sector client. The UK government has been tightening the purse strings ever since last year’s election and so it came as no surprise to me to be looking for work. I’m pleased to say though that my search was fairly short and very successful. Next week I will be joining a small but fast growing company by the name of Virtual Clarity. To put it mildly, I’m excited.

As it transpired, my start date and the end of my last contract have been separated by the entire month of April. During that time I haven’t spent a lot of time in front of a computer of any sort, it’s been family time. This is why I have been fairly quiet lately. It’s possible that in the coming weeks I’ll still be quiet because I’m too busy but I do intend to keep posting when I can.