Golden Nuggets: #1 vSphere vFlash

ToolsWith so many tools and features from many different vendors, it is almost impossible to research them all and find useful tools to make your job easier. Some features also provide a faster/cheaper way to solve common problems without spending a fortune, unfortunately, these “Golden Nuggets” are often underutilized. I’ll post a few quick tools that may make a big difference in someone’s environment. As always, test before deploying to production.

One of the cool features introduced in vSphere 5.5 was vFlash, which replaced swap to SSD from previous versions, but I won’t get into that. Essentially, this is flash-based read cache on the host that functions at the vmdk level for a specific VM. This feature works by adding flash-based resources such as PCIe cards or SSD drives to create a vFlash pool of resources at the host level, and configuring the amount of storage to be used for host swap cache. Such cache is placed on the data path of the vmdk between the host and the storage array.

Once the host is configured, you can expand the virtual disk of a VM’s properties in the Web Client and assign the amount of cache for that particular vmdk, as well as having the option to select the block size (4KB – 1024KB). So, for each pool, chunks are carved out or reserved for a specific vmdk on the host where the VM is located.

vFlash_vmdk

As far as data locality goes and features like HA, DRS, vMotion; it is possible to migrate the cached data to another host while migrating a VM, as long as the other hosts have also been configured with vFlash. You may also specify not to migrate the cached data during migration.

Requirements:

  • Check HCL for compatible Flash devices
  • vCenter 5.5 or later (VCSA or Windows)
  • VM hardware version 10 or later
  • vSphere vMotion if using DRS
    • Requires vFlash on hosts within the cluster

 

Implementing vFlash can be beneficial for resolving or minimizing performance degradation for read intensive applications, or simply by utilizing local resources at the host level for read cache instead or in addition to storage read caching solutions. Having local cache eliminates the “extra hop” on the network to get to cached data at the storage array.

This is a high level view of vFlash but in my opinion, I think this is a nice feature that can get rid of some headaches and fire drills.

 

vFlash_highLevelImage source – VMware doc (Rawlinson)

 

VCSA 6.0 OVA install

In my last post I talked about some of the gaps with VCSA compared to the Windows vCenter version. I mentioned that the OVA was no longer available for download; however, it was quickly pointed out to me by William Lam from VMware that the OVA is in fact still available within the download; however, there is a disclaimer stating that such method is not officially supported by VMware.

Anyway, the OVA is buried within the ISO. Once you have mounted the ISO, you can navigate to the vcsa folder and the file named vmware-vcsa (with no extension) is the actual OVA (ISO->vcsa->vmware-vcsa). You may need to rename the ova to vmware-vcsa.ova or <other>.ova.

vcsa_ovaFile OVA_VCSA

 

 

 

From that point on, the deployment is the same as before.

William works for VMware and is a super sharp guy; although he may not remember me, I had the pleasure of meeting him during the vSphere 6 onsite Alpha over a year ago. Make sure to check out his blog full of tips and tricks. His blog site is virtuallyGhetto .

Deploying VCSA 6.0: Mind the Gap

VMware’s VCSA 6.0 brings a lot of enhancements compared to previous versions. I would seriously consider deploying VCSA in a production environment in order to replace the Windows flavor. For those not familiar with VCSA, this is the virtual appliance option to deploy vCenter in an environment. It reduces the time needed to deploy vCenter and offers an integrated database for no additional cost. Although this post may not be entirely technical, it will allow you to be aware of possible constraints that will prevent you from deploying VCSA before you invest too much time on it.

One of the great things about deploying VCSA over the Windows vCenter is that you will reduce the cost by not deploying a Windows VM as well as having to purchase an MSSQL license. VCSA sounds great so far, but there are some gaps that you need to be aware of before deploying this in an environment.

 

VCSA_mind_the_gap

Some of the shortcomings of VCSA are primarily related to its nature of not being a Windows VM. For some deployments Windows vCenters have been used to also host the VUM (Update Manager) components, as well as programs that provide additional capabilities to the virtual environment such as VSC for NetApp storage, among others. This means that you would still need to deploy a Windows VM to host VUM as well as VSC in this case. Even though you would still be deploying such VM, the need for a MSSQL server/instance is not required which translates in savings.

Another aspect to keep in mind is the installation and migration from previous versions. There is no in-place upgrade from previous versions, but migrations are possible. With this in mind, you may want to consider to just start with a new, fresh environment. I would. Same applies to the Windows flavor. The installation method now comes as an ISO image. This may cause some confusion. In order to deploy VCSA, the ISO is mounted from a Windows system (can be your computer) and installation can be done remotely.

Before installation, make sure you install the Client Integration Plugin located within the ISO under the vcsa folder.

VCSA_CIP

 

 

 

Start the installation by launching the vcsa-setup.html file from the ISO. A Web UI opens up after a few seconds, and gives you the option to install and ‘Upgrade” (migrate). During installation, just provide the target Host information, and the rest of the information needed for the installation. Make sure the VCSA appliance has a proper network connection and you can reach it from the computer deploying the appliance.

vcsa_setupvcsa_UI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both Windows and appliance vCenter offerings have the same scalability numbers as it relates to hosts, VMs, clusters, etc.

In conclusion, VCSA is a great choice for vCenter, but just be aware of some of the constraints of not using the Windows option. By the way the Web UI in vSphere 6 is soooo much faster!!! I’m just saying.

 

vROps 6.0: Why you need it now

One of the most time-consuming activities within an IT infrastructure is “keeping the lights on”. The operations of an IT environment requires many, many man hours, and this may also vary depending on the type of tool(s) utilized. There are many operations related tools that help administrators manage an environment, but VMware’s vRealize 6.0 brings great enhancement to its predecessors, and definitely sets itself apart from the competitors.

vRealize Operations Manager 6.0 introduces smart alerts. These types of alerts are the result of the aggregation of similar alerts into a single “smart” alert. This approach reduces the number of false-positive alerts, as well as decreasing the alert storms when issues appear. vROps, also provides a mitigation recommendation based on the smart alerts and allows for automatic problem remediation from vROps to the target vCenter, without the need to go to the vCenter Web Client. This integration provides management from one single console. The same applies within the vCenter Web Client, where information from vROps is visible for each entity.

The aforementioned features are key differentiators from older vCOps versions as well as from 3rd party competitors. vRealize Operations Management suite also allows to monitor other aspects outside the VMware environment such as storage, network, OS, and applications among others. This integration is done via management packs and plug-ins that allows businesses of all sizes to monitor their IT infrastructure from one single UI. It is also important to mention that vROps is capable of providing information for both security compliance as well as regulatory compliance such as HIPAA, SOX, and PCI among others.

For those that are currently running pre-vRealize version of Operations Manager (vCOps), I highly recommend that you make the move to vRealize 6.0. The additional features are worth the migration, which by the way is a breeze. I was able to deploy a new vROps instance and import from vCOps 5.8 in less than an hour. The new version provides many additional reports and dashboards that will reduce the time spent monitoring your IT Infrastructure.

By the way, to migrate to vROps 6.0 you need at least vCOps 5.8.1 version on the source system. I have a post regarding upgrade of vCOps here. You can either deploy vROps as a virtual appliance, on Windows OS or RHEL 6.5. Please refer to VMware’s documentation for details.

Here is a dashboard comparison between vCOps 5.8 and vROps 6.0.

Figure 1: vCOps 5.8.2

vCOps5.8.2

 

Figure 2: vROps 6.0

vROps6.0

 

NetApp VSC, VASA, VAAI for VMware vSphere: Why do I need this?

In most software meetings, round tables, and customer reviews and councils I have been part of, the feedback has been about a common topic the majority of the time. Customers want to have a single location/interface to manage multiple products. Fortunately, some aspects of NetApp storage can be managed through VMware’s WEB UI by leveraging Virtual Storage Console (VSC), VASA provider, and VAAI for VMware.

VSC is a vCenter plug-in that delivers VM management for environments running NetApp storage. VSC allows for storage configuration and monitoring, datastore provisioning and VM cloning, online VM optimization as well as backup and recovery of VMs and datastores. VSC is a very useful and convenient tool that will give you a glance of your storage status and also allow you to optimize your VMs that have not been properly aligned by migrating them to another storage target and aligning the VMDKs properly.

VSC_Main

 VSC Main Page

 

VSC_Align

VMDK alignment using VSC

 

The VASA provider for NetApp ONTAP is a virtual appliance that supports VMware’s VASA (vStorage APIs for Storage Awareness). It leverages VSC as the console and provides information to the vCenter about NetApp Storage that has been associated with VSC. VASA allows for the management of storage profiles defined as Service Level Objectives (SLO) as well as alarms to monitor the NetApp environment when aggregates and volumes are nearing their storage capacity.

The last piece of the puzzle is VAAI. VMware VAAI (vSphere Storage APIs – Array Integration) allows for hardware acceleration and offload certain operations that originally occurs at the host level, to the storage system. This reduces the overhead and consumption of resources on the ESXi host and improves performance. VAAI is great for speeding up I/O operations on the VMware side.

You could pick and choose which of these components to install as you see fit, but ideally you would want to deploy all three to take advantage of these enhancements and integration. The VSC software is installed on a server and associated with a specific vCenter. The NFS plug-in for VMware VAAI is installed on each VMware host and the VASA provider is deployed as a virtual appliance. It is important to point out that VSC  can also be utilized to set NetApp’s recommended values on ESXi hosts for better performance.

 

VSC_Logo

VSC_HostOptions

 VSC ESXi Host Options

 

VSC_VM_Options

VSC VM Options