Random Short Take #72

This one is a little behind thanks to some work travel, but whatever. Let’s get random.

Random Short Take #71

Welcome to Random Short Take #71. A bit of home IT in this one. Let’s get random.

VMware Cloud on AWS – TMCHAM – Part 3 – SDDC Lifecycle

In this episode of Things My Customers Have Asked Me (TMCHAM), I’m going to delve into some questions around the lifecycle of the VMware-managed VMware Cloud on AWS platform, and what customers need to know to make sense of it all.

 

The SDDC

If you talk to VMware folks about VMware Cloud on AWS, you’ll hear a lot of talk about software-defined data centres (SDDCs). This is the logical construct in place that you use within your Organization to manage your hosts and clusters, in much the same fashion as you would your on-premises workloads. Unlike most on-premises workloads, however, the feeding and watering of the SDDC, from a software currency perspective, is done by VMware.

Release Notes

If you’ve read the VMware Cloud on AWS Release Notes, you’ll see something like this at the start:

“Beginning with the SDDC version 1.11 release, odd-numbered releases of the SDDC software are optional and available for new SDDC deployments only. By default, all new SDDC deployments and upgrades will use the most recent even-numbered release. If you want to deploy an SDDC with an odd-numbered release version, contact your VMware TAM, sales, or customer success representative to make the request.”

Updated on: 5 April  2022

Essential Release: VMware Cloud on AWS (SDDC Version 1.18) | 5 April 2022

Optional Release: VMware Cloud on AWS (SDDC Version 1.17) | 19 November 2021

Basically, when you deploy onto the platform, you’ll usually get put on what VMware calls an “Essential” release. From time to time, customers may have requirements that mean that they qualify to be deployed on an “Optional” release. This might be because they have a software integration requirement that hasn’t been handled in 1.16, for example, but is available for 1.17. It’s also important to note that each major release will have a variety of minor releases as well, depending on issues that need to be resolved or features that need to be rolled out. So you’ll also see references to 1.16v5 in places, for example.

Upgrades and Maintenance

So what happens when your SDDC is going to be upgraded? Well, we let you know in advance, and it’s done in phases, as you’d imagine.

[image courtesy of VMware]

You can read more about the process here. VMware also does the rollout of releases in waves, so not every customer has the upgrade done at the same time. If you’re the type of customer that needs to be on the latest version of everything, or perhaps you have a real requirement to be near the front of the line, you should talk to your account team and they’ll liaise with the folks who can make it happen for you. When the upgrades are happening, you should be careful not to:

  • Perform hot or cold workload migrations. Migrations fail if they are started or in progress during maintenance.
  • Perform workload provisioning (New/Clone VM). Provisioning operations fail if they are started or in progress during maintenance.
  • Make changes to Storage-based Policy Management settings for workload VMs.

You should also ensure that there is enough storage capacity (> 30% slack space) in each cluster.

How Long Will It Take?

As usual, it depends. But you can make some (very) rough estimates by following the guidance on this page.

Will My SDDC Expire?

Yes, your SDDC version will some day expire. But it will be upgraded before that happens. There’s a page where you can look up the expiration dates of the various SDDC releases. It’s all part of the lifecycle part of the SDDC lifecycle.

Correlating VMware Cloud on AWS with Component Releases

Ever found yourself wondering what component versions are being used in VMware Cloud on AWS? Wonder no more with this very handy reference.

 

Conclusion

There’s obviously a lot more that goes on behind the scenes to keep everything running in tip-top shape for our customers. All of this talk of phases, waves, and release notes can be a little confusing if you’re new to the platform. Having worked in a variety of (managed and unmanaged) service providers over the years, I do like that VMware has bundled up all of this information and put it out there for people to check out. As always, if you’ve got questions about how the various software integrations work, and you can’t find the information in the documentation, reach out to your local account team and they’ll be able to help.

Datadobi Announces StorageMAP

Datadobi recently announced StorageMAP – a “solution that provides a single pane of glass for organizations to manage unstructured data across their complete data storage estate”. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Carl D’Halluin about the announcement, and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

The Problem

So what’s the problem enterprises are trying to solve? They have data all over the place, and it’s no longer a simple activity to work out what’s useful and what isn’t. Consider the data on a typical file / object server inside BigCompanyX.

[image courtesy of Datadobi]

As you can see, there’re all kinds of data lurking about the place, including data you don’t want to have on your server (e.g. Barry’s slightly shonky home videos), and data you don’t need any more (the stuff you can move down to a cheaper tier, or even archive for good).

What’s The Fix?

So how do you fix this problem? Traditionally, you’ll try and scan the data to understand things like capacity, categories of data, age, and so forth. You’ll then make some decisions about the data based on that information and take actions such as relocating, deleting, or migrating it. Sounds great, but it’s frequently a tough thing to make decisions about business data without understanding the business drivers behind the data.

[image courtesy of Datadobi]

What’s The Real Fix?

The real fix, according to Datadobi, is to add a bit more automation and smarts to the process, and this relies heavily on accurate tagging of the data you’re storing. D’Halluin pointed out to me that they don’t suggest you create complex tags for individual files, as you could be there for years trying to sort that out. Rather, you add tags to shares or directories, and let the StorageMAP engine make recommendations and move stuff around for you.

[image courtesy of Datadobi]

Tags can represent business ownership, the role of the data, any action to be taken, or other designations, and they’re user definable.
[image courtesy of Datadobi]

How Does This Fix It?

You’ll notice that the process above looks awfully similar to the one before – so how does this fix anything? The key, in my opinion at least, is that StorageMAP takes away the requirement for intervention from the end user. Instead of going through some process every quarter to “clean up the server”, you’ve got a process in place to do the work for you. As a result, you’ll hopefully see improved cost control, better storage efficiency across your estate, and (hopefully) you’ll be getting a little bit more value from your data.

 

Thoughts

Tools that take care of everything for you have always had massive appeal in the market, particularly as organisations continue to struggle with data storage at any kind of scale. Gone are the days when your admins had an idea where everything on a 9GB volume was stored, or why it was stored there. We now have data stored all over the place (both officially and unofficially), and it’s becoming impossible to keep track of it all.

The key things to consider with these kinds of solutions is that you need to put in the work with tagging your data correctly in the first place. So there needs to be some thought put into what your data looks like in terms of business value. Remember that mp4 video files might not be warranted in the Accounting department, but your friends in Marketing will be underwhelmed if you create some kind of rule to automatically zap mp4s. The other thing to consider is that you need to put some faith in the system. This kind of solution will be useless if folks insist on not deleting anything, or not “believing” the output of the analytics and reporting. I used to work with customers who didn’t want to trust a vendor’s automated block storage tiering because “what does it know about my workloads?”. Indeed. The success of these kind of intelligence and automation tools relies to a certain extent on folks moving away from faith-based computing as an operating model.

But enough ranting from me. I’ve covered Datadobi a bit over the last few years, and it makes sense that all of these announcements have finally led to the StorageMAP product. These guys know data, and how to move it.

StorCentric Announces Nexsan Unity NV10000

Nexsan (a StorCentric company) recently announced the Nexsan Unity NV10000. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here.

What Is It? 
In the immortal words of Silicon Valley: “It’s a box“. But the Nexsan Unity NV10000 is a box with some fairly decent specifications packed in a small form-factor, including support for various 1DWPD NVMe SSDs and the latest Intel Xeon processors.
Protocol Support
Protocol support, as would be expected with the Unity, is broad, with support for File (NFS, SMB), Block (iSCSI, FC), and Object (S3) data storage protocols within the one unified platform.
Performance Enhancements
These were hinted at with the release of Unity 7.0, but the Nexsan Unity NV10000 boosts performance by increasing bandwidths of up to 25GB/s, enabling you to scale performance up as your application needs evolve.

Other Useful Features

As you’d expect from this kind of storage array, the Nexsan Unity NV10000 also delivers features such as:

  • High availability (HA);
  • Snapshots;
  • ESXi integration;
  • In-line compression;
  • FASTier™ caching;
  • Asynchronous replication;
  • Data at rest encryption; and
  • Storage pool scrubbing to protect against bit rot, avoiding silent data corruption.

Backup Target?

Unity supports a comprehensive Host OS matrix and is certified as a Veeam Ready Repository for backups. Interestingly, the Nexsan Unity NV10000 also provides data security, regulations compliance, and ransomware recoverability. The platform also supports immutable block and file and S3 object locking, for data backup that is unchangeable and cannot be encrypted, even by internal bad actors.

Thoughts

I’m not as much of a diskslinger as I used to be, but I’m always interested to hear about what StorCentric / Nexsan has been up to with its storage array releases. It strikes me that the company does well by focussing on those features that customers are looking for (fast storage, peace of mind, multiple protocols) and also by being able to put it in a form-factor that appeals in terms of storage density. While the ecosystem around StorCentric is extensive, it makes sense for the most part, with the various components coming together well to form a decent story. I like that the company has really focussed on ensuring that Unity isn’t just a cool product name, but also a key part of the operating environment that powers the solution.

Brisbane VMUG – April 2022

The April 2022 edition of the Brisbane VMUG meeting will be held on Thursday 28th April. It’s powered by VMware, Google Cloud, and Queensland University of Technology and promises to be a great event. It’s also an opportunity to welcome the new leaders to the Brisbane VMUG team: Claire O’Dwyer and Antony West.

Agenda

Google Cloud VMware Engine (GCVE) – Tech Overview and Key Use Cases

In this session we will cover the GCVE platform in depth, as well as GCVE’s technical advantages when compared to other “VMware on X” solutions. As well as diving into the GCVE solution, we will cover some key technical use cases for the platform (e.g. Backup/DR options from an on-premises DC to GCVE).

Delivered by Clay Quinn, Customer Engineer, Google Cloud.

This will be followed by:

Automating Deployments and Configuration Management with Salt

Salt is an open-source configuration management tool with some interesting and useful features. In this session we will cover some of the key capabilities and concepts of Salt and demonstrate how we can use Salt to deploy configure and manage environments.

Delivered by Mark Foley, Senior Solutions Engineer, VMware

PIZZA AND NETWORKING BREAK! (Exciting!)

And we will be finishing off with:

Migrating from NSX-V to NSX-T

Delivered by Tony Williamson, Senior Consultant, VMware PSO.

Soft drinks and vBeers will be available throughout the evening. We look forward to seeing you there! Doors open at 5pm.

You can find out more information and register for the event here. Note that the March 2022 meeting had to be rescheduled due to ‘Rona issues – I’ll update the blog when I have new dates for that one.

Random Short Take #70

Welcome to Random Short Take #70. Let’s get random.

VMware Cloud on AWS – TMCHAM – Part 2 – VCDR Notes

In this episode of “Things My Customers Have Asked Me” (or TMCHAM for short), I’m going to dive into a few questions around VMware Cloud Disaster Recovery (VCDR), a service we offer as an add-on to VMware Cloud on AWS. If you’re unfamiliar with VCDR, you can read a bit more about it here.

VCDR Roles and Permissions

Can RBAC roles be customised? Not really, as these are cascaded down from the Cloud Services hub. As I understand it, I don’t believe you have granular control over it, just the pre-defined, default roles as outlined here, so you need to be careful about what you hand out to folks in your organisation. To see what Service Roles have been assigned to your account, in the VMware Cloud Services, go to My Account, and then click on My Roles. Under Service Roles, you’ll see a list of services, such as VCDR, Skyline, and so on. You can then check what roles have been assigned. 

VCDR Protection Groups

VCDR Protection Groups are the way that we logically group together workloads to be protected with the same RPO, schedule, and retention. There are two types of protection group: standard-frequency and high-frequency. Standard-frequency snapshots can be run as often as every 4 hours, while high-frequency snapshots can go as often as every 30 minutes. You can read more on protection groups here. It’s important to note that there are some caveats to be aware of with high-frequency snapshots. These are outlined here.

30-minute RPOs were introduced in late 2021, but there are some caveats that you need to be aware of. Some of these are straightforward, such as the minimum software levels for on-premises protection. But you also need to be mindful that VMs with existing vSphere snapshots will not be included, and, more importantly, high-frequency snapshots can’t be quiesced.

Can you have a VM instance in both a standard- and high-frequency snapshot protection group?  Would this allow us to get the best of both worlds – e.g. RPO could be as low as 30 minutes, but with a guaranteed snapshot of 4 hours?  Once you do a high-frequency snap on a VM, it keeps using that mechanism thereafter, even if it sits in a protection group using standard protection. Note also that you set a schedule for a protection group, so you can have snapshots running ever 30 mins and kept for a particular period of time (customer selects this). You could also run snapshots at 4 hours and keep those for a period of time too. While you can technically have a VM in multiple groups, what you’re better off doing is configuring a variety of schedules for your protection groups to meet those different RPOs.

Quiesced Snapshots

What happens to a VM during a quiesced state – would we experience micro service outages? The best answer I can give is “it depends”. The process for the standard, quiesced snapshot is similar to the one described hereThe VM will be stunned by the process, so depending on what kind of activity is happening on the VM, there may be a micro outage to the service.

Other Considerations

The documentation talks about not changing anything when a scheduled snapshot is being run – how do we manage configuration of the SDDC if jobs are running 24/7?  Seems odd that nothing can be changed when a scheduled snapshot is being run? This refers more to the VM that is being snapped. i.e. Don’t change configs or make changes to the environment, as that would impact this VM. It’s not a blanket rule for the whole environment. 

Like most things, success with VCDR relies heavily on understanding the outcomes your organisation wants to achieve, and then working backwards from there. It’s also important to understand that this is a great way to do DR, but not necessarily a great way to do standard backup and recovery activities. Hopefully this article helps clarify some of the questions folks have around VCDR, and if it doesn’t, please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

VMware Cloud on AWS – TMCHAM – Part 1 – PCI DSS

I’m starting a new series on the blog. It’s called “Things My Customers Have Asked Me” (or TMCHAM for short). There are frequently occasions where the customer collateral I present on VMware Cloud on AWS doesn’t cover every single use case that my customers are interested in, or perhaps it doesn’t dive deeply enough into some of the material people would like to know more about. The idea behind these posts is that if I have one customer asking about this stuff, chances are another one might like to know about it too. I won’t be talking about internal-only stuff, or roadmap details in these posts (or anywhere publicly, for that matter), but hopefully these articles will be a useful point of information consolidation for folks who are into that sort of thing.

 

PCI DSS?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is the security standard adhered to by organisations handling credit card information from the major card vendors. You can find the official Attestation of Compliance (AoC) in the VMware Cloud Trust Center, and there’s also a comprehensive whitepaper here.

Getting Started on VMware Cloud on AWS

The capability was covered in March 2021, and you can see some of the details in the VMware Cloud on AWS Release Notes. You can also read my learned colleague Greg Vinton’s take on it here, and there’s a YouTube video for people who prefer that sort of thing. To enable PCI compliance on your Organization, you need to request the capability via your VMware account team. It’s not just something that’s configured by default, as some of the requirements around PCI DSS might be considered an unnecessary overhead by some folks. The account team will get it enabled on your Organization, and you can then deploy your SDDC. It’s important to note that your Organization needs to be empty – PCI DSS can’t be enabled on an Organization with SDDCs that are already deployed.

Configuration Changes

There are a number of configuration changes needed to ensure that your SDDC is PCI-compliant too. This includes disabling add-on services like HCX and Site Recovery. To do this, go to Inventory – Settings, and scroll down to Compliance Hardening.

Note that you’ll only see the “Compliance Hardening” section if your Organization has been configured for PCI DSS compliance. You’ll need to finish your HCX migrations before your Organization is compliant. You’ll also need to change your NSX configuration (Network & Security Tab Access). There is some more info on that here and there’s a blog post that also runs through it step by step that you can read here. Note that you’ll need to use the API to change the local NSX Manager user password every 90 days. Information on that can be found here.

Other Considerations

One final thing to note is that this process doesn’t automatically make your Virtual Machines PCI compliant. You’ll still need to ensure that you’ve done the work in that respect. And I can’t repeat this enough – your Organization will only pass a PCI audit if you’ve done these additional steps. Merely requesting that VMware enable this at an Organization level won’t be enough.

Random Short Take #69

Welcome to Random Short Take #69. Let’s get random.