vSphere 6.0 Public Beta — Sign Up to Learn What’s New

Yesterday, VMware announced the public availability of vSphere 6.0 Beta 2.  I can’t tell you what’s all in it due to the NDA, but you can still register for the beta yourself, read about what’s new and download the code for your home lab. There’s some pretty exciting stuff being added to vSphere 6.0 in

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Will VMware Start Selling Hardware? Meet MARVIN

The Register is running a story that VMware is preparing to launch a line of hardware servers.

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VMware Pursues SDN With Upcoming NSX Offering

Earlier this week VMware announced VMware NSX – an upcoming offering that takes network virtualization to new levels. NSX appears to be somewhat of a fusion between Nicria’s SDN technology (acquired last year by VMware) and vCloud Network and Security (vCNS – formerly known as vShield App and Edge). Since I already had intentions to

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What Really Is Cloud Computing? (Triple-A Cloud)

What is cloud computing?  Ask a consumer, CIO, and salesman and you’ll likely get widely varying responses. The consumer will typically think of the cloud as a hosted service, such as Apple’s iCloud, or uploading pictures to Photobucket, and scores more of like services (just keep in mind that several such services existed before it

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Agility Part 2 — The Evolution of Value in the Private Cloud

When an IT project is commissioned it can be backed by a number of different statements such as: “It will reduce our TCO” “This is a strategic initiative” “The ROI is compelling” “There’s funds in the budget” “Our competitors are doing it” Some of these are better reasons than others, but here’s a question.  Imagine a

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Stacks, the Vblock and Value — A Chat with EMC’s Chad Sakac

…I reached out to EMC’s Chad Sakac to gain more insights from his perspective on how the various stacks…well…stacked up….

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Should You Virtualize vCenter Server (and everything else?)

When concerns are raised around virtualizing vCenter Server, in my experience they usually revolve around either performance and/or out-of-band management. The VROOM! blog at VMware just published a whitepaper that looks closely at vCenter Server performance as a VM versus native (physical) which speaks to these concerns as well as for other workloads. vCenter Performance

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Can your VM be restored? VSS and VMware — Part 2 (updated)

The backup job for your VM completed successfully so the backup is good, right? Unfortunately it’s not that simple and a failure to effectively deal with VM backups can result in data loss and perhaps even legal consequences.

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Get Excited for VMworld 2014!

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Captain Picard can’t contain his enthusiasm for VMworld 2014

It’s the season for VMworld and all of us are getting a bit excited. I’ve never been to VMworld (and won’t this year either) but I’m still quite excited about what this VMworld will bring. Why? I’m glad you asked.

The two big reasons are what’s going to be announced/revealed as well as all the great ways to follow VMworld remotely (I’m am expert at this now!). My mind is already racing about designs, use cases and planning around deploying several elements that these new capabilities we expect to be announced.

vSphere 6

This is all under NDA so we can’t talk about all the exciting new capabilities just yet, but if you’ve participated in the vSphere 6 beta you know that there’s some pretty major features we can expect to be announced here and possibly a surprise or two yet. One of the features we do know a bit about are….

vVOLs

vVOLS aren’t really a new concept as it was introduced at VMworld 2012 as a preview of where VMware would be going with storage. Over two years in the making and now with the overwhelming support of VMware’s storage partners (EMC, NetApp, Nimble Storage and more) vVols are poised to make a big splash. More on this after the embargo is lifted but here’s some available content from VMware on vVols until then.

Infrastructure-In-a-Box

Call it hyperscale, scale-out, or software defined (all of these work) but we are basically talking about modular hardware sold as single units which can be enjoined to form large pools of vSphere infrastructure. We’re not just talking about vSphere here, but also software defined storage (i.e. VSAN) and possibly SDN as well (i.e. NSX). Nutanix is one vendor who already sells hardware based on this model and quite successfully.

There’s been rumors all summer about VMware offering such a single box model which has so far been named MARVIN, Magic and Mystic if I’m not mistaken. Now we’ll get a chance to see the details behind what may be VMware’s entry into the hardware market. Also I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some other big names making similar moves in this new and growing space.

PernixData FVP 2.0

I posted on PernixData FVP 1.5 here (which won “Best New Product” at VMworld 2013 and 2.0 will be a big jump with some exciting features – including the ability to use memory on your ESXi hosts as an acceleration tier (read cache and clustered write offloading).

PernixData is planning on having a big presence at VMworld this year – be sure to check them out

vCloud Air

Today VMware announced the re-branding of vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS) as vCloud Air and also introduced some new vCloud Air pricing calculators. I think VMware has a growing story here with their public cloud offering and it’s integration with vSphere based on-prem private clouds.

A growing differentiation point with cloud providers is services on top of the stack and VMware recently introduced disaster recovery a few months ago. I hope to see some enhancements and possibly even new services and/or pricing options announced at VMworld.

Sessions

Sessions are a huge part of the value of VMworld. These sessions are recorded and (in time) are made available for on-demand playback (access required). Duncan Epping has taken the time to highlight some of this year’s “must attend” VMworld sessions here.

Keeping Up Remotely

Like I said I’m an expert on this. Several of the general sessions will be available via live stream and there’s twitter and bloggers as well. It’s not the same as being there but it’s not hard to keep up with some of the details and big news either.

All the details on VMworld social media from hashtags to bloggers and more are available here. Also don’t forget the official VMworld app and the live stream of the general sessions.

Looking forward to a great VMworld and some exciting new solutions and offerings that will help us solve problems, fill gaps and create value. Have an enjoyable and safe VMworld whether your attending in person or remotely!

Software Defined Speed — A Look at PernixData FVP

pernixdata_logoPernixData FVP is a solution I’ve worked with in one environment for perhaps the past 6 months or so. I’ve been meaning to write about it (more than just tweets anyway) for some time, but I’m first now getting around to it.

The first question of course is “what does PernixData FVP do and why might I want it in my vSphere infrastructure?”. The short answer I usually give is that it’s Nitrus Oxide for your storage tier – just add FVP to your existing storage infrastructure and enjoy the speed (plus it’s legal)!

The longer answer is a bit more detailed than that, and first it would be helpful to have a quick overview of various storage architectures.

STORAGE ARCHITECTURES

Traditional Storage Array

sanstockHere we are talking about hardware that is designed to offer up storage via usually fiber channel, iSCSI or NFS protocols. For the purposes of this article, most any hardware based storage array from NetApp, EMC, Nimble Storage, HP, Dell and many others fits this definition.  This is a tried and true design, but as our capacity and performance needs grow, scale-out ability can become an issue in some environments (especially Google, Facebook, etc.).  In fairness some storage array vendors have implemented scale-out capabilities into their solutions, but for our purposes here I am simply trying to build a distinction between architectures at a VERY high level.

Hyper-Scale

Remember scale-out NFS and Hadoop? These designs typically did not rely on a monolithic storage array but multiple nodes using direct-attached storage and logically joined by…software.  First we had “software defined” compute with VMware abstracting the CPU and memory resources of server hardware.  Now we are abstracting at the storage controller level as well to unlock more potential.

Recently several vendors have had success with incorporating Hyper-Scale concepts into virtual storage arrays for vSphere, including Nutanix, VMware (VSAN), Simplivity, and more. Hyper-scale infrastructure is truly “software defined” as software and logical controllers are the key to making this distributed and scalable architecture work.

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Click to enlarge

Occasionally this design is referred to as “Web Scale” as it does invoke a highly parallel environment designed for scale, but I prefer the term Hyper-Scale for several reasons, including that the use cases go far beyond just “web”. We’re talking about applying web scale principles to present “software defined storage”.

Considerations with Hyper-Scale

If write activity is in progress on a server node and it crashes hard before the data is replicated, what happens? (the answer is “nothing good”). The solution here is to write in parallel to two or more nodes (depending on your tolerance for failure settings). This is why a 10GB or better backbone is critical for hyper-scale designs – every write needs to be copied to at least one more host before it is considered to be committed.

Another consideration is locality to processor. For some applications anything under 20ms of latency is “adequate”, but some mission critical OLTP systems measure latency in the fractions of milliseconds. For these applications, latency can be significantly reduced by having the data closer to the CPU rather than having to fetch it from other nodes (more on this later).

Enter PernixData FVP

So let’s say you have an existing vSphere infrastructure and you have a storage array that while it could benefit from better performance, you are otherwise comfortable with. With PernixData FVP you can keep your existing storage array — eliminating the CAPEX burden of a new storage array — and accelerate it by decoupling performance from the storage array onto a new logical “flash cluster” that transcends your server nodes.

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Click to enlarge

There are other solutions for adding flash-based read cache to your environment including vSphere’s vFlash capability, but most are local only (no flash cluster concept) and don’t offer the ability to cache writes.  PernixData FVP is unique in my experience in that it is a true flash cluster that transcends across your server nodes that will accelerate BOTH reads and writes.

INSTALLATION

I’ve done this more than a few times now but I must say it’s rather straight forward.

First you will need to install some flash in your servers. In the environment I worked on we used FusionIO PCI cards, but SSDs will work as well. How much flash should you use? It depends on your performance profile and objectives, but as a general starting point, about 10% of the total size of the dataset you wish to accelerate is a usually a good place to start.

Then you install PernixData FVP which is done in two steps. First there’s a component you install on your vCenter server which adds an additional database to track some new flash performance metrics. Once installed you can managed and view the flash cluster from the vSphere Client (including the vSphere Web Client as of FVP 1.5).

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Managing the Flash Cluster from the vSphere Web Client (click to enlarge)

The second step is to install the FVP VIB (vSphere Installation Bundle) on each ESXi host. I must have installed and uninstalled the FVP VIB several dozen times by now and it’s quite easy – just a standard ESXCLI VIB install.

First put the ESXi host into maintenance mode (stopping any active I/O) and perform the install ( a single ESXCLI command) and exit maintenance mode, and repeat for all additional ESXi hosts in the cluster.

CONFIGURATION

Once you define and create the flash cluster, you can designate policy by datastore or VM. The two policies are write-though and write-back. With a write-through policy you are only using the flash cluster for reads – the most commonly used blocks as determined by efficient algorithms are maintained on the flash cluster for quick access. Not only does this reduce storage latency, but it reduces the IOPS load that your storage controller must process which should result in a performance improvement on the storage controller as well.

With the write-back policy writes are also processed by the flash cluster. Writes are written to the flash cluster (two nodes for failure tolerance) and are then de-staged back to the storage array as performance allows. The net result is that the commit time or latency from the application’s perspective is vastly reduced — incredibly important for write-intensive (i.e. OLTP) applications.

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1 Day IOPS Chart for a database VM (click to expand)

The graph above shows a chart (from the vSphere Web Client) of a database server accelerated by PernixData FVP for the past day. The purple line shows the latency that is incurred at the storage controller level, but the blue line is what the VM or application “feels”. The orange line represents the latency to local flash which is measured in fractions of a millisecond. The distance between the purple and blue lines is latency that has been effectively removed from the application by PernixData FVP.

FVP_historicalAlso one nice feature about FVP is that it reminds you right in the vSphere client what it is doing for you.  In the environment I work on, it has saved almost 2 billion IOPS (pronounced “Beeeeeelion”) and 87TB of storage traffic just in the past 25 days.

Nitrus Oxide For Your Storage Array

In review, now you can see why I say PernixData FVP is much like adding Nitrus Oxide to a car (and of course being legal). You don’t have to buy a new car – you can just make the one you already have faster. And if you buy a new car (or storage array) you can still use your server-side flash cluster to accelerate it.

Much of what makes PernixData FVP special is the clustered file system that enables it to quickly and efficiently process writes to multiple hosts at once. This capability makes PernixData FVP a great fit for write-intensive transactional applications for which latency is key. Or maybe you have an array with slower SATA disk and you might find it more cost effective to simply accelerate it rather than getting a new storage array. Either way adding a server-side flash cluster to your vSphere cluster will significantly boost your performance. The DBA team in this environment has seen the time duration on some batch jobs decrease by over 900%.

What’s Next?

PernixData isn’t done yet. Their next release will include the following features:

  • RAM (memory) as a storage tier
  • NFS Support
  • Network Compression (reducing replication throughput)
  • Topology Aware Replica Groups (control over the hosts used for DR and/or performance considerations).

The biggest feature there is RAM support. That’s right, you’ll be able to skip the flash if you prefer and use the RAM in your host servers as your clustered read and write cache. Just buy your host servers with the extra RAM capacity you want to use as cache and add FVP. And because memory is close to the CPU it should be quite fast. I’m looking forward to testing this capability when it comes out of beta and I’ll try to follow up with a post on that experience when the time comes.

The addition of network compression should also reduce the amount of data to be transmitted. ESXi already compresses memory pages because even with the CPU overhead it will increase performance by reducing swapping. FVP is using the same concept here to reduce the amount of data that has to be transmitted across the cluster.

In summary I found PernixData FVP a pleasure to use. It’s not difficult to install and it decouples most of the performance pain away from the storage controller and onto the server-side flash cluster (or RAM cluster in the next release). But the best result was seeing the impact on database performance and transaction times. If you have a write-intensive application that can benefit from server-side caching (not just reads but writes too!) then you owe it to yourself to take a look at PernixData FVP. I’ll be taking another look when 2.0 becomes available.

Monitoring Storage Elements with LSI Controllers in ESXi

Cisco UCS servers have made quite an impact in the market and are currently #1 in blades.  Most UCS Servers don’t use any local storage beyond maybe booting ESXi from an SD card.  But what if you had a use case where you needed to use direct attached storage? Not a common use case today, but VMware VSAN is likely to change that.

The problem I encountered is that ESXi in UCS servers would not report health for storage elements to ESXi.  Cisco UCS servers use LSI controllers and we were completely blind to events like a hard drive failure, RAID rebuild, predictive failure and so forth. The use case here was a single UCS-C server with direct-attached storage which hasn’t been a common use case until just now with VMware VSAN.

Using different combinations of drivers blessed by VMware and Cisco I was unable to get physical drive and controller health to report in ESXi. I did my due diligience on a few Google searches but was unable to find any solution.

Then I went on the LSI website to look at the available downloads and something caught my eye — an SMI-S provider for VMware. I remembered that SMI-S is basically CIM, which is what ESXi uses to collect health information. This is a separate VIB that is independent of the megaraid_sas driver in ESXi.  With the SMI-S provider installed in ESXi suddenly I could see all the things that were missing in the health section such as:

  • Controller health
  • Battery health
  • Physical drive health
  • Logical drive health

Screenshot_50Basically the moral of the story is this — if you have an LSI array controller (common in UCS-C) then you’ll need to follow these steps to get health monitoring on your storage elements:

1) Go to LSI’s website and download the current SMI-S provider for VMware for your card.

2) Upload the VIB file to a VMFS datastore

3) From an SSH shell type “esxcli software vib install -v [full path to vib file]”

4) Reboot

I’m not clear on why this capability is not exposed by the driver, but it seems for the time being that installing this additional VIB is required to get ESXi to monitor the health of storage elements on LSI controllers.

Hope some will find this valuable.

vSphere 6.0 Public Beta — Sign Up to Learn What’s New

vSphere 6.0 Public Beta — Sign Up to Learn What’s New

Yesterday, VMware announced the public availability of vSphere 6.0 Beta 2.  I can’t tell you what’s all in it due to the NDA, but you can still register for the beta yourself, read about what’s new and download the code for your home lab.

There’s some pretty exciting stuff being added to vSphere 6.0 in quite a few areas.  One of these new areas is vVols — a new abstraction for volumes that enables tighter integration with storage arrays through the VASA API. You can read more about vVols in vSphere 6.0 on Rawlinson’s post.

One more thing — after you sign up for the beta you will be able to attend the following two webinars on the vSphere 6.0 beta

  • Introduction / Overview – Tuesday, July 8, 2014
  • Installation & Upgrade – Thursday, July 10, 2014

Needless to say there’s some pretty awesome stuff in the 6.0 Beta.  Start your download engines!

https://communities.vmware.com/community/vmtn/vsphere-beta

 

Nimble Storage Revisited: The CS700 and Adaptive Flash

Back in 2010 I noticed with this blog post the entry of Nimble Storage into the storage market. With their release of their new CS700 line and what they call Adaptive Flash, I figured it was a good time for a second look.

CASL Architecture

Before we look at the new offerings a quick refresh on Nimble Storage’s CASL architecture would be in order. CASL stands for Cache Accelerated Sequential Layout and Nimble describes the key functions here:

CASL collects or coalesces random writes, compresses them, and writes them sequentially to disks.

Nimble states that this this approach to writes can be “as much as 100x faster” than traditional disks.  The image below is a bit fuzzy, but if you click to expand it should be readable.

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CASL Features (click to enlarge)

It is important to note that both the compression and the automated storage tiering to flash is inline (no post-process or bolt-ons) which adds additional efficiencies. Also features such as snaps, data protection, replication and zero-copy clones are included.

For more details on CASL (including a 75 minute video deep dive) visit Nimble Storage’s CASL page here: http://www.nimblestorage.com/products/architecture.php

New Offering: CS-700

The CS700 is the new model which features Ivy Bridge processors, 12 HDDs and 4SSDs for a hybrid storage pool Nimble claims is up to 2.5x faster than previous models, with up to 125K IOPS from just one shelf.cs700

Now you can buy expansion shelves for the CS700 including an All-Flash shelf and this is where something called “Adaptive Flash” kicks in. The All-Flash shelves host up to 12.8TB of flash each in a 3U shelf and are used exclusively for reads.nimbleflashThe product materials on Adaptive Storage I found to be a bit light on technical details but from what I can discern some of the secret sauce is provided by a back-end cloud engine.

Nimble Storage has a robust “phone home” feature called InfoSight which sends health, configuration and utilization information to cloud services for analysis. Several vendors do this, but the twist here seems to be that they are using the resources of the cloud based engine to “crunch” your utilization data and send guidance back to your controllers on how they should be leveraging the flash tier. In summary the big idea here seems to be that leveraging greater computing resources “big data” style in the cloud can make better decisions on cache allocation and tuning that the controllers themselves.

The Big Picture

Nimble uses a scale-out architecture to scale out storage nodes into clusters. Nimble Storage claims that a four (4) node cluster with Adaptive Flash and support a half-million IOPS.

Below is a table (created by Nimble Storage) which position the CS700 in a 4-node cluster against EMC’s VNX7600 with ExtremeIO. I’d like to see an independent comparison but it appears Nimble Storage may be on to something with this architecture.

nimble_vs_vnx_and_xtremio

All-Flash arrays are nice but they aren’t the only game in town. Nimble Storage seems to have a compelling story around a hybrid solution which is driven by both controller software, as well as back-end software hosted on cloud services.

Patch Available for NFS APD issue on ESXi 5.5 U1

There is an issue with using NFS on ESXi 5.5 U1 where intermittent APDs (All Paths Down) conditions occur which can disrupt active workloads. The KB for the issue is here.

Patch 5.5 E4 was released on June 10 which fixes this issue.  The patch can be obtained here and the KB for the patch is here.

Will VMware Start Selling Hardware? Meet MARVIN

Will VMware Start Selling Hardware? Meet MARVIN

UPDATE:  After a Twitter discussion this morning with Christian Mohn ( @h0bbel — see his MARVIN post here ) I think we are in agreement on MARVIN may be.  This post has been updated accordingly.

The Register is running a story that VMware is preparing to launch a line of hardware servers leveraging vSphere and VSAN:

Evidence for MARVIN’s existence comes from two sources.

One is this trademark filingdescribing MARVIN as “Computer hardware for virtualization; computer hardware enabling users to manage virtual computing resources that include networking and data storage”.

The second source is the tweet below, which depicts a poster for MARVIN on a VMware campus.

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If this pans out to be true it would be a very interesting development indeed.  It is important to note that that the trademark specifically says that MARVIN is “hardware”. But will it be VMware’s hardware?  As Christian pointed on his post it would go against VMware’s DNA to sell it’s own hardware.  But EMC — VMware’s majority owner — already has VSPEX — a confederated hardware offering from multiple OEMs but purchased through EMC.  It seems more plausible that VMware would leverage a VSPEX-like model and utilize Dell, Cisco, SuperMicro, etc. hardware for MARVIN.  What VMware really needs is a way to sell converged infrastructure nodes as one SKU (mitigate design risk) and one point of support — a VSPEX-like model for MARVIN would accomplish exactly this without VMware actually selling their own hardware.

MARVIN at first glance would also seem to be a validation of the Nutanix model — build a scale-out storage solution and sell as boxes that include the full stack.  That’s not an apples to apples comparison and it’s not my intent to split hairs here, but one of the attractive things about the Nutanix model is that “you just buy a box”.  By combining VMware VSAN with vSphere and hardware, VMware can offer a scale-out modular solution where customers just need to “buy a box” as well.

Of course its possible to build your own VSAN-enabled vSphere cluster using hardware of your choice from the HCL, but as noted with some recent issues there’s some risk in not selecting the optimal components. By offering a complete IaaS stack as a modular hardware unit, this eliminates the “design risk” for the customer and enables more support options.

One more thing to keep in mind.  EMC recently acquired DSSD with the goal of developing persistent storage that sits in the memory bus, therefore closer to the CPU. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this introduced in future editions as well.

This could be an interesting development.  What are your thoughts about the potential entry of VMware into the hardware market?

Also what could MARVIN stand for?  How about…

Modular ARray of Virtualization Infrastructure Nodes?

Be Mindful of vSphere Client Versions When Working with OVAs

A colleague of mine was working with an OVA had used several times before.  After upgrading ESXi with the Heartbleed patches (5.5 Update 1a) he found that he received a generic connection failed error when uploading the OVA.

(Note:  in this drill there is no vCenter but we were connecting directly to the ESXi host)

I noticed that his vSphere client was a slightly older build — pre Heartbleed but new enough that it would appear to work fine with the 5.5 host. Knowing that Heartbleed is about SSL I recommended that he update the vSphere client to the same build that was released with the Heartbleed patch.  This changed the error but did not fix the problem. Not sure what the exactly underlying issue is but the existing OVAs (that were created with 5.5) could no longer be deployed.

Using the latest vSphere client he tried exporting the source VMs into a new OVA and was able to import with no issues.

I’m not sure of the exact interaction but I’m assuming that the OVAs are signed with the private key and that somehow the Heartbleed patch “breaks” some interaction here such that the OVA is not accepted. Perhaps there will be a KB on this in the future but for the time being make sure that you have the latest build of the vSphere Client when creating and importing OVAs.

Why vCenter Log Insight is a “Must Have” for vSphere Environments

I recently took VMware’s vCenter Log Insight (2.0 beta) for a test drive and I was impressed at the time-to-value as well as the benefits relative to cost. Before I get started, I’d like to step back a bit and look at vSphere monitoring and explore the benefits of log monitoring.

UPDATE 6-11-2014:  vCenter Log Insight 2.0 is now GA and has been released!

Monitoring vSphere with vCenter

vCenter out of the box does a great job of monitoring the vast majority of the things you’d want to know about. Hardware failures, datastore space, CPU/Memory utilization, failed tasks and so on. But chances are that on more than one occasion you had to peruse through ESXi host logs and/or vCenter log files to either find more detail or perhaps discover errors for conditions that vCenter doesn’t report on.

For example are you seeing SCSI errors or warnings? Path failures or All Paths Down (APD) errors? Any unauthorized intrusion attempts? Are API calls timing out? Is one host logging more errors than others? The bottom line is that for full holistic monitoring of a vSphere environment, log monitoring is a required element. The traditional problem here is time – SSH into a host at a time as needed and manually peruse the log files? There needs to be a better way.

Splunk is a popular option for log monitoring as it has the capability to ingest logs from multiple sources so that you can correlate events and/or time frames across multiple devices. There is a vSphere app for Splunk which I understand works fairly well, however once of the issues seems to be cost. As ESXi and vCenter logs can create large amounts of logs, this increases costs as Splunk is usually priced around the volume of log data that is ingested.

Enter vSphere Log Insight

vSphere Log Insight is designed for vSphere environments and list pricing starts at $250 per device (a device being an ESXi host, a vCenter Server, SAN, switch/router, firewall, etc.).

I decided to download the beta of Log Insight 2.0 and give it a spin. It’s simply a pre-built virtual appliance that you import as an OVA. Once I had the appliance running I logged into the website and added details and credentials to access the vCenter server. Within 30 minutes of downloading I was exploring the interface which was now collecting logs from vCenter and all the ESXi hosts defined within it.

One of the first things I noticed was the clean, fast and snappy HTML5 based interface. Compared to the flash based vCenter Web client it’s hard to not notice the difference (which increases my anticipation of the next vSphere release which I hope to have an HTML5 based interface).

Out the box, Log Insight comes with dashboards and content packs for both vSphere and vCenter Operations Manager (vCOPS). In the image below you will see on the left pane several dashboard views that can be selected within the vSphere pack. In the main window, one can click on and point in time on the top graph, an element of the pie chart, or even the “has results” of one of the queries and be instantly taken to an “Interactive Analytics” view where you can view the log events in detail (click image to expand).

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vCenter Overview Dashboard in Log Insight 2.0 (beta)

If you were on the “Storage – SCSI Latency Errors” screen for example you’d see bar graphs for SCSI errors by device, path and host to quickly identify anomalies, as well as some pre-built queries as shown below.  Clicking on any “Has Results” text will take you to a drill down view of the events that match the query.

LI_3

The next day we ran into an issue were a certain VM failed to vMotion to another host. I logged into vCenter Log Insight, selected the “vCenter Server – Overview” tab, set the time range to “past 5 minutes”, and instantly identified the time interval of the failure. I clicked on it and in a blink I was looking at all the relevant log entries. It literally took me seconds to log in and get to this point – a huge time saver!

But wait, there’s more!

vCenter Log Insight is at it’s core a SYSLOG engine. While it is designed to immediately exploit vSphere log elements it can also be used for SANs, switches, firewalls and more. If you browse the Soltuion Exchange you will see that content packs already exist for NetApp, HyTrust, VCE, Cisco UCS, vCAC, Brocade, EMC VNX, Puppet and more. In summary you can point Log Insight at anything that outputs logs with a growing library of content packs to provide even more value.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that if you want to see everything going on in your vSphere environment you need to be looking at logs. Log Insight can be used to create alarms as well vastly expedite the process to peruse through log files from multiple sources to see what is going on.

I was impressed in how easy it was to deploy and in how quickly we received almost immediate value from it. At a list price of $250 per device (per year) it seems like a no-brainer for many mission-critical vSphere environments.

vCenter Log Insight 1.0 is available today, but if you’re evaluating, give the beta of Log Insight 2.0 a try.

Also take a look at the following whitepapers:

End Your Data Center Logging Chaos with VMware vCenter Log Insight

VMware vCenter Log Insight Delivers Immediate Value to IT Operations

VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) Launched

VMware introduced the revolutionary and disruptive concept of server hardware virtualization which has helped usher in a new era of computing.  This abstraction has provided more management, more automation, more scale, and of course more value.

So who better to introduce a storage array that is hardware agnostic (within the vSphere HCL) than VMware with Virtual SAN (VSAN)?  I’m genuinely intrigued and excited by VSAN and I wanted to briefly share a few reasons why.

Other vendors made been making impressive advances with SDS and offering more capability and value in their offerings, but must of these solutions – even though they may be powered by software – are packaged as hardware (and this isn’t necessarily bad).  Now to be fair VMware VSAN is not technically the first hardware agnostic solution but I suspect that it is the first one to offer mission-critical performance at this scale:

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We’ve already seen the trend of more and more storage capabilities being provided by a “storage hypervisor” in several solutions, but VSAN is unique in that it truly is hardware independent.  If your servers are on the VMware HCL (hardware compatibility list) then just add disks and VSAN licenses and you’ve got a SAN.  This dramatically reduces the capital investment required — you’ll still want 10GB switches of course but the rest is software and disks (HDD/SSD).

In this sense VMware VSAN is somewhat of a watershed moment. Yes, there are other SDS solutions (more on this in a future post), but this is the first one that is sold as software only and can perform to the kind of scale noted above. The VMware VSAN team deserves much credit here and it will be exciting to see how this solution is further improved in future releases.

SCALE

One way VSAN provides strong performance is by using the scale-out model – as you add host nodes with DAS your performance scales out along with it due to the highly parallel nature of the processing  (several vendors such as Nutanix have had success with this model).

VMware surprised us by launching VSAN with support for 32 nodes in a cluster when most of us were expecting only 16 based on the beta program.  With support for 32 node scale-out this immediately positions VSAN as a viable candidate for much more than just the SMB market.

FLEXIBILITY

With VSAN you design your vSphere clusters and choose your storage elements (drives and/or SSDs) consistent with your needs and budget.  There is more opportunity to custom tailor your storage solution to meet your specific budget and needs.

 

VSAN Launch Partners

OPERATIONAL BENEFITS

VMware VSAN is closely integrated into vSphere and includes some of the VVOL concepts which are not yet available for other arrays.  With VSAN you can create storage policies that shield operators from the complexities of constructs like LUNs and RAID levels.  If you want to provision a template or a pre-defined application the end user needs only to select a storage policy (or perhaps only one option has been assigned).  No LUNs have to be created or zoned – VSAN automatically provisions the VMDK from storage pools consistent with the specified storage policies.

CAPEX

Like vSphere, VMware VSAN is a strong CAPEX play meaning that you can significantly reduce the capital investment required to provide storage for your vSphere environment.

Some organizations will choose to continue the business-as-usual model of the “no one got fired for choosing [insert major storage vendor here” variety. But this may be a false sense of safety and may not result in the optimal solution and value.  The storage market is facing disruption and those that successfully navigate this new wave will reap the benefits.

I could talk about these concepts in more detail but I need to save some of it for an upcoming review of the storage market in general (Storage Trends Part 3).  In summary I’m very excited about what VMware VSAN offers and it’s potential in the future as it continues to be enhanced with more SDS capability and for many environments it will likely be worth taking a close look.

General Availability and Pricing for VSAN are expected to be released next week (week of Monday 3-10-2014).  For more information here are a few links:

VMware VSAN Product Page

VSAN Design and Sizing Guide

Duncan Epping’s VSAN articles

Cormac Hogan’s VSAN articles

Storage Trends Part 2 — 3D Chess

I’m going to do something a bit risky and perhaps crazy.  I’m going to perform a comparative analysis of various solutions in the storage market, and in the process risk starting a thousand vendor flame wars.

I hope and don’t think it will come to this, but still why would one want to do this?   In this post I wanted to answer this as well as “set the table” for the actual analysis by discussing a few more issues around this topic (which will hopefully make a large Part 3 that much smaller).

DISCLOSURE:  My current employer is both a NetApp Partner and a VMware Partner

Three-Dimensional Chess

The idea occurred to me last year after working with various storage technologies such as PernixData FVP and also researching other storage solutions ranging from All Flash, to hardware independent solutions like VMware VSAN and more.  At first I wanted to write a blog post just on the PernixData (which I may still do) but when looking at the market and the new disruptive storage solutions it occured to me that a new paradigm was forming.  In trying to find the optimal solution a few things became clear to me.

spock-chess2One is that the storage feature set is increasingly provided within the software and not the hardware – and the industry is converging somewhat to a common feature set that provides value (see Part 1 on Optimization Defined Storage).

Building on the above, we also have a new wave of hardware independent solutions with perhaps the most notable being VMware VSAN.  Other trends include the increases use of flash storage, as well moving storage closer to the CPU (server-side).

The more I looked at various solution offerings the more the market looked to me like a three-dimensional chess board.  Vendor X might have a clear advantage on one board, but on another board (or dimension) Vendor Y stood out.  The more I looked at the playing ground, each chessboard represented a different value and/or performance proposition.  For example, one solution category offers better CAPEX advantages while another offers better OPEX benefits.

This is key – the point of this exercise for me is NOT to compare and contrast vendors, but rather to identify what categories they fall into and what the nature of their value and performance benefits are for any given environment.  The best solution will vary across budgets, workloads and existing storage investments – but by segmenting the market into different categories perhaps we can gain a better sense of where the different benefits exists so that we can understand the optimal value proposition and that we (hopefully) don’t find ourselves comparing apples to oranges.

Or in other words, storage is much like buying a house or a vehicle.  What is the optimal solution for one family is going to be a different for another.  Different budgets, different starting points and different needs.

There are a lot of exciting and disrupting changes taking place in the storage market.  2014 will be a very interesting year and we have more innovations on the way including leveraging host server memory, storage class memory and more.

Optimization Defined Storage (Storage Trends Part 1)

Recently I found myself engaged in a discussion on Twitter with @DuncanYB , @vcdxnz001 and @bendiq regarding Software Defined Storage (SDS) when I realized that our definitions might be approaching the issue from slightly different perspectives.  Therefore I decided it might be a prudent exercise to first explore these definitions so that we can have a common foundation to build from in this series. 

When I looked at the storage market I found 4-5 different categories of storage solutions that were all converging one way or another towards a common set of qualities and features.  I’ll be exploring these solutions in detail in part 2, but is this common set SDS or is it something else (and do we care)?

Whenever someone says they are going to define something it has an air of pretentiousness about it. Hopefully this post will not come across as such as my intent is to provide a workable definition that can be used for a future post (Part 2).   As an engineer who continues to evolve, I reverse the right to modify my definition in the future :)  But for now let’s proceed….

Note:  In the spirit of full disclosure my current employer is a NetApp partner.

Do Definitions Matter?  Why Define SDS?

This really is a great question and you might be surprised at my conclusion – I don’t think the definition of SDS is terribly relevant for most of us.  There is an academic definition which we could debate endlessly along with “what is cloud” and “what is the meaning of life?” before it would change again in about two years — yet this definition might only offer limited value to those making technology decisions and investments.  In short, SDS does speak to a set of characteristics but not necessarily to value and efficiency in any given environment.

A few years ago I wrote a post which defined cloud computing as Abstraction, Automation and Agility.  By Abstracting from the hardware level, we were able to provide a new API and control plane which could serve as a platform for Automation. Then with the proper use of Automation in the organization one could being to achieve measures of Agility.

With Software Defined Storage or SDS I think the same paradigm can apply.  First we must offer a level of abstraction which enables us to do more with the storage.  On top of this abstraction we need to add services that provide value and efficiency such as caching algorithms, dedupe algorithms, data protection (RAID or erasure coding), storage tiering, instant clones (no copy on write), snapshots, replication services and more.  Then we must have an addressable API to leverage as a control plane from which we can manage, control and ultimately automate.

Now many might just focus on a definition of SDS that simply revolves around abstraction and a control plane (RESTful API, etc). For example does SDS require deduplication?  I don’t think so, however I do think that this one of several key features that provides value that the industry is trending towards.  Perhaps we need an expanded definition of SDS that focuses on value and efficiency – leveraging the SDS foundation to provide efficiency, agility and value.

Optimization Defined Storage

ODSOptimization Defined Storage (ODS) then could be a definition of SDS that focuses on efficiency and value.  ODS would be built upon an SDS foundation, and then enabled with additional capabilities to add value, efficiency and optimization such as:

  • Deduplication (increases storage efficiency as well as performance benefits).
  • Caching and Storage Tiering (including flash)
  • Instant Clones and Snapshots (no copy-on-write)
  • Efficient Replication
  • Thin Provisioning

In an ODS solution, the software can work across many levels to optimize how data is compressed, deduped, cached and tiered.  One example is Nutanix’s Shadow Clone feature which combines cloning and caching functions by distributing “shadow clones” of volumes to be used as cache by additional nodes.

Another example is VMware’s VVOL initiative which intends to somewhat shift the control plane such that the VM and VMDK characteristics will define the LUN rather than vice versa – as well as allowing the SAN to perform snap and clone operations against VMDK’s versus LUNs.

There’s much more that could be done in this SDS/ODS space (whatever you want to call it) and we haven’t gotten to object based storage yet.  The bottom line is that the ODS definition is focused on leveraging the SDS foundation to provide value, efficiency and optimization.

Relative Levels of Hardware Abstraction

Some questions / arguments I’ve heard tossed around include “is Nutanix really SDS because they sell hardware” and this argument also extends to NetApp.

Nutanix provides many features I would qualify as ODS – dedupe, instant clones and more.  These features are provided by the software but Nutanix has chosen to make their platform dependent on their hardware (which uses commodity components).  Because the product is sold as proprietary hardware does that mean it’s not SDS?

I will argue that Nutanix is still SDS despite this.  They made a business and product decision to offer their product as a hardware device to improve support, procurement as well as to facilitate scale-out.  The SDS/ODS features provided are ultimately in the software and not in the hardware (commodity components).

Also what about NetApp’s ONTAP platform – does this qualify as SDS?  I think it does.  NetApp has provided features like compression, deduplication, thin provisioning, efficient snaps, clones and replication for some time now.  Yes this baked into NetApp FAS arrays but it’s really the ONTAP software platform that’s doing everything.  To take this a step further lets add the VSA (Virtual Storage Appliance) which allows you to front-end non-NetApp storage with the ONTAP platform.  Now let’s also add ONTAP Edge which allows you to add ONTAP capabilities to storage using a VMware virtual appliance which is obviously hardware agnostic.  When you consider this full context, I think we can reasonably conclude that the “magic” happens within ONTAP (software) and that this is indeed Software Defined Storage.

Let’s Get Out of The Weeds

We could debate various definitions of SDS/ODS forever as an academic exercise but this isn’t what I want to focus on.  My primary goal was to share my definition of SDS (and ODS) that I could leverage in my next post.  Part 2 will take a broader look at the storage industry and how various solutions are trying to approach SDS/ODS from various vantage points so that we can effecitvly compare them and understand how each provides value.  Some solutions will be more effective in one environment versus another.  Some solutions focus more on CAPEX while others focus more on OPEX.  We’ve only talked about Nutanix and NetApp so far but I’d also like to talk about VMware VSAN, PernixData FVP, EMC ViPR and more.  Hopefully this post will make more sense when I get around to writing  Storage Trends Part 2.