Around the end of 2014 the EVO:RAIL team released an update to their core software in the shape of the 1.0.1 release. One of the key features the release introduced was something we call “Link and Launch”, an optional feature used by our partners. As you might know, from a hardware perspective most EVO:RAIL appliances present pretty much the same amount of CPU/Memory/Disk and Network throughput – and that’s all to set to change with the announcement of more “flexible configs”. Some of our “Qualified EVO:RAIL Partner” (QEPs) differentiate themselves in the market place with their various software add-ons. EVO:RAIL’s “Link and Launch” feature gives our QEPs an engine to both automate the deployment of these add-ons, which often take the form of virtual appliances, as well offering links to these appliances. Sometimes these virtual appliances merely extend the functionality of the vSphere Web Client, at other times they offer a dedicated UI for managing the add-on.
The process begins at the factory. As you might know from reading this series of blog posts, node01 acts as a “bootstrap”, for want of a better word, for getting the EVO:RAIL appliance up and running. On node01 you will find the VMware “System VMs” in the shape of the vCenter Server Appliance and vRealize Log Insight Appliance. If the QEP is adding value with additional appliances they will be listed alongside the VMware “System VMs” and we often refer to these as QEP “System VMs”. In the screen grab below you can see vCSA, Log Insight alongside two ‘sample’ QEP VMs that I use to test this feature called “Test VM Number 1” and “Test VM Number 2”. These VMs would normally contain a product name and reference to the vendor. Notice also how neither the Log Insight nor these QEP VMs are powered on. They are only powered if needed (this is the case with Log Insight) or when the configuration of the EVO:RAIL completes (this is the case with QEP System VMs). We often refer to QEP System VMs that come with two components as the “Primary” and “Secondary” VMs.
Along side the QEP VMs we also get our partners to configure a small “manifest” file. This manifest file is a text file which contains friendly labels for populating the UI together with references to company logos such as the Dell or EMC logo. It’s this “manifest” file that populates the “QEP” section of the EVO:RAIL Configuration UI. In my case I used the generic “ACME” as the name of the vendor and QEP. In a production environment you would be more likely to see the vendor’s name such as HDS (Hitachi Data Services) or SMC (Supermicro).
Since the 1.0.1 release, when “Link and Launch” was made available to our partners, we have supported a new attribute to the JSON file. As you might remember from my other posts on EVO:RAIL it’s possible to have all the settings required for the EVO:RAIL Configuration engine stored in a text file with a JSON extension. EVO:RAIL supports the configuration of a single QEP System VM or two System VMs. In the screen grab below you can see the JSON file that I use in the hands-on-lab. If you look to the bottom you can see two additional, optional entries under the catagory of “vendor”.
It starts with the “vendor” attribute, and can be used to configure the two QEP VMs that have been imported into the system. Remember this is all done at the factory, so as a customer you merely need to provide your preferred IP for the QEP System VMs – and the EVO:RAIL engine will take care of deploying them for you.
Once the EVO:RAIL Configuration engine has deployed the appliance, at the very end it powers on the QEP System VMs and applies the IP configuration supplied. Once you login to the EVO:RAIL Management UI, you should see a “QEP” node in the left-hand sidebar.
In my case I just used a generic “ACME” style logo, and when you click to launch “ACME Test VM No.1” it just connects to a web-service.
This isn’t yet available to demo in our hands-on-lab, although I’m toying with the idea of including it in this year’s VMworld Labs. Our partners have already made great use of “Link and Launch” not least EMC, who have produced their own VPEX Blue management UI which has the look and feel of the core VMware EVO:RAIL Management UI.