April 3

Using OVFTool

I’ve been using vSphere 6.5 for a few weeks and noticed a couple of oddness surrounding OVFs and OVAs. For those who maybe unfamiliar OVF/OVA is packaging format that allows you to easily import and export VMs – and is a recognise format beyond VMware’s boundaries that’s adopted almost universal industry acceptance. An OVA is just a gzip file which contains the OVF file itself (which is merely text descriptor) together with the VMDK’s that make up the VM.

Generally, I’ve found importing OVAs/OVFs is pretty easy and relative reliable – even though you often tussle initially with web-browser security settings and uploading/downloading of files. Sadly, I’ve found the export process can be a bit 50:50 and the resulting OVF generated unusable…

Firstly, we appear to have lost the ability to export to an OVA from the vSphere Web-Client altogether – that’s a disappointment to me because I quite like the simplicity of the simple OVA bundle. It’s not clear to me if this deliberate or an oversight by the vSphere Web-Client development team OR if this hints at some policy of moving away from OVA as companion to OVF.

Secondly, the resulting OVF file that’s exported (there was the appropriate files) gave me an unpleasant error message 🙁

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March 28

Getting started with Edward Haletky’s (@texiwill) LinuxVSM

Note: I’m not overly happy with the way the graphics are behaving in terms of resolution. If you’re finding this hard to read – in think in future I will have to crank up the font size in PuTTy – and I’m looking for a modern WordPress theme as this is looking a little too much 2011 for my tastes.

My fellow vExpert Edward Haletky has github crammed full of useful stuff – and last week I spent most of my time getting to grips with his LinuxVSM. As ever I found this really interesting and is a bit of distraction from my main personal project. But like to follow where ever my passions and interest take me. As for myself I’m chatting with Alastair Cooke of about how Edward’s work could be incorporated into his AutoLab Project. Additionally, I”m looking at updating the UDA for the next release of vSphere – adding LinuxVSM to it, as well the deployment of nested homelab – that way the UDA can be used to deploy not just physical, but virtual ESX hosts.

Edward’s LinuxVSM is essentially a Linux version of VMware’s Software Manager. This is a sadly neglected Windows tool which hasn’t had any love from VMware since 2016. I tried downloading VMware’s Windows version and using it, but it didn’t work. In case you don’t know the “software manager” is meant to the ease the pain of downloading software from vmware.com. You can see the LinuxVSM as text-based, and scriptable version of VMware Software Manger allowing access to the main VMware’s VSM Metadata site.

So, using an ordinary personal MyVMware account LinuxVSM can:

  • Download practically almost any piece of software you need from vmware.com
  • You can “mark” a certain product suite as a “favourite” – and using cron LinuxVSM will update your repository with new version of software as they are released.
  • Your repository could be just a local .VMDK or else you could mount from the LinuxVSM to a CIFS or NFS share/export – and store your download on your NAS device.
  • Your account can be a personal  MyVMware account, and you do not need to be a customer account (although there are some bits that are not downloadable except for customers). For many of us this is a godsend. I’ve lost track of the number of “mailinator” accounts I’ve set up in effort to get hold of software from VMware – something I’ve experienced since 2003. Don’t forget you can use the VMUG Advantage to gain access to 1year NFRs if you are not in the vExpert club. VMUG Advantage is great – although sometimes its “downloads” lag behind what is available from the live site. So perhaps the real advantage of the VMUG Advantage are the licensing keys rather than the access to the media.

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February 21

Multi-Site/Multiple vCenters and Enhanced Linked Mode Configuration in vSphere 6.5 U1

Note: As ever before you begin – make sure the FQDNs of your proposed PSC and vCenter are listed in DNS – and reserve your IP addresses accordingly. The vCenter install validates your IP/DNS configuration and won’t let you proceed until its correct.

WARNING: Please pay close, close attention to your FQDNs as during the process built-in certificates are created which if you subsequently correct/change hostname will be invalid.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 14.15.02.png

In this scenario – I wanted the appearance of multiple vCenters across many sites – and wish to link them together for ease of administration – and the sharing of licensing repositories. This ensures licenses can be assigned freely around the organisation – and not be “locked” to specific site location. This more distributed model is not supported with the “embedded” deployment type – where the vCenter and PSC service reside in the same instance – and seems to have been introduced with vSphere 6.5 U1. So I would have two PSC and vCenters one for New York and the other for New Jersey.

There now 8 supported topologies for multiple vCenters and “Enhanced” Link Mode – and 3 depreciated one as well. Far too many possible permutations for me to cover – so I would seriously considering studying the documentation in full. I would recommend starting https://kb.vmware.com/s/article/2147672 which gives a good round-up of all them.

VMware’s “Linked Mode” feature has a number of names – from Linked Mode to Enhanced Linked Mode, to now it being also called “Hybrid Link Mode”. Most of the changes have come about as the company pivots away from vCenter’s historical Microsoft Windows roots, to being purely a Linux based Virtual Appliance. However, In 2017, VMware announced a partnership with Amazon to extend vSphere functionality into Amazon Datacenters and integration with its Amazon Web Services (AWS) environment. This development prompted VMware to modify linked-mode functionality to also include management of assets in Amazon’s cloud. Hence “Hybrid” mode is now the favoured term. Hybrid mode in its full functionality is only available for those who have both vSphere on-premises and a vSphere subscription with Amazon. Whatever its name – linked mode addresses a scenario for where multiple vCenter persist for geographical or political reasons – and it has been decided to provide one-login identity to both systems.

It’s entirely possible that you may wish to install another vCenter at different site or location. In this configuration I had a single PSC Domain (vsphere.local) and single Active Directory Domain (corp.local) – but with two SSO sites – one called New York, and the other called New Jersey.

In our case I have two different vCenters and PSC in two different sites – however, they will part of the same SSO domain and linked together. The KB article referenced at the beginning of this section outlines this accordingly – although in my case there will for the moment just one vCenter under each PSC.

RtaImage.png

1 Single Sign-On domain 1 Single Sign-On site 2 or more external Platform Services Controllers

This configuration is not without limitations:

  • In the event of a Platform services Controller failover the vCenter Servers will need to be manually repointed to the functioning Platform Services Controller.
  • vCenter Servers attached to higher latency Platform Services Controller may experience performance issues

New York: PSC – Establishing the SSO Domain

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February 16

Fun and Games with the Platform Service Controller and vCenter in vSphere 6.5 U1

This week I had a run in with the PSC and vCenter in vSphere 6.5 U1. I’m ashamed to admit it was really all my fault – being a bit fat-fingered and hasty in my inputting – I put a bump name in DNS, and then a bum name in the installer as well. That result in SSL certificate mismatches and errors…

So I seriously needed to clean out the guff I’d created and try again. There are couple of KB articles and blogpost that cover this scenario. I found I need to do four step. My life was made easier by enabling SSH on all the appliances along the way – and of course switching to the “Bash” prompt after logging.

I started the process by log in on to one of my functional PSC’s using SSH….

1.) Run cmsso-util command on a functioning PSC to clean out the bum PSC and vCenter references

cmsso-util unregister –node-pnid vcnj.corp.local –username administrator@vsphere.local –passwd VMware1!

cmsso-util unregister –node-pnid vcnj.corp.local –username administrator@vsphere.local –passwd VMware1!

2.) Shutdown the bum virtual appliances

3.) Run the vdcleavefed to really clean out the bum PSC and vCenter references. Despite running cmsso-util the ghostly remains of failed deployment haunted the web-client – indicating they were still there… vdcleavefed allowed me to remove the properly…

/usr/lib/vmware-vmdir/bin/vdcleavefed -h psnj.corp.local -u administrator -w VMware1!

/usr/lib/vmware-vmdir/bin/vdcleavefed -h vcnj.corp.local -u administrator -w VMware1!

4.) Delete the bum virtual appliances

Note: For future reference – it was these two KB articles stitched together that helped me resolve the issue.

https://kb.vmware.com/s/article/2106736

https://kb.vmware.com/s/article/2114233

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February 14

Finding the vSphere 6.5 U1 ZIP Administration Guide bundle

This week I had a need to download the official PDF guides to vSphere 6.5 U1. I like having the guides offline because Apple’s Spotlight can index them and make them available for search queries – but also if you in a place where internet access is restricted you can use the offline docs to lookup stuff.

The official landing page for documentation around vSphere is located here:

https://docs.vmware.com/en/VMware-vSphere/index.html

The documentation is in a html and pdf.

Recently VMware has moved all its ‘administration guides” online in a HTML format called “VMware Docs Home” – https://docs.vmware.com/. It is still possible to download an “offline” PDF copy as single .ZIP file. But they have rather “tucked” it away where its tricky to find.  If you need it – it can be found under a node called “Archive Packages”. These links down a single .ZIP file containing all the PDFS

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 09.01.56.png

You can download a zip file of all vSphere documentation as a zip file using this link which is current as of today, 14th Feb, 2018….

https://docs.vmware.com/en/VMware-vSphere/6.5/vsphere-documentation-65u1.zip

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June 21

Hyper-divergence and Datrium (@DatriumStorage)

This monday I had briefing with Datrium. They have a tag line of “Open Convergence”. I was grasping for a snappy title for this post as lead into writing about what they do. As ever my contrarian brain hit about the opposite of convergence which is divergence. I kind of like “hyper-divergence” because for me in away it describes the fact that despite the massive growth in the “hyper-convergence” marketplace – there persist radically different approaches to “getting there”. Both in the method of consumption (build your own VSAN Vs the ‘appliance’ model) and also the architecture (shared storage accessible directly from a hypervisor kernel (VSAN), a “controller” VM which shares out the storage back to the hypervisor (Nutanix)). I think Datrium and the recently announced NetApp HCI are delivering yet more options on both the consumptions/architecture front.

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June 2

Reading the Runes with Runecast Analyzer

A runestone is typically a raised stone with a runic inscription, but the term can also be applied to inscriptions on boulders and on bedrock. The tradition began in the 4th century and lasted into the 12th century, but most of the runestones date from the late Viking Age. Most runestones are located in Scandinavia, but there are also scattered runestones in locations that were visited by Norsemen during the Viking Age. Runestones are often memorials to dead men. Runestones were usually brightly coloured when erected, though this is no longer evident as the colour has worn off.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runestone

Introduction:

This week I was fortunate to have a briefing with Stan Markov (VCDX #74 and VCI), the CEO of Runecast. In case you don’t know Runecast Analyzer is a tool that gathers info from your vSphere environment and compares it to the VMware KB, Best Practices and the Security Hardening guide. The idea is it makes you proactively act on what it discovers to reduce the time spent reactively acting to events as they happening – in that typical “firefighting manner”.

Typically, we are so busy in the IT world we tend to respond to situations as they arise, and hope that by following design best practice we reduce these events to a minimum. In recent years a number of software vendors have been developing tools to break this cycle of behavior. Despite bold attempts to “automate all the things”, you’d be surprised how many people still are using a combination of Excel spreadsheets and Googling to both keep a track of changes, or respond to new issues as VMware finds them. And, of course, those pesky things called “default settings” that often are left as is, and never reviewed.

When the poop hits the fan such admins are forced into “Cutting and Pasting” cryptic log entries into Google, in the hope that a narrowly defined string will reduce the long list of false positives – it’s become a skill in it’s own right, scrolling through search results and translating the verbiage of KB articles to see if it answers your problem. And I can speak of situations first hand where I’ve had to “stitch together” KB articles to fix an issue. It’s this sort of first-hand pain that the folks at Runecast are addressing.

I was given an NFR license for a year (thank you) and spent yesterday getting my lab environment up and running to ingest their offer. I spent most my time making the lab work again replacing my expired vSphere license! The Runecast Analyzer appliance (in a OVF format) took less time to setup, than it did to download. I pointed at it my vCenter and I was up and running.

Note: As with any lab based evaluation I used my administrator@vsphere.local account. Runecast say a read-only account will cover about 90% of the analysis, but there are some higher-level privileges required to collect 100% of the data needed.

As you might gather with the lab being down for more than a year, it’s not been patched in ages, and also I’ve never bothered with any security hardening. So my results will not be reflective of most production environments (or will it?). As you’ve probably gathered, Runecast Analyzer is an on-premises appliance, and although it pulls data down from Runecast Central Repository, which in turn keeps a track on the VMware KB, nothing is pushed out of your environment. Runecast Analyzer does support offline patch-management for those people who require an air gap between themselves and the outside world for compliance purposes.

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January 30

Altaro VM Backup V7 Released

Download the 30-day trial: http://www.altaro.com/vm-backup/download.php
Product Info: http://www.altaro.com/vm-backup/

Hi there, and thanks for reading this blog post about Altaro VM Backup. I was asked by the guys at Altaro to take a look at their latest release. I said yes, and I also managed to persuade Altaro to make a donation to the charity (aquabox.org) who I’m volunteering for whilst I look for a new role. So firstly, a big thank you goes out to Altaro for agreeing to this arrangement. I think its setup that works well for all. Altaro gets exposure to their new offering; I get stick time with a product that’s new to me – and a good cause benefits as well. I managed to raise £280 for Aquabox. If you want to donate to Aquabox as well click the logo!

Lets start with some basic facts. Altaro has won a number of pludits from the reviewers on Spiceworks and VirtualizationAdmin.com. Their Altaro VM Backup software can backup both VMware vSphere as well as Microsoft HyperV, so is handy for those people working in a hybrid environment. It’s licensed on a per-host basis, not per-socket or CPU, so customers who go for a high-density consolidation ratios (the number of VMs per hosts) are really going to benefit from a licensing perspective. It’s chocked full of all the features you would normally expect from any enterprise backup system. Altaro VM Backup is fully compatible with Microsoft VSS, and that means you will get a consistent backup from those tricky customers like Microsoft SQL. The software is granular enough to restore individual files and emails from within a virtual machine backup. Finally, a number of backup targets are supported including USB External Drives and Flash Drives eSata External Drives, File Server Network Shares (via UNC), NAS devices (via UNC), RDX Cartridges – as well as the Offsite Altaro Backup Server with WAN acceleration. In my own case I pointed my simple Altaro Server to my local NAS box that already had backup shared out accessible to Microsoft Windows, the same NAS is visible to my VMware ESXi hosts on the same network using NFS.

The Setup

As you might expect the setup routine was a relatively trivial affair, and indeed the software itself does a good job of walking you through the 3-step routine to provide the core details need to do your first test backup – this means adding your VMware vCenter, individual VMware ESXi Hosts or Microsoft Hyper-V Hosts.

Each of these stages has a ‘test connection’ component before you proceed, tha you can see in this screen grab below:

The next stage is adding your storage options for carrying out the backup itself. You can opt for a directly connected device, or for a remote location supported by UNC. In my case my Altaro VM Backup Server was a Windows 2012 R2 virtual machine, with access to my remote NAS.

As you can see once a backup target has been added its simply a case of dragging and dropping a VM to that target. From this point onwards most of the admin tasks are of a drag-and-drop variety – dragging VMs to predefinied schedules and retentention policys, so you can control the frequency of backups, and hold old backups are disgarded. As my lab has been offline for a year, I don’t really have that many VMs to backup, except of course the infrastructure VMs that make up the lab itself. So I decided to backup these VMs as a matter of course.

What’s New

The V7 Edition boasts a number of new features. The first is “Augmented Inline Deduplication”. This decreases the time it takes to both take and restore a backup. It creates the smallest backup size, and doesn’t require you to group VMs together to get the benefits. The fact that its inline means the deduplication process isn’t run as a post-backup process. This is important because the storage savings that deduplication brings mean little in real terms if you still need the temporary space required to carry out the backup. By definition backups often mean backing up the same bit of data that repeats itself in different VMs over and over again, and this deduplication cancels out bloat in backups.

Altaro have published blogs that explain this augmented deduplication process. This blogpost is a centred around Hyper-V and they have a very similar one for VMware as well. Calculating the upfront exact amount of potential savings any customer will get from any dedupe process is difficult. However, the Altaro VM Backup Dashboard does a good job of showing those dedupe and compression savings.

Also new to V7 is “Boot from Backup”, it’s the ability to power on a VM directly from the source backup. Typically, this means a network location like a CIFS/NFS server share/export is mounted directly to the hypervisor and powered on. That means the IO performance will be constrained by the disk capabilities of the system backing it. Remember this is merely away of getting the VM up and running in the shortest possible time. In most cases the availability issue trumps any short-term performance hit, because it’s the clever stuff going on in the background that matters. In the background the restore process is continuing – once the restore process has completed, all you need to do is schedule a small maintenance window to shutdown the “boot from backup” and replace it with the restored copy. As you might expect, a reboot takes less time than waiting for a full VM restore.

The “boot from backup” feature has two modes – a verification and recovery mode, and of course the performance mileage will vary dependent on the qualities and capabilities of the storage backing that VM’s backup target location.

Once you have gone through the usual suspects of selecting the mode, backup location and VM itself – you get granular control over the way VM is brought up. This includes attributes such as renaming the VM and ensuring its network card is in a disconnected state – to avoid conflicts with the existing VM.

What’s Next?

VM Backup V7 will soon promises a feature called Cloud Management Console (CMC), which will allow administrators to monitor and manage remotely all their backup installations using a single tool that can be accessed from any web browser – without VPN or any requirement to be on-site. The CMC dashboard gives a more site-by-site or customer-by-customer point of view and will be designed for a more multi-tenant approach to backup management.

What’s There?

Well, as I stated earlier everything you’d expect from an enterprise backup solution is pretty much there. So along side multi-hypervisor support you’ll see an impressive list of features:

  • Drastically reduce backup storage requirements on both local and offsite locations, and therefore significantly speed up backups with Altaro’s unique Augmented Inline Deduplication process
  • Back up live VMs by leveraging Microsoft VSS with Zero downtime
  • Full support for Cluster Shared Volumes & VMware vCenter
  • Offsite Backup Replication for disaster recovery protection
  • Compression and military grade Encryption
  • Schedule backups the way you want them (View video)
  • Specify backup retention policies for individual VMs (View video)
  • Back up VMs to multiple backup locations

So there are plenty of positives to be hand, along side a competitive licensing policy… but….

What’s Missing?

If there’s one repeated criticism levelled at Altaro VM Backup is the lack of public cloud as a backup targets. So for offsite backup use your very much dependent on having another site in which to host the Altaro VM Backup Offsite Server. Now for many small businesses this might not be an issue, as many SMBs actually have more than one location – such as their main warehouse facility and the customer-facing location. However, for SMBs that literally only have one location this is tricky. Such customers might look to services like Amazon S3, Glacier or Azure as way of getting their backups a distance from the core site. The alternative is transporting removable media to another location – and that feels decidedly 1990’s for an era where data can and should be held anywhere.

I raised this issue with the guys at Altaro and they pointed me to blogpost they have which show using the Altaro VM Backup Office Server in Azure. The first blogpost covers off the planning and pricing aspects of placing an Altaro Offsite Server in Microsoft Azure. The second blogpost explains the process of how to setup it up. This configuration is something that Altaro intends to fully develop and it in the pipeline, and part of an overall cloud strategy – but they weren’t understandably able to give me an ETA on that – because it would be commercial sensitive to do so.

In Conclusion

If you are familiar with virtualisation and have been following the backup space for virtualization for a while – there are no surprises here. What’s certainly true for me is that a new tier of backup vendors is entering an already crowded space. This is not dissimilar to the shake-up we saw in the storage space in the last 5 years. Features that were once unique and only available from premium vendors are now going mainstream. The question remains – if you are working with a premium mainstream vendor what unique features are they offering you that you can’t get elsewhere from a relatively new player in the market who is hitting the streets with very attractive pricing and licensing policies? So I see it as a mark of ‘due diligence’ to do a scoping out of alternatives, rather than simply disengaging the brain and signing the renewal contract. You don’t do that with any other insurance premium, so why do that with your backup insurance premium?

Finally, for home labs and small environments, that need basic features, they can also use the free edition that enables backup up to two VMs for free, valid forever.

 

 

 

 

 

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March 11

VMUG Wiki Update: VMware vCenter Server Appliance 6.0 Update 1 (VCSA)

This chapter of the VMUG Wiki has been up for a while on the public site, and just haven’t got round to making folks aware of its existence. The new chapter is over here:

http://wiki.vmug.com/index.php/Deploying_VMware_vCenter_Server_Appliance_6_(VCSA)

There’s a couple of things new about the VCSA that caught my eye. Firstly, the setup/installations/import/configuration (take your pick about the appropriate word to use for getting the appliance ready for use) has been radically overhauled from previous releases. Previously, there was convoluted process of downloading, importing and then running thru a configuration process (the manual process was better the automated method) – that involved ‘toggling’ between different UI. That’s all changed – now you mount .ISO to your workstation with visibility to an ESXi host – and ‘setup’ wizard runs though the entire process. This is MUCH better than the previous approach, and I think it will help improve adoption of the “linux version” of vCenter.

As ever care must be taken over the FQDNs/IP address used – ensuring that DNS is up, accessible and is resolving. If you don’t you find the installer process will crash and burn… In this case I asked for the VCSA to have FQDN of vcwdc.corp.com, and that wasn’t resolvable to the IP I’d assigned.

Secondly, The ye olde 5480 VMware Studio portal still exists but the look, feel and functionality has changed significantly.You shouldn’t really need to touch this unless you need to re-configure the networking (for example) of the VCSA…

Thirdly, the VCSA Console is much more like the ESXi DCUI interface. I quite like this tidying up process – standardising on the console look and feel, makes the VCSA and ESXi feel more like the double act they really are. There isn’t a huge amount you can do here admittedly – just to say that you can do things like enable SSH to PuTTy into….

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February 23

VMUG Wiki Update: VMware vCenter 6.0 Update 1 (Windows)

As promised I’ve been chipping away at the VMUG Wiki. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks updating the vCenter chapter based on the Windows edition. I say weeks, in truth I spend a couple of hours each week on the Wiki, just fitting it in around my other interests that are focus of my gap year. I’ve been toying with recording the “sets” that I’m “touring” (more grand term, than it really implies) around various acoustic sessions in my local area. The other week someone said I should go to Sheffield and put myself up on stage all mic’d up and plugged in. Not sure I’m quite ‘seasoned’ enough for that yet! But perhaps I might record each monthly set and put it up on SoundCloud for those who are interested.

ANYWAY. Digression. This post is supposed to be about the VMUG Wiki. So the main “news” is the chapter on the Windows vCenter setup is completed and live – you can find it here:

Install VMware vCenter (Windows)

To any old hands here. There’s isn’t much to report in the “What’s New” stakes – but there were a couple of notable changes which I thought I’d bring to people attention.

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