IP Expo Manchester – Day 2 Review

Today was the second and final day of the inaugural IP Expo event at G-Mex Manchester Central. I’d spent a lot of time wandering around the solution hall yesterday, so today I wanted to spend more time in the sponsor sessions. The problem is that often I would find myself bumping into a familiar face and at the end of a catch up, 30 minutes has gone!

One thing I’d like to express before I go through the session reports is that I wish vendors would top this “avoid lock in” bullshit. Every vendor does lock in of one form or another. After all, how can you expect a good revenue stream for a product if it’s too easy for a customer to take their stuff elsewhere? I’m not saying vendor lock in is a bad thing, as long as there is a degree of interoperability which means you do have a path out if you need it. But please, don’t sell me something proprietary and then tell me it avoids vendor lock in, it makes my blood boil.

Anyway, onto the show…

Microsoft Mobile First, Cloud First Transformation – James Akrigg

Much to my disappointment, I missed all of this session bar the last 10 minutes. I’ll not go into the details as to why, but some aspects of the event organisation could be filed under “could do better”. Not all bad though. Anyway, I caught some integration with Cortana and Business Intelligence. Impressive stuff and makes you realise how much consumer tech is now appearing in “business” products as users start to expect the same experience on both sides.

One thing I will say about Microsoft is that I’ve been pretty impressed with how they’ve reinvented themselves. It’s not easy to change the path of the company that is so big and has massive cash cows like Windows and Office. In many ways, it makes me wonder how much further along they’d be today if they’d ditched Steve Ballmer a lot sooner.

The full house signs also demonstrated that Microsoft is still more than relevant in today’s IT landscape. Reports of their demise have been premature, and hats off to them for reinventing themselves as a cloud/mobile company. Yes, there are a lot of updates about Windows 10 and Office 2016, but they seem to me to be on a par with Azure and other platform announcements these days.

The true foundation for the Software Defined Enterprise – John J. Ryan – VMware


John Ryan from VMware – not walking like an Egyptian..

Next up was John Ryan from VMware to take us through a “how we got here” session and also how VMware were driving the SDDC market forward.

Key points included:-

  • We’re now in the mobile/cloud era after mainframe and client server eras
  • Cloud management platform is automation, operations,  business intelligence wrapping over “traditional” virtual infrastructure of compute, storage and  networking
  • Control of data centre automated by software (management and security)
  • Foundation of Software Defined Enterprise means handling complex tasks in a simple way
  • vSphere provides capability to virtualise applications, desktops, servers, databases etc, best general purpose hypervisor around
  • Hadoop Big Data extensions, certified support for SAP HANA amongst newer features
  • Container support in vSphere 6, integrated OpenStack
  • Instant clone for desktop workloads, radically improve your VDI provisioning
  • 4x scalability in vSphere 6 (vCPU, vRAM, etc.)
  • Photon special VMware edition of Linux to run containers, open sourced with Lightwave (identity)
  • Long distance vMotion up to 150 milliseconds latency
  • Enabled by cross vCenter vMotion, which is also new in vSphere 6
  • Use cases for long distance vMotion include follow the sun, disaster avoidance
  • Fault tolerance now up to 4 vCPU s
  • Needs 10 gig infrastructure however
  • Content library can store templates, ISOs,  OVAs.  Subscribe and replicate content (bit like System Center)
  • Recent tasks and right click improved in Web client, more intuitive workflows (i.e. a bit more like the “fat” client!)
  • Virtual SAN extended to use hybrid models, including storage arrays
  • Virtual volumes (VVols) changes the storage paradigm
  • Automated policy management
  • All industry partners will support virtual volumes, some natively in the array and some via virtual appliances with VASA

One cloud, One security – VMware / Trend Micro – Peter Bury and Stephen Porter


Peter Bury – VMware

From the previous session I hot footed it across the hall to the next session which mainly dealt with what NSX is at a high level and how that fits into the SDDC message. This was a decent presentation that illustrated the issue of applying security out on physical network devices when you might want to be able to segment VMs away from each other in the same cluster and the “old” networking model created in vSphere with standard vSwitches just wasn’t very flexible.

Key points from this session:-

  • Old design methodology meant sending VM traffic out of cluster and let edge firewall deal with it (tromboning)
  • Firewall rules get massive over time as nobody removes them when a service is unprovisioned because of the fear of breaking something. The secondary impact is slowing down the firewall as it has to churn through 100s of rules
  • Not a fluid design for agile changes
  • This design is virtual but it’s not cloud
  • Enterprises want rapid elasticity, roll out services as the organisation demands
  • If IT is too slow, company will go out to the public cloud
  • Intelligence is built into software for security, firewall etc. Physical networks become “dumb carriers”
  • Load balancing, routing, switching, firewalls, access control lists in software, as part of the hypervisor stack.
  • Context in workloads is achieved by baking in features into the hypervisor
  • New model enables wrapper around workloads to provide security
  • API allows trusted partners to provide their expertise in the micro segmentation of virtual machines
  • Anti malware,  anti virus, intrusion protection etc
  • Agent less design from Trend
  • All policy driven so policy follows VM wherever it goes
  • Moved from scheduled scan to real time security
  • Dashboard available for vCenter/vRealise Operations Manager
  • Security rules can be applied before patches are ready. Heart bleed rule available in a couple of hours, patches for the same vulnerability take days or weeks

It’s time to upgrade from backup to business continuity – Fifosys


The next session covered the topic of business continuity. One interesting point on this was that BC is not always a “site down” issue. Sometimes it can be a key LOB application that has gone for a lie down and you need to have a strategy for bringing that back so the business can keep functioning properly.

This was also a leader into introducing us to the Datto appliance, which I must admit was new to me. There seems to be a burgeoning market now in hardware appliances that keep some data local and then move “cold” blocks out to the cloud where it’s cheaper to store. This product works along similar lines, but with backup images.

Key takeaways:-

  • Disaster recovery hampered by slow,  manual processes including getting off site backups,  restore from tape etc
  • 13 % of Fifosys survey responders don’t take tapes off site
  • 61% still using tape
  • 52% of SMB s do not have a BC plan as they don’t view IT as critical to the business
  • 45% of downtime caused by human error according to Oracle User Group
  • BC is not just failure of a site, but key business systems
  • Assign a financial cost to an outage to justify a BC plan, there are plenty of simple equations out there you can use
  • Impact time has a direct effect on the costs of an outage
  • BC should be simple and automated
  • Sub 1 hour recovery is a must
  • Reduce reliance on staff for BC
  • BC reduces operating risk, don’t see it as a cash waste
  • DR tests should not be time consuming or impactful
  • Traditional designs use active/passive or active/active data centres, which can be prohibitively expensive
  • Datto appliance performs backups and replicates to the cloud
  • Image based backup every 5 minutes
  • Can restore to the Datto appliance as it has a baked in hypervisor
  • Agent based backup
  • Screen shot verification is an automated daily DR test
  • Uses inverse chain technology
  • Datto protects 100 PB globally

Cisco’s Intercloud Strategy – Bruno Oliveira


Cisco have a “cloud of cloud” strategy called Intercloud, which is an interesting concept. By the presenter’s own admission, there are still odd pieces of it not quite ready yet (mainly the Cloud Market Place option) but again in a similar way to vCAC/vRA does it’s best to be a technology agnostic solution (with Cisco’s wrapper around it, naturally!).

Again the key takeaway is freedom of choice and the flexibility to move workloads around to internal or external clouds as economics and performance requirements dictate.

Key points:-

  • Uber now biggest taxi company in the world but don’t own taxis
  • AirBnB don’t own hotels
  • Digital disruption caused by these types of companies
  • 50 billion objects connected to the Internet by 2020
  • Unified workload management. Any VM any cloud is the essence of Intercloud
  • Keep data in country as opposed to AWS etc where you may not know where it is
  • 55% companies turning to the cloud to lower costs
  • Global cloud of clouds using VMware,  OpenStack, etc. Cisco validated architecture
  • Cisco want to wrap around all these disparate services so customer sees it as their infrastructure
  • 160 inter cloud partners
  • 60 providers and resellers
  • InterCloud fabric is the software wrapper around this environment
  • InterCloud market place coming,  both for internal and external clouds
  • Fabric provides end user and administration portals
  • Can move workloads from one provider to another (Azure to vCloud Air, vCA to AWS, etc.)
  • Cloud usage collector can be attached to physical network kit to accurately measure cloud service consumption so CIOs can “really” see what external services are being consumed

A new approach to optimising the WAN with Citrix CloudBridge – Al Taylor, CloudDNA

My final session of the conference was around the Citrix CloudBridge 11 appliance. Folks who know me know I’m not so much a Citrix guy, but I try to be as agnostic as possible and try to avoid “drinking the Kool-Aid”. At the end of the day, I don’t believe it pays to close yourself off from any vendor as you never know when they’ll have a niche product or solution that will come to your rescue.

I actually enjoyed this session the most of all the ones I saw over the two days. There was something vaguely punky about the presenter and his enthusiasm for the CloudBridge device really shone, whereas some of the other presenters went through the motions a little bit. I’m not denigrating them, but perhaps that’s the difference between a true tecchie and non-tecchie speaker.

Anyway, CloudBridge is a Citrix appliance that is intended for use over constrained bandwidth to improve XenDesktop / XenApp user experience (amongst other use cases such as video and Lync).

Key session points:-

  • CloudDNA are the only dedicated Citrix cloud networking practice in the UK
  • NetScalertaylor.com for NetScaler blog
  • ILoveNetScaler.com news aggregate and weekly newsletter
  • CloudBridge is like WAN repeater
  • Acceleration and compression, amongst other things
  • Video optimisation for Lync etc
  • HDX analysis for CloudBridge to get full visibility of all bottlenecks
  • Feeds back into Desktop Director for quick and simple performance analysis
  • 64 channels in ICA traffic
  • Prioritise channel traffic to ensure performance for the user
  • Tolly Report on CloudBridge gives WAN optimisation report of optimised vs non-optimised
  • Virtual appliance or piece of hardware
  • Branch office in a box, can run ThinPrint on the hardware if need be
  • Virtual WAN binds multiple links together and uses policies to decide which traffic goes down which link. Not bonded
  • Encrypt the paths between the two end points
  • Send packets based on application needs
  • Active bi directional probing
  • 600 applications optimised out of the box, not just Citrix centric
  • Faster time to deploy branch offices

In all, I enjoyed the event and it was nice to see this type of event in my neck of the woods as these things tend to be London only. Hopefully there was enough interest to make the show a bit bigger next year (they’ve already published similar dates for 2016) and get some “proper” representation from the heavy hitters (VMware, Microsoft) rather than being a desk on part of a partner’s stand.



IP Expo Manchester – Day 1 Review

As part of my new role, I’m hopefully going to be getting out and about a lot more and seeing what the virtualisation market has to offer that is complementary to our VMware offerings. As a result, I attended day 1 of the new IP Expo conference at Manchester Central today (that’s the G-MEX in old money!), where there were a whole slew of VMware partners showing off their wares. Not only VMware too, but other vendors and some quirky exhibitors (such as the Museum of Computing).

My first impressions of the solutions hall was that it was a bit smaller than I was expecting, taking up just half the hall. I suppose seeing as delegate tickets were free, the organisers wanted to dip of a bit of a toe in the water before committing to a much bigger event. The Expo also shared the venue with the TMRW conference, which is a “paid for” event with the likes of Brian Cox (that’s the scientist and not the mad Scottish actor) speaking to the masses.

Opening Keynote – Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council


So first up was Sir Richard Leese to open the event. The general theme of the speech was to re-iterate the growth in the local economy and how that was being driven by the digital economy. There were so many facts and figures sprinkled throughout the speech that I wondered if I should have a bingo card on my lap to tick off all the numbers!

Anyway, some key information taken from the speech was:-

  • Greater Manchester population grew by 19% in the last 10 years
  • 28% growth employment rate between 2004 and 2014
  • Manchester is home to the two most popular universities in the UK
  • £2 billion invested in transport over last 5 years
  • 45,000 people working in digital economy
  • The Sharp Project in East Manchester is now fully let
  • The north west textiles industry growing fast again because of technology
  • Manchester hosts the only Internet exchange outside of London
  • Government support for “Devo Max” in Manchester area, first of it’s kind in England

At the end of the keynote we were promptly kicked out of the keynote hall for TMRW guests only. Bad form! Most of the room stood up and left, and to be honest it was all a bit awkward. I hope the organisers don’t make this mistake next year. That being said, as Tim Lovejoy was MC, I wasn’t sorry to leave!

Veeam – 3 2 1 Rule of Backups – Kevin Ridings


The next session I attended was by Veeam. I’m especially interested in this vendor as we already partner with them successfully and it’s a partnership we’re looking to extend as we grow our portfolio of solutions. Some pearls gleaned from this session:-

  • What is the 3210 rule? 3 copies of data, two different media types, one copy off site with zero errors
  • The 321 Rule protects you in most DR scenarios
  • Tape support in version 7 of Backup & Replication as customers asked for it
  • Tape provides best price per GB, doesn’t consume power to be stored
  • However, tape requires man hours to move around
  • Slow RTO
  • Veeam B&R Backup Copy jobs automatically copies backups to secondary repository, which uses different retention  policies
  • Built in WAN accelerator is aware of de-duplication and content
  • Cloud Gateway provides SSL connections over a single port
  • Additional role on the Veeam server
  • Cloud providers can securely share storage between tenants, optimising costs
  • CloudConnect works as a local repository
  • Possible to enable self service, PowerShell and REST
  • Requires version 8 update 2

The main takeaway from this session was that CloudConnect partners could be used as secondary repositories for Veeam backups and you can work with your existing Veeam partner to do this and ensure your data is safe, secure and with a trusted partner (and not “in the cloud” where you may not know where the hell it is!).

Cetus – From Ground To The Cloud
The next session was by Cetus Solutions, who discussed their project to deliver cloud services to NextGear Capital, which was a rare example of a startup company and a greenfield site. What was interesting about this case study was that as a brand new company, NextGear were not lashed to a legacy infrastructure and deliberately wanted to leverage cloud technologies to give them scale and performance without needing a large IT department and on premises kit.
  • New company founded by Cox Automotive Group in US
  • £40 million to 300 dealers in first 6 months
  • Enterprise grade infrastructure from day one
  • Highly scalable with lean back office infrastructure
  • Startup company wanted IT as OpEx rather than CapEx
  • Financial data needed to be secure and in compliance with industry legislation
  • Core infrastructure,  applications, disaster recovery as a service
  • FlexPod solution
  • Xenapp 7.5 with Atlantis ILIO
  • Citrix NetScaler with thin clients and mobile devices
  • External cloud services such as SalesForce
  • Replicate VMs to Cetus environment
  • NetScaler sat in front of desktops and environment, aggregated content from “internal” cloud and third parties into a single interface.

The key message from this case study was that this startup could be agile and keep costs and complexity down by building a bespoke environment from scratch using best of breed technologies that would allow them to scale up in future with predictable costs. Interesting!


SimpliVity – Making Sense of Hyper Converged Infrastructure – Hani El Qasem
My next session was with SimpliVity, who are a relatively new company in the hyper converged space. I’d heard of them before owing to them sponsoring a vBeers event (hic!) but also because Cisco have partnered with them, plus I’m linked to a couple of their guys on LinkedIn and see what they’re up to.
Hani’s session was really interesting as in my mind it raised the question of whether the monolithic stacks we have now such as FlexPod and vBlock might already be a thing of the past? Yes they’re solid and reliable, but it’s still a multi vendor solution and there are a lot of moving parts. Not to mention separate compute, storage and networking takes a lot of additional overhead. I can see both sides of the argument on FlexPod type solutions and hyperconverged solutions such as SimpliVity and Nutanix. I guess it all comes down to customer requirements, as it always should be.
  • 3 1/2 years in development before shipping the product, rare for a startup
  • Best of VMworld 2013 and 2014, amongst others
  • Customers include T-Systems (aka T-Mobile), NHS
  • Customers want consumer economics on a cloud scale
  • Data protection, performance, data efficiency and global unified management all baked into the product
  • Web providers such as Facebook and Google use cheap, disposable hardware and build resiliency into the application
  • Enterprise do it the other way around
  • Converged infrastructure phase 1 like FlexPod/vBlock,  Phase 2 is storage and server. Phase 3 collapse all into one stack like SimpliVity
  • Omnicube (SimpliVity solution) is x86 architecture. Accelerator card performs dedupe,  compression,  accelerator, optimisation. Dedupe once and forever. Across all tiers (SSD, HDD, DRAM).
  • Can scale down. Minimum of 1 cube, other hyperconverged solutions need 3 as a minimum,  some need 4 if you need maintenance
  • Global unified management
  • Extension of vCenter,  not a proprietary interface. Single pane of glass plus no big learning curve of a new management UI
  • Integrated data protection and WAN optimisation
  • Reduced energy consumption, less physical space if renting CoLo space
  • One SKU
  • DRAM,  SSD and HDD tiers
  • Presentation layer uses NFS
  • 40 to 1 reduction in data storage required
  • Example given was 5.4 TB of raw data, reduced to 2.7 TB on competition solution,  650 GB on Omnicube
Virtual Volumes – Jonathan Disley Nimble Storage
After a wander around the hall, I dropped into my final session of the day by Nimble Storage. I’d lost track of time to be quite honest, so I was a little bit late and missed the first part. The session was a whistle stop tour of the new Virtual Volumes (VVols) functionality baked into vSphere 6.0. I have to say, Jonathan had to whip through it so quickly because of time that I didn’t really digest all of what was being said, so it’s something I need to follow up on. I did take some notes though:-
  • There are three main different storage designs on VMware – guest connected, VMDK on VMFS or RDM
  • Virtual volumes break into policy control plane and virtual data plane
  • Storage container is the logical construct, advertises services such as snapshot, encryption etc
  • Set storage policy and assign to a VM such as thin provisioned, snapshot etc
  • Uses VASA provider to be storage aware. Nimble embeds this into the controller. Some vendors use a separate virtual appliance
  • No VMFS partition on the virtual volume
  • Nimble InfoSight software has per VM performance monitoring. Cloud based offering that uses “call home” messages and statistics from installed controllers
  • Possible to see noisy neighbours causing latency on a data store

I’ll be back for day two tomorrow, so watch out for another review!


vRealise Automation – What I Learned This Week

As I mentioned previously, my new role has meant that I have to get up to speed on all things automation very quickly indeed. This week I have been spending all of my time getting to grips with vRA – it’s architecture, components, installation and design considerations (amongst other things). I’m not going to re-invent the wheel by writing my own install and config guide, there are a ton of brilliant resources out there already, so I’m going to link to them (more for my own reference than anything else I think).

I think the first thing is not to be fazed by putting together a small scale vRA setup. You just need three VMs to get started, and two of those are already built out for you as virtual appliances. Install in this order:-

  • Deploy SSO / ID appliance OVF and configure as appropriate (IP addresses, root passwords etc.)
  • Deploy vRA appliance OVF and configure as appropriate (IP addresses, root passwords etc)
  • Deploy IaaS stack on a Windows Server

To get started and before you install anything, I’d highly recommend watching the videos at virtualjad.com. They’re pretty bite size (generally 15-20 mins per video) and go through the install path and configuration. I managed to follow that quite easily, but I’ll be honest and say that the customisation stuff blew my brain. I’ll have to go back and re-watch that, it just could have been a bit of overload.

In terms of the actual installation, as the OVFs can be redeployed at any time, there’s no real worry about breaking those on initial installation. The Windows IaaS box should be snapshotted before running the main installation and make sure to run Brian Graf’s awesome pre-reqs PowerShell script to make sure all bits like Windows Server roles, Java and IIS is configured correctly. I did this by hand previously and it was torture.

Configure a service account and give it administrator permissions from vCenter down (I know this is bad practice, but we’re talking about a lab environment) and also give it access to SQL. Don’t create the vRA database, the IaaS installer will do this for you. Also, there is no need to configure an ODBC connection.

The install pre-req script does not appear to set the local security policy on the IaaS box, so you will need to add in your service account user to the “Log on Locally” and “Logon as a service” policies. You will get a warning from the IaaS installer if this has been missed, so don’t worry. If you get any 401 errors when browsing within the Infrastructure tab, double check your service account is a member of the local Administrators group.

Other Random Stuff

Can’t see the vCenter VM templates in the vRA interface? Ensure you have a network policy configured and mapped to the port group on the vCenter side, then you should see the templates when creating a blueprint. This one kept me going for hours.

Can’t see the Advanced Services designer? Follow this blog post and ensure you have a Service Architect role properly configured.

Can’t add a plug-in into the built in Orchestrator server on the vRA appliance? You need to start the vco-configurator service on the appliance. Thanks again to Ryan Kelly, who seems to have bumped his head on all the things I’ve seen so far and helped me fix it. Top man!


The Open Road


I know I haven’t blogged for a while, but you’ll probably see now why. I recently left ANS to join a consulting and services company called Frontline Consultancy, who are another VMware partner in the North West. I realise I wasn’t at ANS too long, but to be honest, this new role was an opportunity not to be missed.

I wasn’t on the lookout for a new position, but it was nice to be spotted and once I found out what the role was about, I couldn’t say no. This blog has been EUC centric for quite a long time, and while there will still be some EUC content, I will be moving into a more general VMware space in terms of content. I’m headed back into the data centre and adding vCloud technologies to my bow (or vRealise, or whatever it’s called today!).

Obviously I’ve been doing DCV activities for some years, but cloud was the major missing piece of my personal skills jigsaw. Now I have the chance to close this gap and get involved with some automation projects that take me out of my comfort zone and force me to adapt once again. Ultimately, I do believe variety is the spice of life and as the picture above would suggest, the road is open for me and the chances appear to be limitless.

As I left ANS, they were recently awarded the Converged Infrastructure gong at the NetApp Partner awards, so they continue to go from strength to strength and I wish them well. As for my new role, it’s a good chance to for me to get stuck into a really high profile projects and become a better and more rounded techie.

One more thing, I have accepted the invitation to speak at next month’s North West England UK VMUG where I will be discussing the new VMware certification roadmaps and the recent changes made. Please do come along and give it a whirl, I believe we also have a vRockstar there in the shape of Duncan Epping. An event not to be missed! More details and registration are available at the event page. We’re back at Rosylee in Manchester, with the ubiquitous (and free) vBeers available afterwards.

Hope to see you there!


Upgrading The Home Lab Part III : Upgrading VMware Tools and Virtual Hardware

We’ve arrived at the final part of our odyssey (a small odyssey in my case, but an odyssey none the less!) in our upgrade to vSphere 6.0. We’ve upgraded vCenter (relatively trouble free), ESXi (not so much, but that was down to my Jurassic era hardware) and now we have the small matter of the VMs left, to upgrade VMware Tools and virtual hardware to the latest versions.

This might seem like the easiest task of the lot, but actually in my experience this is the hardest part. Not so much from a technical level, but from the perspective of there being large numbers of VMs to touch, and of course in times of Change Management, getting agreement to down VMs to upgrade their virtual hardware can sometimes feel like rutting stags in a field. Although from vSphere 5.1 onwards, a Windows reboot for an upgrade of VMware Tools was eliminated, we still need to power off VMs in order to upgrade their virtual hardware.

29fc1f37d00bf7a74decf694dce0559225f242e6 “Barry, let me upgrade the virtual hardware on your Exchange Server!..” “…No! Bugger off, Maurice! I can’t have 5 minutes downtime!..”

Thankfully, VUM can come to our rescue again. When it’s installed, it creates some default patch baselines. Two of which include baselines for upgrading virtual hardware and VMware Tools. You can see these by clicking on the VMware Update Manager button in the Home view in the vSphere Client. You need to click on the “Baselines and Groups” tab and then on the “VMs/VAs” button. You should see the following in your VUM screen:-


There is also an upgrade path for virtual appliances you can see at the bottom, we’re not going to cover that here as usually appliances are in the minority. VMs are what we’re looking at here. In order get VUM to bring our VMs up to date, we need to create a couple of Baseline Groups, or we can just use a single group if we want to consolidate both upgrades into a single operation, which is what I’ll be doing. We can do this from the same screen as above, in the right hand pane. Click on the “Create” button to start the Baseline Group as shown below:-


This starts the Baseline Group creation wizard, which only really has a couple of steps to set up, nothing too tricky. Give the Baseline Group a name, as below. And no, don’t use one of the Bee Gees like I did with the stag picture:-


Click Next and as we’re only upgrading VMware Tools and virtual hardware, we’re going to leave virtual appliances alone. We are going to create VM upgrades, so tick the radio buttons next to the following groups:-

  • VM Hardware Upgrade to match host (predefined)
  • VMware Tools Upgrade to match host (predefined)

This is shown below:-


Click Next..review the settings and click Finish and you’ll see the following screen:-


So now we have our baseline groups created, we now need some VMs to attach them to. As I’ve said countless times before, this is a test environment, so I don’t suffer from the same constraints as a production system. That’s another way of saying “if something explodes, I don’t care”, but that being said, I do want to stage these updates to make sure everything works as I expect before I push the baseline group to a wider audience.

I am not going to update any virtual appliances as I mentioned previously, and I have no VMs right now that are Linux based. Rather than pushing out the baseline to all Windows VMs, I’m going to stage them by folder. First up is my seldom used Windows Cluster folder. This has two Windows Server 2012 R2 nodes and an iSCSI target also running Windows 2012 R2. As I hardly use this cluster, it spends most of it’s life powered off, meaning it’s a good place to test my rolling VM updates.

So to start with, if you haven’t already, create a folder and move the VMs you want to update into this folder (hint: you’ll need to be in the “VMs and Templates” view in vSphere Client to do this). Once you’ve done this, you can add the baseline group to the folder by clicking the Update Manager tab and clicking the Attach.. button. You’ll then see the dialog below:-


As you can see, I already ticked the box to add the Baseline Group to the folder. The sharper eyed readers amongst others will notice I could have done this without creating a baseline group first, but I think my way is neater ;-)

Click Attach and then you will need to perform a Scan.. just as we did with the hosts. In fact, it’s exactly the same process. Remember at this stage, we don’t care about virtual appliance updates, so make sure you untick that box and tick the other boxes for VMware Tools and virtual hardware, as below:-


The scan results are in, and lo and behold I’m not compliant:-


In which case, I need to hit the Remediate.. button to apply both sets of upgrades, just like we did with the hosts. This starts an upgrade wizard, as shown below:-


On clicking Next.. the next step is to schedule when we want the upgrades to occur. Like I said, these boxes are my guinea pigs as they are hardly ever powered on, so I can go ahead and do it immediately. In the production world, you’d probably have to do this out of hours or whenever your maintenance windows are:-


Give the task a name and description as shown above, and decide when you want the process to run. The scheduled intervals are applied via powered on machines, powered off machines and suspended virtual machines. By default, Immediately is set for all cases. Take care here!

One really useful feature of using VUM to upgrade VMs is the ability to create snapshots ahead of the actual upgrade processes. This is very handy on the off chance that something goes badly pear shaped. There’s no reason it should, but it’s always nice to have a safety net, isn’t it? And you are creating full offline backups, aren’t you?


So as you can see above, I’m keeping the snapshot for 24 hours (default is 18, for some reason). You can keep them forever if you like, but if there are a lot of VMs to be upgraded, this could swallow a lot of expensive storage in a busy environment very quickly. I just want to make sure the VM boots and reports back in as up to date once the process is complete. 24 hours is plenty of time for me to validate the update hasn’t eaten my VM. As these particular VMs are already powered off, no need for me to select Take a snapshot of the memory for the virtual machine. This requires a running instance of VMware Tools and can add a lot of time to the process, so use sparingly.

Time for one last sanity check and then hit Finish if you’re happy:-


You can then monitor the upgrade task in the tasks pane at the bottom of the screen, as below (click to expand):-


Once the upgrade task completes (and this could take a while, so go and make a coffee or something), you should see a fully compliant bunch of VMs. If you don’t, you can use the Tasks/Events window (Events mainly) to help troubleshoot what went wrong. The law of averages says that a couple of VMs out of dozens will need some minor hand holding. To get through them all without issues is pretty much unheard of, so don’t worry. As you can see below from the Events window, the upgrade process is ongoing:-


And then after a little while of VUM whirring away in the background, skidoosh! We have 100% compliance!


Don’t believe me? Here’s what one of the VMs says..


We’re on version 11 virtual hardware (ESXi 6.0 compatible) and VMware Tools are current. All done by VUM in the background. Multiply that by a few dozen VMs and you’ve got a nice time saver there! I also wanted to show that the pre-upgrade snapshot is available for us, on the off chance something went septic:-


As you can see, VUM even puts in a useful description so we know what the snapshot is, when it was created and when it will be deleted (if applicable).


Upgrading VMs can often be the trickiest part of the upgrade process as there can be hundreds or thousands of objects to be updated. However, VUM can make this process pretty painless by automating the upgrades and scheduling them for a time that suits you. Don’t be like Barry and Maurice at the top of the article – get a maintenance window with the VM owner and get VUM to do all of the heavy lifting for you.



Upgrading the home lab Part II : ESXi hosts

In Part I of the “Upgrading the home lab” series, we migrated/upgraded the vCenter appliance from version 5.5 to 6.0. That all seemed to go pretty well, so the next major step on the road to vSphere 6.0 is to upgrade the ESXi hosts in the environment to ESXi 6.0. Just before we get to that, we’ve actually missed a step out. Once vCenter has been upgraded to version 6.0, you should take a few minutes to upgrade VMware Update Manager (VUM) to version 6.0 too. In my case I hadn’t got around to building a 5.5 VUM server, so I just built one out from scratch with the vSphere 6.0 installer DVD. I just did a simple install and used the SQL Server 2012 Express version for the database, as I’m just managing a single host. For 5 or more hosts, you should go and get the “full fat” SQL Server.

What’s new with VUM?

Not really a lot as far as I can see. It still requires a Windows Server (minimum 2008, but 2012 R2 should be your aim these days), still requires a SQL database (see above) and still requires the vSphere Client (not the Web Client) to perform any kind of meaningful management. In that respect, it doesn’t look much different than it did in 5.5 days. You can read what’s new in the VUM 6.0 documentation, but it seems to be more database support than anything to get excited about (like baking it into the appliance, for example).

Upgrading the ESXi host(s)

To upgrade your hosts, there are a couple of different ways you can do it. You can boot from the DVD (or remotely attach an ISO image if you have an iLO/DRAC card etc.) and perform an in-place upgrade, you can use VUM to upgrade your hosts, or you can boot from DVD/ISO and perform a fresh installation. It depends what you want to achieve in the process, obviously you want a quick and supported way of getting your hosts up to date, and VUM is VMware’s recommended method.

However, in most enterprise environments, ESXi hosts are commodity items – by this I mean all VM data (and even ISOs) are stored on shared datastores on SAN/NAS etc. In this case, you can achieve a “clean slate” installation by using the installation DVD to perform a fresh installation with the original addressing information. Consider the use of host profiles to “backup” the host configuration before you start (requires Enterprise Plus licencing).

You can also use scripted upgrades, using Auto Deploy or the esxcli command, see here for further information on supported methods. I’m lazy, so I’m using VUM.

Using VUM to upgrade your hosts

As noted above, VUM is the recommended method of upgrading hosts to the latest version of ESXi. In terms of supported prior versions of ESXi, if you’re version 5.x or above, you’re pretty much in clover. Anything older than that is basically a fresh new installation. That’s not all bad, depending of course on how many hosts you have to get through. Remember to check the VMware HCL to ensure your host hardware is supported with ESXi 6.0 and if you can, obtain the custom vendor ISO for ESXi for the best level of driver support and functionality. At the time of writing however, I was only able to find the HP version of the custom ISO (as you can see below), so I will have to use the GA ISO to upgrade my PowerEdge. Hurry up, Dell!


Once you have obtained the ESXi 6.0 ISO, ensure your VUM plugin in the vSphere Client is installed and enabled (and one step I haven’t specifically called out is to ensure you upgrade your vSphere Client to version 6.0 before you start this part. Reports of it’s demise have been somewhat premature!).  You can check this by going to the Plugins menu and selecting Manage Plugins.., you should see something similar to the following:-


If you have a prior version of the VUM plugin installed or you don’t have the plugin installed, you will have to select the “Download and install” option. This runs a brief installer and does not require a reboot nor a restart of the vSphere Client. If the installation has been successful, you’ll see the plugin enabled in the Plugin Manager and you’ll also have a button on the home screen and an extra tab on the host view.

The next step is to upload our ESXi ISO into the VUM repository and create a patch baseline. To do this, you need to go to the Home view in the vSphere Client and then click on the VUM button in the Solutions and Applications section, as shown below:-


This button takes you into the VUM management view and from here we need the ESXi Images tab, as shown below:-


And then from there, click on “Import ESXi Image” as shown above. Browse to and select the ESXi 6.0 ISO you downloaded, click next to start the import process and you should see the following progress dialog. This only usually takes a couple of minutes or so.


If the import has been successful, you’ll see the following dialog:-


We now need to create an upgrade patch baseline from this ISO so we can add it to our hosts to be upgraded. Leave the “create a baseline” option ticked and give it a meaningful name, as shown below:-


And click “Finish”. All being well, you should now have both the ISO imported and the baseline created, as shown below:-


So now we have imported our ISO and we have created a baseline. Now we need to associate this baseline with an object to be upgraded. We basically have three choices here – we can apply the baseline at datacenter level, cluster level or we can apply the baseline at individual host level. I’m going to go for the first option, just so I can call out some differences between the options. To apply the baseline to the datacenter object, select the datacenter object in the vSphere Client, select the Update Manager tab and click the Attach.. button on the far right, as shown below:-


As you can see, my datacenter has no baselines already attached. In the “Attach baseline or Group” dialog, you should see the upgrade baseline we created earlier. Tick the box and tick “Attach” as shown below:-


Once you have attached the patch baseline to the datacenter object, the view in Update Manager should change. You will see the hosts added and a 0% compliance report. This is because we haven’t yet run a scan against the host to check what version of ESXi already exists and if the host is compatible with the ESXi 6.0 upgrade. Next, select your hosts and click the “Scan..” button in the top right.


In our case we just want to scan against upgrade baselines, so be sure to tick this box in the “Confirm Scan” dialog:-


Click the “Scan” button and VUM will go off and query each host in turn for their compliance against the ESXi 6.0 upgrade baseline we created. This should only take a couple of minutes per host. Once the scan is complete, you should see new information in the VUM tab. In my case, my host as come back as “Incompatible”, which doesn’t surprise me in the least as this host hardware is prehistoric by any measure. However, I can still force the upgrade to run if I know the installer will complete successfully. This isn’t strictly supported by VMware, but all this basically means is that only current generations of servers are tested by VMware and their partners for HCL purposes. To recertify every piece of server hardware for each new release of ESXi does not make sense. This does not however mean that your server can’t run ESXi 6.0, I suggest you test it on some development kit first before moving forward. In my lab, I don’t care!


As you can see in the above graphic, my host is older than Bruce Forsyth and as such comes back as non compliant in VUM. No surprises there. In order to force this upgrade through, I can hit the “Remediate” button to force the upgrade to start. I have seen in the field some HCL certified kit come back as incomplete, so sometimes you do need to know how to do this to get the upgrade done. This in turn starts a 6 step wizard to push the upgrade down to the host via VUM. First up, we need to select which hosts and which baseline to use, as below:-


Then we thoroughly read and agree to the software EULA:-


The next step is “signing the death warrant”. If this goes toes up, that’s down to you! Check the box to ignore warnings and in my case, hope my offline backups are good!


Then we give the task a name and description (you can call it anything you like, really) and schedule when this upgrade should be done. I’m going to do it immediately, because I just can’t wait for ESXi 6.0 goodness!


In the final configuration step, I need to tell VUM what to do if there are running VMs on the host to be upgraded. Normally you wouldn’t change anything here as really you should already have your host in maintenance mode before you target it with the upgrade. As my vCenter appliance is on the host to be upgraded, I need to be slightly more creative and get vCenter to power VMs off.


Then one last sanity check before we hit the chicken switch…


And off we went. However, big problems lay ahead. VUM spat out my upgrade saying the CPU in my host was not compatible. OK, fair enough. I did buy it from Fred Flintstone! What I did instead was to burn the ESXi 6.0 ISO to CD and boot it off the physical DVD drive in the host. This way I can basically tell the installer I don’t care about compatibility and support issues, I’m going to bear the risk of it all turning to toast.

First off, I booted from the CD and as the files were copying (black screen with yellow thin progress bar at the top), I got the error “Error loading /s.v00 Fatal error: 6 (Buffer too small)” and the whole thing just stopped. I didn’t get it – the MD5 matched the VMware download site! I downloaded the ISO again, but this time I performed a “direct” download rather than using the Download Manager. The MD5 matched again, I burned a new CD and this time it all worked just fine.

Even though the installer complained bitterly about the host CPU, CPU virtualisation modes and a PCI device not being supported, it all seems to work just fine. The host booted and my vCenter appliance auto started as usual. For completeness, time to go back into VUM and validate my upgrade. To do this, select the host, go to the Update Manager tab and select “Scan” again, as previously. This should take just a minute or so, and then we get what we were hoping for. Green!


So now we have vCenter at 6.0 and ESXi at 6.0. Not without a few niggles, but that’s just a consequence of using such old hardware. The moral of the story for me is that it’s high time I gave my boxen an overhaul. Finally, as a last piece of housekeeping, I’m going to validate the status of my vSphere Client plug-ins :-


It seems everyone is happy except Mr Auto Deploy. I don’t use Auto Deploy in my lab, but red errors kind of piss me off anyway. I performed a quick Google and found a blog post by Kyle Gleed that tells you how to fix this. You simply start the Auto Deploy service on the appliance as it’s disabled by default. God bless the internet. However, Kyle’s instructions reference a management interface to the appliance which is no longer used in 6.0. In order to configure appliance based services, you must login to the Web Client as an administrator and enable it from there.

In the main Web Client home screen, click on the “Administration” button on the left and navigate down to Deployment/System Configuration as shown below:-


Then click “Services”..


And then right click on “Auto Deploy”.. and select “Edit Startup Type”..



Select the Startup Type, depending on how you want the service to start on appliance boot – I’m choosing “Automatic“and click OK..


And then manually start the service by right clicking again on “Auto Deploy” and selecting “Start”..


I then go back into Plugin Manager, enable the Auto Deploy plugin (accepting any certificate warnings) and we should be free of errors!


As a side effect, we also have a nice button added to the home screen:-



So there we go, we now have an upgraded vCenter Server and ESXi host. I wouldn’t advise forcing the upgrade through the way I did unless you have nothing to lose – i.e. it’s a test lab or something non production. If the host hardware you are installing to is HCL listed, you should whizz through a VUM focused upgrade just fine.

If you get any odd errors in the Web Client, try deleting your browser cache and also the Flash Player cache from Control Panel. There could be something caught up in there from 5.x days.

Next stop is upgrades to the virtual machines – virtual hardware and VMware Tools. That is to come in Part III !



Upgrading the home lab Part I : vCenter Server

vSphere 6.0 has finally shipped, so I decided to take the plunge and upgrade the home lab to vSphere 6.0. In the next couple of posts, I’ll outline the steps required to perform the upgrade, plus any issues I encountered along the way. I think most people know that most articles I write are focused around VDI, so let me express this straight out of the gate. vSphere 6.0 does not support Horizon View until release 6.1. So basically, don’t upgrade any environments to vSphere 6.0 where View is in use, stuff will probably break. When is View 6.1 out? I don’t have a clue right now, but seeing as the release notes have been posted up, I can’t imagine it’s too far away.

If you’re project planning and you need to have certified upgrade paths (I know some project documentation requires this in some companies), the current (at the time of writing) interoperability matrix result is shown below:-

Compatibility Matrix


So my home lab is a very simple affair indeed. It comprises a single host which is a Dell PowerEdge 1435SC with 32GB RAM and two Opteron processors. Old hat I know, but it gets the job done. For those wondering how I deal with power management on such old kit, it’s simple. I turn the bugger off when I’m not using it! As I’m often on the road, I don’t see a lot of value having the beast humming away in the attic when I’m not around to use it.

Anyway, that aside, it’s currently on ESXi 5.5 U2 and runs the vCenter Server Appliance. I chose the appliance because it’s quick and simple, and I don’t have to faff around with Windows licenses. I know Linux quite well, so I don’t have any fear knocking around on the command line. In vSphere 6.0, the back end architecture of vCenter changes somewhat. If you recall, in vCenter 4.x and 5.0, everything was pretty much just baked into one installer. In vSphere 5.1 and 5.5, Single Sign On was broken out (and made good in 5.5!), as was the Inventory Service to provide a more modular environment should you wish to break things out a little for scalability and to mitigate the “all eggs in one basket” factor.

Further to that, vCenter 6.0 now has the concept of the “Platform Controller”.  Put simply, the Platform Controller are infrastructure or access services such as SSO, License Service, Lookup Service and the Certificate Authority. vCenter Server is basically everything else, so Inventory Service, PostgreSQL, Web Client, Dump Collector, et al. For my simple purposes, I’m just going to upgrade from my current vCenter 5.5 appliance to the 6.0 appliance, I don’t really need to start making the design overly complex. In fact, because it is just a lab environment, I’m not massively bothered if the upgrade process blows up, I can just rebuild from scratch. Obviously in a live environment, I’d be slightly more circumspect!

One important caveat to note is in the VMware documentation:-

You cannot switch the models after deployment, which means that after you deploy vCenter Server with an embedded Platform Services Controller, you cannot switch to vCenter Server with an external Platform Services Controller, and the reverse.

For full information of the pros and cons of either method, please refer to the product documentation. I’m not going to go into that level of detail here. What is reassuring for me with my one host and a dozen VMs is the following comment in the documentation:-

vCenter Server with an embedded Platform Services Controller is suitable for most environments.

Cool, I feel kind of validated now. I couldn’t see at first blush how the sizing of your environment effects your design decision, I suspect it’s more to do with geographical constraints, multiple vCenters and other VMware products that integrate with it, such as vRealise Automation. More on that in the future once I understand it better!

The Appliance Upgrade Process

The process of upgrading your vCenter appliance from 5.x to 6.0 is actually more of a migration than an upgrade. In essence what you’re doing is spinning up a new appliance as 6.0 with temporary IP address information, using SSH to copy over the database from the source 5.x appliance (and historical data if you so choose), changing the target appliance’s IP address to the source’s address and then dropping the source 5.x appliance.

Meeting Prerequisites

As you might expect, there are several prerequisites to be met before actually copying over any files or making any changes. First and foremost – have a backup and no, a snapshot is not a backup! By all means take a snapshot of your vCenter Server prior to starting the process, but have a block based backup too, whether that’s via Veeam or any other backup method. Don’t rely on snapshots. If you do, you’re upgrade deserves to fail!

Again the product documentation is the best place to refer to, as I’m sure over time these will change as experiences come back from the field when the product is being deployed. Once pre-requisites have been met, we’re hot to trot and ready to install our vCenter Server 6.0 appliance.

Download the appliance ISO file from MyVMware (at the time of writing this is VMware-VCSA-all-6.0.0-2562643.iso) and you may notice from the off we’re not downloading an OVA/OVF as we did previously. This is because the upgrade method is slightly different. Instead we’re going to take the ISO and mount it locally on our Windows machine (if you’re on Windows 8.1, you can right click and select Mount to mount the ISO to your DVD drive) as shown below:-



Alternatively, you can right click and extract with 7-Zip (for example) and create a source directory of files. However, for my purposes, I’m going to keep it simple and mount the ISO in Windows. Once mounted, we need to navigate to the DVD drive and go to the \vcsa folder. In here is the installer for the Client Integration Plugin, which we will need for this process. As a good habit, don’t forget to right click the installer and select “Run as Administrator”, as shown below:-


You’ll need to close any running browsers as plugins are installed, and then step through the simple installer, which should take just a minute or so. Once this install is complete, no reboot should be required and we can jump back into the root of the installation DVD and run the main installer vcsa-setup.html. I ran this with IE, I don’t know how well it works with other browsers. You will need the browser plugin access to start the installer, so click “Allow” (if you’re using IE):-


You should then be greeted with the option to install or upgrade. If you don’t see this screen, go back and check your client integration plugin installation (a reboot may help):-


Time for another quick sanity check at this point that the pre-requisites have truly been met. In my case I’m running a 5.5 version of the virtual appliance, as shown below:-



so I’m good to go:-


Now to the meat and potatoes of the installer itself, and a nine part wizard now has to be negotiated in order to kick the upgrade process off. First up is the usual EULA. I read this thoroughly (twice!) and consider myself happy with it and click “I accept..” and click Next:-


Next I need to input details of the ESXi host to which I’d like to push out the new virtual appliance. Note the caveats listed at the bottom of this step – disable lockdown or maintenance mode and if you’re using a VDS, initial deployment of the appliance must be to an ephemeral port group. Click Next:-


Accept the certificate warning by clicking Yes in order to continue:-


Your host credentials will then be validated as shown below:-


Step 3 is setting up the appliance name and SSH options. I’m calling mine the highly imaginative and original name of “vCenter” and I’m turning SSH on because it’s a lab and I’m not massively fussed about security. In the real world, leave this disabled unless you specifically need it. Click Next to proceed.


Step 4 is configuring the source information for the migration, so your existing vCenter Server. In this screen you need to enter IP/DNS details of the current appliance, version number, your administrator@vsphere.local SSO password (and if you’re a buffoon like me and forgot what the password was, you can reset it using this KB!), the root password for the appliance and host information along similar lines. You can optionally choose to migrate performance and other historical data. I’m going to enable this option, and I can’t think of any great reason in the real world why you wouldn’t do this (unless your database is mah-oosive). Before you proceed, check the caveats at the bottom of the page – that lockdown mode and maintenance mode is disabled and the source appliance’s DRS setting is disabled so it doesn’t move off that source host part way through. Click Next:-


Once the credentials have been accepted, take care to check the information presented to you on what happens post upgrade. The new appliance will inherit the old appliance’s IP address. Also make sure no firewalls prevent SSH access between both appliances as this is the transfer method used during the migration/upgrade. The installer will start the SSH process will be started on the source appliance if it is not already running. Click Yes:-


In step 5, we have the choice of choosing what size appliance we’d like. This is pretty similar to the Windows based installation and helps determine JVM heap sizes are set appropriately, amongst other things. I feel quite inadequate choosing the “Tiny” option, but it is what it is and I have no requirement to go any bigger than that. Size clearly is everything in this case. Make your selection as appropriate and click Next:-


Step 6 is choosing which datastore you’d like the appliance to go on. I’m going to choose the one with the most available space and I’m also going to thin provision it. This appliance won’t be doing a great deal in my lab and the datastore isn’t likely to fill up quickly, so I have no real need to thick provision here. Click Next:-


Step 7 is the creation of some temporary network details for the new appliance as this is a migration really as opposed to an in place upgrade. In this step, we should pick the same port group as the source appliance and use the same subnet as well if possible, especially if the data migration is going to be large. My database is small and it’s a single host, so speed shouldn’t be an issue. Fill out the details appropriate to your environment and click Next:-


Step 8 is the “Ready to complete” or final sanity check. Review the information presented and check for typos, wrong IP addresses, what size appliance you need (sometimes “Tiny” just ain’t enough!) and when you’re happy, click Finish:-


All being well, the process should start by initiating the appliance deployment to your ESXi host as below:-


You can also monitor what is going on by connecting to the ESXi host with your vSphere Client and clicking on the “Events” tab of your target appliance, you should see something similar to below:-


And some while later, I was greeted with the following screen. The process took around an hour, but bear in mind this is a “tiny” and simple deployment. Larger enterprises should budget a lot more time for this process when migrating between appliances:-


I double checked my “old” appliance has been powered off, and the new appliance is up with the original appliance’s identity:-


Once the install is completed, you may like to perform some housekeeping before you put the appliance into production. By default, my appliance came up with the DNS name localhostI don’t really want that, so I quickly logged into the appliance console to change it. Something you may notice that’s new is that the vCenter appliance has now been set to behave just like an ESXi host, so once you press F2 to customise the system and entered the root password, the menu structure should be something that’s pretty familiar:-


I like that VMware use a different colour scheme on the appliance to save any confusion with connecting with an ESXi host. Even though you can see it’s the appliance at the bottom of the screen, with many screens open it may help prevent costly mistakes! To go back to the original housekeeping, go into Configure Management Network and then DNS Configuration. Input the appropriate values for your appliance, as shown below:-


I also like to disable IPv6, though there is a mixed bag of opinion on this. I say if you don’t use it, don’t enable it. However, this is a subjective thing and purely optional. To disable IPv6, go into Configure Management Network and then into IPv6 Configuration. To disable it, hit the space bar to uncheck the box as shown below and restart your appliance.


Once rebooted, you can see we’re up to vCenter 6.0!


Post upgrade issues

I have only really come across two issues so far – firstly I got an “Error #1009” which I cleared by deleting cookies etc from my web browser (and also upgrading the Flash Player in Firefox to the latest version).

As you can also see from the above screen shot, I was having issues with the Client Integration Plug-In. It was definitely installed from when we started the migration process, and all three browsers I had reported the issue (IE11, Firefox, Chrome) so I uninstalled the plug-in from Add/Remove Programs, rebooted, downloaded the plug-in again from the Web Client login page, installed it and as you can see below, all was good:-



In conclusion, I’d say well done to VMware for streamlining the upgrade process for the vCenter appliance. Yes, it has a couple of quirks and yes you should ensure all pre-reqs are met, but by and large I was pretty impressed with the whole process. Next up, my ESXi host….!