Category Archives: General

A New Direction …A New Company …A New Role

Three and a half years ago I was given a brilliant opportunity to join what was at the time Australia’s leading vCloud Powered Service Provider…Zettagrid. At that time I talked about needing direction in my career and the opportunity to join Zettagrid was undeniably one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Fast forward to today and there is no doubt that Zettagrid has extended it’s lead as the premier vCloud Air Network provider, not only in Australia, but also in ANZ and beyond.

I’ve been lucky to work with a tremendous team that pushes the envelope when it comes to automation and innovation and we have been able to produce a number of great products over the past three and half years as well as grow Zettagrid into a mature and respected IaaS provider with a rock solid platform and great customer success.

In a nutshell Zettagrid do great things with great technology by taking leading vendor technologies and automating around those vendor products to create new service offerings for Zettagrid customers to consume. One of those leading vendor’s is Veeam and it’s with great excitement (and indeed a touch of sadness) that I can finally announce that I will be leaving Zettagrid today to start a new role at Veaam as a Technical Evangelist in the Technical Product Marketing & Evangelism team headed by Rick Vanover.

The role will be focused on Veeam’s Service Provider market and will allow me to continue the great work I’ve been able to achieve with the talented team at Zettagrid in bringing to market Veeam Cloud Connect and Veeam Cloud Connect Replication as well as working with Veeam Cloud Service Providers to continue to use the whole Veeam Availability Suite to protect workloads and ensure they are always on.

When Veeam announced their vision for the next generation of availability in August I was more than impressed with what I saw…for the first time I understood the bigger picture and also saw a company that was more than just about backing up VMs.

The vision is there to see in the graphic above and Veeam Cloud Connect and Service Provider technologies are core to what Veeam wants to achieve. In addition to that, the company has reinvested in developing around vCloud Director and is about to launch a game changing self service, multi-tenant portal for vCloud Director in Veeam 9.5. In addition to the cloud and service provider angle, the opportunity to work in Rick Vanover‘s team that contains people of which I have huge respect for in the industry in addition to have the opportunity to work with Veeam’s Product and Engineering teams meant this was a role I had to seriously consider.

Technical marketing and content creation is something that I have gravitated towards and I am going to enjoy the challenge of stepping a little bit out of my existing technical comfort zone. Certainly this role will expand my current technical and product space beyond VMware technologies and I’ll have to dust off my old Microsoft Hyper-V skills and not be so quick to write off (sic) Azure.

In terms of what this means for my work in and around the vCloud Air Network of which am extremely passionate about…this role should and will allow me to interact with more people within the vCAN and I get to continue working with vCloud Director and other VMware technologies. This won’t change the drive that I have to ensure the vCAN continues to grow…and as you have hopefully read over the past week, the passion remains strong…and will remain strong!

To the team at Zettagrid and all who have made the last three and half years enjoyable, rewarding and above all extremely satisfying…I thank you. I expect the company to continue to innovate in the space and start to branch out beyond Australia and become a true powerhouse in IaaS as well as Backup and DR as a Service.

Change is not only the only constant in life, it’s one that has to be embraced and I look forward to starting on the next chapter of my career with Veeam.

#LongLivevCD

VMware on AWS: vCloud Director and What Needs to be Done to Empower the vCAN

Last week VMware and Amazon Web Services officially announced their new joint venture whereby VMware technology will be available to run as a service on AWS in the form of bare-bones hardware with vCenter, ESXi, NSX and VSAN as the core VMware technology components. This isn’t some magic whereby ESXi is nested or emulated upon the existing AWS platform, but a fully fledged dedicated virtual datacenter offering that clients can buy through VMware and have VMware manage the stack right up to the core vCenter components.

Earlier in the week I wrote down some thoughts around the possible impact to the vCloud Air Network this new offering could have. While at first glance it would appear that I was largely negative towards the announcement, after having a think about the possible implications I started to think about how this could be advantageous for the vCloud Air Network. What it comes down to is how much VMware was to open up the API’s for all components hosted on AWS and how the vCloud Director SP product team develops around those API’s.

From there it will be on vCloud Air Network partners that have the capabilities to tap into the VMC’s. I believe there is an opportunity here for vCAN Service Providers to go beyond offering just IaaS and combine their offerings with the VMware AWS offering as well as help extend out to offer AWS PaaS without the worry that traditional VM workloads will be migrated to AWS.

For this to happen though VMware have to do something they haven’t done in the past…that is, commit to making sure vCAN providers can cash in on the opportunity and be empowered by the opportunity to grow VMware based services… as I mentioned in my original post:

In truth VMware have been very slow…almost reluctant to pass over features that would allow this cross cloud compatibility and migration be even more of a weapon for the vCAN by holding back on features that allowed on-premises vCenter and Workstation/Fusion connect directly to vCloud Air endpoints in products such as Hybrid Cloud Manager. I strongly believed that those products should have been extended from day zero to have the ability to connect to any vCloud Director endpoint…it wasn’t a stretch for that to occure as it is effectively the same endpoint but for some reason it was strategically labeled as a “coming soon” feature.

Extending vCloud Director SP:

I have taken liberty to extend the VMWonAWS graphic to include what I believe should be the final puzzle in what would make the partnership sit well with existing vCloud Air Network providers…that is, allow vCloud Director SP to bridge the gap between the on-premises compute, networking and storage and the AWS based VMware platform infrastructure.

vCloud Director is a cloud management platform that abstracts physical resources from vCenter and interacts with NSX to build out networking resources via the NSX Manager API’s…with that it’s not hard in my eyes to allow any exposed vCenter or NSX Manager to be consumed by vCloud Director.

With that allowed, any AWS vCenter dedicated instance can become a Virtual Datacenter object in vCloud Director and consumed by an organisation. For vCloud Air Network partners who have the ability to programatically interact with the vCloud Director APIs, this all of a sudden could open up another 70+ AWS locations on which to allow their customers to deploy Virtual Datacenters.

Take that one step further and allow vCD to overlay on-premises compute and networking resources and then allow connectivity between all locations via NSX hybridity and you have a seriously rock solid solution that extends a customer on-premises to a more conveniently placed (remember AWS isn’t everywhere) vCloud Air Network platform that can in turn consume/burst into a VMware Dedicated instance on AWS and you now have something that rivals the much hyped Hybrid Cloud Strategy of Microsoft and the Azure Stack.

What Needs to Happen:

It’s pretty simple…VMware need to commit to continued/accelerated development of vCloud Director SP (which has already begun in earnest) and give vCloud Air Network providers the ability to consume both ways…on-premises and on VMware’s AWS platform. VMware need to grant this capability to vCloud Air Network providers from the outset and not play the stalling game that was apparent when it came to feature parity with vCloud Air.

What I have envisioned isn’t far off becoming a reality…vCloud Director is mature and extensible enough to do what I have described above, and I believe that in my recent dealings with the vCloud Director product and marketing teams at VMworld US earlier this year that there is real belief in the team that the cloud management platform will continue to improve and evolve…if VMware allow it to.

Further improving on vCloud Directors maturity and extensibility, if the much maligned UI is improved as promised…with the upcoming addition of full NSX integration completing the network stack, the next step in greater adoption beyond the 300 odd vCAN SPs currently use vCloud Director needs a hook…and that hook should be VMWonAWS.

Time will tell…but there is huge potential here. VMware need to deliver to their partners in order to have that VMWonAWS potential realised.

 

#300

Virtualization is Life! has hit post #300 and I thought I’d take this opportunity to list through some numbers and top posts since I launched this blog as Hosting is Life! back in April of 2012. Before going through the listing below I’d like to thank the extended VMware Virtualization Community for allowing me to create content that I hope is useful for anyone that comes across it. I love blogging around great technology and I’m extremely lucky to have fallen into an industry that not only has great technology, great technology companies, but also great people.

Blog Tag Post Numbers:

Top 5 Posts All Time:

  1. vSphere 6.0 vCenter Server Appliance: Upgrading from 5.x
  2. How-To: vCenter 5.1 SSO Adding AD Identity Source
  3. Quick Post: E1000 vs VMXNET3
  4. NSX Edge vs vShield Edge: Part 1 – Feature and Performance Matrix
  5. ESXi 5.5 Update 2: vMotion Fails at 14% with Stale Admission Control and VM Reservations

Top 5 Posts of 2016:

  1. vSphere 6.0 vCenter Server Appliance: Upgrading from 5.x
  2. NSX Edge vs vShield Edge: Part 1 – Feature and Performance Matrix
  3. ESXi Bugs – VMware Can’t Keep Letting This Happen!
  4. Nutanix Buying PernixData: My Critical Analysis
  5. CBT Bugs – VMware Can’t Keep Letting This Happen!

Top 5 vBlog Site Referrers All Time:

  1. virtuallyghetto.com
  2. vmwareblogs.com
  3. yellow-bricks.com
  4. theregister.co.uk
  5. blog.scottlowe.org

Again, thanks to all that read what I put out and especially those who work in and around vCloud Director, NSX and Veeam. Hopefully I can continue to create and…

#LongLivevCD

The Anatomy of a vBlog Part 2: Plugins, Site Optimizations and Analytics

Part 1 – Building a Blogging Platform

Having looked at hosting platform and operating system suggestions in Part 1, to conclude this two part series I’ll talk about how to make WordPress work harder for you through its plugin ecosystem as well as go through the site optimizations and caching improvements offered by CloudFlare. To finish off I’ll talk about GoSquared which is an external analytics engines that keeps track of site visitors and page views.

WordPress Plugins:

WordPress having been the defacto blogging engine for a number of years now has enabled a whole ecosystem of free and paid for plugins that are used to enhance the usability of your WordPress site. Think about these plugins similar to IOS Apps in that, just like just like the App Store they are easily searchable and installable from the Administration Plugin Menu and for better or worse…they are ultimately what keep you invested the WordPress platform…just like Apps on the iPhone.

In terms of plugin management, the WordPress platform makes it easy to install, configure and upgrade all the plugin from the one menu page. Up to this point I haven’t had any major issues with the plugins I use even. In terms of what plugins I use to help improve the readability, usability and socialability of the site, I’ve listed the plugins I consider core to this site below:

  • CloudFlare: Integrates your blog with the CloudFlare platform.
  • Crayon Syntax Highlighter: A Syntax Highlighter built in PHP and jQuery that supports customizable languages and themes.
  • GoSquared: Add GoSquared tracking code directly to your WordPress site.
  • Image Formatr: A simple plugin that goes through all the content images on posts & pages, and with zero user changes
  • Jetpack: Simplifies managing WordPress sites by giving you visitor stats, security services, speeding up images, and helping you get more traffic. Jetpack is a free plugin
  • Revive Old Post: Helps you to keeps your old posts alive by sharing them and driving more traffic to them from social networks. It also helps you to promote your content.
  • Yoast SEO: Written from the ground up by Joost de Valk and his team at Yoast to improve your site’s SEO on all needed aspects

TIP: Take a look at what features paid for plugins offer over free ones. Just like any software, you will always find an open/free alternative. Some plugins will also come in a lite version with certain features locked to a paid for version.

CloudFlare Optimizations:

As a new blog is starting off the amount of traffic hitting the site is generally small so having the site directly exposed on the internet isn’t usually a problem, however as your site grows you may need to consider fronting the site with a caching or performance engine. Security should also be a consideration to help protect you blog against malicious attacks or code vulnerabilities and exploits.

In the early days of the internet Akamai dominated web geocaching services and a lot of the world’s largest high volume sites used them to improved user experience and protect origin servers from traffic spikes. CloudFlare offers similar services to Akamai, but they do things differently… Their story is worth a read to get an idea of where they came from and what they are trying to achieve. https://www.cloudflare.com/our-story

CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks. On average, a website on CloudFlare:

  • Loads twice as fast
  • Uses 60% less bandwidth
  • Has 65% fewer requests
  • Is way more secure

CloudFlare can be used regardless of your choice in platform. Setup takes most about five to ten minutes. Adding a website requires your domain’s DNS records to be hosted at CloudFlare (for free) and then make a couple of adjustments to the origin URL’s of your site and have the domain NS records point at CloudFlare’s name servers. A, AAAA, and CNAME records can have their traffic routed through the CloudFlare system. The core service is free and they do offer enhanced services for websites who need extra features like real time reporting or SSL.

As you can see below, CloudFlare offers a number of tweaking options, most of which are available on the free plan.

The efficiency in terms of bandwidth savings is also significant

The Firewall features is also impressive and works to block IP addresses trying to cause issues and launch brute force attacks on sections of the WorpdPress site such as /wp-admin

Having CloudFlare front your site is a no brainier and given that there is a very feature rich’s free version that is extremely effective its something to configure for all blogging sites. Or to add to your existing site. For a look at the specific plan capabilities, click here.

TIP: Comment SPAM can be a significant PITA for bloggers, and in the early days I would spend ten to thirty minutes a week cleaning up unmoderated comments. With CloudFlare in play the amount of comment SPAM has dropped down to almost non-existent levels.

GoSqaured Analytics:

GoSquared takes what JetPack does and elevates it to another level. This is one of the few external services that I have no trouble paying for because, as someone who loves numbers and trend analytics it delivers everything I need to keep tabs of what’s happening on the site. GoSquared offers real time stats on site visitors and as shown below gives you deep insights into not only, where people are visiting you site from, but a lot about what platform they are using to browse.

It works by downloading the WordPress plugin and entering the tracker code that in turn injects a bit of code onto every page from which the live tracking stats are received. They also have a free plan option, but it’s worth looking at the paid plans as your site grows.

https://www.gosquared.com/plans/

TIP: By looking at the site visit graphs you will start to get a feel for when your site is most accessed and from where the site visits occur. From this you will be able to deduct the best time for which to publish a new blog post.

Conclusion:

I hope this two part series has been helpful in breaking down the obvious and less obvious components of a blogging site and more specifically the Virtualization is Life! site that is running WordPress. As mention in Part 1, there is no right answer to what blogging platform is best, however my preference is to keep things under total control all while having a simple and efficient platform from which to create and distribute content. The tools that I have mentioned that go on top of the WordPress site are also vital in keeping things ticking over.

Hope this was useful for some!

The Anatomy of a vBlog Part 1: Building a Blogging Platform

Earlier this week my good friend Matt Crape sent out a Tweet lamenting the fact that he was having issues uploading media to WordPress…shortly after that tweet went out Matt wasn’t short of Twitter and Slack vCommunity advice (follow the Twitter conversation below) and there where a number of options presented to Matt on how best to host his blogging site Matt That IT Guy.

Over the years I have seen that same question of “which platform is best” pop up a fair bit and thought it a perfect opportunity to dissect the anatomy of Virtualization is Life!. The answer to the specific question as to which blogging platform is best doesn’t have a wrong or right answer and like most things in life the platform that you use to host your blog is dependent on your own requirements and resources. For me, I’ve always believed in eating my own dog food and I’ve always liked total end to end control of sites that I run. So while, what I’m about to talk about worked for me…you might like to look at alternative options but feel free to borrow on my example as I do feel it gives bloggers full flexibility and control.

Brief History:

Virtualization is Life! started out as Hosting is Life! back in April of 2012 and I choose WordPress at the time mainly due to it’s relatively simple installation and ease of use. The site was hosted on a Windows Hosting Platform that I had built at Anittel, utilizing WebsitePanel on IIS7.5, running FastCGI to serve the PHP content. Server backend was hosted on a VMware ESX Cluster out of the Anittel Sydney Zones. The cost of running this site was approximately $10 US per month.

Tip: At this stage the site was effectively on a shared hosting platform which is a great way to start off as the costs should be low and maintenance and uptime should be included in the hosters SLA.

Migration to Zettagrid:

When I started at Zettagrid, I had a whole new class of virtual infrastructure at my hands and decided to migrate the blog to one of Zettagrid’s Virtual DataCenter products where I provisioned a vCloud Director vDC and created a vApp with a fresh Ubuntu VM inside. The migration from a Windows based system to Linux went smoother than I thought and I only had a few issues with some character maps after restoring the folder structure and database.

The VM it’s self is configured with the following hardware specs:

  • 2 vCPU (5GHz)
  • 4GB vRAM
  • 20GB Storage

As you can see above the actual usage pulled from vCloud Director shows you how little resource a VM with a single WordPress instance uses. That storage number actually represents the expanded size of a thin provisioned disk…actual used on the file system is less than 3GB, and that is with four and a half years and about 290 posts worth of media and database content  I’ll go through site optimizations in Part 2, but in reality the amount of resources required to get you started is small…though you have to consider the occasional burst in traffic and work in a buffer as I have done with my VM above.

The cost of running this Virtual Datacenter in Zettagrid is approx $120 US per month.

TipEven though I am using a vCloud Director vDC, given the small resource requirements initially needed a VPS or instance based service might be a better bet. Azure/AWS/Google all offer instance based VM instances, but a better bet might be a more boutique provider like DigitalOcean.

Networking and Security:

From a networking point of view I use the vShield/NSX Edge that is part of vCloud Director as my Gateway device. This handles all my DHCP, NAT and Firewall rules and is able to handle the site traffic with ease. If you want to look at what capabilities the vShield/NSX Edges can do, check out my NSX Edge vs vShield Series. Both the basic vShield Edges and NSX Edges have decent Load Balancing features that can be used in high availability situations if required.

As shown below I configured the Gateway rules from the Zettagrid MyAccount Page but could have used the vCloud Director UI. For a WordPress site, the following services should be configured at a minimum.

  • Web (HTTP)
  • Secure Web (HTTPS)
  • FTP (Locked down to only accept connections from specific IPs)
  • SSH (Locked down to only accept connections from specific IPs)

OS and Web Platform Details:

As mentioned above I choose Ubuntu as my OS of choice to run Wordpress though any Linux flavour would have done the trick. Choosing Linux over Windows obviously means you save on the Microsoft SPLA costs associated with hosting a Windows based OS…the savings should be around $20-$50 US a month right there. A Linux distro is a personal choice so as long as you can install the following modules it doesn’t really matter which one you use.

  • SSH
  • PHP
  • MySQL
  • Apache
  • HTOP

The only thing I would suggest is that you use a long term support distro as you don’t want to be stuck on a build that can’t be upgraded or patched to protect against vulnerability and exploits. Essentially I am running a traditional LAMP stack, which is Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP built on a minimal install of Ubuntu with only SSH enabled. The upkeep and management of the OS and LAMP stack is not much and I would estimate that I have spent about five to ten hours a year since deploying the original server dealing with updates and maintenance. Apache as a web server still performs well enough for a single blog site, though I know many that made the switch to NGINX and use the LEMP Stack.

The last package on this list is a personal favorite of mine…HTOP is an interactive process viewer for Unix systems that can be installed with a quick apt-get install htop command. As shown below it has a detailed interface and is much better than trying to work through standard top.

TipIf you don’t want to deal with installing the OS or installing and configuring the LAMP packages, you can download a number of ready made appliances that contain the LAMP stack. Turnkey Linux offers a number of appliances that can be deployed in OVA format and have a ready made LAMP appliance as well as a ready made WordPress appliance.

That covers off the hosting and platform components of this blog…In Part 2 I will go through my WordPress install in a little more detail and look at themes and plugins as well as talk about how best to optimize a blogging site with the help of free caching and geo-distribution platforms.

References and Guides:

http://www.ubuntu.com/download/server

http://howtoubuntu.org/how-to-install-lamp-on-ubuntu

https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-install-linux-nginx-mysql-php-lemp-stack-in-ubuntu-16-04

Cross Cloud: Why The VM Shouldn’t Be The Base Unit of Measurement

I’ve been sitting on this topic since the VMworld 2016 US Keynote where VMware announced the Cross Cloud Architecture. I posted some raw thoughts the day after keynote and have been reflecting on how the Cross Cloud Platform could impact on VMware’s vCAN business. As mentioned previously I believe it’s representative of how VMware is worrying over it’s future relevance and reacting to current market fads all while ultimately worrying about how the hyper-scalers will impact their core infrastructure business.

The concept of cross cloud isn’t new and in truth a lot of vendors today are working to, or have solutions that aim to convert workloads from one platform to another. Zerto do this with their Cloud Fabric with the ability to move certain VMs from ESXi to Hyper-V, AWS and Azure and every combination in between. Veeam also have a new feature where you can restore ESXi or Hyper-V VMs to Azure…again, limited in functionality but a strong indication of what’s to come given the latest Veeam announcements.

Both Zerto and Veeam market their solutions well, however those that have been involved in V2Vs know that only under certain conditions do conversions go smoothly. There is no doubt this cross platform world is getting more reliable and more and more vendors are chasing the perfect conversion. However what Veeam and Zerto are offering is Backup and DR services that complement VM workloads either on-premises or in a cloud…the end game with these products isn’t mobility…its availability.

Focusing back on VMware it was clear to almost everyone that the Cross Cloud Platform featuring Azure and AWS workload migrations, was tech previewed to show that VMware is relevant in an enterprise multi cloud world but I am going to argue that the focus on the VM as the base unit of measurement is misguided…especially when it comes to VMware supporting it’s vCloud Air Network providers. I understand it as a necessity being able to have a class of portable applications in this new microservice and serverless world while having them transportable between multiple clouds. Again, I don’t believe the VM should be the base unit of measurement and the unit shown to be the most transportable.

Service providers need to play to their strengths, which in the vCAN world is no bill shock fixed cost IaaS workloads. This remains the base platform for a significant portion of any on-premises or cloud workload. Service providers take most of their revenue stream from compute, storage and networking that are the building blocks of instance based and resource pool offerings from which VMs can be provisioned and consumed. If you ask any service provider they would say that they would like total VM stickiness and any mechanism that aims to make VMs more portable will impact the bottom line and threatens ongoing viability.

Having customers access a VMware provided console that moves VM workloads off VMware based infrastructure and onto AWS or Azure to my mind is close to madness, and while there is an argument to suggest that cloud is the new hardware and VMware want to manage this new hardware…it still doesn’t make up for the fact that most revenue is made by having VMs staying local and not having an easy way to migrate them to platforms where smaller margins are the norm.

Going back to the point of this post around the theory that the VM shouldn’t be the base unit in a cross cloud world, I believe that for the sake of the vCAN VMware should be focusing within the VM and the applications that run within them…working towards a truly hybrid scenario whereby Platform and Feature as a Service offerings are managed, configured and operated via the Cross Cloud platform. This will help achieve a sustained revenue stream for IaaS providers that in truth, still represents the best value for money for the vast majority of critical business applications that are in existence today, all while allowing consumers the choice of going out and finding the best “As a Service” offering that specifically suits application requirements.

At the end of the day I do wonder which side of the VMware business wins out…the one that derive their revenue from Enterprise…or the one that derive their revenue from Service Providers. Unfortunately I know where the bigger revenue streams lie and that doesn’t bode well for Service Providers. It’s all about the corporate dollar after all.

Work Life Balance: My Impossible Reality

I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while but haven’t been able to articulate myself in terms of the message I wanted get across until now. This post is about work life balance and how it’s so critical to maintain. This is about not letting yourself become consumed by work and career. This is about realizing what’s important in life…what really matters.

Last year I was driving my family to see the Christmas lights a local street puts on every year. While stopped a set of traffic lights I remember my brain ticking over trying to resolve an issue at work…I can’t remember exactly what it was but it was one of those times where your brain is on a loop and you can’t switch it off. I remember looking down at my phone to check something and then drove off. The only problem was that the light was still red and I found myself half way through the intersection with traffic still cutting across.

My wife yelled and only then did I realise what I was doing…to be honest I have no idea why I took off with the light still red…I just did! Luckily the other cars had noticed my mistake and stopped before anything serious happened. This wasn’t inattention…this was total absorption. Total absorption of mind and body in whatever problem it was and the total disconnect with the task at hand. Whatever it was I was trying to work out while waiting at those lights, it had resulted in me putting my family at risk.

People that know me know that I am find it almost impossible to switch off. If I am not at work I am thinking about work or thinking about checking my Twitter stream…seeing what’s happening on Slack or trying to work out the next blog post. I have a serious and very real case of FOMO. I realise that having this addiction or for a better word, dedication to my career which doubles as my hobby which doesn’t help isn’t healthy.

The inability to switch off is a dangerous one because I find that my brain will always be ticking…consumed by whatever issue I am working on…whatever product or tech I am researching. This means that other parts of my life get relegated to the background task section of my brain…almost irrelevant and not worth wasting precious capacity on!

As that near miss has made me realise…there must be a time to switch off…a time to disconnect and move the background tasks to the foreground. Those background tasks are in fact the most important…family, health and wellbeing. I’m still not where I would like to be in regards to being able to balance this out but I’m trying to be better. Better when I come home and spending time with my wife and kids…better in trying to remained focused on them instead of relegating them to the background…better in understanding that work and career is important…but not that important that all else suffers.

I realise the irony in getting this post out while on a flight traveling away from my family for work on my MBP at 30,000 feet…but hey, at least I now recognise that 🙂

Azure Stack – Microsoft’s White Elephant?

Microsoft’s World Wide Partner Conference is currently on again in Toronto and even though my career has diverged from working on the Microsoft stack (no pun) over the past four or five years I still attend the local Microsoft SPLA monthly meetings where possible and keep a keen eye on what Microsoft is doing in the cloud and hosting spaces.

The concept of Azure Stack has been around for a while now and it entered Technical Preview early this year. Azure Stack was/is touted as an easily deployable end to end solution that gives enterprises Azure like flexibility on premises covering IaaS, PaaS and Containers. The premise of the solution is solid and Microsoft obviously see an opportunity to cash in on the private and hybrid cloud market that at the moment, hasn’t been locked down by any one vendor or solution. The end goal though is for Microsoft to have workloads that are easily transportable into the Azure Cloud.

Azure Stack is Microsoft’s emerging solution for enabling organizations to deploy private Azure cloud environments on-premises. During his Day 2 keynote presentation at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto, Scott Guthrie, head of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group, touted Azure Stack as a key differentiator for Microsoft compared to other cloud providers.

The news overnight at WPC is that apart from the delay in it’s release (which wasn’t unexpected given the delays in Windows Server 2016) Microsoft have now said that the Azure Stack will only be available via pre-validated hardware partners which means that customers can’t deploy the solution themselves meaning the stack loses flexibility.

Neil said the move is in response to feedback from customers who have said they don’t want to deal with the complexities and downtime of doing the deployments themselves. To that end, Microsoft is making Azure Stack available only through pre-validated hardware partners, instead of releasing it as a solution that customers can deploy, manage and customize.

This is an interesting and in my opinion risky move by Microsoft. There is a precedence to suggest that going down this path leads to lesser market penetration and could turn the Azure Stack into that white elephant that I suggested in a tweet and in the title of this post. You only have to look at how much of a failure VMware’s EVO:Rail product was to understand the risks of tying a platform to vendor specific hardware and support. Effectively they are now creating a Converged Infrastructure Stack with Azure bolted on where as before there was absolute freedom in enterprises being able to deploy Azure Stack into existing hardware deployments allowing for a way to realise existing costs and extending that to provide private cloud services.

As with EVO:Rail and other Validated Designs, I see three key areas where they suffer and impact customer adoption.

Validated Design Equals Cost:

If I take EVO:Rail as an example there was a premium placed on obtaining the stack through the validated vendors and this meant a huge premium on what could have been sourced independently when you took hardware, software and support costs into account. Potentially this will be the same for the Azure Stack…vendors will add their percentage for the validated design, plus ongoing maintenance. As mentioned above, there is also now the fact that you must buy new hardware (compute, network, storage) meaning any existing hardware that can and should be used for private cloud is now effectively dead weight and enterprises need to rethink long term about existing investments.

Validated Design Equals Inherit Complexity:

When you take something in-house and not let smart technical people deploy a solution my mind starts to ask the question why? I understand the argument will be that Microsoft want a consistent experience for the Azure Stack and there are other examples of controlled deployments and tight solutions (VMware NSX comes to mind in the early days) but when the market you are trying to break into is built on the premise of reduced complexity…only allowing certain hardware and partners to run and deploy your software tells me that it walks a fine line between being truly consumable and it being a black box. I’ve talked about Complex Simplicity before and this move suggests that Azure Stack was not ready or able to be given to techs to install, configure and manage.

Validated Design Equals Inflexibility:

Both of the points above lead into the suggestion that the Azure Stack looses it’s flexibility. Flexibility in the private and hybrid cloud world is paramount and the existing players like Openstack and others are extremely flexible…almost to a fault. If you buy from a vendor you loose the flexibility of choice and can then be impacted at will by costs pressures relating to maintenance and support. If the Azure stack is too complex to be self managed then it certainly looses the flexibility to be used in the service provider space…let alone the enterprise.

Final Thoughts:

Worryingly the tone of the offical Blog Announcement over the delay suggest that Microsoft is reaching to try and justify the delay and the reasoning for going down the different distribution model. You just have to read the first few comments on the blog post to see that I am not alone in my thoughts.

Microsoft is committed to ensuring hardware choice and flexibility for customers and partners. To that end we are working closely with the largest systems vendors – Dell, HPE, Lenovo to start with – to co-engineer integrated systems for production environments. We are targeting the general availability release of Azure Stack, via integrated systems with our partners, starting mid-CY2017. Our goal is to democratize the cloud model by enabling it for the broadest set of use-cases possible.

 

With the release of Azure Stack now 12+ months away Microsoft still has the opportunity to change the perception that the WPC2016 announcements has in my mind created. The point of private cloud is to drive operational efficiency in all areas. Having a fancy interface with all the technical trimmings isn’t what will make an on-premises stack gain mainstream adoption. Flexibility, cost and reduced complexity is what counts.

References:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/microsoft-azure-stack-delivering-cloud-infrastructure-as-integrated-systems/?utm_campaign=WPC+2016&utm_medium=bitly&utm_source=MNC+Microsite

https://rcpmag.com/articles/2016/07/12/wpc-2016-microsoft-delays-azure-stack.aspx

http://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-to-release-azure-stack-as-an-appliance-in-mid-2017/

http://www.techworld.com.au/article/603302/microsoft-delays-its-azure-stack-software-until-mid-2017/

Top vBlog 2016: Aussie (vMafia) Representation

The Top vBlog for 2016 Results where announced a couple of nights ago and Australia had an ok representation this year, though the number of active bloggers on the list has decreased from last year. There where 321 blogs listed at vSphere-Land.com. I know of a lot more bloggers locally so if you have a chance head over and register your site on the list ready for next year’s revamp.

http://vsphere-land.com/news/top-vblog-2016-full-results.html

I’ve pulled out the Aussie Blogs and listed them below…Those with the Rank highlighted in Red are contributors to the @aussvMafia site with myself, Craig Waters, Rene Van Den Bedem and @JoshOdgers taking out a Top 50 spots this year. Those not familiar with Aussie vMafia, head here and take advantage of one of the best aggregation sites focused on VMware Vitualization going round. Great to also see three new blogs appear in the list as well.

Blog Rank Previous Change Total Votes Total Points #1 Votes
CloudXC (Josh Odgers) 17 15 -2 189 1342 24
VCDX133 (Rene Van Den Bedem) 19 37 18 167 1284 24
Craig Waters 37 58 21 75 579 4
Virtualization is Life! (Anthony Spiteri) 44 105 61 77 544 14
Penguinpunk.net (Dan Frith) 78 229 151 52 320 2
Virtual 10 (Manny Sidhu) 82 246 164 41 303 7
Proudest Monkey (Grant Orchard) 93 98 5 45 278 1
Pragmatic IO (Brett Sinclair) 153 224 71 30 199 4
Musings of Rodos (Rodney Haywood) 214 319 105 20 140 0

Virtualization is Life! managed to jump up 61 places from last year to #44 which is a great feeling and humble reward for the work I put into this site. It also shows that there is strong interest in vCloud Director, NSX and the vCloud Air Network in general. The list of bloggers that are ranked higher (and lower) shows the extraordinary power of community generated content. There is quality throughout!

Thanks again to Eric Siebert for taking his time to go through the process and organise the voting and all the good and bad that goes with that…and thanks to all that voted!

#TopvBlog2016 #LongLivevCD

ps. Please let me know if I’ve left anyone off the list..I worked through the list in quick time so might have left someone out.

CBT Bugs – VMware Can’t Keep Letting This Happen!

[UPDATE] – VMware have released an official KB for the CBT issue.

Sadly if you recognize the title of this post it’s because this isn’t the first time I’ve felt compelled to write about the continued industry frustration with some repeat ESXi bugs. In February I wrote in general around the recent history of bugs slipping through VMware QA. Four months later and there has been another CBT bug slip through the net…just to reaffirm the core message of my last post I talked about the fact:

There are a number of competing vendors (and industry watchers) waiting to capitalize on any weakness shown in the VMware stack and with the recent number of QA issues leading to a significant bugs popping up not abating, I wonder how much longer VMware can afford to continue to slip up before it genuinely hurts its standing

The one area of absolute concern is the amount of Change Blog Tracking bugs that seems to slip into new builds of ESXi. This time it’s Express Patch 6 for ESXi 6 (Build 3825889) that contains an apparently new symptom of our old friend the CBT Bug. The patch it’s self is a fairly critical one for those running VSAN and VMXNET3 NICs as it addresses some core issues around them but if you use quiesced snapshots duing a VM Backup may have issues with CBT. The vmware.log of a VM being backed up will contain:

vcpu-0| xxxx: SNAPSHOT:SnapshotBranchDisk: Failed to acquire current epoch for disk /vmfs/volumes/
vmdk : Change tracking is not active for this disk xxx.

For a detailed explanation of the issue go to: http://www.running-system.com/take-care-express-patch-6-esxi-6-can-break-backup-cbt-bug/ 

[UPDATE]

VMware Support is aware of this issue and are currently working on it.
This KB article will be updated once the fix for this issue is released.

To work around this issue, apply one of these options:

Again as a Service Provider the CBT bugs are the most worrying because they fundamentally threaten the integrity of backup data which is not something that IT Operation staff or end users who’s data is put at risk should have to worry about and most backup vendor’s use CBT to make backups more efficient. In this case…specifically if you use Veeam the lack of CBT will extend backup windows and increase the chances of VMs not being backed up as expected.

VMware need to continue to nail ESXi (and vCenter) as well as keeping focus on the new products. VSAN, NSX and everything that VMware offers runs on or off of ESXi and though hypervisors are not as front of mind anymore, everything that VMware does relies on ESXi and VMware partners who create products to work with ESXi need it to be stable…especially around backups. Everyone needs to backup with absolute confidence…the more these CBT bugs appear the less confident pundits become…I already hear of people not wanting to go to ESXi 6.0 because of issues like such as this latest one.

That’s not a good place for VMware to be.

Note: I had sat on this post since Friday, but reading through Anton’s Veeam Community Forums Digest this morning where he lamented the lack of QC and repeat issues. He suggest’s that this is the new normal…and that maybe the thing to do is wait and hope for vSphere 6.5…not a good situation. However, like me he also believes that this can be fixed…but it needs to happen before the next release.

References:

https://kb.vmware.com/selfservice/microsites/search.do?language=en_US&cmd=displayKC&externalId=2144685

 

 

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