vSphere 6.5 – Whats in it for Service Providers Part 1

Last week after an extended period of development and beta testing VMware released vSphere 6.5. This is a lot more than a point release and is a major major upgrade from vSphere 6.0. In fact, there is so much packed into this new release that there is an official whitepaper listing all the features and enhancements that had been linked from the release notes.  I thought I would go through some of the key features and enhancements that are included in the latest versions of vCenter and ESXi and as per usual I’ll go through those improvements that relate back to the Service Providers that use vSphere as the foundation of their Managed or Infrastructure as a Service offerings.

Generally the “whats new” would fit into one post, however having gotten through just the vCenter features it became apparent that this would have to be a multi-post series…this is great news for vCloud Air Network Service Providers out there as it means there is a lot packed in for IaaS and MSPs to take advantage of.

With that, in this post will cover the following:

  • vCenter 6.5 New Features
  • vCD and NSX Compatibility
  • Current Known Issues

vCenter 6.5 New Features:

Without question the enhancements to the VCSA stand out as one of the biggest features of 6.5 and as mentioned in the whitepaper, the installer process has been overhauled and is a much smoother, streamlined experience than with previous versions. It’s also supported across more operating systems and the 6.5 version of vCenter now surpasses the Windows version offering the migration tool, native high availability and built in backup and restore. One interesting sidenote to the new VCSA is that the HTML5 vSphere Client has shipped, though it’s still very much a work in progress as a lot of unsupported functionality mentioned in the release notes…there is lots of work to do to bring it up to parity with the Flex Web Client.

In terms of the inbuilt PostGreSQL database I think it’s time that Service Providers feel confident in making the switch away from MSSQL (which was the norm with Windows based vCenters) as the enhanced VCSA Management Interface (found on port 5480) has a new monitoring screen showing information relating to disk space usage and also provides a way to gracefully start and stop the database engine.

Other vCenter enhancements that Service Providers will make use of is the High availability feature which is something a lot of people have been asking for a long time. For me, I always dealt with the no HA constraint in that vCenter may become unavailable for 5-10 minutes during maintenance or at worse an extended outage while recovering from a VM or OS level failure. Knowing that hosts and VMs are still working and responding with vCenter down leaving only core management functionality unavailable it was a risk myself and others were willing to take. However, in this day of the always on datacenter it’s expected that management functionality be as available at IaaS services…so with that, this HA feature is well welcomed for Service Providers.

This native HA solution is available exclusively for the VCSA and the solution consists of active, passive, and witness nodes that are cloned from the existing vCenter Server instance. The HA cluster can be enabled, disabled, or destroyed at any time. There is also a maintenance mode that prevents planned maintenance from causing an unwanted failover.

The VCSA Migration Tool that was previously released in 6.0 Update 2m is shipped in the VCSA ISO and can be used to migrate from Windows based 5.5 vCenter’s to the 6.5 VCSA. Again this is something that more and more service providers will take advantage of as the reliance on Windows based vCenters and MSSQL becomes more and more something that’s unwanted from a manageability and cost point of view. Throw in the enhanced features that have only been released for the VCSA and this is a migration that all service providers should be planning.

To complete the move away from any Windows based dependencies the vSphere Update Manager has also been fully integrated into the VCSA. VUM is now fully integrated into the Web Client UI and is enabled by default. For larger environments with a large numbers of hosts AutoDeploy is now fully manageable from the VCSA UI and doesn’t require PowerCLI to manage or configure it’s options. There is a new image builder included in the UI that can hit local or public repositories to pull images or drivers and there are performance enhancements during deployments of ESXi images to hosts.

vCD and NSX Compatibility:

Shifting from new features and enhancements to an important subject to talk about when talking service provider platform…VMware product compatibility. For those vCAN Service Providers running a Hybrid Cloud you should be running a combination of vCloud Director SP or/and NSX-v of which, at the moment there is no support for either in vSphere 6.5. No compatible versions of NSX are available for vSphere 6.5. If you attempt to prepare your vSphere 6.5 hosts with NSX 6.2.x, you receive an error message and cannot proceed.

I haven’t tested to see if vCloud Director SP will connect and interact with vCenter 6.5 or ESXi 6.5 however as it’s not supported I wouldn’t suggest upgrading production IaaS platforms until the interoperability matrix’s are updated.

At this stage there is no word on when either product will support vSphere 6.5 but I suspect we will see NSX-v come out with a supported build shortly…though I’m expecting vCloud Director SP to no support 6.5 until the next major version release, which is looking like the new year.

Installation and Upgrade Known Issues:

Having read through the release notes, there are also a number of known issues you should be aware of. I’ve gone through those and pulled the ones I consider the most likely to be impactful to IaaS platforms.

  • After upgrading to vCenter Server 6.5, the ESXi hosts in High Availability clusters appear as Not Ready in the VMware NSX UI
    If your vSphere environment includes NSX and clusters configured with vSphere High Availability, after you upgrade to vCenter Server 6.5, both NSX and vSphere High Availability start installing VIBs on all hosts in the clusters. This might cause installation of NSX VIBs on some hosts to fail, and you see the hosts as Not Ready in the NSX UI.
    Workaround: Use the NSX UI to reinstall the VIBs.
  • Error 400 during attempt to log in to vCenter Server from the vSphere Web Client
    You log in to vCenter Server from the vSphere Web Client and log out. If, after 8 hours or more, you attempt to log in from the same browser tab, the following error results.
    400 An Error occurred from SSO. urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:status:Requester, sub status:nullWorkaround: Close the browser or the browser tab and log in again.
  • Using storage rescan in environments with the large number of LUNs might cause unpredictable problems
    Storage rescan is an IO intensive operation. If you run it while performing other datastore management operation, such as creating or extending a datastore, you might experience delays and other problems. Problems are likely to occur in environments with the large number of LUNs, up to 1024, that are supported in the vSphere 6.5 release.Workaround: Typically, storage rescans that your hosts periodically perform are sufficient. You are not required to rescan storage when you perform the general datastore management tasks. Run storage rescans only when absolutely necessary, especially when your deployments include a large set of LUNs.
  • In vSphere 6.5, the name assigned to the iSCSI software adapter is different from the earlier releases
    After you upgrade to the vSphere 6.5 release, the name of the existing software iSCSI adapter, vmhbaXX, changes. This change affects any scripts that use hard-coded values for the name of the adapter. Because VMware does not guarantee that the adapter name remains the same across releases, you should not hard code the name in the scripts. The name change does not affect the behavior of the iSCSI software adapter.Workaround: None.
  • The bnx2x inbox driver that supports the QLogic NetXtreme II Network/iSCSI/FCoE adapter might cause problems in your ESXi environment
    Problems and errors occur when you disable or enable VMkernel ports and change the failover order of NICs for your iSCSI network setup.Workaround: Replace the bnx2x driver with an asynchronous driver. For information, see the VMware Web site.
  • When you use the Dell lsi_mr3 driver version 6.903.85.00-1OEM.600.0.0.2768847, you might encounter errors
    If you use the Dell lsi_mr3 asynchronous driver version 6.903.85.00-1OEM.600.0.0.2768847, the VMkernel logs might display the following message ScsiCore: 1806: Invalid sense buffer.Workaround: Replace the driver with the vSphere 6.5 inbox driver or an asynchronous driver from Broadcom.
  • Storage I/O Control settings are not honored per VMDK
    Storage I/O Control settings are not honored on a per VMDK basis. The VMDK settings are honored at the virtual machine level.Workaround: None.
  • Cannot create or clone a virtual machine on a SDRS-disabled datastore cluster
    This issue occurs when you select a datastore that is part of a SDRS-disabled datastore cluster in any of the New Virtual Machine, Clone Virtual Machine (to virtual machine or to template), or Deploy From Template wizards. When you arrive at the the Ready to Complete page and click Finish, the wizard remains open and nothing appears to occur. The Datastore value status for the virtual machine might display “Getting data…” and does not change.Workaround: Use the vSphere Web Client for placing virtual machines on SDRS-disabled datastore clusters.

These are just a few, that I have singled out…it’s worth reading through all the known issues just in case there are any specific issues that might impact you.

In the next post in this vSphere 6.5 for Service Providers series I will cover, more vCenter features as well as ESXi enhancements and what’s new in Core Storage.

References:

http://pubs.vmware.com/Release_Notes/en/vsphere/65/vsphere-esxi-vcenter-server-65-release-notes.html

http://www.vmware.com/content/dam/digitalmarketing/vmware/en/pdf/whitepaper/vsphere/vmw-white-paper-vsphr-whats-new-6-5.pdf

http://pubs.vmware.com/Release_Notes/en/vsphere/65/vsphere-client-65-html5-functionality-support.html

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