vExpert 2012 – My Journey in Virtualization so far…

If you had asked me 2 years ago that I’d be writing as a VMware vExpert I would have thought you were crazy. At that stage my only exposure to VMware was on a co-lo server I was hosting for a mates start-up back in 2008. It was ESXi 3.5 back then and, compared to Hyper-V R2, it seemed fairly run of the mill…a clunky foreign interface to someone who lived in Microsoft MMC’s and all I was dealing with was VM related errors…with no HA!

I’m a Microsoft guy…I am still happy to point that out. My passion in Hosting was born of IIS, MSSQL, MSCRM, Exchange and SharePoint. I also work on Linux based systems for PHP/MySQL hosting, DNS and POP3 mail. Without a decent medium it was near on impossible to get a look in at an MVP award, but I have always been strong in evangelization of the systems I work with day in and day out. A strong advocate of partner hosted services I have always been one to rise up and speak against the public cloud offerings Microsoft (and others) have pushed hard in the vein attempts to play catch-up with Google. Public Cloud offerings such as Office365, have been largely built upon the momentum partners built up over the 2000’s in being able to deliver services such as Hosted Exchange and MSCRM when they were not built for multi-tenancy from the ground up the partner community drove early adoption and made it viable for slogans such as “To the Cloud” (shudder) possible…more to come on this later in the post.

I started out testing in lab environments on old 486/Pentium systems that I could put together from spare parts in the office…while I was able to get some decent labs up, space was always at a premium and performance was limited. From there, I remember getting my hands on Virtual PC from Microsoft and started to load up lab machine on that…I remember it taking a whole day to load up Windows 2003, so the experience was frustrating to say the least…even so, the seed had been sewn. From there Virtual PC 2005 was released and, from a viability point of view, we were in business. The first VM we put into production was a BlackBerry server (a positive example of Microsoft trying to play catch up and kill of a competitor) which run nicely in an environment, that was 100% physical at the time. At Tech-Ed 2005, we first got introduced to Hyper-V. Michael Kleef at the time was running an advance beta build for his presentation demo’s and I was blown away at being able to run multiple VM’s on a single platform, with a single console. At this time I didn’t even know about VMware existence other than reading articles on Hyper-V’s challenge to the incumbent.

Before moving over to Accord/Anittel in later 2009 I had put together a robust Hyper-V cluster, from which we were hosting multiple Windows VM’s…mainly for staging purposes, but as time went on, I added MSCRM and IIS frontends. Cluster Share Volumes introduced in SP2 of Windows 2008 added live migration and all of a sudden the platform was complete. By this stage I knew about VMware as a competing product and I was up to speed with the arguments for and against. My first few months in the new job I got used to working on an ESX4.0 platform, but to be honest, my first experiences where not great…Windows Server 2008 R2 locked up randomly due to an issue with VMware Tool (later fixed in a patch) and I was hearing client issues all over the place…and our own ESX hosts where crashing at times… but I was learning the ins and outs of vSphere and was being shown features such as vMotion and Storage vMotion as well as seeing the efficiencies of how ESX deals with host to VM memory.

The big turning point in my move towards VMware was while working on a client project that involved a Hyper-V Cluster build. The client had been swayed on price and decided to go with Hyper-V with VMM 2010 over VMware Essentials. While the project went well, a glaring design flaw was exposed when the site experienced a long power outage…when both Windows Hosts came back up, the Cluster had no way of firing up, due to DNS not being available as it was on a VM hosted by the cluster…after nearly 8 hours of trying to bring up the cluster, it was pure luck that the old Physical Domain controller was still available, so with that powered back on and on the network I was able to bring up the cluster and all was well. While some of you might say, it’s obvious you needed a DC that was separate to the cluster…be it physical or a VM outside of the Hyper-V cluster, it certainly made be sit up and notice ESX in a new light…that just doesn’t happen with VMware.

Since then I’ve been able to work on Anittel’s multi-site ESX Cluster backed by a strong MPLS network which has stretched from Perth to Sydney and about to head up for Brisbane…being able to live migrate a VM from Perth to Sydney still blows me away. From a hosting point of view I’ve been able to host some very high profile websites on both Windows and Linux and offer geographic redundancy and high availability…VMware’s ability to scale out VM’s with ease makes hosting high load websites a breeze and through working on developing Anittel’s vCloud platform I’ve been involved in some large projects that have allowed me to speak at events across Australia on the power of the cloud as a hosting platform for load testing and running seasonal sites. Through my Twitter feed I’ve been able to post and contribute to the massive social network…there is no better resource for information.

For me, being able to work on vCloud has been an excellent journey that’s allowed me to get truly passionate about the power of virtualization, and while I still feel the platform is still a couple versions away from being mature enough to truly be game changing It’s allowed me to get involved with VMware at the partner level via the VSPP program and in certifying Anittel as a vCloud Powered Partner (http://vcloud.vmware.com) In this I’ve picked up the biggest difference between Microsoft and VMware…VMware is all about the partners…their slogan of the past 12 months has been “Your Cloud” which is an empowering push for partners to deliver services via a partner ecosystem as opposed to Microsoft’s push to their own Public Cloud…be it Office365 or Azure. And you only need to look at Microsoft’s licensing restrictions for VDI to show their current mentality to partner hosting.

With products such as Project Octopus and AppBlast, VMware are further empowering partners to build upon the vSphere platform to delivery cutting edge technology…and while I am still nowhere ready to leave Exchange as my email platform of choice, it won’t be long until Zimbra gets enough legs to challenge. At this stage, VMware don’t want to host their own public cloud…let’s hope it stays that way so they can continue to focus on delivering a solid platform for virtualization on which solid apps can be built upon.

Being awarded a vExpert for 2012 is a great honour and being part of a special group of industry peers is very satisfying for someone who has come full circle when it comes to my journey with Virtualization. One of the unique aspects of this award is that it’s not tied to a certification…which is a good thing for me J While I am aiming to sit my VCP 5 at some stage this year, you can’t beat hands on experiencing, being thrown in the deep end and gaining knowledge via online and social means. Point in case, I’ve learnt as much as I care to about iSCSI storage in ESX due to some massive performance issues experienced at the present time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way…I love technology and all that it brings.

Thanks to VMware and the local Australian Partner Team for the honour and I hope to continue to evangelize and contribute to the community.

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