If anything could wash the taste of the vRealize rebranding out of my mouth, it was VMware’s announcement of the EVO family.
VMware has realized that for all the pomp and circumstance they’ve built up around the Software-Defined Data Center, it remains a tough nut to crack. There are considerable challenges around initial setup, provisioning, and ongoing lifecycle management and support. The way they see it, there are three approaches to this today:
- Build your own. Separate procurement processes for all components—software, storage, compute, networking, etc—often based on a vendor’s reference architecture.
- Converged Infrastructure. Same traditional components from your major compute, network, and storage vendors, but sold as a single bundle, with some level of pre-integration. Your Vblocks, and to a somewhat lesser extent, FlexPods.
- Hyper-Converged Appliances. Scale-out devices comprising integrated compute and storage, with some networking tying them together. The SimpliVities and Nutanices of the world.
EVO:RAIL is VMware’s initial swing at option 3. Chris Wahl has an excellent overview of EVO:RAIL here. The gist is that these are Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliances (HCIAs), 2U, 4-Node appliances, with each node containing two Intel E-2620v2 CPUs, up to 192GB RAM, a PCI-E Disk Controller, a 146GB SAS or 32 GB SATADOM device for ESXi boot, a single up-to-400GB SSD, three 1.2TB SAS 10K HDs, two 10GbE RJ45 or SFP+ ports for data traffic, and one 100/1000 Gb NIC for management. Each HCIA includes licensing for vSphere Enterprise Plus, Virtual SAN, Log Insight, and the EVO Engine.
Installation is ridiculously easy—rack it, cable it, and access the EVO:RAIL management console to launch a wizard that does the rest for you. The wizard walks you through assigning hostnames, network configuration, and passwords, and then cranks away for about fifteen minutes before presenting your with a happy “Hooray!” message and a URL for the EVO:RAIL dashboard . During that fifteen minutes, EVO:RAIL is deploying a vCenter appliance, installing ESXi, and configuring everything based on your inputs in the setup wizard. Crazy, huh?
The EVO:RAIL dashboard is something like training wheels for the vSphere Web Client. You can deploy new VMs, view system health, and perform updates. The traditional clients are available, too, if you prefer things to be harder.
Note that VMware itself is not in the hardware business. EVO:RAIL is something of a reference architecture, and VMware is partnering with OEMs to produce actual EVO:RAIL devices. Launch partners are Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Inspur, Net One Systems, and Supermicro. You have to hand it to Dell, playing arms manufacturer in the hyper-converged appliance wars. They now OEM for VMware, SimpliVity, and Nutanix.
EVO:RAIL is neat, and I want one in a tower form-factor to sit under my desk and serve as a respectable homelab. I want a pony, too. But, neat though it may be, it doesn’t hold a candle to what’s ahead. VMworld also offered a tech preview of EVO:RAIL’s big brother, EVO:RACK.
EVO:RACK is the full SDDC in a box. Well, crate. The idea here is that these are large-scale deployments, with half-rack and full-rack configurations available, scaling to a large but unspecified number of racks. What’s in the racks will vary—the tech preview featured 2U, 2-Node appliances with Virtual SAN, but it’s somewhat open-ended. VMware will work with parters to qualify configurations for EVO:RACK. Software-wise, it’ll come with everything–vRealize Suite, Virtual SAN, NSX, and the new EVO:RACK Manager.
EVO:RACK Manager is where the magic happens. Here’s the experience VMware is shooting for:
- Pre-configured rack(s) arrive at customer site
- Customer connects power and network uplinks
- Customer walks through a quick wizard to define network settings, IP ranges, DNS, hostnames, tenant information–usual and basic stuff.
- EVO:RACK Manager takes over. Auto-provisions internal and uplink networking, ESXi installation, VCAC configuration.
- After provisioning, EVO:RACK Manager becomes a single pane of glass. Like, for real. As you grow, you continue to manage the environment as a single logical rack. New racks are auto-discovered and auto-provisioned based on Customer-defined SLA policies. Customers can request capacity, and EVO:RACK Manager auto-provisions pools based on those SLAs, and creates VCAC reservations as appropriate. Customers can request applications, and EVO will deploy logical networks and security automatically, again based on defined policies.
Total time, from wheeling in the rack to having a self-service portal? They’re shooting for under two hours.
I spent about half an hour just staring slack-jawed at the EVO:RACK Manager UI demo, just blown away. That degree of orchestration is hard. Just whisper “UIM” around anyone that’s been working with Vblocks awhile and watch the involuntary shudder. My initial impression was that this was a thumb-nosing at VCE, and what Vision is still so far from delivering. But in the Tech Preview session, they were called out by name as being on the integration roadmap. So maybe we’ll see a Vblock 900 someday based on EVO:RACK.
Yes, it’s a tech preview. Yes, forward-looking-statements and all. I don’t care–it’s nice to be excited about hardware again.
Two days ago, VMware announced the availability of the VMware Certified Professional – Network Virtualization track. An hour or two later, my buddy Chris Wahl dared me to take it. And fifteen minutes ago, I walked out of the exam center at Moscone South with a > 300 score report. Longtime readers of the blog may recall me mentioning that I knew next to nothing about NSX going into VMworld, and are probably just as surprised as I am that I eked out a pass in such a short time.
Here’s how I did it:
- Figure out what you don’t know. This was easy—everything.
- Get a sense of what you need to know. VMware makes this easy—everything they’re going to test on is in the blueprint.
- Figure out what resources you have available. The NSX documentation is readily available, and VMware was kind enough to link to specific docs in the blueprint. There are Hands-on-Labs, to get stick time. And there’s a practice test, to give you a sense of what you’re in for.
- Read the docs. Yes, all of them. Any random footnote is a potential test question. Start with the overview and design docs to get the concepts, then move into Installation and Admin guides. Take notes.
- Do the labs. Yes, all of them. I did HOL-SDC-1403 – VMware NSX Introduction, HOL-SDC-1425 – VMware NSX Advanced, and HOL-SDC-1462 – Palo Alto Something or Other. After that, I launched and re-lauched HOL-SDC-1403 just to play around with different things, stepping through most of the tasks in the Installation and Admin guides, and exploring the UI. VMware loves to ask silly questions about which submenu under what sub tab of what configuration option a task is found in. You’ll have to poke around a little to prepare for that.
- Take the practice test. Consider it open book. Look up the answers as you go, and re-read the surrounding sections to make sure you understand each answer.
- Repeat 4-6. Stop just before you get here:
- Take the test before you forget everything.
Total prep time here was maybe eight hours of reading and annotating, and ten hours of lab time, over not-quite-three days. Not something I’d recommend, but if you’re at a conference and free from the usual distractions, it can be done.
Ooh, also–if you can, it helps to read or write a general VMware Networking book beforehand, too. It’s VCP-NV, not VCP-NSX. There’s a good bit of traditional vSphere networking covered. If you need a good resource there, you could do worse than the one in the right sidebar.
So VMworld 2014 kicks off next week. I’m thrilled to be attending, for what must be the fifth or sixth time. There’s no better opportunity to brine yourself in geekery and soak up everything VMware and its partners have to offer. Sure, most of the content will be available later—and the general sessions will be available live—but there’s just no substitute for the energy of the room. Something about bringing all of these smart people together, everybody feeding off of each other’s curiosity and interest, it just recharges my Give-a-Shit battery like nothing else. And by this time of year, I’m pretty much running on fumes.
Just try not to picture it full.
Here’s a selection of the sessions on my schedule, because that’s a thing people do:
NET1214 – NSX Certification – the Next Step in Your Networking Career.
NET2747 – VMware NSX: Software Defined Networking in the Real World
NET1743 – VMware NSX – A Technical Deep Dive
NET1589 – Reference Design for SDDC with NSX & vSphere
NET1974 – Multi-Site Data Center Solutions with VMware NSX
NET1674 – Advanced Topics & Future Directions in Network Virtualization with NSX
NET1581 – Reference Design for SDDC with NSX for Multi-Hypervisions
NSX overkill, maybe? I haven’t had time to do much more than scratch the surface of NSX, so I’m trying to make up for it here.
SDDC1600 – Art of IT Infrastructure Design: The Way of the VCDX – Panel
I’m still on the fence over whether or not VCDX is realistic given homelife constraints—kids are a gigantic time sink—but eventually I’m going to get sick of Wahl lording it over me.
SDDC1767 – SDDC at Scale with VMware Hyper-Converged Infrastructure: Deeper Dive
This session is strangely subtitled “Deeper Dive,” which leads me to believe we might get introduced to something called “VMware Hyper-Converged Infrastructure” during the General Session. I’m hoping this is the rumored MARVIN project, which The Register has speculated will involve a scale-out, node-based architecture built on VSAN with NSX on top.
INF2311 – vCenter Server Architecture and Deployment Deep Dive
This purports to be a futures discussion around how vCenter is evolving going into the next major release. As vCenter Server Heartbeat was recently shot in the head, I’m expecting some news on improved availability options.
On a related note, Chris Wahl and I will be signing copies of our book, Networking for VMware Administrators, at 1:00pm Wednesday in the VMworld Bookstore (Moscone South). Please do come out, say hi to Chris, and give me an awkward “And you are?” look. Chris has announced that all of his proceeds from book sales will be donated to Alzheimer’s Association. I, too, would like to announce that all of Chris Wahl’s proceeds from book sales will be donated to Alzheimer’s Association.