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User Interface Design and the change from desktop computing

By guest blogger, Christian Wickham, Technical Account Manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, and Local Government and Councils in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales at VMware Australia and New Zealand

I have been working in IT for 22 years, and during that time there have been changes – more than a few. In the early nineties, I did a bachelor honours degree in IT – and my dissertation (thesis) was about user interface design. The main conclusion was along the lines of “users should be focussed on learning how to use an interface, and instead should be able to focus on their work task” – because at that time there was a wide variation in user interfaces, Windows was still dependent on DOS, software had many varying interfaces and layouts, all meaning that users needed extensive training on how to use their computer.

There were word processors that were shipped with paper overlays for your keyboard, so that the required key combinations to activate features did not need to be memorised (see an image at http://www.retrothing.com/2006/06/wordperfect_51_.html). During my University days, computers were only just starting to embrace the WIMPs (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers) approach with Windows 3.0, and every software graphical interface looked wildly different, depending upon who you bought it from. Around this time, Visio (before it was bought by Microsoft), prompted during installation for a choice of interface style – Microsoft Office or Delphi or AmiPro, the change was then applied to the buttons and layout of the screen, to mimic the other styles which a user may have already been familiar with.

Now consider your own experiences with learning interfaces – is your satisfaction with a product dependent on how easy it was to use the interface? Was the interpretation of how easy it was to use related to how similar it was to an interface that you already knew and understood? When you upgrade software to the latest version, do you get annoyed when something changes, and you have to re-learn the way to do tasks that were previously easy?

It’s no accident that there are significant similarities (and differences) across the interface choices for major software vendors. If you have used a Mac and Windows you will know the subtle differences and the major similarities; icons on the desktop default to different sides of the screen, menus on a Mac are always at the top of the screen and on Windows are always within the application window – but notice that they tend to start with ‘File’ and end with ‘Help’. File hierarchy trees will be on the left – start from the top and expand to the right, a star marks a favourite, a triangle icon 6indicates that a menu will drop down, clicking on a column will sort it, folders contain files and other folders, a letter X will close the item, the list goes on. When the interfaces follow the same patterns and metaphors, we don’t need to learn them – and when they are just slightly different, it is often because one company has patented it! http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/070611-microsoft-android.html

Skip forward to 2013, and where are we? Microsoft releases Windows 8, and some people don’t like it because the interface is unfamiliar, and they need to learn how to use Windows again – Microsoft responds with Windows 8.1 ‘Blue’. Apple users are frequently experiencing features changing and disappearing – look at http://www.theoligarch.com/microsoft_vs_apple_history.htm for the history of the interfaces of these two operating systems.

However, if you buy an iPad or Android device – do you need days of training? When you download a new app for your phone or tablet, are you able to use it almost immediately? We have learnt some of the common patterns of user interface design to such an extent that we know how to use a completely new tool because it shares standard models of behaviour that we have already learnt. Next time you go to a new website, take a moment to recognise that you know which parts are an advertisement, which are menus to other parts of the site, where searching the site is done from, how to share the page with others through Facebook and Twitter – yet you can still consume the content (such as this blog article) to get the information that you want.

Windows 8, love it or hate it, has focussed on a move from running desktop software to apps that are not so much on driving the software tool and instead on achieving the task simply. Most interfaces have been getting steadily more simplistic, hiding advanced and complex options into a ribbon – or completely.

So, there are some things which hopefully most will agree on;

  • Users get comfortable with the user interface that they have been using before, and change to the interface can affect their ability to achieve their work tasks
  • There is a trend towards interfaces that are similar and share common traits / paradigms /  metaphors that most people can pick up rapidly
  • Software is moving to an app model where there is less focus on a huge number of features, and instead on simplicity
  • People will have more devices – a computer at home, in the office, in their pocket and in their hands. You are pretty much guaranteed that they will all have different interfaces
  • The desktop is becoming less relevant – touch and apps are here and will only get bigger

What can VMware do about this? We have solutions that tackle this issue from both sides. If you want to retain software that people are familiar with and allow it to be used on new interfaces (such as an application that depends upon Office 97, running on Windows 8), then VMware ThinApp is an application virtualisation solution. The focus of ThinApp is not normally on retaining an interface, more on maintaining usability of applications that cannot be upgraded to work on a new (or varied) operating system.

From the other end comes the VMware Horizon Suite, and more specifically VMware Horizon Workspace. Delivering access to the tasks and data that the user needs, in a paradigm that many users are already well versed in – a website with app icons that look similar to the app icons on your touch device. The interface is consistent across all devices, so no more learning how to drive it when you change from a tablet to a laptop. Another big benefit is that Horizon Suite also contains Horizon Files, which can be synchronised between computers (Windows and Mac), shared with people inside and outside your organisation, and centrally held for easier backup and security.

The future may well be app based, with a focus on simple access to work tasks. But that does not mean that the desktop will completely disappear – and of course VMware continues to develop the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure space, with Horizon View maintaining access to a “traditional” desktop, but with enhancements for yet more clients; you can use an HTML5 web browser with VMware Blast HTML access to Horizon View, you can enhance the use of Windows with the Horizon View Unity Touch plugin for making access to the Start Menu and applications easier.

 

 

Software Defined Networking drives commodity network switches

By guest blogger, Christian Wickham, Technical Account Manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, and Local Government and Councils in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales at VMware Australia and New Zealand

If you build a cluster for a VMware virtualised infrastructure, you can use almost any compute resource that you have available. Do you want to mix a Dell R710 dual CPU host with 32 GB of RAM with an IBM BladeCenter Hx5 with a single CPU and 96GB – sure, go ahead. All the memory and CPU resources are added to a pool, where the configuration of each VM is a property of the VM itself – the RAM allocated (including reservations, shares and limits), virtual CPUs assigned, virtual disks and networks. It is no longer critical to stick to the same manufacturer of hardware, instead you can simply purchase the model based on it’s capabilities and cost – “bang for the buck”.

Ten years ago, companies would select one hardware vendor and stay with them. The vendor was selected based on the quality and consistency of drivers, hardware feature set, management tools, implementation and deployment tools, drive caddy form factor, skills of administrative staff and then finally cost. The difference between manufacturers was enough to make the decision to stay with the selected vendor.

For a server running ESXi, most of these selection criteria have gone away. There is no longer a requirement for local disks and complex deployment tools (boot from SAN, boot from SD or USB, VMware AutoDeploy) hardware management and monitoring tools are [mostly] integrated into vCenter or vC Ops, and it largely does not matter what NIC / HBA / RAID controller you have (as long as it is on the VMware HCL!) The selection of host server vendor can now be changed more freely, and added to the pool of resources and consumed based on software defined policies such as DRS.

It is common practice for a large physical server that was once running a Tier 1 workload (such as a large SQL server) to be virtualised, and then the physical resources to be added to the pool of the existing VMware cluster. When that physical server is added to the cluster, EVC is sometimes needed to ensure that advanced CPU features are hidden from VMs so that vMotion can move them on to older CPUs – and this mostly does not affect performance.

But this has not been the case with network switches and routers. Until now. There were valid reasons why network hardware was selected to be purchased from one vendor – and that includes interoperability, consistency of configuration and a shared command set. A network switch is selected not just for it’s port density and cost, but also for the features and capabilities offered – in the software of the switch. And that is an important point – the switches run software, and this software needs to be updated on each device to enable new features and options. Yes, there are ways to interconnect switches from different vendors and have a shared level of capability, but this becomes complex and easily broken. Add in the complexity of security and firewalls, and the selection of network hardware vendor often drives (or limits) capabilities that are implemented. This can be due to switch licensing costs, the requirement to update multiple devices to enable features as well as maintaining security at all levels.

When the networking parameters and security is defined at the VM level, it becomes easier to maintain settings and consistency when the underlying hardware changes. When network features and capabilities are defined at the VM level, it becomes less relevant what the features of the physical switches are. It is possible to see that with the Software Defined Data Centre, network hardware changes from a capability enabling device into a pool of resources – simply a transport for network packets.

Only time will tell if companies will start to branch out into mix-and-match networking hardware, changing from purchasing from one vendor based on features/capabilities, to instead purchase based on port density and latency for price – “bang for the buck”.

TAM Day & VMworld 2013, Your Customized Experience.

VMworld 2013 is just a couple days away and it’s going to be epic.

As we approach this year’s conference we want to reminder you about the exciting events designed exclusively for our TAM Services customers as well as provide you some tips during your time here in San Francisco.

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TAM Day

Where your VMworld experience begins!

Join us on August 25th for the one-day exclusive event for VMware Technical Account Manager (TAM) Services customers. VMware experts will discuss the best practices and innovative technologies that address the challenges IT departments face as they transition to support this era of technologies — end user computing infrastructure, optimization & management, and executive vision.  You’ll even have the opportunity to discuss topics with solutions experts during the “birds of a feather” lunch and ask questions of VMware executives, including Carl Eschenbach, COO.

Check out the VMworld 2013 (US) TAM Day Agenda and be sure to plan your travel and lodging accordingly – TAM Day starts at 10:00AM on the Sunday, August 25th.

TAM Customer Central

Your exclusive access!

As a part of our ongoing commitment to enhance your VMworld 2013 experience we are pleased to announce that TAM Customer Central is back for a second year!

This exclusive resource is available only to VMware TAM Services customers and is designed to ensure that you have the best possible experience throughout the conference.

There is an epic agenda set for one-on-one, highly interactive deep dive conversations and roadmaps with product managers and experts.

Don’t miss out!  Review the VMworld 2013 (US) TAM Customer Central Guide and get ready to join us for these exclusive opportunities!

Before You Go

A Few Tips & Recommendations

You will be empowered to take advantage of the best educational opportunity to expand your knowledge, maximize your investments, and gain a greater competitive edge with cloud and virtualization solutions all while having some fun in the process.

Solution Exchange

The Solutions Exchange is undoubtedly the most action-packed part of VMworld.

The industry’s most forward-thinking IT solution providers convene in the expo space every year to showcase their innovative products and meet their customers and partners. Be sure to schedule your time and visit these sponsors. This is an amazing opportunity to explore and learn about new cloud-era innovations. Don’t just get your badge scanned – get a live demo, ask the difficult questions and get a datasheet or card so you can follow-up after the conference.

Booths range from the small pods to entire palazzos on the show floor. This year, over 300 exhibitors will be there for you to visit. The VMware booth will include technology demos, and expert bar, and theater presentations.

And – of course – get the swag and get registered for sponsor giveaways.

Hands-On Labs

Each year the VMworld Hands-On Labs (HOLs) are a huge attraction at VMworld. This year will be no different as VMware continues to innovate and provide a user experience greater than any other in the industry. The HOLs are designed around typical customer use case and business scenarios. This allows conference attendees to have a hands-on experience exercising workflows that relate to real-world scenarios.

Take on the HOLs to get more in-depth knowledge of these innovative technologies that you want to learn more about.  If you need help with a lab, flag down a lab captain to speak with a product expert.

Plus, you can take advantage of the the BYOD Lab Hot Spots across the VMworld Campus!

Breakout Sessions

Choose from more than 300 Breakout Sessions covering topics such as the hybrid cloud, enabling IT as a service and delivering end-user freedom while maintaining IT control.  Visit the VMworld 2013 Content Catalog today and explore the session topics, abstracts and presenters across a range of session tracks – IT transformation, applications, end-user computing, infrastructure, and operations as well as sponsor sessions.

The Schedule Builder allows you to register for the sessions you want to attend.  In order to get into a session you must register.  You will not be able to book multiple sessions as the same time. Registering doesn’t mean that you must attend but keep in mind that if you register and don’t attend someone else is missing the session.

There will be many must see sessions. If you review the content catalog and look at the presenters you will notice that presenters are experts – engineers, solution and consulting architects as well as product managers. Many of the names may be familiar to you and the community. Be sure to sign up, as these will fill up very quickly.

The good news is, that if it is a popular session it may be repeated on another day/time. Popular sessions will repeat at least once during the conference. Remember to check the schedule daily – the VMworld event staff will put out daily updates that show any changes, additions, and deletions to the schedule.

Be careful about scheduling sessions back-to-back. Sessions are spread out across the VMworld Campus and there is a chance that the next breakout session is a not near the last. If you’re registered for a session you should have a seat available but if you are late you might not be able to get in.

Get Certified.

The VMware Certification Exam Center will be available this year. Sign up now and get 75% off all certification exams, including advanced certifications, taken during the conference.

Space is limited: Reserve your seat today!

Certifications

  • VMware Certified Professional – Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV)
  • VMware Certified Professional – Cloud (VCP-Cloud)
  • VMware Infrastructure as a Service exam*
  • VMware Certified Professional – Desktop (VCP-DT)
  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Data Center Design (VCAP-DCD)*
  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Data Center Administration (VCAP-DCA)*
  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Cloud Infrastructure Design (VCAP-CID)*
  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Cloud Infrastructure Administration (VCAP-CIA)*
  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Desktop Design (VCAP-DTD)*

*Please note: you must have authorization from VMware before you can register for these exams.

This is a great opportunity to validate your cloud and virtualization skills – at a significant discount.

Connect with VMware and Others

Stay connected with the VMworld 2013 Social Media Experience

VMworld 2013 is a powerful networking opportunity. Who you know has a huge influence on your success. Don’t miss out on this chance to build a professional network.

You’ll have the opportunity to meet with VMware engineers, architects, consultants and product managers, industry-leading analysts, bloggers, authors, peers and technology partners. Connect individually or in groups throughout the conference in Breakout Sessions, Hands-on Labs, Discussion Groups, the Hang Space, VMworld Party, Social Media.

It might be hard to read name tags so watch for the color scheme on the badge or lanyard. Each attendee will have a distinct color code that will identify their role. Pins are often used on the lanyards to identify special groups such as VMUG Leaders, vExperts and more. Lunch is also a great opportunity to meet new people.

VMware has an enormous social media community and we want you to be part of it. Stay tuned for a detailed update on how to follow all of the events, conversations, updates and recaps through social media – such as Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.!

Pack Smart

Business casual attire is appropriate for attending all General Sessions, Breakout Sessions and Hand-On Labs while casual attire is appropriate for the VMworld 2013 Party.

Be sure to have some comfortable shoes – you will be doing a lot of walking.  You might also want to bring a small spare swag bag for all the stuff you take home.

Social Events

We know how to have fun.

Welcome Reception – Sunday, August 25 | 4:00pm – 7:00pm

Start your time at the conference with good food and good conversation. Catch up with colleagues, talk to technology partners, bump into Knowledge Experts and enjoy some down time with professionals in your field at the Solutions Exchange.

Hall Crawl – Tuesday, August 27 | 4:30pm – 6:00pm

Enjoy a refreshing beverage while you see the latest products and services from over 250 exhibitors at the Solutions Exchange.

VMworld 2013 Party – Wednesday, August 28 | 7:30pm – 10:30pm

This year’s VMworld party is the culmination of our 10th annual celebration!Join your VMworld community at AT&T park, home of the San Francisco Giants, for an evening of fun, feasting, and fantastic entertainment. VMworld will transform the park with exciting carnival rides and interactive midway games with the stunning backdrop of the San Francisco Bay.

Imagine Dragons and Train will provide main stage entertainment and a 10th Annual finale awaits those who stay until the end.

Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons (frontman Dan Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman) independently released three EPs, toured extensively, and racked up numerous best-of-Vegas awards. Then, earlier this year, the band made their major label debut with the release of their Continued Silence EP available on Grammy award winning producer Alex Da Kid’s (Eminem, Rihanna) label, KIDinaKORNER. From the epic slow-burn throb of “Radioactive” to the upbeat percussive intimacy of “On Top of the World” to the delicate blend of acoustic guitar and synthetic pop on “Round and Round,” the collection showcases Imagine Dragons’ signature diversity of sound and sentiment. “It’s Time,” the EP’s anthemic, emotionally bare, foot-stomping lead single has become Imagine Dragon’s calling card. And it’s the song that sets the tone for what’s to come as the band prepares to enter the studio this summer to record their full-length debut with Alex Da Kid.

Train

Train’s current release is California 37 and features the double-platinum hit “Drive By” and platinum hit “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” and quickly rising single “Bruises.” The multi-platinum selling band made its mark on music history with the Grammy Award-winning song “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” and chart-topping singles like “Meet Virginia” and “Calling All Angels,” earning its third Grammy in 2011 for the worldwide smash “Hey, Soul Sister” from Save Me, San Francisco. The top-selling single of 2010, “Hey, Soul Sister” hit #1 at radio in the US and in 15 countries abroad. Save Me, San Francisco has sold over one million albums worldwide and over ten million tracks. In addition to taking the sales and radio worlds by storm, Train has made numerous television appearances, performing on the NFC Championship Game, Daytona 500, American Music Awards, the Grammy Nomination Concert, Crossroads, The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Monday Night Football, A&E Private Sessions, America’s Got Talent, The View, Dancing With The Stars, and Live With Regis and Kelly, Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Bachelor, Rachael Ray and more. Train also offers the award-winning wine label, Save Me, San Francisco Wine Company, and Save Me, San Francisco Chocolate (with Ghirardelli) with proceeds going to their charity of choice, San Francisco-based Family House. For more info go to SaveMeSanFrancisco.com.

Complimentary shuttle transportation from Moscone West to AT&T park will be provided, stay tuned for details.

Casual attire; summer in San Francisco can be cool, a jacket is recommended.

Want More Fun? 

Of course you do!

If you are still looking for something to do outside of the official VMware parties, ask around and monitor the social media venues. There will be a host of unofficial parties nearly every day.

Check out the schedule of Gatherings, Tweetups, Parties and Activities are posted and being updated regularly up to VMworld.

Don’t Worry, It’s Recorded

The fact is that you can’t attend everything. So remember, the General Sessions and most Breakout Sessions are being recorded. The sessions and recordings will be posted and accessible to your account on www.vmworld.com in the coming weeks after VMworld 2013. Catch the sessions that you missed or repeat those ones you want to review again in the comfort of your own home or office.

The VMworld 2013 conference promises to be an amazing event and the VMware TAM Services social media activity streams will be very active during the conference and the our exclusive TAM Services events. Tune in to contribute and experience this dynamic event in a whole new way.

Read, follow and like us:
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See you at VMworld 2013!

An often forgotten VMware benefit – Pick and Mix

By guest blogger, Christian Wickham, Technical Account Manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, and Local Government and Councils in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales at VMware Australia and New Zealand

An often forgotten VMware benefit – Pick and Mix

In my interaction with new and existing VMware customers, it strikes me how often people forget one of what I consider to be one of the best benefits of a VMware based clustered solution. It is often pleasant news for people planning or implementing a new VMware virtualisation solution to find that they can mix together different hardware from different vendors in the same cluster. You might be wondering why this is so good – here are some benefits that I see;

  • You can mix servers from Dell, HP, IBM, Cisco or whoever you want – this means that you can select the hardware that provides the best balance of features for the price. So, if you get a great deal on Dell “pizza box” rack mount servers one day, and then you want to invest in Cisco blades for high memory density the next day – go ahead. The compute resources are abstracted from the virtual machines, so you can mix and match the underlying servers.
  • If you want to expand your cluster onto new server hardware, it does not need to match the existing hardware – just be ‘similar’ (see section below on EVC and storage).
  • You can migrate from old hardware to new hardware without downtime (depending upon your license), and as above you can have parallel running for as long as you want.
  • Storage controllers (Host Bus Adapters – HBAs) can be different in the same cluster. You can have an Emulex 4Gbps dual port fiber channel PCIe card in one host and a Qlogic 8Gbps mezzanine card in a blade, and they can be in the same cluster. They just need to have the same storage presented to them consistently.
  • As with storage HBAs, your network interface cards can differ too – different manufacturers, LOM (LAN on Motherboard) or add-in cards. The same points as above about consistent access apply.
  • You can mix in multiple SANs and (providing you have the vSphere license for Storage vMotion) move VMs between them – allowing you to move running VMs from old to new (faster, cheaper, more reliable) SANs, including between vendors.

The benefits for your own business needs may vary, but for SMEs and businesses with lower capital budgets, being able to gradually increase the size of a cluster or re-use existing hardware that was previously used for a physical server is a significant benefit. For larger businesses too, the ability to transition to new hardware or even try out a new vendor or technology is a function that is not available from other software virtualisation providers.

A few years ago, before I started working for VMware, I deployed a physical SQL 2008 R2 failover cluster with shared storage – just 2 nodes. When the company grew, we needed to add a new node and then hit a roadblock – the HBAs in the existing nodes were no longer available. Microsoft’s requirements for Failover Clustering (Server 2012 requirements are here http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj612869.aspx ) specify that “all elements of the storage stack should be identical […] host bus adapter (HBA), HBA drivers, and HBA firmware—that are attached to cluster storage be identical.” although we did buy the same physical servers as per Microsoft’s recommendation “We recommend that you use a set of matching computers”, the Validate Configuration Wizard would not accept a differing HBA. A rip and replace was required, causing lengthy over the weekend downtime and a very scary time for me when I crossed the ‘point of no return’ where compute and storage were separated and I had to trust that I would get access to the volumes again.

Microsoft’s Hyper-V depends upon Windows Failover Clustering, so this requires upfront planning and procurement of matching hardware to suit not only the current needs of the business, but any future growth – for many years…

In a VMware based vSphere cluster, these barriers do not prevent expansion or modification of the existing cluster. I have many customers who have upgraded from ESX 3.0 to ESXi 5.1 and completely changed all the underlying hardware (in one case from 2Gbps FC and 1Gbps Ethernet, dual core CPUs and 36GB RAM – to 8Gbps FC and 10 Gbps Ethernet, 8 core CPUs and 256GB RAM) – all without the scary rip and replace weekends with ‘point of no return’ moments.

Although you could run a cluster on servers, HBAs and network cards that are completely different with vSphere, best practice is to keep similar hardware whenever possible. This makes fault-finding easier, and can ensure that the VM experience is consistent. When putting in new hardware, please do make sure you visit the VMware Hardware Compatibility List page (http://www.vmware.com/go/hcl) to look up what the hardware vendor has tested and recommends for each version of vSphere. The manufacturers contribute to the VMware HCL from their own testing, you can be assured that this is done by the hardware vendor and not VMware’s software people.

In a scenario where you mix older CPUs with newer CPUs, mix FC or Ethernet speeds, this can have an impact on VM performance. Imagine your 4 vCPU VM is running on a host with the latest 3 GHz CPU, and this is vMotioned to a host with a 1.6 GHz CPU – performance can be affected. On this point, it is also possible that a VM might be using some of the CPU features on a newer generation of CPU, which will not be available when it moves to a host that does not have those instruction sets. To cope with this scenario, starting with ESX 3.5 Update 2 released in August 2008, VMware introduced “Enhanced vMotion Control” – EVC http://kb.vmware.com/kb/1003212 – where the cluster can be configured to mask off the newer features of modern CPUs so that VMs do not attempt to use them. When a VM is powered on, the Hypervisor will present the available CPU features as per the EVC setting, ensuring consistent CPU features in the cluster and ensuring CPU compatibility for vMotion. Two important points to note are that when people steadily upgrade their clusters, take out older hosts and put in newer hardware, that 1) the EVC level should be increased to match the lowest CPU capabilities in the cluster at that time, and 2) the VMs don’t get the additional features until they power on – not a reboot but a full cold power on (not much of an impact considering that the VMs will get the additional features with just a power cycle). A question I often get asked about EVC relates to masking features ‘down’ to a lower generation of CPUs – this does not decrease the CPU speed or remove other benefits that Intel or AMD have done to accelerate their latest CPUs, so if you put in a new host with the latest generation CPU into a cluster which is enabled for EVC, VMs will still be able to benefit from the speed of the newer CPU – just none of the additional features, as they will be masked by EVC.

vMotion between AMD and Intel CPUs is still not possible whilst the VM is powered on. You will need to power off the VM and sometimes clear CPU masks manually. As this reduces some of the benefits of features such as DRS, we recommend that your clusters contain one CPU vendor – although, you don’t have to!

In a couple of the points above, I mention that the features depend upon your license. One other benefit that people often forget is that with ESXi, the installed software is the same no matter what license you have. So, you can start with the basic “Essentials Plus” license that gives you basic vMotion and clustering capabilities, and then by simply changing the license key, enable features such as Storage vMotion and DRS without needing to even restart a service or server.

Investing in a VMware based environment enables a business to get a start and then grow as their needs eventuate. You can re-use existing hardware that can be mis-matched, providing it can access the same shared storage and networking, apply the lowest license and then grow, and grow.

Hidden benefits of virtualisation – management

By guest blogger, Christian Wickham, Technical Account Manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, and Local Government and Councils in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales at VMware Australia and New Zealand

Hidden benefits of virtualisation – management

Within VMware we are often focussing on the latest and greatest features and capabilities offered by all our newest software. Of course, we are always driving forward and the next version’s enhancements and benefits are forefront of our minds – but there are still some people out there who are just starting on their virtualisation journey. The advantages offered by our premium versions of vSphere such as Enterprise Plus, and the vCloud Suite editions, offer exceptional advances for businesses and enterprises, but some smaller businesses are unable to afford these editions – particularly at the start.

Some benefits of virtualisation, particularly with vSphere, are inherent and included in all versions – and deliver significant savings in both money and time. In this series, I will outline some of the simple benefits that are often not highlighted to new users of virtualisation, but well known to existing users.

Hidden benefits of virtualisation – uneven hardware

By guest blogger, Christian Wickham, Technical Account Manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, and Local Government and Councils in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales at VMware Australia and New Zealand

Hidden benefits of virtualisation – uneven hardware

Within VMware we are often focussing on the latest and greatest features and capabilities offered by all our newest software. Of course, we are always driving forward and the next version’s enhancements and benefits are forefront of our minds – but there are still some people out there who are just starting on their virtualisation journey. The advantages offered by our premium versions of vSphere such as Enterprise Plus, and the vCloud Suite editions, offer exceptional advances for businesses and enterprises, but some smaller businesses are unable to afford these editions – particularly at the start.

Some benefits of virtualisation, particularly with vSphere, are inherent and included in all versions – and deliver significant savings in both money and time. In this series, I will outline some of the simple benefits that are often not highlighted to new users of virtualisation, but well known to existing users.

It is definitely a trend within the hardware industry to develop servers that are optimised for virtualisation. High memory density, multiple built in network cards, support for the latest multi-core CPUs – and many other enhancements. It’s actually quite hard to buy a good quality server that has just 2 CPU cores and 4 GB of RAM and 40GB of fault-tolerant disk space and a single network card – often this is the requirements of server software for small and medium businesses.

Interestingly, in my experience of working with VMware customers (and my history of being a VMware customer for 5 years too), some server software actually consumes less resources than even that! It’s common to see a Windows 2008 R2 server actively using less than 256Mb of RAM, 100 MHz (that’s 0.1 GHz) of CPU and, after the installation of Windows, less than 5GB of disk space. Why don’t you try and buy a physical server with those specs – you can’t! In discussions that I have had with software vendors, they often “bump up” their official minimum hardware specifications to the level of a mainstream standard server, because customers keep on contacting them to ask if their ‘powerful’ server is appropriate.

Based on proper analysis (such as through vCenter Operations Manager – vC Ops), or even careful manual ad-hoc analysis of the vCenter performance statistics over a reasonable time, it might be apparent that your servers are over-sized. The recommendation might come back from vC Ops that your servers should have 384Mb of RAM, or 3 CPUs. Unusual sizes? Not with vSphere. You can set odd numbers of CPUs (uneven, not ‘strange’…) and memory sizes in increments less than 1GB.

There is a tiny drawback here though. If you need to resize your VMs downwards, the operating system would get quite a bit upset if you pulled out memory or CPUs whilst they were in use – that’s why you are prevented from doing it in the vSphere client(s). Instead, you need to power down the VM, make the changes, and then when it powers on, the new specifications take effect.

The upside is, if you have vSphere 5.1 Standard or above, you have hot-add of CPU and memory (vSphere 4.x and 5.0 needs Enterprise or above). This needs to be activated on each VM (version 7 or later) whilst it is powered off (so we recommend you set this on your templates), and in usual VMware fashion this is a single mouse click GUI option to ‘enable’. Depending on your Windows edition, the memory will be immediately accessible (2003 Enterprise, 2008 Enterprise, 2008R2, 2012), and the CPU will be immediately accessible (2008 R2 Enterprise, 2012), or require a reboot (for RAM; 2008 Standard, for CPU; all 2008 and 2008 R2 Standard). For Linux flavours, hot add varies depending on your distro – some recognise the new hardware immediately and some require kernel commands to recognise the additional CPU(s), or may require a reboot.

How much can you add? It depends upon your license – for vCPU per VM from 8 in the Essentials all the way up to 64 vCPUs per VM in Enterprise Plus. Memory can be added up to 1TB (or 1,048,576 MB if you would prefer). However – you can’t give an individual VM more virtual CPUs than you have physical CPU cores, and you can’t add more RAM to a VM than you physically have inside the host server. However, as I mentioned above, smaller specifications are often what is needed in most applications used in medium and smaller businesses.

So, we have covered CPU and RAM being assigned in “unusual” numbers, and the ability to assign these very low and then add to it whilst the VM is running as your needs grow. What about network? What about disks?

New disks can be added to a VM at any time, and depending upon the installed operating system, they will be recognised as an unformatted disk, ready to be initialised and used. In older versions of Windows and Linux, you may require a scan for new disks. It only takes a second or two for new disks to be added to the VM – and they can be specified in megabytes up to 2 Terabytes. You can also resize an existing disk, and when you do this it is seen by the operating system as unallocated space. With Windows 2003, you cannot resize the boot disk (C drive), or any disk containing a pagefile, but you can resize data disks. In newer versions of Windows, you can resize all disks – but with the same restrictions of CPU and RAM in that you can add, but not take away.

There are some restrictions on maximums with disks too. You can only add an individual virtual disk of up to 2TB (minus 512 bytes) in vSphere version 5.1 and below, and you can only have a maximum of 64 of these disks (assuming 4 are IDE and 60 are SCSI). You can also directly attach a disk from a SAN to a VM as a raw device mapping (RDM), up to 64 TB. However there are many reasons why again you should keep the number of virtual disks and their sizes smaller.

Network cards can be added whilst a VM is running too. Start with a single NIC and if you need a second one in the operating system, these can be added – up to 10. In practice, unless you are using your VM as a router or have other application reasons why you need multiple virtual NICs, one is often enough. Additional bandwidth and redundancy can be added at the physical host layer.

If you are new to virtualisation, or have never tried running a virtual machine with an “uneven” virtual hardware configuration – give it a try and prove to yourself (and your colleagues) that servers do not always need to have 2 or 4 or 6 (CPUs or GB of RAM). Next time you are purchasing software that has a minimum requirement, have a look at your trial or evaluation of the software and see what it is actually using – this might be a start to a whole new density improvement in your vSphere environment.

If you have got this far and are thinking, “what about large enterprises?” then you need to consider the overall density that sizing your VMs correctly can achieve. If you have a density of around 30 VMs per host, then even reducing each VM by 100MB can release (in this example) a further 3GB.

Cloud Real-Estate: Build vs. Rent

This past month I had an opportunity to present a couple of sessions at the South Florida VMUG User Conference on behalf of VMware. The VMUG leadership and RoundTower put on a terrific conference that drew ~450 attendees and ~40 vendors in the Exchange.

My second session of the day was titled “Cloud Real Estate: Build vs. Rent.” No, this session wasn’t about foreclosures or how to short sale your cloud. Instead, this session was focused on the three models to consume a VMware vCloud.

So, lets dive it a talk about the theme for this prevention.

Across the industry, IT organizations struggle to keep up with the traditional “reactive-mode” that has characterized the delivery model for decades. No matters the size of the organization, there is intense pressure to quickly deliver the infrastructure and services needed to acceleration business innovation. When organizations are unable to respond with speed and agility innovation is stifled, opportunities are lost and catalysts for ungoverned “shadow-IT” operations take form. Each of these produce quantifiable business risk that is untenable.

Even while many of these IT organizations realize that they must address becoming a strategic business enabler rather that an impediment to innovation there is confusion about how to best deploy and consume a cloud. They are turning to their strategic, trusted vendors to guide them on their path.

VMware, for example, has been building clouds over the past three years. We started with some of the biggest names in cloud services. As a result, we can provide customers several options that are interoperable, flexible and provide assured controls.

There are three way to consume a VMware vCloud in a comprehensive model:

  • The Private Cloud ~ On Premise, Built with VMware vCloud Suite
  • The Partner Cloud ~ VMware vCloud Partner Ecosystem
  • VMware vCloud Hybrid Service ~ VMware Branded and Operated Cloud Coming in 2013

This model provides organizations the ability to the flexibility, security and assurance for all business workloads. Think of it way, you can BuildRent and/or Integrate your business into the Hybrid Cloud.

This model breaks up the supply’s of infrastructure resources from the demand generated by your business or the market. Infrastructure resources ~ compute, storage and network ~ are delivered with security and compliance controls. Business workloads are encapsulated in virtual machines with standard configurations.

Behind the veil is a common platform, a common management and a common security model provided through VMware technology. It’s the same technology stack that is used to build the on-premise private cloud, the partner based public cloud and our own cloud service in a consistent and flexible manner ~ the vCloud Suite.

“Commodity” public cloud service certainly offer extremely fast access to resources but not necessarily with performance, security and hybrid workload portability.

So, the characteristics of the enterprise hybrid cloud delivers the best of both worlds:

  • Agility ~ Simple, on-demand provisioning and scaling of cloud resources with predictable, consistent SLAs.
  • Trust ~ Standards based security for workloads and users with assured compliance.
  • Extension ~ Bridge the on-premise private cloud outside of your own datacenter to a globally consistent service that is compatible with your business’s workloads with little-to-zero change.

As mentioned prior, the key is the technology stack. VMware believes that the underpinning architecture for the cloud, especially the Hybrid Cloud, is the Software-Defined Data Center (“SDDC”.)

VMware is extending the cloud with the technology stack that provides a common platform, common management, common orchestration and automation, common security and unified security ~ plus a single support call.

So, why the drive to the the hybrid cloud model?

Simply put, there is an chasm that has grown between the business and IT. The business requires speed, agility and the ability to innovate to be competitive in their markets. IT on the other hand is clearly focused on maintaining a reliable, secure infrastructure. IT needs to change their role from managers technology to a strategic enablers of business services while business workloads modernize to consume the full potential of the cloud.

From a top-down perspective, embracing the hybrid cloud provides the business the agility they need to be competitive. Allowing the business to deploy application workloads anywhere.

From a bottom-up perspective, It is able to provide agility to the business, but in an environment that they can operated with assure security, governance and compliance standards.

It’s a win-win situation for the business and for IT. And only one that VMware can deliver.

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The preceding is a re-post from Ryan Johnson’s blog, 10:30 AM.

Hidden benefits of virtualisation – reboot time and the impact on server availability and regular operations

By guest blogger, Christian Wickham, Technical Account Manager, South Australia and Northern Territory, and Local Government and Councils in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales at VMware Australia and New Zealand

Hidden benefits of virtualisation – reboot time and the impact on server availability and regular operations

Within VMware we are often focussing on the latest and greatest features and capabilities offered by all our newest software. Of course, we are always driving forward and the next version’s enhancements and benefits are forefront of our minds – but there are still some people out there who are just starting on their virtualisation journey, or have taught themselves how to use VMware products and are missing out on some of the many benefits. The advantages offered by our premium versions of vSphere, such as Enterprise Plus and the vCloud Suite editions, offer exceptional advances for businesses and enterprises, but some smaller businesses are unable to afford these editions – particularly at the start.

Some benefits of virtualisation, particularly with vSphere, are inherent and included in all versions – and deliver significant savings in both money and time. In this series, I will outline some of the simple benefits that are often not highlighted to new users of virtualisation, but well known to (most) existing users.

How long does it take you to boot up a server? I don’t just mean the time it takes to start Windows or Linux, I mean the time it takes the hardware to begin starting Windows. Next time you reboot a physical server, go and time it – you won’t realise how long it really takes.

You need to consider that server manufacturers rarely produce every single component within their chassis. The big OEM hardware vendors of HP / IBM / Dell / Cisco / Fujitsu all purchase components from other ODM manufacturers like Broadcom, LSI, Emulex, Intel and many others. The OEMs may re-badge or rename the devices, but they are still independent hardware underneath.

When a physical server boots up from cold (that is, not a reboot), then it will perform various system checks such as scanning RAM for faults, scanning the PCI bus for devices and then loading it’s BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). Depending on the hardware manufacturer, this might then progress to initialising on-motherboard sensors such as; temperature sensors, fan speed sensors, embedded and out of band management (for example; HP’s iLO, Dell’s iDRAC, IBM’s RSA). After this, devices connected to the PCI bus will then initialise, not just add-in cards but also on motherboard components. As I mentioned above, these often are manufactured by independent vendors, they frequently will have their own ‘advertising’ or declaring their product name and version / copyright details, and also importantly, offer a chance for the user to press a key combination to allow access to an embedded management interface or configuration menu. To give the person accessing these systems time to press the key combination, a delay is put in to the startup sequence – this is frustratingly quick when you want to use it, and frustratingly slow the other 99% of the time when you don’t need to use it! If you have a server with multiple add-in cards or embedded resources, 5-10 seconds per device can really add up.

After all of this, only then does the server start to boot up Windows (or Linux). From a cold boot, I have seen servers take 45 minutes. From a warm boot (that is, a reset or reboot from a server that was running), it can be shorter, although I have seen this take nearly 20 minutes. All this before it even starts to do anything “useful”. Don’t be tricked by being able to ping a physical server – remember that WOL (Wake On LAN) will have an IP address and respond even when a server is “off”.

In steps virtualisation. With a virtual machine, there are no ODMs and no hardware devices to initialise, no copyright announcements and delays to press a key combination. In fact, with vSphere there is an option on each virtual machine to delay the boot up sequence (and one to enter the BIOS setup screen) before starting Windows/Linux. By default of course this is set to zero milliseconds in vSphere. Think of this for each time you apply a Windows update or make a change to Windows settings that requires a reboot. If you have ten servers you need to reboot, this could be saving you 200 minutes a month of just sitting there and watching a server begin to boot – may not sound like much, but when your staff are doing this out of hours (after all, a reboot is taking a server offline), it all adds up.

But wait, there’s more! Not just some steak knives, but other virtualisation benefits that speed up boot time. Remember all those independent hardware components in most servers? Well, each one needs its own drivers to let the operating system be able to use them, its own management software to allow you to configure or monitor them – and as the devices are often manufactured by differing vendors, they will often be independent and need their own resources, even if they are re-badged to match the label on the front of the server. So, whilst your operating system is booting, part of the process is to load all this software into memory, some of it may be unloaded again, but it all goes to further delay boot time.

Unfortunately this step is often forgotten by people when they perform a physical to virtual conversion (P2V) with software such as VMware Converter. Companies may end up with a virtual server that is slower to boot than similarly configured VMs, and it’s because the physical hardware drivers are still installed and loading – then failing as the device is not present and then unloading. I have seen that as soon as these devices, drivers and management tools are uninstalled, the VM starts (and runs) faster.

So – how long does it take a virtual machine to boot in vSphere? In my lab, a bare Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual machine boots (from powered off to the Ctrl-Alt-Del prompt) in 28 seconds, using SATA 7200 RPM disks on an NFS datastore. With SAS or a Solid State Disk, this would be even faster.

So, consider the savings in time for your server administrators for Windows patch Tuesday. Consider the savings in productivity when a Windows server has a problem and needs to be rebooted during the work day. Consider the savings in overtime and out of hours work needed to perform maintenance or other tasks that need a reboot. Although I am not recommending this approach, some of my customers are happy to reboot less critical servers during the day because it happens so fast that users don’t notice. When servers reboot themselves and no-one notices, then you need to ensure that systems are monitored and administrators are alerted to outages.

If you have a very small number of servers in your site and have thought that this rules out virtualisation, consider the savings in reboot time as a factor. I have customers running an ESXi host in a branch office where there is only one VM running. The reboot time for the VM is fast, faster than if it was installed directly onto the server. There are many other benefits (such as hardware abstraction, portability, snapshots etc) but that is for another time…

For clusters enabled with vSphere HA (which is available on all licenses above the basic ‘Essentials’ or the free edition), during a host outage, VMs that were on the unavailable host will automatically be started on surviving hosts just as quickly – although depending upon the installed application(s) and configuration of the server where it might attempt to do disk checks or application recovery or consistency checks.

Factor this in to your considerations of using other technologies such as Microsoft Failover Clustering when calculating uptime capabilities;

  • Do a test on a VM that you need to maximise uptime for – I will use the example of a Microsoft SQL server on Windows
  • Power on the VM from cold, whilst at the same time attempting connection to the SQL service with a client – you should get a result of a clean boot time.
  • Now take a SQL cluster and perform a ‘move resource’ action on the resource group – time how long between losing connection with a SQL client and the service returning.
  • At this stage, you can evaluate if it is quicker to boot up a SQL server or to stop and then restart SQL services on another node within a Failover SQL cluster.
  • You can also time how long it takes to simply restart a service on a running server – if you choose one with some dependencies, sometimes this itself can be slower than a reboot (which, ironically, includes starting the same service!).
  • Go a bit further and do an unexpected reboot on a running SQL server – in vSphere this is done with the “Reset” option to perform a power cycle. Time how long it takes to boot and recover so that a SQL client can connect. This test can be risky for data, so don’t do this on a production system, and ensure you have recoverable backups of any data!
  • Then perform the same with a SQL failover cluster node – perform a power cycle of the node that is running a SQL instance, time how long before the SQL service responds on another node. Don’t do this through the Cluster Manager, but instead force a failure in another way such as a power cycle – Microsoft Failover Clustering performs “LooksAlive” checks every 5 seconds and the “IsAlive” check is every 30 seconds – it takes around 10 seconds before the Microsoft Failover Cluster will start to do it’s failover actions.

It goes without saying that this is a test and one way to provide an evaluation in your own environment of the relative benefits of VMware HA against other products such as Microsoft Failover Clustering. Your own experience will vary depending on your application and it’s configuration – particularly when databases are large or have transactions outstanding, that’s why figures here cannot be taken as accurate.

In my testing, a Clustered SQL Node failure took 37 seconds to return to service after a failure. In a similar test of a non-clustered SQL server using just HA, it was 43 seconds before it returned to service. I must stress that the SQL servers were not 100% identical and not under load and the test database was benign and basic, and the timing was subject to my reaction time to start and stop – but this is an indication for you to consider. My once-off test showed only 6 seconds of improvement in recovery time by using MSCS over vSphere HA – and although I am experienced with setting up MSCS and SQL clusters, I left all settings at default and did not perform any tuning.

Your business may demand “zero downtime” for their application, and software vendors may recommend products such as Microsoft Failover Clustering, but when you are armed with the facts from your environment related to the capabilities offered by VMware HA against more complicated (and fragile) alternatives, you can save a lot of money and heartache in simply using the built in capabilities – VMware HA is, after all, enabled just with a single check box.

http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/partners/oracle/Oracle_Databases_on_VMware_-_High_Availability_Guidelines.pdf

 

TAM Presentation at vForum Sydney 2012

Sydney vForum 2012 was a great success. This is the 4th vForum I have attended as an employee of VMware and I look forward to this annual event every year. The chance to meet our customers in such a great environment and spent 2 days just talking VMware for me is an excellent experience. This year I was given the opportunity to do a presentation at the event. The presentation was also scheduled as part of the new All Access Pass (AAP) stream which meant that it was for paying customers only.

The session time unfortunately was not a good one for me and I suspect that this was due to scheduling requirements with so many sessions and thousands of deleggates to cater for. The actual session however went very well. I had around 15 people in the session. While this might not sound like a lot it is more than I expected to get at this time of the day, as I mentioned the session was not at a convenient time, and also the specific nature of the session.

I presented the session focusing on 3 areas. Firstly an introduction to the TAM and the TAM program, the specifics of the program and the different types of offerings available. I then moved into a section focusing on one of the deliverables that are available as a TAM customer which is a customised report that is done for the customer on a regular basis. This report highlights many of the functions and services that we do as a TAM for our customers so was particularly interesting to show. The final part of the session was to put this all together and highlight the value a TAM brings to your organisation and why you might consider joining the program.

I was very pleased with this session and the participation and attendance and I hope that those that did attend got something out of it. I am certainly looking forward to next year when hopefully I get to present again to our valued customers.

TAM Day Brisbane 2012 Wrap Up

Each year in Brisbane, Australia we host an event for our TAM customers to present to them the newest VMware solutions and thank them from the TAM program. This year we had another fantastic event in Brisbane with all of our customers represented. The participants were all kept well fed and hydrated with coffee, tea and cold drinks throughout the day as well as a fantastic lunch and chocolates and sweets to keep the sugar levels up.

When the event was over we asked our customers to rate the event and we had the highest rating we have received in the 4 years of running this event a 4.69 out of 5 rating which we are very proud of. We also gave a way a bunch of prizes including a seat on a VMware course, an iPad, a VMware T-Shirt and a movie gift voucher, all of which were enthusiastically received.

I look forward to the event again next year, thanks to all the presenters, our sponsors for the venue and of course our TAM customers, without you, well I wouldn’t have a job :)

Neil Isserow – TAM (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)

Event Pictures: https://www.icloud.com/journal/#4;CAEQARoQMWh_KLMbpOBuPyIquTfrnw;53AB1285-0C9F-4B30-8A3A-28E786CA8D22