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By Karl Robinson, Managing Director at StratoGen

I often get asked what’s so great about cloud hosting with VMware when there are so many different cloud hosting platforms available. The beauty of the cloud is that I can always reply with ‘try it and see’, as it’s so easy to take a free trial on a VMware cloud hosting platform for a few days.

I guess one of the key things about vCloud Powered solutions are that they are single vendor end to end – from the portal to the back end.  Many other cloud offerings have ‘home grown’ integration into the hypervisor, which works fine, but presents ongoing compatibility challenges as the differing technologies evolve.

Behind the scenes you expect VMware to offer superior availability and performance, but how easy is the platform to use in real life? Just how do you deploy a VMware virtual machine in the cloud?

If you’re new to VMware, the first thing to know is that most of the VMware cloud hosting providers will use vCloud Director (vCD) as the user interface. vCloud Director allows them to present you with a virtual datacentre in the cloud, into which you can build and deploy your virtual machines, create networks and even assign firewall rules. Logging in to your virtual datacentre for the first time can be a little daunting – so let’s cut to the chase and walk through the basic steps to get your first virtual machine up and running.

If you would like to try VMware cloud hosting then please click here to take a free trial.

I’m going to assume that you already have a Virtual Datacentre (vDC) allocated to you by your VMware hosting provider. Assuming you do, you should have a unique URL to access your vDC, and a username and password, so first things first; you’ll need to log in:

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Once logged in, you’ll be taken to the ‘home’ screen welcoming you to your cloud.  On the home screen, click on the ‘Build new vApp’ link:

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A vApp is essentially a logical collection of virtual machines and networks – it is a self-contained entity which can be moved, copied or saved into a catalogue to simplify future provisioning and maintenance.  This functionality is extremely valuable if you regularly deploy the same type of environment.  You can’t deploy any resources in your cloud without first building a vApp.  So once you’ve clicked the link, you’ll be presented with the ‘vApp Wizard’:

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The wizard will give your vApp a default name, using the convention ‘vApp_yourusername_#’ – # is a sequential number – each time you build a vApp the number will increment by 1.  So in theory you don’t need to rename your vApps, but you might wish to change the name to something more meaningful, based on the role of the vApp for example – if so, simply over-type the name.

I usually ignore the ‘Runtime Lease’ and ‘Storage Lease’ options – you can set your vApp to expire – for example if you are running a short term project, you can set the ‘lease’ for the duration of the project, and your resources will be automatically erased at the end of the lease.  Most customers choose not to do this – if your project shifts and you forget to change the lease, you could wind up in trouble!

Click next in the wizard to move to the next section where you can add virtual machines to your vApp.  You now have a couple of options – you can either choose to deploy a virtual machine from a ‘catalogue’ or deploy a new virtual machine from scratch.

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To keep things simple for this first post we’ll go for the catalogue option, but in the next post of this series I’ll talk you through doing it from scratch.

vCD has 2 levels of catalogue – ‘My organisation’s catalogs’ and ‘Public catalogs’.  If you’re a new user, your Organisation’s catalogue will be empty – in post 2 of this series I’ll show you how to create and populate your own catalogue, but for now I’m going to select the public catalogue option.  The StratoGen public catalogue contains a selection of virtual machine images with various preinstalled operating systems:

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I’m going to select one CentOs 5.5 virtual machine template with LAMP (you can select multiple machines at this point with different Operating Systems if you need to), then click on the ‘Add’ button and then ‘Next’.

In the next step of the wizard you can connect your virtual machine to the network.  My vDC currently only has one network available to it – a Direct Internet connection.  This connection will have public static IPs which it will allocate to the machines I provision.  There are many different networking scenarios possible within vCD which I’ll cover in later posts – for now a Direct Internet connection will suffice:

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Next you can choose the network settings for your VM – by default it will be set to allocate a static IP address from the network pool – most customers choose to use the default but if you want you can allocate a specific IP from the pool or set the box to DHCP:

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You’re almost done deploying your first vApp – click next and then next again (skipping the ’configure networking’ step) which will take you through to the ‘Ready to Complete’ screen:

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Check the details and when you are happy click ‘Next’ and you’re done deploying your first vApp!  It will take a little time to create, depending on the number and size of templates you’ve chosen to deploy – you can see the provisioning progress by clicking on the ‘My Cloud’ button and watching the progress bar in the vApps view:

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Once the provisioning process has completed, you’ll need to power on your vApp before you can use it – you can do this by clicking the green ‘play’ button:

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To access the newly provisioned virtual machine, you can use the VMware console tool by simply clicking on the machine icon which will pop up a browser based console window (an installer will run the first time you do this and you may need to allow popups in your browser):

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Before logging on for the first time you’ll need to check the password that has been allocated to the VM by the ‘Guest Customisation’ process.  Click on the VMs view then right click on the machine and select properties:

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You’ll find the password in the ‘Guest Customisation’ tab:

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That’s it! Your first machine is now live on the cloud, connected to the Internet and you’re ready to go!

The vApp we deployed is a simple one to demonstrate how easy is to use vCD, but a vApp could be as complicated as you like consisting of a multi-tiered architecture with middleware servers, application and database servers of mixed OSes all complete with appropriate networking.

About StratoGen

Karl Robinson is Managing Director of StratoGen, a leading cloud hosting provider with a worldwide client base. You can follow StratoGen on twitter, or read more on the StratoGen blog.