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Use vCloud Automation Center’s Property Dictionary to Customize Service Requests

[originally posted on virtualjad.com]

As I’ve eluded to on more than one occasion, VMware’s vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) is more than just a cloud portal. It is a solution designed to take defined business policy and requirements and apply them to the underlying IT systems, providing a governance model that delivers infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) with business agility in mind. Once defined, those policies are applied to vCAC’s individual policy definitions to build a “mesh policy” that provide the governance and controls for self-service, automation, and lifecycle management. The result is a finely-tuned service deployment model that defines the applications (blueprints), where they can be deployed, who can deploy them, and under which circumstances they are (or aren’t) allowed to be deployed. More than just a cloud portal.

vCAC 5.1 provides a ton of this capability “out of the box”, but the solution can also add a tremendous amount of additional capability using built-in control concepts, custom properties, and native integration with external tools such as PowerShell, vCenter Orchestrator (vCO), and others. The possibilities are immense. Those of you who are familiar with vCO will immediately realize the power of that last statement. If you’re not familiar with vCO you should stop reading this, download/deploy the vCO appliance, and make it your best friend…then come back and finish reading. Any workflow available in vCO can be initiated during a vCAC service request. vCAC’s extensibility options — utilizing the built-in Design Center and/or Cloud Development Kit (CDK) add-on — take it to a whole other level of customization and automation. Well-defined use cases and a solid implementation strategy are key when you head down the extensibility path. I will cover more on extensibility and custom use cases in future posts. For now, I’m going to focus on one of vCAC’s built-in concepts that can be used to customize service provisioning options, reduce the number of managed objects (blueprints), and add a nice touch to the user experience…with as few point-and-clicks as possible! What I’m referring to is vCAC’s built-in Property Dictionary feature.

The Property Dictionary

From the vCAC 5.1 What’s New Guide (p. 2-77):

The property dictionary feature, introduced in release 4.5, enables an enterprise administrator to provide a more robust user interface for custom properties that a machine owner enters at request time.

Properties are used throughout the product to provide settings for many features. When users request new machines they are prompted for any required properties. Enterprise administrators or provisioning group managers designate which properties are required by selecting the Prompt User option on the blueprint or build profile. By default, the Confirm Machine Request page displays the literal name of the property as a required text box and does not provide any validation other than that a value has been entered.

The property dictionary allows you define characteristics of properties that are used to tailor the behavior of the request user interface…

(give the “what’s-new” guide a read if you haven’t done so already)

You use the Property Dictionary function to build a Property Definition, which is the logic behind each action. Property definitions can be created for custom properties that require user input during the service request process and, for example, will trigger an external action (e.g. workflow) to complete a given set of tasks that respond back to vCAC when completed. Can you say “Software-Defined Datacenter”?

Some additional uses of the Property Dictionary include:

  • Allowing users to select specific resources that are otherwise hidden (e.g. overriding resource reservation policies to allow users to select a specific datastore, network, or cluster)
  • Creating property names and descriptions that make sense and can be read in plain english
  • Adding pop-up tool tips to explain each required item
  • Customizing the order in which required fields are displayed
  • Making an otherwise required field no longer required

You can also create property definition that utilize vCAC’s built-in reserved custom properties, which can take the user’s input (or selection) and apply that to the existing custom property as an answer file of sorts. For example, you can define a drop-down menu that lists all the networks available to a given Provisioning Group (via that group’s resource reservation) and allow the user to select a preferred network. Once the request is approved, that application is deployed to the selected network. You can also build relationships between parent and child definitions to provide a more dynamic and nested functionality — the user selects a datacenter (“Datacenter A”, parent) and, based on that selection, only appropriate networks (“NetA”, “NetB”, “NetC”, children) become available. The result is an application that gets deployed to Datacenter A using Network B. Throw a storage selection option in there with the same Datacenter relationship rule and now you’ve got a fine balance of policy-based controls and a dynamic user-experience.

Sounds like a good use case to me! — my next post will provide detailed configuration steps for enabling this exact scenario.  Stay tuned…

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@virtualjad

vCloud Suite 5.1 Solution Upgrade Guide

By now you’ve probably heard all the hype around the 5.1 releases of VMware’s vSphere and vCloud platforms – and the vCloud 5.1 Suite, which bundles the latest versions of several VMware key IaaS-focused technologies and delivers a comprehensive cloud solution.  The suite comes in 3 flavors – Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise.

If you’re an existing (active) customer of any of these products, there’s an upgrade and/or entitlement path to the suite for you – and it’s highly recommended that you take advantage of it.  Or, at the very least, you can upgrade your individual products to 5.1 as you ponder the suite.  Whether or not you choose to upgrade and take advantage of the latest and greatest features is up to you.  But if you’re looking for increased scale, performance, efficiency, and capability while taking advantage of end-to-end advancements in VMware’s leading cloud technologies, then I would place upgrade at the top of your to-do list.  (some of my peers suggest I’m drinking the Kool-Aid via fire hose….really?).  Learn more about the suite here: http://www.vmware.com/products/datacenter-virtualization/vcloud-suite/overview.html.

The attached guide will walk you through, in detail, the upgrade steps and procedures for moving to vCloud Suite 5.1.

Upgrade Overview

Speaking of upgrade – and to get back on topic – I thought it would be beneficial to publish a how-to guide of sorts to help with upgrading from previous versions of the core infrastructure stack to version 5.1, taking in consideration the many co-dependencies of an active cloud deployment (VMware’s pubs and guides cover the process for individual products with plenty of detail, but not so much as a whole solution…yet).

I’ll specifically focus on upgrading from previous (pre-5.1) versions to 5.1.  The approach will go something like this (in this order):

  1. vCloud Director 1.5.x -> vCloud Director 5.1
  2. vShield Manager 5.0.x -> vCloud Networking & Security 5.1
  3. vCenter 5.0.x (windows) -> vCenter 5.1 + required add-ons
  4. vSphere (ESXi) 5.0.x -> ESXi 5.1
  5. vShield Edge (vSE’s) 5.0.x -> Edge Gateway 5.1

Note: Many issues encountered during the upgrade are contributed to lack of planning, upgrading components out of order, or skipping steps.  To ensure a successful upgrade and continuity of services, it is critical that the steps highlighted in this document are followed closely.  In other words, avoid shortcuts!

Things to Consider

Before we get started, let’s set expectations and discuss some caveats.  At first glance, upgrading to a “dot” release doesn’t seem that significant, but if you have followed VMware’s versioning strategy in the past, you’ll know that a “.1” release is typically a major update that adds a significant set of capabilities and functionality.  This one upgrade path is no exception.  And with that comes several considerations…

  • Take advantage of snapshots – take one of every VM you’re touching and make sure you have good backups of the configs any associated databases.
  • Understand the implications of upgrading your vCenter server, especially in environments that of other products and 3rd-party solutions installed that depend on it (see: VMware View).
  • If you plan on migrating from vCenter Server on Windows to the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (VCVA), this guide isn’t going to help you much.  The upgrade procedure to follow is for a Windows-installed vCenter.  But, by all means, download the VCVA and give it a run – works great.  Just note that you can’t currently migrate from one platform to another.
  • vCenter Server 5.1 adds a significant set of new features, some of which that will require special attention during this upgrade…specifically for the new single-sign on (SSO) function.  To ensure the upgrade goes smoothly, be sure the follow the installation steps IN ORDER.  This ensures all service dependencies will be in place as new features are installed.
  • vCloud Director 5.1 is backwards compatible with vSphere 5.0.x, but not the other way around.  You can upgrade vCD and sub-components now and wait to get vCenter and ESXi up to 5.1 later…just understand this may limit some of the new features in vCD that depend of vSphere 5.1.  See VMware’s compatibility matrix for more details: http://partnerweb.vmware.com/comp_guide2/sim/interop_matrix.php
  • The upgrade procedure for vCloud Director 1.5.x highlighted in this doc assumes a single instance (cell) is installed.  As such, upgrading the only cell will result in a vCD outage (not the running vApps, just vCD UI access).  See VMware’s guide, vcd_51_install.pdf, to upgrade a multi-cell environment…it’s just a few extra steps.
  • The new version of vCloud Connector (2.0) is not yet available (as of this writing).  While the majority of the cloud suite’s components have been upgraded and converged on 5.1 versioning, the latest vCC 2.0 appliance is expected to go live by the end of the year.  If you’re currently using vCC 1.x, upgrading to vCD 5.1 may break it.  Stay tuned for the 2.0 release if this is something you depend on.
  • If you’re running vCenter Operations (vCOps) 5.0.x and are planning on upgrading the rest of your environment, you might as well take the time to update your appliance to version 5.0.3 to take advantage of some minor new enhancements that will compliment the vCloud 5.1 suite – vCenter Operations Suite 5.6 was announced at VMworld Barcelona and will be available for download/upgrade soon.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get upgrading!  Upgrading to 5.1 is not difficult, but it does take some planning, cautions (see above), and an organized approach to ensure all goes well…especially in a production environment.  Speaking of that, here’s my disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: This document is not an ‘official’ VMware publication, nor are the author (that’s me) or VMware responsible for any outcomes, outages, late nights in the datacenter, or complete system meltdowns.  This document and its forthcoming upgrade procedures were created as reference material to help you get your environment upgraded so you can enjoy all the wonders of the vCloud 5.1 Suite.  As a precaution, do this in a test/dev environment prior to attempting the process in a production deployment.  On the other hand, please feel free to share your successful upgrade stories!

Download the full guide here: vCloud 5.1 Suite Solution Upgrade Guide v1.1

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@virtualjad

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Transform IT With Cloud: GovConnection.com Podcast

I recently had an opportunity to record a Podcast with one of VMware's valued channel partners, GovConnection.com.  During the Podcast I addressed several questions regarding the adoption of cloud infrastructures in the Federal Government.

Topics included:

  • cloud adoption rates across federal organizations
  • cloud technology drivers (why cloud?)
  • the advantages of building out a cloud infrastructure vs. traditional IT
  • recommended steps for getting started (how cloud?)
  • how VMware solutions align themselves with this IT evolution

Take a listen @ GovConnection's Cloud Computing Technical Library (http://www.govconnection.com/IPA/PM/Solutions/TechnologyLibrary/Cloud.htm)

(go to "Transform IT With Cloud" and select "Listen Now")

or listen now: Jad_VMWare_GOV

 Enjoy! — feedback welcome

 

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@virtualjad