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By Chris Mutchler, Cloud Service Architect, VMware

Before the advent of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) technology, we managed our compute, storage, and networking as separate components. We wrote automation scripts to establish our cloud environments. This approach was cumbersome, requiring hand-offs between multiple teams, each focused on a different discipline. As a result, it took us several months to set up the VMworld Hands-on Lab (HOL) environments each year in preparation for the US and EMEA conferences.

The introduction of HCI helped improve our agility and efficiency by combining compute, storage, and networking into one package for easier infrastructure installation and management. This was a boon for a global IT environment like ours as we transitioned from focused disciplines (compute, storage, and networking) to a DevOps model with site reliability engineers functioning across all disciplines.

But even with HCI, managing the sheer number of internal cloud instances was a challenge. We deployed VMware Cloud Foundation, a software-defined infrastructure platform to simplify the deployment and ongoing management of our internal cloud instances. Cloud Foundation gave us the automation tools to deploy and configure our HCI environments, enabling us to deploy new cloud instances for VMworld in less than five days. The ability to turn over the VMworld HOL environments more quickly allowed additional load testing to be performed prior to the VMworld conference, ensuring a smooth experience for attendees.

Lifecycle Management in the VMware IT Environment

Under the VMware on VMware program, the IT team deploys early versions of VMware software to see how it performs before it is generally released to customers. Our global IT environment is a good place to test software because of its highly complex hardware and software configurations and the fact that it runs the VMware product portfolio.

Over the past three years, we have deployed early releases of Cloud Foundation, even prior to those releases becoming available to our VMware customers. Cloud Foundation is designed to automatically bring up an entire cloud infrastructure stack, including virtual machine (VM) deployments, management cluster creation, VLAN configuration, and storage/networking cluster creation and provisioning. It also enabled us to provision clusters dedicated to individual use-cases (vCloud Director, vRealize Automation or Horizon Virtual Desktops) within a single cloud instance.

However, we still struggled with lifecycle management after the initial environments were built. Without lifecycle management managing our internal cloud instances required manual oversight to ensure the software and hardware layers were updated and compatible. When automated lifecycle management (LCM) was introduced as part of Cloud Foundation, we saw an immediate use case. We began using it to manage our implementation of VMware products such as vCenter, vSphere, NSX, and vRealize, to name a few. This was critical because we often run multiple versions of one product, spread across different cloud instances. Tracking these different configurations to prepare for an upgrade is time-consuming because of the number of cloud instances and various software versions deployed within each one.

Cloud Foundation now performs automatic patching and upgrades of the entire infrastructure stack. It maps the software interdependencies and sequences product reboots in the correct order during upgrades. When upgrades are executed, the process is optimized, and minimizes the number of reboots required. We no longer need to manually track and manage product upgrades. We can continually deploy new releases without worrying about potential outages caused by untested interdependencies. Cloud deployments and operations have been modernized and streamlined.

The QA team no longer worries about potential compatibility issues popping up during upgrades. Upgrades can be monitored through consoles and logs and require a lot less babysitting. We worry a lot less about downtime for our users.

In addition, we continue to give R&D ongoing feedback on our product experiences, such as bugs, feature enhancements and workflow adjustments. This feedback helps improve functionality and reliability before a product’s general release, a benefit to VMware customers. We also share our product deployment journeys with customers as part of the program.

With VMware Cloud Foundation and its automated lifecycle management, one of our major headaches, has gone away. This gives us time to focus on our next big project: using Cloud Foundation as a hybrid cloud platform to extend our IT capabilities to leverage VMware Cloud on AWS. This next project will bring its own set of technical and operational challenges, but that is just part of the adventure of working in IT.

For more on the IT private cloud journey using VMware Cloud Foundation, read this case study.

VMware-on-VMware blogs are written by IT subject matter experts sharing stories about IT’s digital transformation journey using VMware products and services in a global production environment. Visit our portal to learn more.