Back To Basics: Importing/Exporting OVA/OVF

25 Apr

Virtual Machines and Appliance can be imported and exported using the Web Client. VMware supports the “Open Virtual Machine Format” or .OVF format which consists of an .OVF, VMX and VMDK files which are uncompressed (although are commonly bundled together in .zip format to allow for ease of download) and also the .OVA package which is actually a .tar archive containing the .OVF files. Both OVA and OVF are natively supported by the Web Client, however, there are some technologies such as VMware vCloud Director that only support the .OVF format. As .OVA packages are merely .tar achives they can be extracted, and imported using the native .OVF descriptor file in needed.

One good example of using pre-packaged OVF/OVA virtual machine is so called “Skinny Linux” distributions. These are popular in homelabs where memory and diskspace maybe at a premium. These distributions of Linux use an incredibly small amount of resources, and allow SysAdmins to build lab environments that look and feel much larger than than they actually are. The sources of this distributions are many and varied but often they start the lives as recovery CD-ROMs, which have been installed to disk. However, these Linux distributions are not with limits – they are often not supported by VMware, have very small disk sizes based on IDE virtual disks, and frequently do not contain VMware Tools. This means that features such as reporting the IP address of the VM, or soft reboot/shutdown options are not available. Examples include SliTax and TTYLinux available and DSL hosted on

Importing an OVF/OVA Template:

OVFS/OVAs can be downloaded from the owners website first, and then imported into vCenter – alternatively if you know the URL for OVF/OVA you can import it directly into vCenter assuming that there is no special authentication required or firewall restrictions

1. Right-click the Datacenter/Cluster or Host that you wish to use for the OVF/OVA import select Deploy OVF Template

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Back To Basics: Using the vSphere Web Client – Tips, Tricks & Improvements

23 Apr

One thing comes up increasingly is folks comparing the Ye Olde vSphere Client with the All New Shiny Web Client. There’s been a number of reports and blogposts about the Web Client, ostensibly stirring up the pot to try create contention and stuff – nothing draws viewers on a slack news day than a spot of glass-half-empty reporting. I’m not sure I altogether agree with the analysis. I don’t think any long term user of vSphere is likely to be deterred from upgrading to vSphere5.5 because of client side issue. In truth the barriers to upgrading remain the same as they have always been with enterprize software – time, competing projects, waiting for 3rd party vendors to get their ducks-in-a-row to support a new vSphere edition – and then checking and upgrading the dependencies….

That started me to think about making a case that works against the prevailing orthodoxy, to argue why the Web Client is faster and better than the vSphere Client. There’s some optimisation that can be done to speed up the Web Client greatly, as well as some overlooked features that actually reduce the overall amount admin an individual might have to do. I think we have to remember who uses graphical clients. It’s the occasionally admin for whom VMware vSphere is just 5%,10%, 15% of their core job. What these folks love about vSphere is how it just looks after itself – in fact many say to me they hardly log in to vCenter/vSphere from one week to the next. And they love this fact. Rather than the technologies they have to login every day to fix because they are broken. To me if your a ‘hardcore’ VMware admin most likely you have already decamped your more frequent tasks to either PowerCLI or a more self-service front-end like vCD or vCAC.

I’d have to say that my own view on the Web Client is being increasingly informed by this series of blogposts. As I carry out more and more configuration tasks with the Web Client on daily basis – I’m beginning to appreciate it over and above the Ye Olde vSphere Client. I guess that’s the case with any UI/client change. Initially, folks can be a bit reluctant to change – as old habits die hard. But over time new client becomes more second nature, and you begin to appreciate it more and more.

With that said I want to be honest about my usage of Web Client. When it first introduce I found it a bit slow in vSphere5.0/5.1. However, I have found it much more responsive in vSphere5.5. In what way do I mean slow? How do we measure slowness compared to what? The vSphere Client? I guess what I’m speaking off is the whirling gears which appear when browsing:

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 13.50.16

Note: I now have to use screen recorder to capture the “gears” icon, because it now takes no time at all for menus like this to be populated…

If you change your Adobe Flash caching settings these gears will appear disappear so quickly – you will need screen recording software in order capture images like the above. I had to Screenflow on the Mac to record this event, so I can then grab it from a paused recording. That’s how big a difference Adobe Flash settings can be.

UPDATE: I will be continually updating this blogpost with new finds as I work my way through this “Back To Basics” series. As I know I’m sure to find new features and enhancements along the way…

1. Change your Adobe Flash Settings

I got this tip from William Lam who works at VMware. So all due credit must go to him (or whoever told him this tidbit). By default Flash grants a tiny amount of cache to each Flash-enabled site your web-browser hits. I’m mean kilobytes. Simply increasing this cache for your vCenter Web Client URLs massively speeds it up. I’m sorry to shameless rip of Williams Quick Tip, but I think this is SO important I want to shout it from the roof tops so as many people in the community know about this small bit of optimization. Basically, on the machine you do your admin navigate to:

Locate your vCenter URL(s) and move the slider bar all the way to the 10MB. So in my case vcnyc has already been reconfigured, but vcnj (my new vCenter for New Jersey) has not…

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 13.58.40

As for the best browser to use. I have preference for FireFox because it allows you to easily add untrusted self-signed certificates to bypass any invalid certificate warnings. Last week I saw Michael Armstrong demonstrating his homelab using Google Chrome. I’m thinking of switching to Google Chrome in my homelab because it was sooo much quicker.

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Coming Now… FeedForward…

22 Apr

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 09.37.03

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate the VMUG folks over at headquarters for successful launch of the website. But my main reason for this blogpost is to make you aware of a new landing page for the FeedForward Program (I think its fair to say this is becoming a program, and is no longer just an initiative amongst folks like me in the community). In case you haven’t heard is a FeedForward is a community initiative who’s goal is to increase “user” or “member” participation in VMUG events. The concept/catchphrase is a simple one. Generally, Feedback to member of a VMUG after a presentation whilst helpful, and welcome – isn’t half as useful as help before the presentation. The intention of FeedForward is build a group of mentors who will check out your presentation before a VMUG – and offer helpful advice, tips, tricks and questions – so you feel better prepared. My dream/hope/aspiration is that every single VMUG will have a FeedForward mentor assigned to the group, who will not only support the membership should they wish to present, but also actively seek out and engage with the members looking to bring on new presenters. As someone put it its all about maintaining the U in VMUG to make sure there’s a healthy balance of vendors and members in terms of content.

Anyway, if you are interested in becoming a FeedForward Mentor for your group; Sharing a presentation at a VMUG event or joining the committee to further promote FeedForward, you need to toddle over to this landing page to express your interest…


Back To Basics: Managing Virtual Machine Snapshots

22 Apr

Snapshots offer a way of capturing the VM memory and disk state prior to making any changes. It’s particularly useful in situations where the outcome of given action is unknown, and the administrator wants a quick and easy way to roll-back any changes made. A typical example might be some software upgrade for instance. When a snapshot is taken all the drives that make up the VM are snapped, this means data loss could occur when reverting the snapshot on data volumes. So care must be taken to stop end-users connecting and making changes.

More commonly, Snapshots are used in virtual machine backups. This is where running backup agent within the guest operating system is dispensed with, and instead backup is taken of their virtual disks. Snapshots allow release the file system locks that normally persist, and allows the backup software to back up the virtual disks. Since the advert of “Change Block Tracking” (CBT), backups this way are as efficient from speed and space perspective as any in-guest backup agent. The first backup takes a normal back up of the VM, and subsequent backups are taken merely of the blocks that have changed since that backup.

Snapshot work by creating a copy of the contents of memory, and saving this to a file – this allows a snapshot to be taken whilst the VM is running, and indeed it allows for the quiescing of the file system leveraging components within the guest operating system such as Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Copy feature. The time it takes to create a snapshot is dependent on the amount of memory allocated to the VM, and the time it takes to create this snapshot file. Whilst a snapshot is being created, at same time a “delta” virtual disk is create for each virtual disk allocated to the VM. This normally takes the format of <virtualmachinename>0000N.vmdk. This file starts its life as 16MB in size, and grows as changes accrue in the VM. When a VM snapshot is “deleted” the contents of the delta is copied (or consolidated or merged if you prefer to use those words) into the regular virtual disk, and the snapshot files discarded, along with the memory file.

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Note: The .VMSN is the memory contents of the VM. win2012R2-00001.vmdk is the delta virtual disk snaphot file. .VMSD is a small management file that keeps record of snapshot taken.

When a snapshot is “reverted” the content of the delta file is discarded, and the memory state file restore to the VM – thus rolling it back to its previous state. Snapshot can revert other virtual machine file such as the .VMX file which holds the VM’s core settings. This can make a changeto the VMs settings such as modifying the portgroup assignment, and then the VM is reverted it is relocated back to the original portgroup.

As such snapshots are regarded as temporary files and should not be allowed to persist on the VM for extended periods – they can degrade performance; fill up datastores; and if reverted after a long period cause problems elsewhere – such as breaking the computer account trust relationship between a Windows VM and its Active Directory Domain.

Taking a Snapshot

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Back To Basics: Common Virtual Machine Settings

18 Apr

This section covers common virtual machine settings and options that every administrator should be aware of. This is by no means exhaustive – but it should be good starting point to learn about alternative configurations. So it covers stuff such as:

  • Enabling Time Synchronisation and VMware Tools Updates
  • Managing Virtual Disks (Increasing size, adding new disks, adding RDMs)
  • Adding New Adapters and other devices
  • Hot Adding CPU and Memory

VMware Tools – Time Synchronisation and Updates

It’s common in most environments for VMs to receive time updates from the physical VMware ESXi host – which in turn is configured to an external NTP time source. Additionally, as user patch and maintain VMware ESX which can be done seamlessly without effecting VMs, its not unusual for VMware Tools to become out of date. Two settings on the properties of the VM can enable time synchronisation and also instruct the system to automatically update VMware Tools when ever a VM is powered on.

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Back To Basics: Installing VMware Tools (Windows & Linux)

17 Apr

Once the guest operating system has been installed the next step is to install a package called VMware Tools. This package adds drivers and additional software services to improve performance and allow for easier controls. These include being able to reboot the VM by sending a soft instruction to the operating system and a heartbeat service that will send alerts based on the VM’s state.

1. On the Summary Tab of the VM. The Web Client will alert that VMware Tools has yet to be installed, and offer a link to trigger the installation. This actually mounts DVD .ISO on the host to the VM.

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NFS shares won’t mount on my IOMEGA IX4-200D

17 Apr

This is blogpost that’s really a big thank you to someone in our community, Gabrie Van Zanten. He has a blogpost helped fixed a problem with my IOmega StorCenter ix4-200d. What happened is my mother came to stay with us on the weekend, and my homelab is the spare room – although the lab is pretty quiet, its not quiet enough for someone to sleep in there with the gear powered on. So I did a graceful power down.

After my mother had departed I worked on bringing the whole lab backup – network switch first, followed by the storage (iomega/synology) and then the servers. All I then needed to do was bring the “infrastructure” VMs (DC, SQL, VC and so on). The only trouble I had was all my NFS exported were disconnected and wouldn’t remount. Mercifully, none of my important stuff is on the IOMEGA – it hold’s legacy templates and my software share – and I occasionally use it as “bronze” storage for VMs I don’t care too much about (these are usually Skinny Linux VMs that have tiny boot drives and don’t do anything in the way of IOPS).

Try as I may I couldn’t get the NFS volumes to mount on the IOMEGA, although intriguingly the iSCSI drives were unaffected. I was about to give up and copy the data from my NFS shares (I could still access them as SMB/CIFS from Windows/Mac) but I thought I’d do a quick google before doing that – and up came Gabrie Van Zanten’s post:

When you can’t reconnect to NFS share on your IX4-200D

Turns out some peculiarity in DNS on the IOMEGA was the source of the problem. That was rather odd in my situation as the DC/DNS was up, and so was my router – so the IOMEGA “should” have worked. Simply removing the DNS references altogether on the IOMEGA fixed my problem.

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Back To Basics: Creating Virtual Machines

15 Apr

It might seem odd at this stage to have section introducing virtual machines. Ideally, this something you already know something about – or else why would you be here? But its perhaps worthwhile taking a little history lesson about the development of the virtual machine since VMware became to gain mass recognition in the 2003/4 period. Back then the hardware capabilities of the VM were more modest. The maximum number of vCPUs was just two, and the maximum amount of memory was just 3GB. On the virtual disk side of the house, the VMDK maximum size was a merely 2TB. Fast forward to the current period the scale of the VM has increased massively – to the degree that the only barrier to virtualization is whether it is economic. Nowadays, a VM can have up to 64 vCPUs, 1TB of RAM, and 62TB virtual disks. Advancements have also introduced the ability to give the VM direct access to hardware, where IO performance demands require it.

Upload Operating System ISOs to a Datastore (Web Client)

Perhaps the most common way of installing a Guest Operating System to a VM is using the original CD-ROM/DVD .iso that is used to distribute it. Being able to download .ISO images of Operating Systems has become the norm in the period of high bandwidth internet, and certainly beats having to order physical media deliveries. A VM can optionally boot to PXE, and therefore other OS deployment tools are available such as the Ultimate Deployment Appliance (UDA), Windows Deployment Services and third-party tools. However, it remains the case that most virtualization admins use a DVD .iso

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Travails in Hyper-V R2eality: Tales of the Red Mist: A Messcellany

10 Apr

fistmonitorDo you geddit? Miscellany and Messcellany. It’s wots called a pun my friend.

In my travails in Hyper-V R2eality, I’ve come across of number of facepalm moments – and also a number “I want to drive my fist through the screen” situations. Sadly, none of these individual add up to much on their own. Collectively they are more than the sum of their parts. I wanted to share those experiences with you – and I thought a “messcellany” might help facilitate that.

The kind of thing I’m getting at is the daily grind of not-workingness that you have to live with. Do you ever have days, weeks or months (years!) where everything seems broken, and you feel your will to live is slowly being sapped by software. That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about. At all times you try to remain calm. Deploying all those strategies your therapist taught you in “Anger Management” classes. Perhaps I’m getting old and jaded, but my personal well of patience for things that don’t work is one that appears to get shallower and shallower as the years roll by. You would think after many years of working in IT, my levels of hope would have levelled off to such a low-level of expectation – that I would no longer experience the feeling of disappointment. Sadly, the battle scars of working in IT haven’t eviscerated all semblance of optimism. And I still have this crazy notion that stuff should work – all the time, and never break. I know I need my head examining…

Anyway, for the sake of my own sanity, I’ve tried to approach these with a big fat dose of humour – and some videos to amuse along the way… mainly on the theme of Monty Python sketches…

  • To P2V or Not P2V
  • When is an upgrade not an upgrade?
  • Network Virtualization “Gateway” –  Clusters in clusters…
  • Remember NOT to store stuff in the C: drive
  • Adding Windows Hyper-V Host to SCVMM
  • A State of Job #Failure
  • Prerequisites: No one expects the Spanish Inquisition
  • It’s not Hypervisor, its naughty, naughty boy
  • The RunAS Olympics…
  • I tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead…

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Performance Stress Tools

04 Apr

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 17.13.26One of my new projects is to get my head round VMware Operations Manager – or VCOPS as its more commonly known. I’d freely admit that performance is one of my weak areas. I’m pretty good at troubleshooting and resolving any number of configuration problems, but resolving performance problems isn’t one of my strengths. Why?

Well, I’ve spent a great many years living in the abstract world of the lab whether that be as trainer, author or now at VMware. In that time I didn’t a get a whole lot of exposure to genuine performance issues – after all a lab environment never experiences the same non-linear performance issues that you see in the real world. What did happen a lot of the times was that students would bring me their performance problems. And I would from principles try to diagnose them. By first principles – I mean things such as:

  • Over-use of SMP vCPU
  • Disk intensive VMs placed on the same LUN/Volume/Spindles
  • The wrong RAID level used
  • Insufficient RAM allocated
  • Miss-use of various features in vSphere such as poor resource pool design, inappropriate shares and so on

Despite my lack of exposure, one of my favourites parts of the Install & Configure/Fast-Track course were things like Limits/Reservations/Resource Pools/DRS/ESXTOP and so on. Mainly, because these are really juicy topics that can be tricky to explain. I enjoyed the challenge.

So now I’m looking at VCOPS I’m looking at this subject all over again, whilst bearing mind that vCOPS isn’t merely or just a performance monitoring solution. It actively, or rather pro-actively goes looking for “health problems”. There’s two analogies for this. See yourself as Dr VI Admin MD at vSphere Hospital for the Virtual Machine if you like. What VCOPS is giving the pre-emptive, pro-active diagnostic tools to analyse your patients (the VMs), and deal with their minor symptoms before they are really unwell. Another analogy I like is the “dashboard” in your car. Not only does tell you speeds and feeds – there’s also a little red light that gets illuminated when your running low on oil. It’s better to receive pro-active, pre-emptive alerts then be at the side of the road with seized engine.

So anyone thing I’ve been looking at is different tools for generating a fake workload inside a VM – for the four core resources of CPU, Memory, Disk and Network. I thought if I put together a compendium of tools in a single web-page, it might help someone looking to do the same thing.

A couple of really strong observations have come out from my early use of VCOPS. Firstly, vCenter and other 3rd party performance monitoring tools tend to just contain “thresholds” offer a simple “traffic light” view of performance. You know the same tedious green, yellow, red system where alarms are triggered at 75%, 90% and so on. That’s all well and good. The trouble is these 3rd party tools in the main aren’t really showing deviations. So if an application grows in resource usage (say CPU) over a 6hr period from 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% and 70% – most of them won’t tell you anything. Until the VM has smashed through one of their pre-configured “thresholds” such 75%. By then I think you could argue that problem has got out of hand. Wouldn’t it be far better to alert the administrator to underlying, under-the-surface, iceberg of a problem – rather than waiting for the tip of the iceberg to appear just above the water? I see this very much like a Doctor looking for diagnostic information about the health of patient. When the Doctor monitors the patient they look for tools that can show that a change is taking place, something other than normal. The other thing I’ve liked about VCOPS is how its identified a number of problems in the build of my vSphere homelab. Sometimes those problem have been my own making, other times VCOPS has identified problems in vSphere that has lead to know some known issue in a KB. That for me shows two benefits. VCOPS isn’t just about performance, its about configuration – or should I say “Operations” (the clue is in the name of the product after all!), secondly I can absolutely trust what it telling me – it doesn’t try to pretend that everything is right in the world when it isn’t.

Anyway – less of my ramblings – to the tools overview…. which I’ve catagorized as CPU/Memory, Disk/Network IO, and Application Tools.

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