Post Adverts – BitDefender

One of my sponsors, BitDefender recently made a request to use “in blogpost” adverts on my site. I’ve chosen to accept their offer – so from now until further notice you will find at the end of each post, and advert like the one above. I did a couple of experiments, and even I found an advert being present in the middle of the post, very distracting – especially when I was blogging about partners recent developments around EVO:RAIL. I’ve taken up BitDefender’s offer – but you will find their ad appears at the end of blogposts – and only when you click the full title of the blogpost – usually from some sort of google referral. I hope my readers are okay with this and don’t find the ads too intrusive. Let me know via twitter if you find them too much.

Cheers, Mike


Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Announcements

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Chinwag Reloaded with John Troyer (@jtroyer)


I’m always interested in meeting new comers to our community, and this guy is no exception. His name is John Troyer, and you should really check him out – because I think he’s really on track to become a big name in the future.

Okay, joking aside – of course, everyone knows who John Troyer is – he’s been at the epicentre of all things VMware since forever. Last year, John decided to go it alone and leave VMware to start his own venture – it’s called @TechReckoning. John also runs the @Geek_Whisperers podcast along with his co-hosts Matthew Brender @mjbrender and Amy Lewis @CommsNinja

I caught up with John at his home on coastal California in January. I was over in the Bay Area for the first for my two visits per quarter to keep in touch with colleagues on the EVO:RAIL Team. The light was fading a little as John filled me in on life post-VMware – why he felt the need to move along, and his new project is all about.



Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Chinwag

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Sponsor Update: Welcome to SolarWinds

This is just a quick blogpost to welcome my new sponsor – SolarWinds. In case you don’t know SolarWinds produces a number of management and monitoring technologies, across whole host of different areas. In terms of VMware vSphere they have a technology called “Virtualization Manager” which produces performance and diagnostics – as well as spotting rogue VMs, orphaned VMs, Wasted Licenses and Idle Licenses.



Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Announcements

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EVALExperience Update

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 16.06.49

A few short weeks ago VMware and the VMUG announced the EVALExperience. In case you don’t know this is something myself and others in the community have been crying out for, for sometime. It’s essentially a beyond 60-eval subscription where you can get your sticky paws on VMware software for 365-day period. Those who subscribed early might have been caught out by the subscription containing a small number of CPU sockets of VMware ESXI hosts. Initially, the licenses only allowed for two hosts – of course, that creates issues of technologies where 3 VMware ESXi hosts are a minimum. I’m pleased to say this was noticed very quickly, and fixed even quicker-er (is that word?). So if you have the old keys – you need update your licenses via the subscription portal in order to fulfil the full allocation.



Posted by on February 18, 2015 in VMUG

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HP ConvergedSystem 200-HC EVO:RAIL Appliance – Available Now!

One of the things I was so pleased about at VMworld Barcelona last year – was when HP and VMware announced that HP was joining the EVO:RAIL program. One of the most consistent messages I was getting from customers was “do you have HP model”. HP is a very dominant player in EMEA, and globally really – and there are many loyal customers to HP that really wouldn’t like to see anything but HP badge in their racks. Anyway, HP have announced this week the GA of their EVO:RAIL. There are one or two things to clear up around product names and offerings.

HP have opted to use the product name “HP ConvergedSystem 200-HC” for two quite distinct offerings. The EVO:RAIL offering and separate and different “ConvergedSystem 200-HC StorVirtual VSA” offering which doesn’t use EVO:RAIL and VMware VSAN, and instead uses the HP StorVirtual Virtual Storage Appliance. The form-factor is the same look/feel; – a 2U chassis with 4-nodes, but the specifications (CPU/Memory/Disk) are different. The “HP ConvergedSystem 200-HC EVO:RAIL” Appliance product page is located here:is located at this page here:


From the front!!!


From behind!!!

Like many of our other Qualified EVO:RAIL Partners (QEP), HP offer their EVO:RAIL in two flavours based on either RJ-45 or SFP+ connectivity – their part numbers are L3W30A and L3W31A respectively. The tech specs are the following:

Four HP ProLiant SL210t Gen8 Servers, each with:
• Two Intel® E5-2620 v2 six-core CPUs
• 192 GB memory
• One SAS 300 GB 10k rpm drive ESXi boot device
• Three SAS 1.2 TB 10k rpm drive for the VMware Virtual SAN data store
• One 400 GB MLC enterprise-grade SSD for read/write cache
• One H220 host bus adapter (HBA) pass-through controller
• Two 10GbE NIC ports, configured for SFP+ connections
• One 1GbE IPMI port for remote (out-of-band) management


Posted by on February 13, 2015 in EVO:RAIL

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VMUG Virtual Event – Feb 17th

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 12.16.13

Do you want the best in NSX, Management, vCloud and vSphere at your fingertips? Want to chat with VMware experts, leaders, and partners? Maybe solve some of your business’ most frustrating issues? Take the VMUG conference experience to the next level and connect with the industry’s most skilled professionals while discovering the latest technology, products, and services. The 2015 #virtualevent—conveniently located wherever YOU are—will provide you with keynote and breakout sessions, a virtual trade show floor, and opportunities to engage with other attendees; not to mention access to webcasts, white papers, and case studies available for download.

I will be presenting EVO:RAIL using the brand new hands-on-lab, and taking QA afterwards – there will be also an opportunity to take the lab and be supported by either myself or one of my team members (depends on the time you take the lab!)


Posted by on February 13, 2015 in VMUG

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New Year; New Hands-on-Lab

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 10.13.59

One of my responsibilities in the EVO:RAIL team is the Hands-on-Lab environment (HOL for short). I’m ably assisted by my colleague Judy Snow who helps test new versions and also in improving the lab guide that accompanies the lab. Boy, do I appreciate her help – as you can probably guess with my blog output – good spelling and grammar remain a challenge for me!

The HOL is important to the EVO:RAIL project – perhaps more important than other products, because EVO:RAIL is essentially a software experience delivered through a hardware appliance. One of my first thoughts when I joined the team in August, 2014 (Yes, it really has been 6 months!) was how on earth the wider VMware community was going to be able to “play” with EVO:RAIL. After all, it’s not something you download and play with as for a conventional evaluation period. The way I see it VMware has an unpaid army of evangelists in the community, and anything that assists them in explaining the advantages (and yes, disadvantages) of hyper-convergence, as well as to be able to talk confidently to their management about the appliance experience, has to be a benefit.

With that in mind I’ve been working hard to add more functionality to the current EVO:RAIL HOL that allows partners, employees and customers to do more and show more. The new HOL I’ve been working on is built on the solid foundations put there by my colleagues Wit Riewrangboonya, and William Lam. As ever in life we seldom achieve purely on our own, and we are almost always standing on the shoulders of other people’s work.

The new HOL will be battle tested at this year’s PEX event – and afterward will find its way on the publically facing site. Using it you will be able to carry out the new tasks including:

  • Go through the workflow to add a 2nd appliance demonstrating EVO:RAIL auto-discovery and auto-scale-out functionality
  • Emulate the failure of an individual ESXi host, and go through the workflow of adding a replacement node
  • Experience the process of patching the EVO:RAIL software engine.
  • Finally, for those people wanting to ‘brand’ the EVO:RAIL UI with logos of one our 9 Qualified EVO:RAIL Partner (QEPs) there’s small script that enables the logo prior to starting off the configuration which is called logos.bat held in the C:\EVO:RAIL directory in the Control Center desktop

With the new lab being made available – it now had new URL listed below. Please to take when you can – and you can let me know directly what you think and your experiences. EVO:RAIL is physical appliance and deploying the VMware software stack at quite a primary level – so its often tricky to get the virtual and physical worlds to be the same – so any feedback on improving it and making the experience more realistic will be warmly recieved!!!


Posted by on February 12, 2015 in EVO:RAIL

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Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 14.02.48By now you have probably heard the EMC debut their flavour of EVO:RAIL calling it VSPEX Blue. It’ build upon the foundation of EVO:RAIL’s quick time-to-value, taking as little 15mins or less to setup – by adding and extending it with EMC software. Like all our Qualified EVO:RAIL Partners (QEP), EMC are free to add-value to core EVO:RAIL system, but bundling complementary software and services. As you might know from a hardware perspective every EVO:RAIL offers much the same hardware resouces, so QEP’s differentiate (or compete) by offering such add-ons.

I was lucky to get a pre-briefing on VSPEX Blue along side the EMC Elect – that’s program that’s similiar to VMware’s vExpert program – and comprises popular bloggers and industry-types who are primarily focused on EMC products and solutions. EMC’s VSPEX Blue ships with the VSPEX Blue Manager software which extends hardware monitoring, and intregrates with EMC Connect Home, and online support facilities. Additionally, EMC have added access to the VSPEX Blue Market, which offers value-add software products included with VSPEX Blue. This little architecture diagram below shows how VSPEX Blue Manager fits in with the overall architecture:

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 14.18.41

It interface with the BMC Controller on the appliance itself as well communicating to/from vCenter and EVO:RAIL Engine – then North-bound up to additional EMC Cloud Services. That ERSE/VE component you see in the diagram responsible for the “Connect Home” support which allows for monitoring, notification and remote troubleshooting.

EMC have opted to extend the EVO:RAIL UI with an “VSPEXS Blue Market” – a kind of “AppStore” experience for downloading other add-ons included in the package. This includes such things as:

  • EMC CloudArray Virtual Editions
  • EMC RecoverPoint for VMs
  • VMware vSphere Data Protection Advanced (VDPA)

The idea of including EMC CloudArray is leverage public and private cloud storage to extend VSPEX Blue’s storage capacity – include in the package is 1TB cache, and 10TB of storage (support is included). EMC CloudArray offers:

  • Encyption in-flight and at-rest
  • Bandwidth throttling and data compression
  • Snapshots
  • NAS support for NFS/CIFS

As for EMC RecoverPoint for VMs this ships with built-in licenses to protect up 15 VMs – with option to acquire more licenses to protect additional VMs. It plugs into the vCenter UI for per-VM protection in away that you might be familiar with VMware’s vSphere Replication. The difference is whereas vSphere Replication of an asynchronious replication with 15min RPO (which is good 99% of most applications and environments), EMC’s RecoverPoint for VM supports sychronious replication (assuming your network can meet the latency/round-trip requirements).

Finally, VMware vSphere Data Protection Advanced (VDPA) is backup solution based around EMC’s Avamar de-duplication technology. It offers variable-length de-duplication utilization VMware’s “Change Block Tracking” (CBT) feature. VDPA includes the option to backup EMC Data Domain Target. Finally, VDPA supports application-consistent.

As for support it looks as if EMC are offering 3 different levels (Basic, Enhanced, Premium). Basic/Enhanced come with next-busines-day from parts perspective; whereas basic comes with 9to5 support, Enhanced comes with 24×7 support, Enhanced will offer 24x7x4 support for parts, and includes such options as remote monitoring and repair – together with assisted updates for software.

EMC have kindly supplied some screen grabs in advanced of the launch for those invited the call. I’ve listed these below – so you can get a handle on what the UI looks and feels like. What I really like is how EMC have to taken the look and feel of the EVO:RAIL Management UI and created their own front-end for VSPEX Manager which looks ever bit like the core EVO:RAIL UI….





Posted by on February 3, 2015 in EVO:RAIL

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Chinwag Reloaded with David Davis (@davidmdavis)



I’ve known David Davis now – wow, thinking back its coming up on a decade. I might have been at the first ever North Carolina User Conference – or perhaps it was VMworld. We’ve kept in touch along the ways – and I think have an affinity based on the fact that we have both at one time or another being instructors. Being an instructor is funny little thing – and it kind of build a bond amongst those who’ve done the job in whatever shape or form. David was at TrainSignal until they were acquired by much larger organization called PluralSight where he is now. He’s still very much focused on VMware technologies from a training perspective.

In this podcast, David looks back on last years highlights, and looks forward to what’s coming next – he also shares with us his take on what will be hot this year…

Click here to listen to the directly on this site…. or alternatively watch the youtube video below:


Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Chinwag

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Under The Covers: EVO:RAIL Architecture

Last week I was in Palo Alto working with the team, and I had the chance to get some stick-time with a physical appliance. Believe it or not much of my experience to date has been focused on our very own ‘hands-on-lab’ and improving and extending it to be ready for our Partner Exchange (PEX) in February of this year. I think this is a great illustration of these HOL environments – allowing people to play with stuff without the need for the physical hardware.

I’ve been adding all sorts of additional tasks to the new HOL including such things as:

• Adding 2nd appliance to demo auto-discovery
• Patch Management of the EVO:RAIL engine
• Simulating a failure of a node, and the replacement workflow

On top of that I’ve been working on some internal training for both our staff and partners to get folks up to speed. I think the value-prop and purpose of EVO:RAIL is starting to be understood – but I think people are looking for more detail about how the product works. Not because you need to know this stuff to get the experience, but that generally if you’re a technical person it’s just nice to know how things fit together. Appliances tend to be referred to as “black boxes” but personally I find this can lead to fear of the unknown. I’ve never been one to believe that ignorance is bliss, and often quoted the poet Alexander Pope in my classes who stated: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. So this series of posts is about making sure that there is lots of knowledge available.


So lets start with brass tacks. As you probably know by now EVO:RAIL is a 2U-4node system. In the EVO:RAIL we number each of these nodes – node 01, 02, 03, and 04, and you will see that in our UI as well. Each node has an identity that is a combination of the appliance ID and its node ID such as MAR12345604-01, MAR12345604-02, MAR12345604-03, and MAR12345604-04. The first node is an important node in that it’s where the EVO:RAIL Configuration and Management engine resides.


So here we can see that node01 is the one that initially holds the vCSA instance. Inside the vCSA instance is installed the EVO:RAIL Engine and the VMware LoudMouth daemon (incidentally, not shown in the diagram for simplicity is the vCenter Log Insight instance). The EVO:RAIL Engine is the service that provides the pretty looking Configuration and Management UI that you see in all our videos and in the HOL. VMware Loudmouth on the other hand is an implementation of “Zero Network Configuration” and it allows for the auto-discovery of the nodes, and is intimately associated with such tasks as discovery of additional appliances to increase compute and storage capacity.

You’ll notice that in the architecture diagram the vCSA and Log Insight appliances are not stored on the boot device – they are stored in a VSAN datastore. So there’s a bit of chicken and egg or Joseph Heller style Catch22 at play here if you think about it. The vCSA (as a consequence the EVO:RAIL software) is held on the storage it is about to configure. How do you power on the vCenter instance on a VSAN that has yet to be configured? After all one of the tasks of the EVO:RAIL Configuration engine is to create a VSAN datastore constructed of the 12 hard disks (HDD) and the 4 Solid-State Drives (SSD). Here’s the secret sauce.

It is actually possible to create VSAN Disk Groups and VSAN Datastore with just one node. It’s a process well documented by esteemed colleague William Lam on his virtualghetto blog:

In William’s case he was concerned with home-labbers who want to use VSAN as the primary and only storage, and have no other storage to temporarily hold the vCenter – which needs to be powered on and available to create the first HA Cluster and as a consequence the VSAN cluster as well. So when an EVO:RAIL appliance is powered on all four nodes are powered on simultaneously and node01 uses VMware ESXi “Virtual Machine Start-up/Shutdown” to power the vCSA for the first time.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.32.16

Note: This screen grab shows the vCSA and Log Insight being stored on the same Marvin-Virtual-SAN-Datastore. Incidentally, Log Insight is only powered on if you enable it during the EVO:RAIL Configuration.


Note: This screen grab shows how the vCSA appliance is set to auto-start when node01 is powered on for the first time.

Finally, as an aside – the boot device can either be a conventional HHD, or it could be a 32GB SLC SATADOM with reservation pool. This reservation pool holds back cells on the SLC SATADOM, so if cells become depleted, there are some in reserve that can be utilized. Typically these local boot devices are formatted with VMFS and labeled with the naming convention of appliance-nodeID-service-datastore1. This screen grab below shows this “service-datastore” together with the VSAN Datastore called MARVIN-Virtual-SAN datastore.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.40.20

One thing to mention about the service-datastore is that each node has a “reset” folder that contains a backup file of each node (ConfigBundle.tgz). And that node01 service-datastore1 holds copies of the vCSA .OVF and Log Insight OVF in an “images” folder like so:

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.44.34

That’s it for now for this first installment of “Under the Covers”. Check back with me in a couple of days time for the next post. The main take away here is the importance of node01 and how fundamentally vCSA and Log Insight end up being stored in the same cluster they help create and manage. That means they do not represent a single-point of failure as they are protected by the same technologies as any normal VM. An end-user just using the EVO:RAIL UI will not see the vCSA and Log Insight virtual appliance. We’ve hidden them away to provide a cleaner UI experience, but if you open either the vSphere Web Client or Desktop Client you will see them there like any other VM.

Note: To make things less complicated the vCSA and Log Insight virtual appliance are hidden to give a cleaner UI for customers who prefer the simplicity of creating VMs from the EVO:RAIL Management UI.


Posted by on January 28, 2015 in EVO:RAIL

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