In today’s fast paced digital world, organizations that want to stay competitive require ongoing infrastructure updates and patches to ensure they’re getting the most from technology investments. Staying current with the latest software updates, updates and patches ensures the infrastructure is secure and optimized for performance while providing users with the latest features and functionality to better serve business needs.
VxRail LCM is built on Ecosystem Connectors to integrate vSAN cluster software and PowerEdge server hardware so that the ESXi host can be managed as a single system. This system integration enables automation and orchestration necessary to deliver non-disruptive, streamlined HCI stack updates. Where VxRail LCM delivers differentiated value is the ability to deliver pre-validated set of software and firmware that ensures compatibility and compliance of the entire configuration on HCI stack while maintaining the performance and availability required of the virtualized workloads running on the clusters.
The ability to test, validate, and produce a VxRail software bundle to support every vSphere release, any-to-any version update path, and the millions of VxRail configurations is termed as Continuously Validated States. These Continuously Validated States are recorded on the Electronic Compatibility Matrix. The VxRail team’s $60 million in equipment investment with 100+ team members dedicated to testing and quality makes this possible.
Figure 4. Snapshot of VxRail release support matrix and resources invested to validate each release
VxRail software bundle is customer updateable via a fully automated and validated process. The single-click software update is initiated from VxRail Manager plug-in. It automatically downloads all software ready to be updated including VxRail HCI System Software, vCenter Server, vSphere, and server component firmware and drivers. vRealize Log Insight, SRS, and RecoverPoint for VMs are not part of VxRail LCM, and would need to be updated separately. The automated process consists of four steps including download of the VxRail software, a readiness check, the actual update of the software, and finally, validation and update post checks. The final validation step ensures the update was successful, and the VxRail system is fully functional at the new, updated version of software. Alternatively, there is a REST API call that can execute the update once the software has been downloaded onto the VxRail system.
The figure below shows the four automated steps of a customer-executed VxRail HCI system software update. There are two touchpoints for the customer in this workflow, first when choosing where to acquire the update package and second to execute the cluster update (hardware firmware and software update together).
Figure 5. VxRail update workflow
Step 3 is performed one node at a time, where the ESXi host is placed in maintenance mode, and using vMotion, the VMs are moved to other nodes making the update process non-disruptive. Even if the cluster is not licensed to make use of DRS, VxRail’s partnership with VMware allows VxRail Manager to enable DRS during a cluster update in order to move VMs from the ESXi host that is being updated to achieve non-disruptive updates. In the latest VxRail software versions, the update process pre-stages the update bundle on the next node in the update sequence while the current node is being updated. This improvement reduces the time to update the node, ultimately reducing the overall time to complete a cluster update.
VxRail has its own monitoring and event alerting system that captures VxRail management issues and hardware related issues that are manifesting on the PowerEdge server. VxRail also integrates with vCenter Server so that the events generate alarms that can be seen on the vCenter Server UI. This integration along with existing health monitoring of vSphere and vSAN on vCenter provides end-to-end visibility of the full VxRail stack. For select events, VxRail can self-determine whether it requires the attention of Dell technical support team to resolve. In these scenarios, VxRail automatically generates an alarm on vCenter Server, collects relevant logs necessary to troubleshoot the issue, and initiates a remote service call via SRS with Dell technical support to facilitate a case creation with the supporting log materials. This self-driving feature offloads decision-making of the IT administrator and speeds problem resolution.
VxRail also leverages VMware vRealize Log Insight to monitor system events and provide ongoing holistic notifications about the state of virtual environment and system hardware. It delivers real-time automated log management for the VxRail system with log monitoring, intelligent grouping, and analytics to provide better troubleshooting at scale across VxRail physical, virtual, and cloud environments.
Dell EMC SRS is also accessible from within VxRail Manager plug-in or REST API to provide enterprise-class support and services. SRS includes online chat support and Dell EMC field-service assistance.
In explaining different aspects of innovation VxRail has been introducing in lifecycle management, the figure below provides a model to help understand where the benefits fit with respect to the customer value chain. In short, it’s the how, what, and why.
Update orchestration is the foundation, or the mechanics, to deliver lifecycle management. It’s the how. When talking about lifecycle management of an HCI solution, having an automated and orchestrated workflow to update both hardware and software together is very beneficial to a customer. This cuts down a lot of time of dealing with individual components separately. Having pre-update comprehensive health checks reduces the risk of update failure that ultimately impacts application uptime. And end-to-end update should be non-disruptive to improve uptime. VxRail delivers this value with its tight integration of VMware software and PowerEdge server hardware.
Rather than burdening the customer with the work and risk of defining and validating the configuration required for a full stack cluster update, configuration stability is having a pre-validated configuration that a customer needs to update to in order to take advantage of the latest features and security updates. Business operations are not impacted and the customers are leveraging the latest capabilities while the platform continues to meet security standards and compliance. VxRail delivers this configuration stability with the Continuously Validated States.
At the top of the customer value chain for lifecycle management is decision support. This is the area where HCI vendors will look to deliver in the next few years because it will help drive operational costs even further down. By using artificial intelligence to improve and enhance decision making, IT staff can further offload the burden of infrastructure management. This is an area that VxRail is starting to deliver some capabilities, most notably with SaaS multi-cluster management.
Figure 6. Lifecycle management value tiers