The introduction section of this TechBook addresses the complexity of the software-defined datacenter and the challenges of managing and maintaining an SDDC environment, and VxRail Manager responds to this challenge directly.
VxRail HCI System Software, the VxRail management platform, is the system hardware lifecycle management and serviceability interface for VxRail clusters. It is a strategic advantage for VxRail and further reduces operational complexity. VxRail Manager provides out-of-the-box automation and orchestration for day 0 to day 2 system-based operational tasks, which reduces the overall IT OpEx required to manage the stack. No build-it-yourself HCI solution provides this level of lifecycle management, automation, and operational simplicity.
Figure 14. VxRail HCI System Software
To provide this level of differentiated value to customers, VxRail HCI System Software relies on a set of backend services to gather information and provide event coordination with the underlying infrastructure components including the vSAN cluster (i.e. ESXi, vSAN, vCenter Server), Dell PowerEdge server, and serviceability platforms (i.e. SRS and eServices). This integration allows VxRail to automate and orchestrate infrastructure processes into critical services highly valued by HCI customers (i.e. lifecycle management, single package hardware/software upgrades, automated deployment capabilities). Users can access these cluster management services from their vCenter Server with the VxRail Manager plugin, or via a set of RESTful APIs. By providing public APIs, the value of VxRail for HCI can extend to SDDC solutions such as VMware Cloud Foundation, custom cloud solutions (i.e. Puppet, Ansible), or scripted solutions if customers, like service providers, wish to deploy and manage VxRail clusters at scale.
New to the VxRail management platform is another critical factor to customers’ journey in IT transformation. While operational simplicity heavily impacts OpEx, the rise in infrastructure machine learning is fast becoming an essential component to aid in IT transformation. VxRail Analytical Consulting Engine (ACE) is the newly introduced analytical platform that leverages the data collection from VxRail clusters and best practices to deliver operational intelligence to customers about their HCI environment.
Figure 15. Architecture of VxRail HCI System Software
The architecture diagram above expounds on VxRail HCI System Software. From the bottom up, the backend services include APIs that connect downstream to various members in the infrastructure layer. The VMware connectors provide communication to the components that make up a vSAN cluster. SmartFabric Services provides automated network provisioning capabilities to the VxRail management platform. More details about SmartFabric Services are described in this section. To provide serviceability features in VxRail, communication with ESRS and eServices need to be established. For all the different types of information VxRail gathers, a database is used to store metrics and a message queue is used to facilitate the necessary sequence of events/transactions for automation and orchestration of processes.
The local cluster management layer is the set of proprietary services built to provide customers the benefit of operational simplicity and intelligence to more effectively manage their VxRail cluster.
Customers looking to leverage these services to manage their VxRail clusters locally can use the VxRail Manager plugin on their vCenter Server. There is also upstream APIs that provide a subset of these capabilities, such as lifecycle management and cluster operations services, to cloud solution developers looking to orchestrate the provisioning of HCI for their cloud service delivery solutions. These APIs are also beneficial to customers looking to script their own solutions to manage VxRail clusters at scale.
VxRail Manager features user-friendly workflows for automating VxRail deployment and configuration and monitoring the health of individual systems and individual nodes in the entire cluster. It also incorporates functionality for hardware serviceability and system platform lifecycle management. For instance, it guides system administrators through adding new systems to an existing cluster, and it automatically detects new systems when they come online. VxRail Manager is also used to replace failed disk drives without disrupting availability, to generate and download diagnostic log bundles, and to apply VMware updates or software patches non-disruptively across VxRail nodes.
File-based backups of VxRail HCI System Software help to ensure business continuity in the rare event the VxRail VM needs to be rebuilt.
VxRail HCI System Software is preinstalled on the VxRail system as a single virtual machine. With VxRail Manager plugin for vCenter Server, all VxRail Manager features are integrated with and accessible from the vCenter Server so that users can benefit from these valuable capabilities on a familiar management interface. With the VxRail Manager plugin, the vCenter Server can manage physical hardware of the VxRail cluster.
Figure 16. VxRail Manager plugin for vCenter Server
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. Furthermore, VxRail HCI System Software simplifies system platform lifecycle management by delivering patch software and update notifications that can be automatically installed without interruption or downtime.
Dell EMC Software Remote Services (SRS), also accessible from within VxRail Manager plugin or REST API, provide enterprise-class support and services. SRS includes online chat support and Dell EMC field-service assistance (as seen in the figure below).
Figure 17. VxRail Manager SRS details
In addition to SRS-specific support, the VxRail Support page on vCenter Server links to VxRail Community pages for Dell EMC Knowledge Base articles, user forums for FAQ information and VxRail best practices. The figure below is an example of the support view.
Figure 18. VxRail Manager Support Tab
VxRail Manager plugin provides access to a digital market for finding and downloading qualified software packages such as VMware Horizon Cloud, Data Domain Virtual Edition, RecoverPoint for VM, vSphere Data Protection and other software options for VxRail systems.
VxRail HCI system software is customer upgradeable via a fully automated and validated process. The single-click software upgrade is initiated from VxRail Manager plugin or REST API, and it automatically downloads all software ready to be updated including VxRail HCI System Software, vCenter Server and PSC, ESXi hosts, and SRS. 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 upgrade post checks. The final validation step ensures the upgrade was successful, and the VxRail system is fully functional at the new, upgraded version of software.
The figure below shows the four automated steps of a customer executed VxRail HCI system software upgrade. 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 upgrade (hardware firmware and software update together)
Figure 19. Automated process steps for customer-executable VxRail HCI system software upgrade
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 upgrade 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 upgrade in order to move VMs from the ESXi host that is being upgraded to achieve non-disruptive upgrades. In the latest VxRail software versions, the upgrade process pre-stages the update bundle on the next node in the upgrade sequence while the current node is being upgraded. This improvement reduces the time to upgrade the node, ultimately reducing the overall time to complete a cluster upgrade.
VxRail ACE is a centralized data collection and analytics platform that streamlines the monitoring of multiple VxRail clusters for a customer, improves serviceability, and helps the customer make better decisions to manage performance and capacity of their HCI. It is a cloud-based analytics platform that leverages advanced telemetry collected from the VxRail clusters for its infrastructure machine learning to provide reporting and actionable insight. VxRail ACE’s infrastructure machine learning utilizes built-in knowledge of Dell EMC best practices and more than 700 common issues. This product provides health scores for the entire HCI stack to enable customers to quickly identify areas to troubleshoot and to address areas to efficiently scale based on projected growth of IT resources.
VxRail ACE is available with no additional hardware or software required for the VxRail cluster. It relies on a data collector service provided by the VxRail HCI System Software running on the VxRail nodes to aggregate metrics from the vSAN cluster as well as from the VxRail system. Officially called the Adaptive Data Collector, the service transfers this data bundle to the VxRail ACE platform using the same Secure Remote Services (SRS) conduit for dial home services. Because it uses SRS, an Online Support account is required as well as configuration and enablement of SRS for data to be transferred to the VxRail ACE data lake. This repository is housed at Dell EMC. Using Pivotal Cloud Foundry as its cloud-based service platform, VxRail ACE incorporates its infrastructure machine learning to produce reporting and insight to enable customers to improve serviceability and operational efficiencies. VxRail ACE functionality is entirely consumed via a SaaS-based web portal which provides a single global view of the customer’s VxRail environment.
VxRail system allows customers to use any existing eligible vSphere licenses with their VxRail, or the licenses can be purchased with a VxRail. This VxRail vSphere license independent model (also called “bring your own” or BYO vSphere License model) allows customers to leverage a wide variety of vSphere licenses they may have already purchased.
Several vSphere license editions are supported with VxRail including Enterprise+, Standard, and ROBO editions (vSphere Enterprise is also supported, but is no longer available from VMware). Also supported are vSphere licenses from Horizon bundles or add-ons when the system is dedicated to VDI.
If vSphere licenses need to be purchased, they should be ordered through Dell EMC, the customer’s preferred VMware channel partner, or from VMware directly. Licenses acquired through VMware ELA, VMware partners, or Dell EMC will receive single-call support from Dell EMC.
When determining the best vSphere license to use with the VxRail system, a key consideration is the effect of VxRail functionality. DRS, a significant vSphere feature described earlier in this TechBook, provides the greatest amount of functional variance to VxRail clusters. Customers should consider the degree of automation that DRS provides to determine if the vSphere license they desire includes this functionality.
VxRail supports flexible vSAN licensing options and requires vSAN to be ordered with VxRail or applied via a vSAN ELA from VMware. VxRail supports all license editions of vSAN including Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise. For details on the differences between the vSAN versions please consult the VMware vSAN Comparison Guide here: https://www.vmware.com/content/dam/digitalmarketing/vmware/en/pdf/products/vsan/vmware-vsan-67-licensing-guide.pdf
The figure below lists the software included with VxRail.
Figure 20. VxRail included software