A Taste of VxRail Deployment Flexibility
Thu, 28 Oct 2021 11:13:18 -0000|
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With the recent announcements of VxRail dynamic nodes and satellite nodes, the VxRail portfolio is certainly getting more diverse. Like after any good trick-or-treating run, it’s time to sort through the bag of goodies. Yes, here in the United States it’s Halloween time if you can believe it, though stores are trying to confuse you by putting up Christmas decorations already.
The addition of VxRail dynamic nodes and VxRail satellite nodes allows VxRail to address even more customer workloads. This blog breaks down the different deployment options that are now available at the datacenter and at the edge. So, let’s check out what’s in that bag.
VxRail for the datacenter
VxRail for the datacenter
At the core of the VxRail portfolio is the VxRail cluster with vSAN. To me, the VxRail node with vSAN plays the role of the Snickers bar -- a hyperconvergence of caramel, peanuts, and milk chocolate with the heartiness and versatility to satisfy your need for energy whether at home or far from it. Similarly, the VxRail node is composed of software-defined compute and storage, in vSphere and vSAN, internal cache and capacity drives, and network cards. Running on VxRail HCI System Software, the VxRail cluster provides a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) that allows customers to cost-effectively scale and incrementally expand their cluster, from as few as 3 nodes to 64 nodes, to match the pace of growth of their workload requirements. Most VxRail customers start with this deployment type as their introduction to the world of HCI.
The VxRail node is available in six different series that are based on several PowerEdge Server platforms to offer different combinations of space-efficiency, performance, storage capacity, and workload diversity.
For situations where customers are looking for site resiliency to service their applications, they can turn to stretched clusters. A cluster can be stretched across two datacenters so that, in case one site experiences a catastrophic event that causes it to go offline, the secondary site can automatically service the same applications to the clients. Because writes to storage need to be mirrored onto the secondary site before they are acknowledged on the primary site, the two sites are typically in the same region so that latency does not significantly impact the quality of service of the applications running on the primary site.
With the addition of VxRail dynamic nodes, VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) on VxRail customers can now better address use cases where customers continue to utilize their enterprise storage arrays to run mission-critical or life-critical workloads for data resiliency and data protection. Almost every industry has applications that fall under this category such as financial service applications or critical patient care services. For these applications, customers typically store them on enterprise storage arrays and rely on vSphere clusters for virtualized compute resources. By deploying VxRail dynamic node clusters as vSphere clusters, customers will benefit from the same operational consistency and simplicity across all their VxRail clusters
Like Halloween candy without nuts, there are use cases for VxRail nodes without drives. VxRail dynamic nodes are compute-only nodes without internal storage which means they don’t require vSAN licenses. They are available in the E, P, and V Series. VxRail dynamic nodes rely on an external storage resource as their primary storage. They can use external storage from Dell EMC storage arrays or from datastores shared by vSAN clusters using VMware vSAN HCI Mesh. With VxRail dynamic nodes in the fold, VCF on VxRail customers can include workload domains that use the existing enterprise storage arrays for their critical workloads without incurring vSAN license costs. For customers looking to optimize their vSAN resources, VxRail dynamic node clusters allow them to scale compute and storage independently for certain workloads like Oracle to reduce vSAN license costs.
To learn more about VxRail dynamic nodes, you can take a look at my previous blog about VxRail 7.0.240.
VxRail for the edge
As customers look to extend more to the edge to process information closer to where it is being collected, the VxRail portfolio is extending as well to help customers expand their VxRail footprint to maintain the operational consistency and simplicity from the core to the edge. The edge space covers a wide spectrum of IT infrastructure requirements – from just having scaled-down datacenter infrastructure at the edge to extreme remote locations where they can be space-constrained, power-constrained, bandwidth-constrained, or subject to harsh climate and use. While VxRail portfolio does not address the further ends of far edge, let’s walk through the deployment options available with the portfolio.
Starting with the scaled-down datacenter infrastructure, the VxRail cluster with vSAN may still be the right fit for some edge profiles. For locations such as regional engineering hubs or satellite university campuses, having a three or four-node cluster can provide the performance and availability required to meet the site needs.
Like Twix, the VxRail 2-node cluster with vSAN comes in two VxRail nodes with vSAN. When used with the E Series or D Series, the 2-node cluster is the smallest form factor for a vSAN cluster in the VxRail portfolio. This deployment type requires a witness appliance installed outside of the cluster for disaster recovery after a failed node comes back online.
As mentioned before, the D-series is the ruggedized VxRail node with much shorter depth at 20”. It’s a very interesting option at edge locations where space is limited or the ambient environment would be too much of a challenge for a typical datacenter solution. Let’s say in case you want to run a VxRail on an airplane that’s 15,000 feet (~4500 meters) above ground. You can find more details here.
With the newly announced VxRail satellite nodes, there is a great opportunity to extend the VxRail footprint even further to locations where, previously, it just was not the right fit whether it be cost-related, space-related, or the inability to even manage the infrastructure. VxRail satellite nodes are like the M&Ms in this VxRail bag of goodies. You can have a lot of them and they may look different on the outside but, at each core, it’s the same milk chocolatey center.
VxRail satellite nodes are single VxRail nodes designed to operate at the outer edges as an extension to a VxRail cluster with vSAN which manages them. For the retail industries, you can find them at retail shops that run your sales inventory, payment, and ordering applications. VxRail satellite nodes will be available on three VxRail models (E660, E660F, and V670F) and run the same VxRail HCI System Software as other VxRail deployment offerings. VxRail satellite nodes act as separate ESXi hosts. They do not run vSAN but have their own internal storage that is protected via an onboard RAID controller.
For edge locations where application availability is not as important as the cost, the VxRail satellite node is the most cost-effective VxRail solution. Satellite nodes are centrally managed by a VxRail cluster with vSAN, typically deployed at a regional datacenter. Virtual administrators can monitor the health of the satellite nodes, run health checks, and initiate node updates from a central location.
VxRail HCI System Software as the common denominator
Though the new offerings in the VxRail portfolio differ from what you normally view as a VxRail node, all VxRail nodes run the same VxRail HCI System Software. Like sugar for candy, once you have a taste you want more. The common operating model allows VxRail customers to confidently apply Continuously Validated States across their VxRail footprint to maximize their investment in VMware software in a secure way. VxRail HCI System Software continues to provide the peace of mind to allow our customers to innovate and transform their infrastructure as their workload demands evolve from the datacenter to the far reaches at the edge.
Unlike the sugar highs and lows that we all will get from consuming too much Halloween candy, this VxRail bag of goodies delivers the operational steadiness and consistency that will help our customers achieve the management bliss they’ll need for their IT infrastructure from the core to the edge. To learn more about VxRail deployment flexibility, listen to our latest podcast featuring Ash McCarty, Director of product management in VxRail platforms, as he provides a technical deep dive into the VxRail dynamic node and VxRail satellite node offerings.
Daniel Chiu, Senior Technical Marketing Manager at Dell Technologies
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Take Advantage of the Latest Enhancements to VxRail Life Cycle Management
Tue, 20 Jun 2023 16:52:40 -0000|
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Providing the best life cycle management experience for HCI is not easy, nor is it a one-time job for which we can pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next endeavor. It’s a continuous cycle that incorporates feature enhancements and improvements based on your feedback. While we know that improving VxRail LCM is vitally important for us to continue to deliver differentiating value to you, it is just as important that your clusters continue to run the latest software to realize the benefits. In this post, I’ll provide a deep dive into the LCM enhancements introduced in the past few software releases so you can consider the added functionality that you can benefit from.
Focus areas for improved LCM
Going back into last year, we prioritized four focus areas to improve your LCM experience. While the value is incremental when you look at just a single software release, this post provides a holistic perspective of how VxRail has improved upon LCM over time to further increase the efficiencies that you enjoy today.
- Based on data that we have gathered on reported cluster update failures, we found that almost half of the update failures occurred because a node failed to enter maintenance mode. Effectively addressing this issue can potentially be the most impactful benefit for our customer base.
- As the VxRail footprint expands beyond the data center, resource constraints such as network bandwidth and Internet connectivity can become significant hurdles for effectively deploying infrastructure solutions at the edge. Recent enhancements in VxRail focused on creating space-efficient LCM bundle transfers.
- Doing more with less is a common thread across all organizations and industries. In the context of VxRail LCM, we’re looking to further simplify your cluster update planning experience by putting more actionable information at your fingertips.
- While no product, including VxRail, can avoid a failure from ever happening, VxRail looks to put you in a better position to protect your cluster and quickly recover from a failure.
Figure 1. 12+ month recap of LCM enhancements
Now that you know about the four focus areas, let’s get into the details about the actual improvements that have been introduced in the last 12+ months.
Mitigating maintenance mode failures
In our investigation, we were able to identify three major issues that caused a cluster update failure because a node did not enter maintenance mode accordingly:
- VMtools was still mounted on a VM.
- VMs were pinned to a host due to an existing policy.
- vSAN resynchronization was taking too long and exceeded the timeout value.
In VxRail 7.0.350, prechecks were added for the first two issues. When a pre-update health check is run, these new VxRail prechecks identify those issues if they exist and alert you in the report so that you can remedy the issue before initiating a cluster update. In the same release, the timeout value to wait for a node to enter maintenance mode was doubled to reduce the chance that vSAN resynchronization does not finish in time.
Next, the cluster update capability set was also enhanced to address a cluster update failure due to a node not entering maintenance mode as expected. With the combination of enhancements made to cluster update error handling and cluster update retry operations in VxRail 7.0.350 and VxRail 7.0.400 respectively, VxRail is now able to handle this scenario much more efficiently. If a node fails to enter maintenance mode, the cluster update operation now skips the node and continues on to the next node instead of failing out of the operation altogether. Upon running the cluster update retry operation, VxRail can automatically detect which node requires an update instead of updating the entire cluster.
Space-efficient LCM bundle transfers
The next area of improvement addressed reducing the package sizes of the LCM bundles. A smaller package size can be very beneficial for bandwidth-constrained environments such as edge locations.
VxRail 7.0.350 introduced the capability for you to designate a local Windows client at your data center to be the central repository and distributor of LCM bundles for remote VxRail clusters that are not connected to the Internet. Using a separate PowerShell commandlet installed on the client, you can initiate space-efficient bundle transfers from the client to your remote clusters in your internal network. The transfer operation automatically scans the manifest of the Continuously Validated State (VxRail software version) running on the VxRail cluster and determines the delta compared to the requested LCM bundle. Instead of transferring the full LCM bundle, which is greater than 10 GB in size, it only packages the necessary installation files. A much smaller LCM bundle can cut down on bandwidth usage and transfer times.
Figure 2. Central repository and distributor of LCM bundles to remote VxRail clusters
In VxRail 7.0.450, space-efficient LCM bundles can also be created when VxRail Manager downloads an LCM bundle from the Dell cloud. This feature requires that the VxRail Manager be connected to the Dell cloud.
Simplified cluster update planning experience
The next set of LCM enhancements is centered around providing you with critical insights to maximize the probability of a successful cluster update and for the information to be up-to-date and readily available whenever you need it.
Since VxRail 7.0.400, the pre-update health check includes a RecoverPoint for VMs compatibility precheck to detect whether its current version of software is compatible with the target VxRail software version.
VxRail 7.0.450 increased the frequency at which the VxRail prechecks file is updated. The increased frequency ensures that any additional prechecks added by engineering because of technology changes or new learnings from support cases are incorporated into the VxRail prechecks file that is run against your cluster. When your cluster is connected to the Dell cloud, VxRail Manager periodically scans for the latest VxRail prechecks file.
VxRail 7.0.450 also automated the health check to run every 24 hours. The combination of automated VxRail prechecks file scans and health check runs ensure that you have access to an up-to-date health check report once you log in to VxRail Manager.
VxRail 7.0.450 also further simplified your cluster update planning experience by consolidating into a single, exportable report all the necessary insights about your cluster to help you decide whether to move forward with a cluster update. This update advisor report has four sections:
- VxRail Update Advisor Report Summary includes the current VxRail version running on the cluster, the target (or selected) VxRail version, estimated duration to complete a cluster update, a link to the release notes, and information about your backup for your service VMs.
Figure 3. Update advisor report—summary report
- VxRail Components shows which components need to be updated to get to the target VxRail version. The table includes the current version and target version for each component.
Figure 4. Update advisor report—components report
- VxRail Precheck is the previously mentioned pre-update health check report, inclusive of all the enhancements discussed.
Figure 5. Update advisor report—LCM precheck report
- VxRail Custom Components is a report that highlights user-managed components installed on the cluster. You should consider these custom components when deciding whether to schedule a cluster update.
Figure 6. Update advisor report—custom components report
When VxRail Manager is connected to the Dell cloud, it automatically scans for new update paths. Once a new update path is detected, VxRail Manager downloads a lightweight manifest file that contains all the information needed to produce the update advisor report. The report is automatically generated every 24 hours. This feature is designed to streamline the availability of up-to-date critical insights to help you make an informed decision about a cluster update.
The last set of LCM enhancements that I will cover is around serviceability. While many of the features discussed earlier are meant to be proactive and to prevent failures, there are times when failures can still occur. Being able to efficiently troubleshoot the issues is critically important to getting your clusters back up and running quickly.
In VxRail 7.0.410, the logging capability was enhanced in a couple of areas so that the Dell Support team can pinpoint issues faster. When a pre-update health check identifies failures, the offending host is now recorded. If a node does fail to enter maintenance mode, the logs now capture the reason for the failure.
In VxRail 7.0.450, we automated the backup of the VxRail Manager VM and vCenter Server VM (if it’s VxRail managed). Now you can easily back up your service VMs before updating a cluster.
Figure 7. Automate VxRail backup of service VMs before a cluster update
This feature is also integrated into the update advisor report, where you can see the latest backup on the report summary and click a link to go to the backup page to create another backup.
Value of VxRail life cycle management
If life cycle management is one of the major reasons that you chose to invest in VxRail, our continuous improvements to life cycle management should be a compelling reason to keep your clusters running the latest software. VxRail life cycle management continues to provide significant value by addressing the challenges that your organization faces today.
Figure 8. VxRail benefits (data from "The Business Value of Dell VxRail HCI," April 2023, IDC)
In an IDC study sponsored by Dell Technologies, The Business Value of Dell VxRail HCI, the value that VxRail LCM provides to organizations is significant and compelling. The results of this study are major proof points on why you should continue investing in VxRail to mitigate these challenges:
- Overburdened IT staff. The automated LCM and mechanisms in VxRail to maintain cluster integrity throughout the life of the cluster drives significant efficiencies in your IT infrastructure team.
- Unplanned outages that lead to significant disruption to businesses. The benefit of pretested and prevalidated sets of drivers, firmware, and software which we call VxRail Continuously Validated States is the significant reduction in risk as you update your HCI cluster from one version to the next.
- More time spent on deploying infrastructure and resulting slowdown of pace at which your business can innovate. The automation and integrated validation checks speeds up deployment times without compromising security.
The emphasis that we put on improving your LCM experience is extraordinary, and we encourage you to maximize your investment in VxRail. Updating to the latest VxRail software release gives you access to the many LCM enhancements that can drive greater efficiencies in your organization. And with VxRail Continuously Validated States, you can safely get to the next software release and the ones that follow.
For more information about the features in VxRail 7.0.400, check out this blog post:
For more information about the features in VxRail 7.0.450, see this post:
If you want to learn about the latest in the VxRail portfolio, you can check the VxRail page on the Dell Technologies website:
Author: Daniel Chiu, VxRail Technical Marketing
Learn About the Latest Major VxRail Software Release: VxRail 7.0.450
Thu, 11 May 2023 16:14:15 -0000|
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To our many VxRail customers, you know that our innovation train is a constant machine that keeps on delivering more value while keeping you on a continuously validated track. The next stop on your VxRail journey brings you to VxRail 7.0.450 which offers significant benefits to life cycle management and dynamic node clusters.
This blog provides a deep dive into some of the life cycle management enhancements as well as PowerStore Life Cycle Management integration into VxRail Manager for VxRail dynamic node clusters. For a more comprehensive rundown of the features introduced in this release, see the release notes.
Life cycle management
The life cycle management features that I am covering can provide the most impact to our VxRail customers. The first set of features are designed to offer you actionable information at your fingertips. Imagine taking your first sip of coffee or tea as you log onto VxRail Manager at the start of your day, and you immediately have all the up-to-date information that you need to make decisions and plan out your work.
VxRail pre-update health check
The VxRail pre-update health check, or pre-check as the VxRail Manager UI refers to it, has been an important tool for you to determine the overall health of your clusters and assess the readiness for a cluster update. The output of this report brings helps you to be aware of troublesome areas and provides you with information, such as Knowledge Base articles, to resolve the issues. This tool relies on a script that can be automatically uploaded onto the VxRail Manager VM, if the cluster is securely connected to the Dell cloud, or manually uploaded as a bundle procured from the Dell Support website.
For the health check to stay reliable and improve over time, the development of the health check script needs to incorporate a continuous feedback loop so that the script can easily evolve. Feedback can come from our Dell Services and escalation engineering teams as they learn from support cases, and from the engineering team as new capabilities and additions are introduced to the VxRail offering.
To provide an even more accurate assessment of the cluster health and readiness for a cluster update, the VxRail team has increased the frequency of how often the health check script is updated. Starting with VxRail 7.0.450, clusters that are connected to the Dell cloud will automatically scan for new health check scripts multiple times per day. The health check will automatically run every 24 hours, with the latest script in hand, so that you will have an up-to-date report ready for your review whenever you log onto VxRail Manager. This enhancement has just made the pre-update health check even more reliable and convenient.
For clusters that are not connected to the Dell cloud, you can still benefit from the increased frequency of health script updates. However, you are responsible for checking for any updates on the Dell Support website, downloading them, and staging the script on VxRail Manager for the tool to utilize it.
VxRail cluster update planning
The next enhancement that I will delve into provides a simpler and more convenient cluster update planning experience. VxRail 7.0.450 introduces more automation into the cluster update planning operations, so that you have all the information that you need to plan for an update without manual intervention.
For a cluster connected to the Dell cloud, VxRail Manager will automatically scan for new update paths that are relevant to that particular cluster. This scan happens multiple times a day. If a new update path is found, VxRail Manager will download the lightweight manifest file from that target LCM composite bundle. This file provides the metadata of the LCM composite bundle, including the manifest of the target VxRail Continuously Validated State.
The following figure shows the information of two update paths provided by their manifest files to populate the Internet Updates tab. That information includes the target VxRail software version, estimated cluster update time, link to the release notes, and whether reboots are required for the nodes to complete an update to this target version. (You can disregard the actual software version numbers: these are engineering test builds used to demonstrate the new functionality.)
VxRail Manager, by default, will recommend the next software version on the same software train. For the recommended path, VxRail Manager automatically generates an update advisor report which is the new feature for cluster update planning. An update advisor report is a singular exportable report that consolidates the output from existing planning tools:
- Same metadata of the update path, as provided on the Internet Updates tab:
- The update advisory report that provides component-by-component change analysis, which helps users build IT infrastructure change reports:
- The health check report that was discussed earlier:
- The user-managed component report that reminds users whether they need to update non-VxRail managed components for a cluster update:
This report is automatically generated every 24 hours so that you can log onto VxRail Manager and have all the up-to-date information at your disposal to make informed decisions. This feature will make your life easier because you no longer have to manually run all these jobs and wait for them to complete!
For a non-recommended update, you can manually generate an update advisor report using the Actions button for the listed update path. For clusters not connected to Dell cloud, you can still benefit from the update advisor report. However, instead of downloading a lightweight manifest file, you would have to download the full LCM bundle from the Dell Support website to generate the report.
The last life cycle management feature that I want to focus on is about smart bundles. The term ‘smart bundle’ refers to a space-efficient LCM bundle that can be downloaded from the Dell cloud. For VxRail users who are using CloudIQ today to manage their VxRail clusters, this feature is familiar to you. A space-efficient bundle is created by first performing a change analysis of the VxRail Continuously Validated State currently running on a cluster versus the target VxRail Continuously Validated State that a user wants to download for their cluster. The change analysis determines the delta of install files in the full LCM bundle that is needed by the cluster to download and update to the target version.
In VxRail 7.0.450, you can now initiate smart bundle transfers from VxRail Manager. Smart bundles can greatly reduce the transfer size of an update bundle, which can be extremely beneficial for bandwidth-constrained environments. To use the smart bundle feature, the cluster has to be configured to connect to CloudIQ in the Dell cloud. If VxRail Manager is not properly configured to use the smart bundle feature or if the smart bundle operation fails, VxRail Manager defaults to using the traditional method of downloading the full LCM bundle from the Dell cloud.
VxRail dynamic nodes with PowerStore
VxRail 7.0.450 introduces the much-anticipated integration of PowerStore life cycle management into VxRail Manager for a configuration consisting of VxRail dynamic nodes using PowerStore as the primary storage (also referred to as Dynamic AppsON). This integration further centralizes PowerStore management onto the vCenter Server console for VMware environments. With the Virtual Storage Integrator (VSI) plugin to vCenter, you have been able to provision PowerStore storage and manage data services. Now, you can use the VxRail Manager plugin to manage a PowerStore update and view the array’s software version.
To enable this functionality, VxRail leverages the VSI’s new API server to communicate with the PowerStore Manager and initiate lifecycle management operations and retrieve status information. The API server was developed exclusively for VxRail Manager in a Dynamic AppsON configuration. You start the LCM workflow by first uploading the update bundle to PowerStore Manager, then running an update pre-check, and lastly running the update. The operations are initiated from VxRail Manager but the actual operations are executed on the PowerStore Manager.
The following video shows the PowerStore LCM workflow that can be run from the VxRail Manager. You can update a PowerStore that is using any storage type, except NFS, as the primary storage for a VxRail dynamic node cluster.
Although VxRail 7.0.450 is a jam packed release with many new features and enhancements, the features I’ve described are the headliners and deserve a deeper dive to unpack the capability set. Overall, the set of LCM enhancements in this release provides immense value for your future cluster management and update experience. For the full list of features introduced in this release, see the release notes. And for more information about VxRail in general, check out the Dell VxRail Hyperconverged Infrastructure page on www.dell.com.
Author: Daniel Chiu