Analytical Consulting Engine (ACE)
Mon, 17 Aug 2020 18:31:30 -0000|
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VxRail plays its ACE, now generally available
VxRail ACE (Analytical Consulting Engine), the new Artificial Intelligence infused component of the VxRail HCI System Software, was announced just a few months ago at Dell Technologies World and has been in global early access. Over 500 customers leveraged the early access program for ACE, allowing developers to collect feedback and implement enhancements prior to General Availability of the product. It is with great excitement that VxRail ACE is now generally available to all VxRail customers. By incorporating continuous innovation/continuous development (CIDC) utilizing the Pivotal Platform (also known as Pivotal Cloud Foundry) container-based framework, Dell EMC developers behind ACE have made rapid iterations to improve the offering; and customer demand has driven new features added to the roadmap. ACE is holding true to its design principles and commitment to deliver adaptive, frequent releases.
Figure 1 ACE Design Principles and Goals
VxRail ACE is a centralized data collection and analytics platform that uses machine learning capabilities to perform capacity forecasting and self-optimization helping you keep your HCI stack operating at peak performance and ready for future workloads. In addition to some of the initial features available during early access, ACE now provides new functionality for intelligent upgrades of multiple clusters (see image below). You can now see the current software version of each cluster along with all available upgrade versions. ACE will allow you to select the desired version per each VxRail cluster. You can now manage at scale to standardize across all sites and clusters with the ability to customize by cluster. This becomes advantageous when some sites or clusters might need to remain at a specific version of VxRail software.
If you haven’t seen ACE in action yet, check out the additional links and videos below that showcase the features described in this post. For our 6,000+ VxRail customers, please visit our support site and Admin Guide to learn how to access ACE.
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Infrastructure as Code with VxRail Made Easier with Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail
Tue, 15 Nov 2022 16:27:36 -0000|
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Many customers are looking at Infrastructure as Code (IaC) as a better way to automate their IT environment, which is especially relevant for those adopting DevOps. However, not many customers are aware of the capability of accelerating IaC implementation with VxRail, which we have offered for some time already—Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail.
What is it? It's the Ansible collection of modules, developed and maintained by Dell, that uses the VxRail API to automate VxRail operations from Ansible.
By the way, if you're new to the VxRail API, first watch the introductory whiteboard video available on YouTube.
Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail are well-suited for IaC use cases. They are written in such a way that all requests are idempotent and hence fault-tolerant. This means that the result of a successfully performed request is independent of the number of times it is run.
Besides that, instead of just providing a wrapper for individual API functions, we automated holistic workflows (for instance, cluster deployment, cluster expansion, LCM upgrade, and so on), so customers don't have to figure out how to monitor the operation of the asynchronous VxRail API functions. These modules provide rich functionality and are maintained by Dell; this means we're introducing new functionality over time. They are already mature—we recently released version 1.4.
Finally, we are also reducing the risk for customers willing to adopt the Ansible modules in their environment, thanks to the community support model, which allows you to interact with the global community of experts. From the implementation point of view, the architecture and end-user experience are similar to the modules we provide for Dell storage systems.
The requirements for the specific version are documented in the "Prerequisites" section of the description/README file.
In general, you need a Linux-based server with the supported Ansible and Python versions. Before installing the modules, you have to install a corresponding, lightweight Python SDK library named "VxRail Ansible Utility," which is responsible for the low-level communication with the VxRail API. You must also meet the minimum version requirements for the VxRail HCI System Software on the VxRail cluster.
This is a summary of requirements for the latest available version (1.4.0) at the time of writing this blog:
Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail
VxRail HCI System Software version
Python library (VxRail Ansible Utility) version
2.9 and 2.10
You can install the SDK library by using git and pip commands. For example:
git clone https://github.com/dell/ansible-vxrail-utility.git cd ansible-vxrail-utility/ pip install .
Then you can install the collection of modules with this command:
ansible-galaxy collection install dellemc.vxrail:1.4.0
After the successful installation, we're ready to test the modules and communication between the Ansible automation server and VxRail API.
I recommend performing that check with a simple module (and corresponding API function) such as dellemc_vxrail_getsysteminfo, using GET /system to retrieve VxRail System Information.
Let's have a look at this example (you can find the source code on GitHub):
Note that this playbook is run on a local Ansible server (localhost), which communicates with the VxRail API running on the VxRail Manager appliance using the SDK library. In the vars section, , we need to provide, at a minimum, the authentication to VxRail Manager for calling the corresponding API function. We could move these variable definitions to a separate file and include the file in the playbook with vars_files. We could also store sensitive information, such as passwords, in an encrypted file using the Ansible vault feature. However, for the simplicity of this example, we are not using this option.
After running this playbook, we should see output similar to the following example (in this case, this is the output from the older version of the module):
Cluster expansion example
Now let's have a look at a bit more sophisticated, yet still easy-to-understand, example. A typical operation that many VxRail customers face at some point is cluster expansion. Let's see how to perform this operation with Ansible (the source code is available on GitHub):
In this case, I've exported the definitions of the sensitive variables, such as vcpasswd, mgt_passwd, and root_passwd, into a separate, encrypted Ansible vault file, sensitive-vars.yml, to follow the best practice of not storing them in the clear text directly in playbooks.
As you can expect, besides the authentication, we need now to provide more parameters—configuration of the newly added host—defined in the vars section. We select the new host from the pool of available hosts, using the PSNT identifier (host_psnt variable).
This is an example of an operation performed by an asynchronous API function. Cluster expansion is not something that is completed immediately but takes minutes. Therefore, the progress of the expansion is monitored in a loop until it finishes or the number of retries is passed. If you communicated with the VxRail API directly by using the URI module from your playbook, you would have to take care of such monitoring logic on your own; here, you can use the example we provide.
You can watch the operation of the cluster expansion Ansible playbook with my commentary in this demo:
The primary source of information about the Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail is the documentation available on GitHub. There you'll find all the necessary details on all currently available modules, a quick description, supported endpoints (VxRail API functions used), required and optional parameters, return values, and location of the log file (modules have built-in logging feature to simplify troubleshooting— logs are written in the /tmp directory on the Ansible automation server). The GitHub documentation also contains multiple samples showing how to use the modules, which you can easily clone and adjust as needed to the specifics of your VxRail environment.
There's also built-in documentation for the modules, accessible with the ansible-doc command.
Finally, the Dell Automation Community is a public discussion forum where you can post your questions and ask for help as needed.
I hope you now understand the Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail and how to get started. Let me quickly recap the value proposition for our customers. The modules are well-suited for IaC use cases, thanks to automating holistic workflows and idempotency. They are maintained by Dell and supported by the Dell Automation Community, which reduces risk. These modules are much easier to use than the alternative of accessing the VxRail API on your own. We provide many examples that can be adjusted to the specifics of the customer’s environment.
To learn more, see these resources:
- On-demand recording of the recent Tech Exchange Live session: "Infrastructure as Code with VxRail," where I dive a bit deeper into the Ansible Modules for VxRail, and my colleague Steffen from VMware discusses the basics of Terraform integration with VxRail.
- Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail on GitHub, which is the central code repository for the modules. It also contains complete product documentation and examples.
- Try the new VxRail API Hands-on-Lab available in the Dell Technologies Demo Center, which we introduced at Dell Technologies World earlier this year. Module 3: Cluster Expansion or Scaling Out allows you to get hands-on experience with the modules without the need to have access to a VxRail system. Your Dell account team can help you access the lab.
The following links provide additional information:
- YouTube video: Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail
- Dell Automation Community
- YouTube video: Level up your HCI automation with VxRail API
- Blog: VxRail API—Updated List of Useful Public Resources
Author: Karol Boguniewicz, Senior Principal Engineering Technologist, VxRail Technical Marketing
Recovering Clusters Faster: VxRail Serviceability
Tue, 08 Nov 2022 20:13:28 -0000|
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This is the fifth article in a series introducing VxRail concepts.
Every tool or piece of equipment out there requires maintenance of some kind. That’s as true for the cars we drive as it is for the servers, storage, and switches that power our data centers. However, a lot of data center maintenance is reactive. Look at hardware failure as an example. If a drive were to fail in one of your clusters, nothing would happen until IT staff respond. VxRail offers the ability to automate some of these responses. Let’s talk about what happens when things go sideways in a cluster’s life.
Help Righting the Ship
One of the roles that the VxRail Manager VM fills is a centralized alert collector. VxRail integrates with the iDRAC to monitor hardware health and with vCenter to monitor VMware software, in addition to its own internal alerts and events. VxRail monitors all this information and creates a more holistic monitoring system for a cluster. This obviously benefits IT staff, but there are some additional benefits to this multi-level integration that other solutions might struggle to match.
VxRail uses a service called “Secure Connect Gateway” to establish a static connection to Dell data centers. This enables a lot of functionality on VxRail, including with CloudIQ for multi-cluster management, but that’s the subject of a future discussion. This static connection helps technical support become more proactive in helping you recover your clusters. For example, say you had a disk fail. If Secure Connect Gateway is enabled, VxRail would dial home and create a case automatically. Support could then use this to confirm the disk failure and confirm that there aren’t any other hardware or software issues being raised. Depending on what warranty services you have, you could even opt to have a replacement hard drive sent out automatically. It wasn’t uncommon for me to see support cases where we were the first to let the administrators know that there was an issue. It was definitely nice to be able to tell them a correction was already on its way out to them.
These phone homes that go through the Secure Connect Gateway add more value than helping to automate parts of some dispatches. The gateway also aids in the support experience. It can do this in a few ways, including providing an integrated support chat applet, accessible from the VxRail Support tab in vCenter. Secure Connect Gateway also facilitates the transfer of the system logs needed to troubleshoot most any problem in the VxRail stack. These logs include the VxRail Manager virtual machine logs, vCenter logs, ESXi logs, iDRAC logs, and platform logs. vCenter and ESXi logs obviously are logs specific to the software powering the cluster. The iDRAC and platform logs contain the hardware inventory, LCM activity, out-of-band hardware log, and more.
I’ve touched on a lot of topics surrounding the support experience, but there’s one more that absolutely needs to be mentioned—that’s the people in support! The technical support staff standing behind VxRail are a very talented and knowledgeable group of folks. Many of these agents are VMware Certified Professionals, some looking for higher levels of certification, like the VCIX, one of VMware’s expert level certifications. This cumulative knowledge pool allows our support team to resolve over 95% of the incidents they encounter without needing a higher-level VMware engagement. However, in the instances where a VMware engagement is needed, say that a bug is discovered with vCenter for example, then VxRail support can escalate to VMware on the end customer’s behalf. This helps to create continuity in the support experience that might be missing from a solution without the jointly engineered nature of VxRail.
Servicing clusters can become a challenge, no matter the environment. Hardware and software both encounter failures that require an IT staff response. As environments grow and scale, the challenge of maintaining health for the environment grows, too. To help meet this expanding problem, VxRail helps administrators by automatically collecting events and alerts from the hardware and both VMware and VxRail software. This information can then be compressed into log bundles that can be shared with support. Contacting support is even easier, thanks to an integrated chat connecting your host to VxRail support staff. These support staff are specialists in both VMware and VxRail software, capable of resolving a vast majority of all issues with a single vendor. Our final discussion will be on the extensibility of VxRail, featuring CloudIQ and the VxRail API. See you there!