Delivering VxRail simplicity with vLCM compatibility
Mon, 27 Sep 2021 21:37:12 -0000|
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As the days start off with cooler mornings and later sunrises, we welcome the autumn season. Growing up each season brought forth its own traditions and activities. While venturing through corn mazes was fun, autumn first and foremost meant that it was apple-picking time. Combing through the orchard, you’re constantly looking for which apple to pick, even comparing ones from the same branch because no two are alike. Just like the newly introduced VMware vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM) compatibility in VxRail 7.0.240, there are differences to the VxRail implementation as compared to that of the Dell EMC vSAN Ready Nodes, though they’re from the same vLCM “branch.”
Now that VxRail offers vLCM compatibility, it’s a good opportunity to provide an update to Cliff’s blog post last year where he provided a comprehensive review of the customer experiences with lifecycle management of vSAN Ready Nodes and VxRail clusters. While my previous blog post about the VxRail 7.0.240 release provided a summary of VxRail’s vLCM implementation and the added value, I’ll focus more on customer experience this time. Combining the practice of Continuously Validated States to ensure cluster integrity with a VxRail-driven experience truly showcases how automated the vLCM process can be.
In this blog, I’ll cover the following:
- Overview of VMware vLCM
- Compare how to establish a baseline image
- Compare how to perform a cluster update
Overview of VMware vLCM
Figure 1: VMware vSphere Lifecycle Manager vLCM framework
VMware vLCM was introduced in vSphere 7.0 as a framework to allow for software and hardware to be updated together as a single system. Being able to combine the ESXi image and component firmware and drivers into a single workflow helps streamline the update experience. To do that, server vendors are tasked with developing their own plugin into this vLCM framework to perform the function of the firmware and drivers addon as depicted in the Figure 1. The server vendor implementation provides functionality to build the hardware catalog of firmware and drivers on the server and supply the bits to vCenter. For some components, the server vendors do not supply their firmware and drivers, and relies on individual vendors to provide the addon capability. Put together, the software and hardware form a cluster image. To start using vLCM, you need to build out a cluster image and assign it as the baseline image. For future updates, you have to build out a cluster image and assign it as the desired state image. Drift detection between the two determines what needs to be remediated for the cluster to arrive at the desired state.
For Dell EMC vSAN Ready Nodes, you will use the OMIVV (OpenManage Integration with VMware vCenter) plugin to vCenter to use the vLCM framework. Now VxRail has enhanced VxRail Manager to plug into vCenter in its vLCM implementation. The difference between the two implementations really drives home that vSAN Ready Nodes, whether its Dell EMC’s or other server vendors, deliver a customer-driven experience versus a VxRail-driven experience. Both implementations have their merits because they target different customer problems. The customer-driven experience makes sense for customers who have already invested the IT resources to have more operational control of what is installed on their clusters. For customers looking for operational efficiency that reduces and simplifies their day-to-day responsibility to administrate and secure infrastructure, the VxRail-driven experience provides them with the confidence to be able to so.
Enabling VMware vLCM with the baseline image
A baseline image is a cluster image that you have identified as the version set to deliver that happy state for your cluster. IT operations team is happy because the cluster is running secure and stable code that complies with their company’s security standards. End users of the applications running on the cluster are happy because they are getting the consistent service required to perform their jobs.
For Dell EMC vSAN Ready Nodes or any vSAN Ready Nodes, users first need to arrive at what the baseline image should be before deploying their clusters. That requires research and testing to validate that the set of firmware and drivers are compatible and interoperable with the ESXi image. Importing it into vLCM framework involves a series of steps.
Dell EMC vSAN Ready Node uses the OMIVV plugin to interface with vCenter Server. A user needs to first deploy this OMIVV virtual machine on vCenter.
- Once deployed, the user has to register it with vCenter Server.
- From the vCenter UI, the user must configure the host credentials profile for iDRAC and the host.
- To acquire the bits for the firmware and drivers, user needs to install the Dell Repository Manager which provides the depot to all firmware and drivers. Here is where the user can build the catalog of firmware and drivers component-by-component (BIOS, NICs, storage controllers, IO controllers, and so on) for their cluster.
- With the catalog in place, the user uploads each file into an NFS/CIFS share that the vCenter Server can access.
- From the vCenter UI, user creates a repository profile that points to the share with the firmware and drivers. Next is defining the cluster profile with the ESXi image running on the cluster and the repository profile. This cluster profile becomes the baseline image for future compliance checks and drift remediation scans.
For VxRail, vLCM is not automatically enabled once your cluster is updated to VxRail 7.0.240. It’s a decision you make based on the benefits that vLCM compatibility provides (described in my previous blog post). Once enabled, it cannot be disabled. To enable vLCM, your VxRail cluster needs to be running in a Continuously Validated State. It is a good idea to run the compliance checker first.
Once you have made the decision to move forward, VxRail’s vLCM implementation is astoundingly simple! There’s no need for you to define the baseline image because you’re already running in a Continuously Validated State. The VxRail implementation obfuscates the plugin interaction and uses the vLCM APIs to automate all the previously described manual steps. As a result, enabling vLCM and establishing the baseline image have been reduced to a 3-step process.
- Enter the vCenter user credentials.
- VxRail automatically performs a compliance check to verify the cluster is running in a Continuously Validate State.
- VxRail automatically ports the Continuously Validated State into the formation of the baseline image.
And that’s it! The following video clip captures the compliance check you can run first and then the three step process to enable vLCM:
Figure 3: How to enable vLCM on VxRail
Cluster update with vLCM
For Dell EMC vSAN Ready Nodes, the customer-driven process to build the desired state image is similar to the baseline image. It requires investigation, research, and testing to define the next happy state and the use of the Dell Repository Manager to save and export the hardware catalog to vCenter. From there, users build out a cluster image that includes the ESXi image and the hardware catalog that becomes the desired state image.
Not surprisingly, performing a cluster update with vLCM doesn’t fall too far from the VxRail tree, VxRail streamlines that process down to a few steps within VxRail Manager. By using vLCM APIs, VxRail incorporates the vLCM process into the VxRail Manager experience for a complete LCM experience.
Figure 4: Process to perform cluster update with VxRail
- From the new update advisor tool, select the target VxRail version to which you want to update your cluster. The update advisor then generates a drift remediation report (called an advisory report) that provides a component-by-component analysis of what needs to be updated. This information along with estimated update time will help you plan the length of your maintenance window.
- Running a cluster readiness precheck ahead of your maintenance window is good practice. It allows you time to address any issues that may be found ahead of your scheduled window or to plan for additional time.
- Having passed the precheck, VxRail Manager will incorporate the vLCM process into its own experience. VxRail Manager includes the vendor addon capability in vLCM so that you can add separate firmware and drivers that are not part of the VxRail Continuously Validated State, such as a Fibre-channel HBA. Using the vLCM APIs, VxRail can automatically port the Continuously Validated State LCM bundle and any non-VxRail managed component firmware and drivers into the cluster image for remediation.
- If you want to customize the cluster image even more with NSX-T or Tanzu VIBs, you can add them from vCenter UI. Once included in the desired state image, you have the option of either initiating the remediation from vCenter or from the VxRail Manager UI. For those not adding these VIBs, then the entire cluster update experience stays within the simple and familiar VxRail Manager experience.
Check out the following video clip to see this end-to-end process in action:
Figure 5: How to update your VxRail cluster with VMware vLCM
With both Dell EMC vSAN Ready Nodes and VxRail using the same vLCM framework, it’s a much easier task to deliver an apples-to-apples comparison that clearly shows the simplicity of VxRail LCM with vLCM compatibility. This vLCM implementation is a perfect example how VxRail is built with VMware and made to enhance VMware. We’ve integrated the innovations of vLCM into the simple and streamlined VxRail-driven experience. As VMware looks to deliver more features to vLCM, VxRail is well positioned to present these capabilities in VxRail fashion.
For more information about this topic, check out the latest podcast: https://infohub.delltechnologies.com/p/vxrail-vlcm-compatibility/
Daniel Chiu, Senior Technical Marketing Manager at Dell Technologies
Related Blog Posts
A Taste of VxRail Deployment Flexibility
Wed, 27 Oct 2021 18:26:40 -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
Learn more about the latest major VxRail software update: VxRail 7.0.240
Wed, 15 Sep 2021 16:27:30 -0000|
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In a blink of an eye, September is already here. All those well-deserved August holidays have come and gone. As those summer memories with colorful umbrella drinks in hand fade into the background, your focus now turns to finishing this year strong. With the recent announcement on the latest VxRail software release, VxRail is providing the juice to get you well on your way.
VxRail HCI System Software version 7.0.240 has arrived with much anticipation as it includes the expansion of the VxRail product portfolio in the form of VxRail dynamic nodes and significant lifecycle management (LCM) enhancements that our VxRail customers will surely appreciate. Dynamic nodes extend the spectrum of use cases for VxRail by addressing more workload types. The LCM enhancements in the latest software release add to the operational simplicity that VxRail users truly value by increasing the level of automation and flexibility to ensure cluster integrity throughout the life of their cluster.
VxRail dynamic nodes
As VxRail dynamic nodes were described in the external launch event, they benefit customers who are committed to continue running their mission-critical data-centric workloads on Dell EMC storage arrays because of the enterprise-level resiliency and data protection capabilities but value the operational certainty that VxRail offers to their IT teams. This use case can be particularly relevant for customers who have standardized on VCF on VxRail as their infrastructural building block for their cloud operating model. These scenarios can apply to financial and medical industries among many others. For some customers, scaling of storage and compute independently in their HCI environments can better suit some of their application workloads, whether it is a better use of resources or potential reduction in license costs for compute-intensive workloads like Oracle.
Piqued your interest? Let’s move deeper into the technical details so you can better understand how VxRail dynamic nodes address these use cases.
Figure 1: VxRail dynamic node offering
- VxRail dynamic nodes are compute-only nodes running vSphere. Dynamic nodes run VMware ESXi with vSphere Enterprise Plus licenses but do not have vSAN licenses.
- They do not have any internal drives. As a result, the VxRail Manager VM runs on an external datastore that can come from either Dell EMC storage arrays (PowerStore-T, PowerMax, and Unity XT) or VMware vSAN HCI Mesh. Customers can now scale their compute and storage independently while some customers can continue to leverage their Dell EMC storage arrays for enterprise-level resiliency options.
- Dynamic nodes run on the same VxRail HCI System Software as any other VxRail cluster. The same intelligent LCM experience backed by VxRail’s Continuously Validated States exists in dynamic nodes.
Figure 2: VxRail dynamic node platforms
Like the three-flavor Neapolitan ice cream tub, there’s a flavor of dynamic nodes to match each application requirement. While there are not any cache and capacity drives on dynamic nodes, all other hardware configurations on these models are available. The E-series is the space-efficient 1U platform. The P-series is the performance-focused platform. The V-series is optimized for GPU-acceleration with up to six GPUs per node.
For those wanting to use their Dell EMC storage arrays with these brand-new VxRail dynamic nodes, here are some important pieces of information to consider.
- With VxRail 7.0.240, Dell EMC PowerStore-T, PowerMax, and UnityXT are the supported external arrays for this use case. Third-party storage arrays are not supported.
- Storage connectivity is through Fibre-Channel, either 16Gb or 32Gb Dell EMC Connectrix Brocade or Cisco MDS FC switches.
- Management of the storage array and Fibre-Channel switch is done separately including lifecycle management, zoning, and provisioning of storage. VxRail HCI System Software is responsible for the LCM of the dynamic nodes themselves.
- When deploying a dynamic node cluster, the datastores need to be already provisioned and zoned to the dynamic nodes.
- The storage array and dynamic nodes are sold separately and supported discretely by Dell Technologies.
Now let’s move onto the LCM enhancements in VxRail 7.0.240. There are three notable enhancements that VxRail users will notice – unless their thoughts have drifted away into those summertime memories.
Figure 3: Update advisor
First, update advisor is a new tool to help you plan for their next cluster update. From the Updates > Internet Updates tab, you can now see a list of available update paths for their specific cluster. This feature does not replace your responsibility to review the release notes and decide on to which version to update their cluster but, it does generate an advisory report with critical information to let you know what needs to be updated based on your cluster’s current Continuously Validated State. Update advisor is a helpful tool to plan your maintenance window.
Figure 4: Sample compliance drift report
Second, VxRail Manager now has a compliance checker that will detect any unforeseen version drift from the current Continuously Validated State running on your VxRail cluster. As shown on the image above, it provides a component-by-component report as part of the compliance check. It is run daily by default and can be initiated on-demand.
The third LCM enhancement is VxRail LCM compatibility with VMware vSphere Lifecycle Manager (vLCM).
Figure 5: VMware vSphere Lifecycle Manager vLCM framework
As a refresher, VMware vLCM was introduced in vSphere 7.0 as a framework to allow for software (ESXi) and hardware (firmware and drivers) to be updated together as a single system. VMware supplies the base image which is the ESXi image, and then it is up to the hardware vendors, like Dell Technologies, to provide the hardware support manager that plugs into that framework to supply the necessary firmware and drivers and to update them. Together, they form the baseline image which is used for the compliance checker. When updating the cluster, a desired state image is built from a combination of VMware-provided ESXi image and vendor(s)-provided firmware and drivers. Based on the drift detection analysis between the baseline and desired state images, vLCM will remediate the hosts on the cluster to complete the update.
VxRail’s newly introduced vLCM compatibility enables the VxRail Manager VM to plug into the framework to perform cluster updates using VxRail-provided desired state images in the form of Continuously Validated States. Essentially, VxRail has automated the hardware support manager plugin setup and exporting the depot of firmware and drivers to vCenter, which is a very manual process for other HCI solutions. While other hardware support manager plugins to vLCM require a multiple-step procedure to establish a baseline image and desired state image and interaction with multiple interfaces, VxRail’s implementation leverages the vLCM APIs to truly obfuscate those complexities into a streamlined experience all within VxRail Manager. Because VxRail Manager already stores the Continuously Validated State on its VM, the process of identification and exporting of the hardware firmware and drivers on the VxRail stack can easily be automated. The simplicity of VxRail’s support for vLCM cannot be understated.
Figure 6: VxRail’s vLCM implementation automates and simplifies the user’s cluster update experience
Similarly, performing cluster updates is a streamlined process once the LCM bundle is downloaded onto the VxRail Manager VM. From VxRail Manager, via the vLCM APIs, the bundle is loaded onto the vLCM framework as the desired state image. In short, vLCM compatibility is mostly transparent to the user as the LCM experience still runs through VxRail Manager.
The next likely question is why offer this enhancement? The explanation can be conveyed in two points both related to cutting down the time to update the cluster.
- Consolidate VMware software updates – for users that already run NSX-T or vSphere with Tanzu, vLCM allows for those VIBs to be included into the desired state image. Instead of updating each VMware software separately, they can be done together in a single boot cycle.
- Consolidate non-VxRail managed components – there are a few components such as the FC HBA that are not part of Continuously Validated State. Those components would then need to be updated separately which may require additional host reboots. The vendor addon feature in vLCM, as shown in the image above, provides the capability to include component firmware/drivers into the cluster image for a consolidated update cycle. Using vLCM APIs, VxRail has incorporated the vendor addon feature into its vLCM implementation in VxRail Manager.
By introducing vLCM compatibility into VxRail LCM, users can benefit from these cool capabilities. With VxRail 7.0.240, the use of vLCM is disabled by default. Users can choose to enable vLCM immediately or enable it later. Developing vLCM compatibility is also a strategic decision to put VxRail in a position to enhance more vLCM capabilities as they come.
VxRail 7.0.240 is a monumental software release that expands the breadth of the VxRail portfolio’s reach in addressing workload types with VxRail dynamic nodes and its depth by enhancing is differentiated LCM experience by providing more ways to ensure cluster integrity and to improve cluster maintenance times. Though the summer is drawing to a close, VxRail is providing you the boost to stay dynamic and finish 2021 strong. Keep an eye out for more content about the latest VxRail release.
For more information about VxRail dynamic nodes, you can check out the VxRail launch page: https://www.delltechnologies.com/en-us/events/vxrail-launch.htm.
If you want to learn more about how VxRail LCM differentiates itself from other HCI vendors using VMware vLCM, you can read these previously posted blogs:
Daniel Chiu, Senior Technical Marketing Manager at Dell Technologies