VxRail Interactive Journey – new whiteboard video on SaaS multi-cluster management
Fri, 30 Jul 2021 13:26:38 -0000|
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As promised, we’re constantly refreshing content on the VxRail Interactive Journey. For those not familiar with the awesomeness of the VxRail Interactive Journey, you can check out this short blog. In the latest release, there is a brand-new whiteboard video to walk you through the architectural framework of SaaS multi-cluster management in VxRail HCI System Software. As customers look to scale their VxRail footprint, the need for simple global management grows.
In this whiteboard video, you will learn how we’re able to extend the operational simplicity in VxRail to SaaS multi-cluster management and deliver that experience to you on an easy-to-use web portal. The video covers three key areas of SaaS multi-cluster management.
- Monitoring – The Adaptive Data Collector service in VxRail HCI System Software gathers telemetry data from the HCI stack for more streamlined monitoring of all your clusters.
- Multi-cluster management – The added use of the Secure Remote Services gateway for bi-directional communication between the VxRail clusters and the web portal enables LCM services at scale.
- Security – The need for managing who has access to clusters becomes even more important with cluster configuration capabilities.
I invite you to check out this new whiteboard video in the VxRail Interactive Journey. You can find it in the SaaS multi-cluster management module.
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Building on VxRail HCI System Software: the advantages of multi-cluster active management capabilities
Tue, 29 Sep 2020 19:03:05 -0000|
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The signs of autumn are all around us, from the total takeover of pumpkin-spiced everything to the beautiful fall foliage worthy of Bob Ross’s inspiration. Like the amount of change autumn brings forth, so too does the latest release of VxRail ACE, or should I preface that with ‘formerly known as’? I’ll get to that explanation shortly.
This release introduces multi-cluster update functionality that will further streamline the lifecycle management (LCM) of your VxRail clusters at scale. With this active management feature comes a new licensing structure and role-based access control to enable the active management of your clusters.
Formerly known as VxRail ACE
The colors of the leaves are changing and so is the VxRail ACE name. The brand name VxRail ACE (Analytical Consulting Engine), will no longer be used as of this release. While it had a catchy name and was easy to say, there are two reasons for this change. First, Analytical Consulting Engine no longer describes the full value or how we intend to expand the features in the future. It has grown beyond the analytics and monitoring capabilities of what was originally introduced in VxRail ACE a year ago and now includes several valuable LCM operations that greatly expand its scope. Secondly, VxRail ACE has always been part of the VxRail HCI System Software offering. Describing the functionality as part of the overall value of VxRail HCI System Software, instead of having its own name, simplifies the message of VxRail’s value differentiation.
Going forward, the capability set (that is, analytics, monitoring, and LCM operations) will be referred to as SaaS multi-cluster management -- a more accurate description. The web portal is now referred to as MyVxRail.
Cluster updates is the first active management feature offered by SaaS multi-cluster management. It builds on the existing LCM operational tools for planning cluster updates: on-demand pre-update health checks (LCM pre-check) and update bundle downloads and staging. Now you can initiate updates of your VxRail clusters at scale from MyVxRail. The benefits of cluster updates on MyVxRail tie closely with existing LCM operations. During the planning phase, you can run LCM pre-checks of the clusters you want to update. This informs you if a cluster is ready for an update and pinpoints areas for remediation for clusters that are not ready. From there, you can schedule your maintenance window to perform a cluster update and, from MyVxRail, initiate the download and staging of the VxRail update bundle onto those clusters. With this release, you can now execute cluster updates for those clusters. Now that’s operational efficiency!
When setting a cluster update operation, you have the benefit of two pieces of information – a time estimate for the update and the change data. The update time estimate will help you determine the length of the maintenance window. The estimate is generated by telemetry gathered about the install base to provide more accurate information. The change data is the list of the components that require an update to reach the target VxRail version.
Figure 1 MyVxRail Updates tab
Role-based access control
Active management requires role-based access control so that you can provide permissions to the appropriate individuals to perform configuration changes to your VxRail clusters. You don’t want anyone with access to MyVxRail to perform cluster updates on the clusters. SaaS multi-cluster management leverages vCenter Access Control for role-based access. From MyVxRail, you will be able to register MyVxRail with the vCenter Servers that are managing your VxRail clusters. The registration process will give VxRail privileges to vCenter Server to build roles with specific SaaS multi-cluster management capabilities.
MyVxRail registers the following privileges on vCenter:
- Download software bundle: downloads and stages the VxRail software bundle onto the cluster
- Execute health check: performs an on-demand pre-update health check on the cluster
- Execute cluster update: initiates the cluster update operation on the clusters
- Manage update credentials: modifies the VxRail infrastructure credentials used for active management
Figure 2 VxRail privileges for vCenter access control
VxRail Infrastructure Credentials
We’ve done more to make it easier to perform cluster updates at scale. Typically, when you’re performing a single cluster update, you have to enter the root account credentials for vCenter Server, Platform Services Controller, and VxRail Manager. That’s the same process when performing it from VxRail Manager. But that process can get tedious when you have multiple clusters to update.
VxRail Infrastructure Credentials can store those credentials so you can enter them once, at the initial setup of active management, and not have to do it again as you perform a multi-cluster update. MyVxRail can read the stored credentials that are saved on each individual cluster for security.
Big time saver! But how secure is it? More secure than hiding Halloween candy from children. For a user to perform cluster update, the administrator needs to add the ‘execute cluster update’ privilege to the role assigned to that user. Root credentials can only be managed by users assigned with a role that has the ‘manage update credentials’ privilege.
Figure 3 MyVxRail credentials manager
The last topic is licensing. While all the capabilities you have been using on MyVxRail come with the purchase of the VxRail HCI System Software license, multi-cluster update is different. This feature requires a fee-based add-on software license called ‘SaaS active multi-cluster management for VxRail HCI System Software’. All VxRail nodes come with VxRail HCI System Software and you have access to MyVxRail and SaaS multi-cluster management features, except for cluster update. For you to perform an update of a cluster on MyVxRail, all nodes in the clusters must have the add-on software license.
That is a lot to consume for one release. Hopefully, unlike your Thanksgiving meal, you can stay awake for the ending. While the brand name VxRail ACE is no more, we’re continuing to deliver value-adding capabilities. Multi-cluster update is a great feature to further your use of MyVxRail for LCM of your VxRail clusters. With role-based access and VxRail infrastructure credentials, rest assured you’re benefitting from multi-cluster update without sacrificing security.
To learn more about these features, check out the VxRail techbook and the interactive demo for SaaS multi-cluster management.
Daniel Chiu, VxRail Technical Marketing
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.
Ansible Modules for Dell VxRail are available publicly from the standard code repositories: Ansible Galaxy and GitHub. You don't need a Dell Support account to download and start using them.
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