Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review

Well everyone, it's that time of the year again! Nestled between Christmas day, New Years Eve, and obscure college football bowl games (what do you mean you didn't watch the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl?!) we find the obligatory year in review posts! So, without further adieu:

2015 Year in Review

(turn and face the strain)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me"
- David Bowie
2015 brought me some of the biggest changes one can go through in their lives. First off, on March 14th (yep, Pi day!) I married an amazing woman that, without her love and support, none of what I do would be possible. It was an awesome day with great friends, family, and, given the time of year, perfect weather as well. To this day I still look at her and wonder how I got so lucky. 

As you can tell by some guests posture, we threw quite the reception!

Another big change wasn't so positive to start, but it certainly ended up that way. I've been in IT for a few years now, and both times I changed employers, it's been due to budget cutbacks and restructuring. In October, I was part of a large workforce lay off. Thankfully, this was only a minor setback as I had a signed offer letter one month to the day that I was let go. I've moved from the small business MSP (managed services provider) realm to the SMB consulting world.

This shift will allow me to work in larger environments utilizing technologies I would not have had a chance to use previously. The company also fosters a great culture which embraces fun, teamwork, and solid family/work life balance. My new employer also values growth and training as much as I do (we will touch more on that in the goals for next years section). Needless to say, I'm excited to see what the next year will hold for me in this new role.

"If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there"
-Scott McKenzie

Fulfilling a long term goal, I finally made it to VMworld this year! All I can say is WOW! So much do to and see, I was exhausted by the last day. The first time I stepped into the vendor hall, it was a touch overwhelming, but not long after I was bouncing around from booth to booth collecting valuable info for existing projects and new products we could offer our clients. Being my first trip, and not being certain I would be able to make it back in 2016, I tried to cram as much in as I could. I found tremendous value in the sessions and hands on labs.

The San Francisco Skyline from the VMunderground Party

Being such a large gathering of virtualization gurus, I was finally able to meet some of the bloggers, Tweeps, and vExperts who I've only had online interactions with up to that point. It was awesome having someone walk up to you and say "You're ExploreVM, right? Hi! I'm..." or hear "PAUL WOODWARD JR!" shouted from across the street. I made many new connections and friends at VMworld, fully enjoyed the vendor parties, dinners, watched some new hashtags take off, and shared some great oysters.

The VMworld party, right before security kicked me out of the Giants dugout.

While at VMworld, despite being so busy, I did find time to take and pass the VCP6-DCV. Originally in 2015 I had set out to pass the VCAPs, but with the wedding, I didn't feel I was able to devote enough of my time to preparation. So , in their place, I set my sights on renewing my VCP. I took the last available testing time on the last day of VMworld. This allowed me to take some time in the mornings and evenings to cram in a bit of studying into my already busy schedule, as well as utilize a few sessions as a study reference as well.

After I had passed the exam, I was exploring San Francisco with a few of my friends, including Matt Heldstab (NCWI VMUG leader) and Sean Massey (WIVMUG steering committee). Matt suggested that I come give a presentation at the next NCWI VMUG meeting on preparing for and passing the VCP6 since I was "one of the first VCP6s". Full of motivation and excitement for technology after VMworld, Matt planted a seed that would soon flourish.

I have long been a member of VMUG, attending various regions meetings and UserCons, but I had decided that this year would be the year I gave back to the community. In September, I gave my first VMUG community presentation at the Chicago VMUG UserCon. I dove in head first into presenting at the largest UserCon in my area. I figured if I'm going to do it, I might as well go all out. Since then, I've presented two more times; November at the NCWI VMUG Super VMUG meeting, and December at the WIVMUG meeting in Milwaukee.

 Given the feedback I received at the Chicago VMUG, and wanting to be more active in the VMware community, I dusted off my old blog to share my sessions and experiences. Now, I will admit, trying to start a series on Virtualization and Small Business while job hunting and during the holiday season was not the best timing. Unfortunately, I only got the first part in the series out this year. Look for more content in 2016, more on that later.

Whats next for me in 2016?

Building off of what was an awesome 2015, I've got quite the large set of goals for 2016. I set the bar high, but will be happy with what I reach:
  • Continue to share my knowledge & experience
    • Join a Podcast
    • Write a weekly/bi-weekly blog post
      • Virtualization in Small Business series
      • VCP prep posts
      • Technical reviews 
      • Home Lab designs, tips, and demos...
    • Speak at even more VMUG events than 2015
  • Obtain the vExpert title
  • Attend VMworld 2016 & 1 other major tech conference
  • Earn the following certifications
    • VCAP6 - Deployment
    • VCAP6 - Design
    • CCENT 
    • CCNA - Data Center
  • Attempt Virtual Design Master
 I hope everyone has a happy, safe new year! I look forward to seeing old friends and new in 2016!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Virtualization & SMB Series: Virtualization Architecture for Small Business

Virtualization & SMB Series: Virtualization Architecture for the Small Business

I had debated whether hardware or licensing should be the first topic covered in this series. As cost drive a lot of small business decisions, and hardware costs can vary greatly, it seemed like the best place to start. And, just a reminder, this series is focused for VMware admins in environments containing 20 or less VMs, the small end of SMB, obviously the solutions discussed below will not work for large environments. I will touch on larger VMware environments in a future series

Alright, let's begin!

The Shared Storage Conundrum

Shared storage in smaller environments is cost prohibitive. Yet, it's important requirement for VMware High Availability and Fault Tolerance. The small business must assess the value of uptime and lost productivity due to host failure against the costs of this additional hardware.
If  99.99% uptime, or the ~30 second reboot window using HA is critical, then shared storage is a necessity and you won't find value in this post. But, if a short outage while replacing failed hardware is acceptable, let's continue.

Local storage is starting to come back into the limelight with the advent of Virtual SAN and similar products. It also provides a cost effective storage option for the smaller ESXi environments. I will discuss the use of vSAN in the small business in a future post, but for the below example, simple local storage will suffice.

Number of Hosts

The number of hosts are dictated by the number and purpose of each VM. Does the environment call for a low number of VMs running simple network services such as AD, DNS, DHCP, print server, file server, and Exchange? Then a properly configured single ESXi host can be deployed. However, introducing more complexity to the environment on top of the above listed services, such as a resource intensive line of business application, the use of a second host will save future headaches and provide additional benefits.

The use of a second host provides flexibility, scalability, and, to an extent, disaster recovery. The flexibility to migrate VMs for host maintenance or to load balance, albeit manually, across both hosts (we will discuss VMware licensing and features in the next post). The scalability to add new VMs should the need arise. And, in the event of a host failure, a second host provides a platform to restore VMs from the failed host. Scalability and disaster recovery are dictated by the amount of resources with which the host is configured. This will be discussed next.

Configuring the Hosts

Now we know the environment will be running one to two ESXi hosts without shared storage, how do we properly configure these hosts? Here's where budget and some forecasting come into play. The approach I've taken is to look at the company's current needs coupled with potential growth over the next 1-3 years. Is the company projected to grow such that they will need additional VMs? Is the ship holding steady? Future uncertain? Doing your best Magic 8-Ball impression will help your design hold up over the next few years.

Let's use the following example explore this concept (I will stay vendor agnostic in my examples).

ABC Co. is a family owned company that has 20 employees, 5 of which use an ERP program on a daily basis, and host email internally. The "server room" is a climate controlled closet off the main office space with no racking. Sales have grown by 15% on average 3 of the last 5 years. You've been put in charge of the hardware refresh project. As hard as you've tried to demonstrate the benefits of shared storage, the budget is simply not there, and the CEO is comfortable with ERP and email services being down for upwards of half the day due hardware failure.

Knowing ABC Co. has projected growth, the solution implemented needs to have room for expansion. Assuming that the budget will not allow for the purchase of all resources up front, there are two things I do not skimp on in these scenarios: CPU and storage bays on the chassis. Dual 10 core hyper-threaded processors in each host may seem like overkill now, but when you look at the costs of purchasing 4 new processors in the future versus the capex investment today, fiscally, it's the better option. The same is true when it comes to the chassis. The price point between an 8 bay or a 16 bay chassis is generally negligible. Despite needing only 8 drives of local storage today, it's easier to fill in the open bays as needed versus replacing the entire chassis to obtain enough storage.

RAM and local storage is where you get to be more creative in your solution. Ideally, I would configure each host with enough RAM to run all VMs on a single host, but that may not be allowed within the constraints of the budget. Installing additional RAM in the future is cheap and easy, so it's not necessary to max out your host today. At minimum, I would suggest enough RAM to run all of the current VMs without constraint, and factor in some additional capacity to power one to two additional VMs should the environment suddenly need another server. This also allows the host to have the resources to bring up a critical VM should the other host in the cluster encounter a failure.

In a perfect world, local storage capacity, much like RAM, would provide enough resources to house all VMs in the environment. Knowing that storage, both shared and local, is expensive, this is usually not possible. What I've done in these scenarios is calculate how much storage is needed today, assuming max capacity of all thin provisioned VMs, and, much like RAM, add extra capacity for an additional VM or two. Again, in the future, it's easy to add additional hard drives and create a new virtual disk group to meet the storage needs.

In these smaller environments, providing high IOPS is not always necessary to meet business needs. While using solid state drives is necessary in some cases, adequate performance can be obtained from spinning disks in RAID arrays. I've had success implementing varying sizes of RAID arrays to meet the storage and budgetary needs. These arrays have included pools of 300-600GB 10K, 1.2TB 10k/15k, and 300-600GB 15k spinning disks.

Which RAID option is right for your environment? In almost every scenario, I have deployed RAID 10, but the hard drive count may deter some admins from its use. What makes RAID 10 a good choice is that is provides both read and write gains coupled with the ability to have two drives fail before data is lost (assuming they are from different sets). However, if the budget is truly that tight, RAID 5 is a decent option considering that it provides for a single drive failure and provides read performance.

Understanding that all VMs may be running on the same host on a single RAID array, I would recommend the investment in the utilization of RAID 10. A bit of capital spent now can save your company's data, and a lot of headaches, in the future.

Protecting Against Downtime

Downtime is inevitable, but there are steps admins can take to protect their environment from unplanned outages. Creating a nearly fully redundant hardware solution is the first step. Make sure to equip your host(s) with dual power supplies and dual NICs. Utilizing an uninterrupted power supply not only protects your hardware from a surge, but provides a clean flow of electricity to the host. The power input to the UPS should also be split between two different electrical circuits if possible, keeping things running in the event of a tripped breaker.

As discussed, RAID provides some data protection against drive failures, but what if an additional drive fails before you can replace the first? Implementing a hot swap drive to take over in the event of a drive failure provides a fail-safe to keep the array running at peak performance until you can replace the drive. Regular monitoring of the environment can also help detect and predict issues, but we will discuss that in a future post

We've got the Hardware, What's Next?

In the next post, I will go over VMware licensing for the small business and which solutions offer the best values.

In the meantime, do you have any questions, comments, or would you like me to dive deeper into a topic covered above? I'd love to hear from you! You can leave your thoughts in the comments section below, contact me on Google +Paul Woodward Jr, or reach out to me on Twitter @ExploreVM.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chicago VMUG UserCon Session Recap "Virtualization and Small Business"

I had the privilege of making my VMUG speaking debut at September's Chicago VMUG UserCon. It was an honor to be asked to speak at the same event as some of the people I've looked to for
information and guidance throughout my career. I am glad I've got my first session under my belt, as I'm scheduled to present at November's North Central WIVMUG Super Meeting.

My community session, co-presented with +Brian Kirsch, was on the use of virtualizaiton in the small business environment. You can find our slide deck here.

What I noticed, after attending numerous VMUG meetings, is that no one is really focusing on the small portion of the SMB market. When I say small, I'm referring to 200 or less employees, 1 - 2 ESXi hosts. There are plenty of great resources out there if you're working with a few hundred VMs, but what if the company only requires 5, 10, or 20 guests? Given that's the size of the market I have most experience with, and also, community resources for the admins of these smaller IT departments is largely overlooked, I decided that I could share my experiences and help others along the way.

Now, rather than write a lengthy blog post recapping our entire session, I felt I could better share my knowledge by breaking the session down into each topic covered.

Over the next few weeks, watch for posts on the following topics:

  • Virtualization Architecture for Small Business
  • VMware & Other Vendor Licensing in the Small Environment
  • Techniques for Small Business Virtualization 
  • Tools for the Small Business VMware Admin

In closing, Brian offered the following thoughts:

"The success of the SMB is depended on the needs of today and the growth of tomorrow. Architecture has to be planned out carefully as growth is not hoped for but expected. It becomes a question of how much growth and how quickly all while balancing costs and profits. Understanding the various options and how they translate into the future with design, storage and licenses is a complex undertaking but having that established path which will translate into less obsolesce. Technology for the SMB cannot be a throw away resource as you grown, it has to be a carefully planned base that allows you to expand at a moments notice without breaking your budgets."

If you've got any questions, would like to chat, or would like to suggest any other topics, feel free to contact me via Twitter, @ExploreVM, LinkedIn, or in the comments section below.