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Modern VMware administration gets makeover

The evolution of IT as a service has resulted in the development of products that help ease the growing demands on the busy systems administrator.

The pace of today's business environment has put more demands on the IT department, which has led to several vendors...

developing products that have changed how to manage a VMware environment.

There are several companies that have taken a fresh approach to storage and, in some cases, compute management. The goal is to arm the VMware admin with information they have not had in the past. I will highlight several points and how these vendors are solving issues.

In this tip, I will be look at how VMware EVO:RAIL, Tintri and Nutanix are changing the management experience for admins. By no means are these the only vendors in this space, but I have selected these three to manage the scope of this article. If you are evaluating other technology, you can use this list to compare and contrast approaches.

VM-based management

After working as a VMware admin for years, I was extremely excited to learn about VM-based management. VMware admins have always been focused on the VM as a unit of measurement, but then they struggled when they tried to translate that into another value when talking to storage or other tools.

The VM-based approach allows admins to report on performance on a VM level rather than some larger group of VMs. Being able to find the details about each VM is very powerful to track down performance issues or to report on the top consumers in your environment for planning and justification. With most of these vendors you can expect to view details on I/O, bandwidth, latency and capacity used by each VM without the need to use complex or time-consuming tools.

The per-VM construct goes deeper than just performance reporting. The ability to replicate on a VM basis for disaster protection is a big deal. Each of these vendors, with their VM focus, allow customers to decide which VMs should be replicated. This can also include which site should be the target site for each VM. I see companies with multiple data centers or a large number of remote locations that are able to use these different locations to provide a choice for recovering VMs.

Once you layer on VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM), you have the ability to create your recovery plans on the same per-VM granularity. This flexibility allows for better control and management of your recovery planning. I have seen many companies struggle with DR planning when they do not have the option of per-VM based protection. They either just choose to protect everything or expend a large effort trying to reshuffle the VMs into groupings that allow them to be protected together.

Easy install

In my eyes, any infrastructure released today should be focused on creating an easy to install and manage experience for customers. The products from the three vendors I considered in this article all do a great job of simplifying the install experience.

These products do not require days of preparation and install time; they shorten the install time, often to less than 60 minutes for a base configuration. The typical requirements list is: plan for your network connections, a short list of IP addresses, DNS names and an account for connection to vCenter to assist with being VM centric.

After a base install, this is where I think EVO:RAIL shines a bit brighter than the other offerings. Developed by VMware, with a very limited scope, they are able to go a bit further than other products. Beyond an easy install, EVO:RAIL configures vSphere switching and a list of other features to ensure that the customer has a vSphere cluster configured to VMware best practices. This is a big plus for customers that did not pay for professional services for install or do not possess deep vSphere experience.

Easy upgrades

Gone should be the days of ignoring upgrades because the process is far too difficult and time-consuming. The goal should be a simple process that is non-disruptive enough to be done during business hours. If you have to spend a large amount of time looking at vendor documentation to verify compatibility of different hardware and software versions, they are doing it wrong.

For VMware-based offerings, the scope should be tighter and easier to control. These vendors have control over the hardware and software of their products. This allows them to publish easier to understand support statements that clearly define which software versions are supported on the generation of hardware that is running. This will greatly reduce the upgrade effort and should be the type of experience that customers want.

Now the actual upgrade process should be equally as simple to deliver as the real value. While the three vendors take slightly different approaches to this task, they all have simplified the process to downloading the upgrade version that you wish to move to. This new version can be applied in a controlled process that upgrades the environment in a staggered approach so it does not reduce the availability or performance of the environment. In most cases, this is accomplished with a few clicks in the management interface.

Final thoughts

Admins can now spend their valuable time on more productive endeavors rather than wrestling with common tasks . These vendors have done a great job in the VMware space. Through these simplified offerings, admins can do a better job on planning, reporting and learning things like automation and delivering additional value to the business.

Next Steps

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This was last published in February 2015

Dig Deeper on Creating and upgrading VMware servers and VMs

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Have you changed the way you manage your VMware environment? How so?
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Definitely, yes. The enhancement in our VMware environment captures the administrators being able to report on performances based on the available VM level as this enables them to easily track down performance issues, as well as direct top consumers on their planning and justification. It also comes with advanced I/O, capacity, bandwidth and latency without necessarily using  complex and time-consuming tools. It has also initiated the replication of information to increase disaster protection.
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On my part, it is very refreshing to see that VMware administration has been simplified in regards to installation, upgrades and management, gifting admins flexibility.
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