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Using the new VMware vSphere Management Assistant (vMA)

When VMware released vSphere, they also renamed the Vmware Infrastructure Management Assistant, or VIMA, and offered us a brand new version of it – the vSphere Management Assistant, or vMA. Unfortunately, vMA doesn't get a lot of attention and I have noticed little mention of vMA as of late. We'll remedy that in this article,bringing you up to speed on what is new with vMA and demonstrating how vMA can help you in your vSphere infrastructure.

Let's get up to speed...
For those you don't know, let's first answer the question "what is vMA?" According to VMware, vMA is:

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A virtual machine that includes prepackaged software. Administrators and developers can use vMA to run scripts and agents to manage VMware ESX/ESXi 3.5 Update 2 and later, ESX/ESXi 4.0, and vCenter Server 4.0 systems. vMA includes the vSphere SDK for Perl and the vSphere Command-Line Interface (vSphere CLI). vMA also includes an authentication component (vi-fastpass) and a logging component (vi-logger). vi-fastpass allows direct connection to established target servers without user intervention. vi-logger allows you to collect logs from ESX/ESXi and vCenter Server systems and store the logs on vMA for analysis.

I feel that VIMA is pretty important, and that was why I selected it as the number one tool in last year's Top 10 Free VMware Tools of 2008. Around the same time, I also wrote a couple of articles on VIMA, How VMware Infrastructure Management Assistant bridges the ESXi management gap and Two options for installing the VMware Infrastructure Management Assistant.

In these articles I covered how VIMA was designed to fill the management gap when VMware released ESXi. VIMA was created to act as a service console for your ESXi servers. But even if you don't use ESXi, vMA can make command-line management of ESX servers easier by offering command-line tools that can allow you to perform commands on multiple ESXi/ESX servers without having to authenticate every time (vi-fastpas). vMA also offers centralized logging to allow you to consolidate logs from all your ESX/ESXi servers, as well as vCenter, and keep them in your vMA central repository.

VIMA has been renamed vMA
With the release of vSphere, VIMA could no longer be called VIMA because VIMA stood for the VMware Infrastructure Management Assistant. With the VI being replaced by vSphere, VIMA was renamed accordingly, and is now vMA, the vSphere Management Assistant. There is more to it than that, however. When it was renamed, the version number was increased from 1.0 to version 4.0 and there are a number of new features in this major release.

What's new in VMware vSphere Management Assistant (vMA) ?
vMA, of course, is compatible with vSphere 4. But it is still backward compatible with VI3.5. Thus, you can use the new vMA during your migration from VI3.5 to vSphere 4 and it will work with both platforms.

Some other upgrades to vMA are:

  • The VMware Remote Command-Line Interface version 3.5 U2 has been upgraded to the vSphere CLI 4.0.
  • The VMware Infrastructure Perl Toolkit 1.6 has been upgraded to the vSphere SDK for Perl 4.0.
  • VMware Tools has been upgraded to the latest version available.

Still, if you are going to be running vSphere 4 command-line interface (CLI) commands on ESX/ESXi 3.5 systems then you need to read VMware Knowledgebase article 1008940, which details how these commands match up.

According to the vMA release notes, vMA has been tested with up to 100 ESX 4.x servers under normal load.

Five reasons to use vMA
We are accustomed to installing an application on our local PC to manage our infrastructure, so the concept of using a virtual appliance that offers a command-line is foreign to most of us. For those of us who are still trying to figure out why they should care about vMA, here are five reasons:

  1. It's easy to install and has zero cost.
  2. A single place to install third-party tools (that support vMA)
  3. Provides a single place to write and store scripts to manage your vSphere infrastructure
  4. It's better than installing remote command-line interface (Remote CLI) on your local PC as vMA is available no matter which PC you are at
  5. It provides a great place to experiment with new tools like vi-logger

How do I obtain vMA 4.0 and install it?
As vMA is an appliance, it is super-easy to download and install. To do it, either navigate to the vMA download page and download the ZIP version of vMA, or you can deploy it directly from the vSphere client.

If you deploy it using a URL from the vSphere client, the URL is- http://www.vmware.com/go/importvma/vma4.ovf

I had already downloaded the ZIP file and unzipped it. Then I used the vSphere client and clicked on Deploy OVF Template, as you see in the figure below.


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Next, I selected the path to my unzipped OVF File, as you see in the next image. If you want to deploy it from a URL, select the Deploy from URL option and enter the URL from above.


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The vSphere client recognized my OVF and asked me to verify the details.


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Then, I accepted the license agreement.


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Next, I selected the location to deploy the vMA appliance.


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Then, I selected the cluster or server I wanted it deployed on.


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Next, I selected the data store to place the appliance on.


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Finally, I reviewed the verification before deployment.


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After a few minutes, the appliance was deployed.


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Here is what it looked like once deployed into the vSphere infrastructure:


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From here, I powered it on and worked on the post-installation tasks, as seen below.

vMA 4.0 post installation tasks
Once powered on, open the console and vMA will ask you how you want to configure the IP addressing and it will ask for a password for the "root" user of vMA; the log in is vi-admin.

Here is what that networking configuration looks like:


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Once vMA is up and running, here are most of the commands you would be using with vMA. These are the traditional service console commands that start with esxcfg-xxx and vicfg-xxx.


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As I selected DHCP for my vMA appliance, it received DNS information from the DHCP server. If you want to modify the DNS settings manually, however, just edit /etc/resolv.conf, as I am did below using nano.


Click to enlarge. Another post-installation task is to install vMA patch 01, which is related to a security issue.. You can read how to do it in VMware KB article 1012134.

Does vMA work?
Finally, to test out vMA, add your ESX servers to fast-path using:

sudo vifp addserver (server)

List your servers using:

vifp listservers

And test out vMA using

vifpinit (server)

and then a command like
vicfg-nics -l

Here is what it all looks like:


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As you can see in that image, our vMA deployment was successful!

I encourage you to try deploying vMA for yourself in your own vSphere infrastructure. The easiest way to do that is to deploy vMA using the URL information above.

For the full vMA documentation, please read the vSphere Management Assistant Guide. If you still have questions about vMA, checkout the VMware Community forum for VIMA/vMA.

David Davis is the director of infrastructure at TrainSignal.com. He has a number of certifications including vExpert, VCP, CCIE #9369 and CISSP. Davis has also authored hundreds of articles and six different video training courses at Train Signal with his most popular course being VMware ESX Server. His personal website is VMwareVideos.com. You can follow Davis on Twitter or connect with Davis on LinkedIn.

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This was first published in November 2009

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