Lab Storage Rework

I have been using Nexenta as the main storage appliance in my lab. This has been based on my MegaSAN build bases on an 8 core Xeon 24Gb of ram  server serving around 2TB of high speed storage for my lab compromised of 8x450GB 15K SAS and 3xSSD’s

This setup has worked pretty well for me in the past but I felt its time to evaluate what else I can do in this space.

After having a quick look around I have decided to try MS Server 2012R2 and making use of  Storage Spaces. Primarily to try the auto tiering feature.

The storage feature set of R2 is much improved and in my opinion pretty much on par with Nexenta. ( Certainly for what im using it for)

There are also a couple of advantages for me running a windows install on the box rather than solaris.   The nexenta box was great but because the box isnt always turned on I had to wait for the cache to warm up before i got the best performance.  By having a windows box i have migrated some of my applications such that they are running on the SAN.

At the moment i have moved my veeam backup and veeam one monitoring.

So far the only issue I can see is the lack of VAAI.

I havent really connected VMware back up to this in anger so will update more in depth on features and perfomance soon I am hoping to get FC working with it but if not iSCSI should do.


North West VMUG Returns

Fresh on all of the VMware announcements around version 6 and all the goodness that that contains its time for the next VMUG.   Yes thats right on the 25th Febuary will be the next North West VMUG.

This one specifically is focused on EUC or end user computing  and its the first time its been an all day presentation event.

There are also some new community speakers on the agenda and its great that more people are getting involved.  I hope that I have managed to inspire some of them in some way.  The day looks pretty packed with interesting presentations.   I am looking to learn a lot as I don’t have much interaction with the EUC world.

The focus on a specific workload is a different tactic to normal but I think shows maturity on what the leaders are doing.   It brings a focus of the various vendors and presenters on a similar subject but addressing it from multiple angles.   There may be people who arent involved in a VDI or similar project at the moment but I am sure its beneficial to know all the advantages and disadvantages ahead of doing anything later down the line.

There are a diverse set of speakers and I wont list them all as you can see on the agenda but we have companies as diverse as liquidwarelabs who I have heard a few people talk about with great enthusiasm, although I know very little about ( looking forward to learning a lot) down to everyone technical’s most hated subject:

Licencing.  This is never an easy subject to talk about but this one is from a community presenter  Adrian Fisher  so promises to be a warts and all and everything inbetween.

Some great prizes are on offer including an iPad air and of course….   vBeers

vBeers will also be on at the venue so come along have a drink and talk to myself, the other presenters or VMUG leaders.   We are always happy to talk about whats going on in our worlds. I am sure a lot of v6 discussions will be had..

I will be on hand to discuss my world which  has been very much Veeam focused recently and looking at services we can offer from a managed service perspective.

UK VMUG User Conference – Review

I was lucky enough to attend the UK VMUG user conference on the 18/11/14.  This was located as usual at the National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham airport.

It was the first time that I have attended this particular event as circumstances have colluded against me in previous years however I have attended numerous previous VMware based events.

To say the event is well represented is a massive understatement.   VMUG appear to have spared nothing to bring the vRockstars to town and give the UK a mini VMworld.

When the list is as long as this  you know it was going to be a great event….  In no particular order:

Joe Baguley

Duncan Epping

Daren Woollard

Simon Seagrave

Cormac Hogan

Mike Laverick

Chris Wahl

Alan Renouf

Lee Dilworth

Frank Dennerman

The event was also well represented by the usual sponsors and it was definatly good to chat with some of them and find out whats on the horizon in their product portfolio.

The day started with the keynote being done by Joe Baguley (VMware CTO EMEA)  Despite saying we are all out of a job in the not to distant future his speech was very informal advising that policy based and automation are the future.  He also managed to get a reference to chickens and kittens.

The next session that I went to was a small informal breakout by Simon  Seagrave on using EMC storage simulators in your homelab.   I will defiantly be trying some of his suggestions and he has multiple blog posts on doing this  to help anyone interested.   One of the things I love about the VMUG events and the VMware community as a whole is how helpful everyone is.   Simon’s session overran a little bit and some people went to go and see the next presentation. I stayed and Simon and I chatted more in depth about the EMC appliances and he suggested things to try. We also chatted about our homelab’s and our love of HP Microservers.  We discussed some of the other equipment we use and how we have set it up. This was incredibly useful as I am looking to make some changes in my lab to reduce noise and the electric bill but also to get a bigger WAF.

Lunchtime gave me some time to catch up with the various vendor’s and see some of the new product offerings.

I then went to another breakout session with Jonathan Medd all about automation for vCAC This is a product I know little about so with Joe’s comments ringing in my head it was one that i thought i should pay attention to.  The presentation was very much driven by the attendees with Jonathan’s guidance on what is possible from the product.  It was cool to have some end users in the audience who seemed very knowledgable.

During the break I caught up with Grandpa discussed some of the developments in my homelab  with him ( Its gone FC since we last talked) and discussed Daren’s move over to Nutanix.   I got the low down on the product and from what I have seen so far am really impressed.  I will be speaking to my management to try and get a POC live.   I also suggested I would be happy to try it in my lab but this didn’t go down as well :p One of the features that i thought come across well with management is that its Hypervisor agnostic.  They have some plans to put a few environment’s Hyper-V as this is what our customers have requested.

The penultimate session I went to was by Frank Dennerman who is now with Pernixdata.  I have seen a Pernixdata session at our local VMUG but the product has developed a bit since then.  I see a lot of potential in the product and a huge number of use cases.  Its another product I will be speaking to our architects about.  The way I see it is that what they have is incredibly easy to add to your existing environment. It will accelerate reads and writes via either Ram or SSD and there is almost no management required.  This either allows you to extend the life of your current infrastructure or possibly even reduce the performance requirements the next time you refresh your storage.  From a business perspective these are huge benefits.

Lastly Chris Wahl had the closing keynote rounding off the day this was again reinforcing Joe’s earlier message about embracing automation and Orchestration.

Just before I left i did a 2 min Video interview for VMUG on the benefits of attending. Something that I cannot stress enough.   The sessions have some great content but the best bit is everyone is accessible. I implore you to go and speak to people whether it be the presenters some of the sponsors or  the attendees.  VMware even sent members of the support team over from Ireland who were happy to answer support/technical questions.

They all bring something to the table and its a valuable learning experience. I will certainly be attending next year.

I would like to thank all of the organisers and the presenters on a fabulous job

VMware CBT- Veeam

For those of you that attended my North West VMware User group  I mentioned an issue with backups using the VMware change block tracking feature.

Issues can occur if you grew a  virtual disk over a 128Gb boundary.  This is quite a serious issue and at present this is not resolved by VMware.    If you are using Veeam as your backup tool of choice they have released a hotfix to mitigate against the chance of hitting this error.

You need to be running patch 4 of version 7 ( Build  It is important to test and implement the patch as soon as possible.  As the article states this will only fix new disk extensions. It is strongly recommended to go back and reset CBT on any VM that has been grown over a 128GB boundary.    My personal recommendation is to reset CBT on any VM larger than 128GB unless you know that it has never been grown.



Homelab Update

There have been some fairly major changes in the homelab recently so I thought I would update on where I am at.   The changes are in 3 main sections

  • Micro Compute
  • Storage
  • Lab Compute

Micro refers to the HP Microservers.   This is part of my environment that runs all of the time. These servers are great for running 24×7 and have good WAF.  They are quiet, fairly small and dont use a lot of power.    I have 2 of the N36 generation box’s in a VMware cluster these run things like my Sophos Firewall vCentre appliance.  Domain controllers.  and a few other bits and pieces.    I havent done this yet but the intention is to try and put the 1TB HP VSA cluster on top of these.

On the storage front my main lab storage is still my Nexenta box this has gone through a few minor changes.  The biggest one being able to run Fibre channel to the hosts.    This is not through a switched environment at the moment as the Brocade\HP switch i got from Ebay  I havent been able to log into.  ( If anyone has a contact in support for either of these that could help would be appreciated)

Lastly the main compute in my lab has doubled in spec.  I now have 2x IBM hosts each with 8x AMD cpu and 48GB of ram.  Both of these have been generously donated from work.    They dont run all the time as they are not needed and are fairly noisy  These are FC attached to the Nexenta box.  I have also just started a trial of Pernixdata 2.0  Ram Cache on these.   24GB allocated per host.  The speed is off the chart.   Separate blog to follow


North West VMUG – From the community side

I recently presented at the most recent North West VMUG with a presentation around backups and DR. The presentation was roughly split into two parts.  Firstly on decisions and design and part two was a bit more focused on using a specific technology to protect the environment.  I chose Veeam for this part as its a technology I know pretty well and one that i felt most of the audience would use or be aware of.

The presentation wasn’t very technical the intention was to make people think more about the subject when they are designing and building systems.   Unfortunately i have found that backups etc are often left to last typically when the budget has run out of days or money. I also tried to make people think and design/architect the systems with DR and backups in mind.

I cant stress how important it is to have that in the design from day one.  I gave some real world examples of some of the gotchas I have seen in the past.  The classic one in an IT world is that all of your documentation is in Sharepoint or similar  .  How do you access if that DC is offline or Sharepoint is broken…..

In a full business continuity plan there are multiple things outside of your control.  However it is your job to mitigate against these as best as you can.   I then showed how you could use Veeam and some the excellent features that it has to protect you against the failures that are unfortunately inevitable.

The presentation was reviewed by Chris Dearden at Veeam  as part of the feed forward program.  I have used this twice now for reviewing community presentations and I cant recommend it enough. Chris gave up 45mins of his day to go through the slide deck with me. Asking questions that may pop up and generally gave some great advice it was greatly appreciated.

Chris has also asked me to speak at the Veeam on Tour event which if it all comes together will be a great experience.

I would also like to thank Nathan and Steve for the opportunity to present. I think its nice that I have been able to give back to such a supportive community and I know the work that must go in to organising the event


Fibre Channel

I did a presentation a few months ago at the North West VMware User group.  This presentation was on my Nexenta rig at home.  My last steps slide talked about my ambition to try FC at home.   This post is a brief note to  say that I now have this fully working with Nexenta 4.0 and 2 hosts. This is currently without a switch as I am unable to log into the one I bought from ebay.

Im still working on that and will update the full details on what you need to do for FC at a later date.

HP StoreVirtual

I was really lucky this week to have been given a pair of HP StoreVirtual’s to play with.  These are 1TB appliances valid for 3yrs.

For people not familiar this is the new name for HP P4000’s

P4000’s typically come as a pair of HP servers (usually a DL380 or similar )  however in my case I have VM’s .  This is better for me as I still get the full functionality and I dont need to have a huge electric bill ( I already have one of those)

I am looking forward to experimenting with a true virtual storage cluster as I never managed to get the performance I wanted using Nexenta.   I think it will also be great to learn about network RAID and the other large differences over a non scale out solution

This blog is currently being server from StorVirtual VSA mounted iSCSI storage

Nexenta 4

Nexenta 4 was released recently and its something  I have been waiting a long time for.  I have run Nexenta 3 in various different configurations in my homelab’s and its a product that I have enjoyed using.

We have been waiting a long time for version 4 so I was keen to get it up and running.   Due to the huge changes under the hood.  The kernal was changed so I thought some testing was needed….

I have been running it as a VM and had no real issues so the next task is to “put into production on my storage host”


Certifications are  one of those things in IT most people that have been doing the job for a bit have some.  Some people have lots and some dont have any.   Peoples opinions on this vary greatly.    I believe in the value of most of the certifications. However being certified is no guarantee of being able to do the job !!
The  first one I ever did was  Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional.  It was a great one to start with in my career, I knew most of the content but certainly not all.  I certainly learned a hell of a lot more during the study time and this was a product i had been using daily since before it was even released. Now the title of this post is VMWare VCA so i better start talking about that…

I have been wanting to do the VMWare VCP-DCV exam for a long time however the combination of the course requirement and my former employees not wanting to pay for it let to it being a pipe dream.  I couldnt justify the cost on my own.  Then it was announced at VMWorld that VMware would be launching  a new entry certification called the VMWare VCA. This was going to be a cheaper entry level certification with no course requirement.  I immediately jumped straight in skipped the online training component and dived straight in for the exam.   It went very well and was a good pass done quite quickly.   I was very glad i passed the exam as i skipped all the training but i was hoping the exam would be a bit harder.   Reading a bit more about the exam i believe its focused more entry level than I was expecting and thete fore straightforward for me.  On reflection of this info i think its at about the correct level.  Doing this has also given me the motivation to get on and go for the VCP qualification.  Possibly my new employers may help with time of for study.

In the VCA track VMWare have also released two other VCA exams

VCA-Cloud and VCA-Workforce Mobility.  These are on my todo list over Xmas.

VMWare have also announced a VCA exam on Network Virtualization however this isn’t live yet

I think its fairly high in my list to get all of the entry level exams done. Then go and concentrate on the VCP I have wanted for so long.