Posts Tagged ‘vexpert’

Speaking at the NLVMUG for the first time #vexpert

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Here is a summery of my experience of speaking at the NLVMUG for the first time.

For someone who always take pride in knowing just that little bit more than the next guy, it is not surprising that a longstanding desire of mine, was to speak at a public event to some kind of unique knowledge. Public conferences, even vendor-specific conferences like VMWare’s VMUG’s and of course VMworld, are very interesting to me precisely because of this. It tends to attract and concentrate some of the most knowledgeable people, and some of the most cutting edge technological knowledge and experiences.

Last year I was invited by @gekort , a great public speaker in his own right, to present a session at the VMware summerschool in Utrecht, at VMwares Dutch main office. Having never previously spoken publicly like that, this was a pretty big deal for me. The sheer fear of being publicly scrutinized on my knowledge of a subject sends me into fits of anxiety ūüėČ
But it was a great experience, and personally for me a great success. It boosted my confidence in my speaking and presentation abilities quite a bit. The feedback that I got was valuable and I took as much of the experience and advice on board as I could. In any case, I knew I wanted to do more of this!  But the main advantage I had was that I was speaking to a set of subjects I was quite comfortable and knowledgeable about, in that case Metro-Cluster and HA.

When it was time to submit a paper to the NLVMUG, the largest VMware user conference in the world, besides VMWorld, it was obvious to myself and Alexander, our co-founder, that we should speak about our NSX experiences over the last 3 years. It is currently our biggest asset as an infrastructure partner, as we are currently in a rather unique position with it, and to be blunt, we really cannot advertise it enough. I am not in essence a ‘network guy’, so I was a bit nervous about the material. I made doubly sure I had fact-checked every single thing I wanted to talk about. I probably spent over 40 hours doing just that.

Simultaneously, my colleague Robin van Altena also submitted a talk about vRealize Network Insight.

We submitted¬†the NSX talk and the vRNI talk as a ‘lightning session’, which is only about 20 minutes. (My talk at the Summerschool was an hour). There where many, many of those slots available at the NLVUG. In retrospect, I think we could have equally well have pitched a full break-out session of 50 minutes, with the material we had.
As it turned out, there was already a full break-out session just before mine by one of the NLVUG leaders, Joep Piscaer , on OGD’s experience with NSX over the last 3 years. the NLVMUG leaders reached out to all new speakers to help coach them a bit, and me and Robin gracefully accepted.
This was quite a valuable Skype session, and the key point that was inparted on us, was the non-commercial nature of the talks. We where there to talk about our own,¬†personal experiences. While we could acknowledge our companies, it would be bad form to explicitly pitch our company or product. This is relatively easy for me, as having to engage in ‘sales talk’ causes a fair bit of cognitive dissonance in my brain, even though I can do it quite well when needed :p

Practicing your talk is essential, as is getting feedback early. ¬†We occasionally have ‘knowledge sessions’ at Redlogic, where people do little presentations of whatever it is they want to share. This was a perfect opportunity to get early feedback on our sessions.

My talk was pretty dense with NSX information. It took me a few personal practice runs, timing myself on the different parts, to get it all under 20 minutes. And you want a minute or two for questions.

The day itself was awesome. I was quite nervous of course. My talk was at 11:00, and that is a great time slot. Anything after lunch, and you risk the change that people are either falling asleep, or have left. ¬†Joep Piscaer’s talk about NSX at OGD was just prior to mine. I knew I would want to refer to his talk in mine, so I made sure to attend it.

His talk was indeed very interesting. There was a lot of overlap with mine, but our talks where also highly complementary for each other, each touching on unique aspects and experiences. He called me and my talk out specifically as a follow up, which was very gracious, and his final slide even referenced me. As I was going to briefly discuss NSX-T, he mentioned that specifically. This made me somewhat nervous as I was only going to spend maybe half a minute on that. I made it a point to give that subject a little more time at the end of my talk, which I did.

If you want to learn more about OGD’s hosted IAAS platform with NSX, check out¬† ¬†and¬† (both in Dutch)

The ‘Dexter’ rooms reserved for the lightning talks are all quite small, only fitting about 40-45 people. As there where a record amount of sessions at the NLVMUG this year, the logistics of the venue had a bit of trouble keeping up. Also, all talks where about 10 minutes behind schedule, so I ended up in line for my own talk ūüôā
It is both incredibly encouraging and nerve-racking to see the room filled to capacity, and then another 15¬†or so people trying to get in. It was standing-room only at the back, and the same was true for Robin’s vRNI talk.
Getting started is always the hardest part, but once I was into the swing of it, I forgot about time and nerves and just went all-in on the knowledge. I didn’t even watch the timer counting down. ¬†My talk was pretty dense and I feel I have a pretty intense style of speaking. I try to scan the room and look people in the eye. I hope that keeps peoples attention. One thing I regret is not having some humorous moments in my slide deck. I need to take a page from Joep and include some memes next time :p
I tend to move around a lot, but the size of the room did not allow for much lateral pacing. Probably a good thing. You don’t want to remain hidden behind the lectern, but you don’t want to obscure the beamer either. I will take this into account with my slides next time; leave some space for my ‘shadow’ if needed. ¬†I was very happy the venue had provided fresh water behind the lectern. But a bottle would have been more practical than the glasses we had. I will take a bottle with me next time. Your mouth¬†will dry out :p

To my surprise, I seemed to stay inside the time perfectly, but I was not entirely sure. I was expecting (and dreading) questions, but I only got 1, which was customer-related and kinda drew a black for me in the moment. (why did our customer choose NSX). It was not the kind of question I had been expecting, and regretfully I had to admin on the spot that I did not know. I actually did remember later, but my mind was focused on product facts, not customer politics.

I asked the room for more questions.. silence. “Ideas?” .. ¬†“did you like it?!” .. and the whole room made enthusiastic and acknowledging noises. That was the best moment of the day ūüôā
I heard later, via others, that it had indeed been very well received by people. It also reminded me that is really not enough NSX experience out there right now, and many people are curious.

Also Robin’s talk about vRNI, just after and right next door time mine, was very well attended, with lots of interest. Again a packed and overcrowded room. ¬†He managed to cram in slides and material and exposition,¬†and 4 demo-movies,¬†and¬†stayed right inside 20 minutes. Very impressive! ¬†And demo’s of a product are always very popular, even if they are recorded. It should be noted he recorded these himself, in our own lab. They where not VMware-provided.

The rest of the day was much like any other conference day.. attending sessions, checking hands, live-tweeting, getting plied by vendors, hunting for food and snacks, and networking. I had been invited to a vExpert lunch with Frank Denneman, but I totally forgot about it.  We did have a nice buffet afterwards with the other speakers, and I had some great convos there with folks from ITQ. The day was exhausting but a huge amount of fun, best NLVMUG I have been to, and higher on my list than even VMworld so far.  I will certainly want to speak next year again, and perhaps at other places and events, my mind is already churning with what my next talk will be about!

I will be writing some upcoming blog posts about our NSX experiences, based on my presentation.

EMC VPLEX VS2 to VS6 seamless, non-disruptive hardware upgrade

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

This post describes our experience with upgrading from EMC VPLEX VS2 to VS6 hardware, in a seamless non-disruptive fashion.

EMC VPlex is a powerful storage virtualization product and I have had several years of experience with it in a active-active metro-storage-cluster deployment. I am a big fan. Its rock-solid, very intuitive to use and very reliable if set up correctly. Check out these 2 videos to learn what it does.

Around August 2016, EMC released VPLEX VS6, the next generation of hardware for the VPLEX platform. In many aspects it is, generally, twice as fast, utilizing the latest Intel chipset and 16Gbe FC, with an Infiniband interconnect between the directors and a boatload of extra cache.

One of our customers recently wanted their VS2 hardware either scaled-out or replaced by VS6 for performance reasons. Going for a hardware replacement was more cost-effective than scaling out by adding more VS2 engines.

Impressively the in-place upgrade of the hardware could be done none-disruptively. This is achievable through the clever way the GeoSynchrony firmware is ‘loosely coupled’ from the hardware. The VS6 hardware is a significant upgrade over the VS2, yet they are able to run the same firmware version of¬†GeoSynchrony without the different components of VPLEX being aware of the fact. This is especially useful if you have VPLEX deployed in a metro-cluster.
So to prepare for a seamless upgrade from VS2 to VS6, your VS2 hardware needs to be on the S6 firmware. The exact same release as the VS6 hardware you will be transitioning to.

VPLEX consists of ‘Engines’ that house 2 ‘directors’. You can think of these as broadly analogous to the service processors in an array. With the main difference being that they are active-active. They share a cache and are able to handle i/o for the same LUN’s simultaneously. If you add another engine with 2 extra directors, now you have 4 directors all servicing the same workload and load-balancing the work.

Essentially the directors form a cluster together, directly over their infiniband, or in metro-cluster, also, partially, over fiber channel across the WAN. Because they are decoupled from the management plane, they can continue operating even when the management plane is temporarily not available. It also means that, if their firmware is the same, even though the underlying hardware is a generation apart, they can still form a cluster together without any of them noticing. ¬†This is what makes the non-disruptive upgrade, even in a metro-cluster configuration, possible. It also means that you can upgrade one side of the VPLEX metro-cluster separately, and a day or even a week apart from the other side. This makes planning an upgrade more flexible. There is a caveat however, and that is a possible slight performance hit on your wan-com replication between the VS2 and VS6 sides, so you don’t want to keep in that state for all too long.


VPLEX VS2 hardware. 1 engine consisting of 2 directors.

VS6 hardware. Directors are now stacked on top of each other. 

Because all directors running the same firmware are essentially equivalent, even though they might be of different hardware generations, you can almost predict what the non-disruptive hardware upgrade looks like. Its more or less the same procedure as if you where to replace a defective director. The only difference is that the old VS2 hardware is now short-circuited to the new VS6 hardware, which enables the new VS6 directors to take over i/o and replication from the old directors one at a time.

The only thing the frontend hosts and the backend storage ever notice, is temporarily losing half their storage paths. So naturally, you need to have your multipathing software on your hosts in order. This will most likely be EMC powerpath, which handles this scenario flawlessly.

The most impressive trick of this transfer, however, is that the new directors will seamlessly take over the entire ‘identity’ of the old directors. This includes -everything- unique about the director, including, crucially, the WWNs. ¬†This is important because transferring the WWNs is the very thing that makes the transition seamless. ¬†It does of course require you to have ‘soft zoning’ in place, in the case of FC. As a director port WWN will suddenly, in the space of about a minute, vanish from 1 port, and pop up on another port. But if you have your zoning set up correctly, you do not even have to touch your switches at all.

And yes, that does mean you need double cabling, at least temporarily. The old VS2 is of course connected to your i/o switches, and the new VS6 will need to be connected simultaneously on all its ports, during the upgrade process.

So have fun cabling those ūüėČ

That might be a bit of a hassle, but its a small price to pay for such a smooth and seamless transition.

To enable the old VS2 hardware, (which used FC to talk to his partner director over local-com), to talk to the new VS6 directors (which use Infiniband) during the migration, it is necessary to temporary insert an extra FC module into the VS6 directors. During a specific step in the upgrade process, the VS2 is connected to the VS6, and for a brief period, your i/o is being served from a combination of a VS2 and VS6 director that are sharing volumes and cache with eachother. This is a neat trick.

Inserting the temp IO modules:

As a final step, the old VS2 management server settings are imported to the new redundant VS6 management modules. In VS6, these management modules are now integrated into the director chassis, and act in a active-passive failover mode. This is a great improvement over the single on-redundant VS2 management server, with its single power supply (!)


Old Management Server:

New management modules:

The new management server hardware completely takes over the identity and settings of the old management server. This even includes IP address, customer cluster names and the cluster serial numbers. The VS6 will adopt the serial numbers of your VS2 hardware. This is important to know from a EMC support point-of-view and may confuse people.

The great advantage is that all local settings and accounts, and all monitoring tools and alerting mechanisms flawlessly work with the new hardware. For example we have a powershell script that uses the API to check the health status. This script worked immediately with the VS6 without having to change anything. Also VIPR SRM only need a restart of the VPLEX collector,whereafter it continued collecting without having to change anything.  The only thing I have found that did not get transferred where the SNMP trapping targets.
After upgrade, the benefit of the new VS6 hardware was immediately noticeable. Here is a graph  of average aggregate director CPU use, from EMC VIPR SRM:

As this kind of product is fundamental to your storage layer, its stability and reliability, especially during maintenance work like firmware and hardware upgrades, is paramount, and is taken seriously by EMC. Unlike other EMC products like VNX, you are not expected or indeed allowed to update this hardware yourself, unless you are a certified partner. ¬†Changes that need to be done to your VPLEX platform go through a part of EMC called the ‘Remote Pro-active’ team.¬†

There is a process that has to be followed which involves getting them involved early, a round of pre-validation health-checks, and the hands-on action of the maintenance job either remotely via webex, or on sight by local EMC engineers if that is required. A hardware upgrade will always require onsite personal, so make sure they deliver pizza to the datacenter! If an upgrade goes smoothly, expect it to take 4-5 hours. That includes all the final pre-checks, hardware work, cabling, transfer of management identity to the VS6, and decommissioning of the VS2 hardware.

In the end the upgrade was a great success, and our customer had zero impact. Pretty impressive for a complete hardware replacement of such a vital part of your storage infra.

Finally, here is the text of the September2016 VPLEX Uptime bulletin with some additional information about the upgrade requirements. Be aware that this may be deprecated, please consult with EMC support for the latest info.,-September-2016.pdf?language=en_US

There is an EMC community thread where people have been leaving their experiences with the upgrade, have a look here: