Smart Fabrics is Smart for VxRail HCI

Update! This week I will be meeting Hasan Mansur at the Limerick Customer Solution Center who writes a great Dell EMC networking blog at https://hasanmansur.com/ . Hasan has written two great articles there about Smart Fabric Services. Please check it out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Back in October I asked the question, is HCI networking easy? I stand by my assertion that it is already pretty simple once you understand the converged design for HCI does not require separate physical fabrics. Once you setup your required VLANS and appropriate MTU and multicast for IPv6 you are 90% of the way done.  So if it’s so easy already, then why am I so excited about Smart Fabrics for VxRail appliances? Start up a conversation with Ned the network engineer about the automated deployment and simplified life-cycle management capabilities of Smart Fabrics and you will get back a blank dull stare. “That’s just a python script” Ned the Network Admin will say, “Take your fancy sales patter down to the Virtualization guys, we don’t want your kind round here!”

Ned the NetAdmin says “You’ll never take my switches!”

Ned has a point I suppose. The Network Admins job is to move packets reliably from one part of the network to the other, monitor the network for any problems, and to design and build future networks.  The last thing Ned needs is dealing with end users complaining about network problems caused by poorly designed applications (its never the networks fault!). This is actually the main selling point FOR the use of Smart Fabrics. Let me explain why.

Before you understand why Smart Fabrics for VxRail, you have to first understand the reason for choosing VxRail appliances in the first place.  I have written a few Blogs on this already here and here – but in short it’s an engineered solution for vSAN that comes from Dell EMC fully validated and tested and automatically deployed and updated throughout its lifecycle.

It doesn’t require a Storage expert or Server guru and it even saves the Virtualization admin from having to spend countless hours reading design and deploy documentation. After day 2, maintenance and updates and upgrades are made easy through a single bundle file that covers the entire stack (not just the software on top of somebody else’ hypervisor – and includes the hardware too.

The last part of the HCI architecture that needed simplification was the network, so Dell EMC has had its sites on Ned’s cubicle for a while now. If we are going to provide a fully automated deployment experience for our customers, it only makes sense to include the Top of Rack switches that are being used by VxRail appliances.  After all why would the network admin want to be responsible for those HCI host ports anyways? If something goes wrong in the vSAN stack, Ned doesn’t want to be dragged in to a War Room to defend last weekend’s network changes. Ned knows the changes the network team made at the weekend were to the core only.

Now with Smart Fabrics for VxRail, Ned can still own the core, and leave the HCI network problems to the Virtualization team.  Smart Fabric will fully configure a redundant TOR fabric for VxRail, and continue to maintain the network for the life-cycle of the HCI solution. When it’s time to patch the HCI network, Smart Fabric will provide a bundle file, and perform a non-disruptive rolling upgrade to the network TORs leaving Ned free to watch old episodes of Futurama. If the HCI team needs to expand their existing VxRail cluster by adding a new node, then Smart Fabric will fully automate the changes to the TOR switch, no need for Ned to ever get involved.

One of the advantages for VxRail customers has been the fact that it is BYON (Bring Your Own Networking). This means that Dell EMC does not force you to take a switch from their portfolio into your datacenter. For some customers, this would be non-negotiable.  They may have standardized on a specific brand and prefer to stay that way, no matter what they run at the Storage or Virtualization layer.  VxRail networking is compatible with any modern low latent switch and the introduction of Smart Fabrics does NOT mean that the BYON option is no longer a choice. Hopefully the automation that comes with Smart Fabric for VxRail will entice some customers to converge the entire HCI stack and give Ned some peace of mind.

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Is advice from an expired VCP like drinking dodgy milk?

Update! VMware has removed the mandatory re-certification requirement from all current certifications! Read More about what this means here.

The concept of certification expiration is irksome to  many in the IT industry. I remember when my MCSE timed out way back in the day – and later when I did the PMP i was very disheartened to learn after 2 years I could no longer put it down on my CV any more unless I logged 40 hours of volunteering to attend various lectures on Project Management.

 

Keeping up with certifications in the technology world can be a daunting task. Even with the best of intentions to stay up to date, the day job can get in the way. If your role changes, sometimes so does your focus on keeping up with your training.  The next thing you know you are officially expired! Does this mean your past knowledge vanishes as well?

I suppose a more balanced view would be its always good to be contiously learning. Arent we all doing that though? Last week I signed up for the VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage [V6.7] course through my employer. The is part of the Data Center Virtualization (DCV) track. There is only a current exam for certification for  VCP 6.5 as the 6.7 course is not yet ready.

The course I joined was delivered online with an Instructor (ILT) and the class had about a dozen students.  My old VCP certification was… well it was well expired at this stage! VCP 3 and 4 seems so long ago now. I was a little daunted joining a course thinking I might be out of place.   The first day our instructor had everyone give a short intro and I was surprised to discover most people were in the same boat as me!

Shares, Reservations and Limits – Oh My!

A few people had actually already passed the VCP 6.5 this year, but needed to attend the course in order to officially earn the VCP certification. It must be a challenge for any instructor, knowing that some students might lack the motivation to pay attention. I must say our instructor was excellent. If you ever get a chance to take a course led by Rita Thaker, do not hesitate! What I liked most was how she frequently used the whiteboard instead of the lecture slides. She has an excellent ability to explain a topic using a story and her pen and builds it up slowly over time.  Many students commented that they preferred her drawings and were busily taking screen grabs for later study.

You had to be there… Isolation or Partition What if Scenario.

The course included two EBooks (Lecture and Lab manuals) delivered online through Evantage by Gilmore Global. You sign up for an account and can access the content on any device. The classes were hosted through the  Adobe Connect platform, which allows the instructor to control the learning environment completely. Participation was encouraged but controlled, the mics were muted unless a hand was raised, and normally the chat window was where we interacted.  This has a huge benefit in preventing the classroom Know-It-All or that one painful student that disrupts every lesson with an off-topic question/rant/story (there is ALWAYS one!).

Since my VCP was well and truly out of date, I needed to do a bit more to get back on track. I needed to attend the course, complete the course eval (to get course credit) and then I need to pass the vSphere 6.5 Foundations exam before I can finally try for the VMware Certified Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization Exam (VCP 6.5 DCV ) .

I know a few people have expressed their annoyance with certification expiration and dismissed the trend as a money racket, but to be fair the VMware training is really top notch and in my case I really did need to dust off the brain cells and get back into it.  Hopefully I will get a chance to take the exam in December (this year) and then I will hopefully do better at renewing within the 2 year time-frame, as you only need to pass the latest exam at that point.

Some of the helpful links and content for the VCP DCV track:

vSphere Documentation, lots of links from here.

Maximums!  Always guaranteed a question on this.

Online access to Ebooks for Manuals and Lab books.

Hands on Labs! Most people learn best thru practical lessons.

Foundations Practice Exam Sample.

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Meet the Experts at VMworld Barcelona

This year I was fortunate to be given a ticket to VMworld in Barcelona as a partner attendee. Normally when I get to go to a company conference like DTW I have at least some booth duty – but this time I could concentrate on learning and networking. I had read all the guides to surviving VMworld, and digested all the advice and tips. I was careful to book sessions with presenters I wanted to meet before they filled up.  The app was an excellent resource and I used it to plan my days and stuck to the schedule I committed to.  I was very surprised to see many of the sessions only sparsely attended, especially when I knew the speakers were top class and the sessions had been booked out!

I was only given one small task for the event by the boss. The task was to evaluate the Meet The Experts area and Expert Bar and to find out as much as possible on how it worked for the event.  The reason for this is the plan is to run something very similar in Dell Technologies World in Vegas next spring.  Last year the Customer Solution Center had a section near the Hands on Labs area where customers could meet with Solution Architects 1on1 and discuss different products and solutions they were interested in.  The area was a success, we had many conversations and whiteboards were filled – but next year they wanted to see if we could improve the concept.

I must say I was well impressed with how the Meet The Experts and Experts Bar area were run in Barcelona. From what I have read about past VMworld’s the Expert Bar has moved from the VMware booth and now sits next to the Meet the Experts area which used to be called Expert Roundtables.  The location that was chosen was ideal in my opinion.  It was away from the Rock and Roll of the VM Village and Solutions Exchange, and placed outside of the Breakout Rooms.

At the end of any session, there is limited time to ask questions to the presenters so the Expert Bar gives anyone a chance to walk up and speak to someone while the question is fresh in their minds. The Expert Bar was a simple setup of one long table where engineers (not bartenders) served knowledge not alcohol. The table had room for 8 pairs of experts and a screen behind them displayed the details of their primary and secondary skill-sets. As customers fired questions across the bar, the experts could use the table-top as a whiteboard to explain concepts. The action was fast and furious and the Expert Bar was as busy as any in Las Ramblas.

The Meet the Expert sessions were all booked out weeks before the event, through the online scheduler just like any of the breakout sessions. You could search for a specific speaker, or a Topic and book them online.  This is exactly what I did, I booked 2 sessions with speakers that I wanted to meet. The session were at least 45 minutes each, with room for 10 attendees.  To me this is one of the highlights of the show, an opportunity to get into a small sessions with a well-known speaker and get a chance to have a discussion. I was amazed as I passed the area often to see empty seats. I spoke with the person at the desk checking badges of attendees and learned you could grab a no-show seat if they were full when you booked them.

I joined a session by Pete Koehler @vmpete with 6 customers. Pete and I knew each other virtually when Pete did a skype demo for me on new vROPS features after Dell World 2017. It was great to get to meet him in person and I was delighted when he recognized my badge when I sat down – we had a quick chat before he went into a discussion on vSAN availability scenarios.  The session was informal, mostly whiteboard, and the customers were able to ask questions. I was able to intro myself to the group and pitch Solution Centers story, as it turned out one customer asked to contact me after the event for a POC.

I had a second session with Myles Grey @mylesagrey about Kubernetes on vSAN, and I was the only one that turned up! For me this was excellent, because I had heard a lot about Myles and would much prefer to just have a chat while we waited for others to turn up.  Myles was an absolute gent and stayed for the full time-slot, he didn’t need to do that I would have understood if he headed off.  I had another Breakout session later he delivered on NSX that was also excellent.

When I got home from the event I gave a detailed report on the show and I am hoping that we are able to emulate a similar Expert Bar and Meet The Experts session schedule for Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. If you have time in your conference schedule you would be well advised to include one of these sessions as part of your itinerary.

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