Clean Coasts : Love Your Coast 2019 Competition

My Clean Coasts submissions this year.

I was not so successful this year in the Clean Coasts photography competition. I didn’t get a single picture into the finalist round this year and i didn’t end up going up for the event. Hoping maybe I will have better luck next year. I was pretty disappointed but looking back my images were not as good as last year and the competition is pretty fierce. Very happy for the friends i knew that got in. Looking forward to catching up at the dive show in March 2020.

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I was rejected (again) for vExpert, should i just give up?

To all future vExperts…Never give up! the vCommunity wants to help you succeed. Here are some application tips. Click To Tweet

My rocky road to vExpert

vexpert advice
Rejected this time for vExpert? Don’t give up!

I wanted to tell my vExpert story. It is not a nice story about how I submitted the perfect application and nailed it first try. Its about how I was rejected on my first and my second attempt. Its how i kept that rejection secret and told no one, instead of getting vExpert advice. I really felt i had let myself down. The story has a nice ending for me. Because after getting a lot of help from the vCommunity, i was finally successful on my third try! I figured it was a good time to write this blog on the anniversary of my first (or was it my second?) failed submission.

Attend a local VMUG

What I learned was that being a vExpert meant you should be party of the community. If you aren’t participating in the community then why would you want to be a vExpert in the first place? I had not attended a VMUG before my first application. Seriously, what was i thinking? I had plenty pf excuses for why I had not gone to one. Its too far away. I don’t know anyone going. I have a meeting scheduled that day. Stop. These are terrible excuses. Go to a VMUG. Speak at a VMUG. Help out at a VMUG. Join the community and play a part in it. No matter how small, there is something you can do. The best part of attending the VMUG is the people you meet. This leads on to the next bit of advice.

Look for a Sponsor

I started my vExpert journey in total secret for fear of rejection and public humiliation. I look back on my first pitiful application and realize i would have rejected me too. Although I had friends in VMware I refused to ask them for help at first. When I was trying for the third time I finally decided to ask for help from a sponsor and get a reference. I waited for the reply nervously and was over the moon when i got back a positive response.

Contact a local vExpert Pro.

On my third attempt, I also reached out to one of the vExpert Pro’s for my country (Ireland). I asked them to review my draft vExpert application. They gave me really great vExpert advice and encouragement. Leave this task until after you have put together the final submission. Do not expect the vExpert PRO to write your application for you. The best advice he shared was make sure my focus was on helping the community.

Study the example vExpert Application.

There is a great example vExpert application up on the vExpert portal. Read this application and think about how your own application might look. Obviously do not try and copy this content word for word. Anything you write about will be “checked out” so stick to the facts. The example is a good guide for the level of detail that you should include. I realized that my bullet point list was too short, and i needed to expand on the impact of things i was claiming credit for. The advice i still remember was to focus on the community. You can always be doing more, you just need to find your niche and what way you are naturally good at helping others. Then tell them about it in the application!

Read Blogs. Listen to Podcasts.

What I didn’t realize is vExperts want to help you out. They really want you to succeed. It doesn’t take much searching in the blogsphere to find great tips and advice to get you started from these people. One of my best bits of vExpert advice when you starting out your application is to listen to the VMware Communities Roundtable Podcast. Episode #451 is literally “How to do a great vExpert application” with Corey Romero. This is well worth a listen as it gives specific detail into the voting process and how much weight they assign to different content. Speaking about content…

Create a Blog. Join a Podcast.

I chose to start a blog. Well this blog actually. I wrote my first few blogs as part of the #BlogtoberTEch challenge. This was just the kickstart I needed just before my third application. You might not be a blogger, that’s OK too. You might not be a blogger, that’s OK too. Have you made any podcast recordings yet? You don’t have to start your own Podcast. It is easy to get invited as a guest to a podcast if you try. I have been lucky to have made a few podcast friends and been able to go on as a guest. One of the best ways to do this easily is to volunteer to present a topic you are an expert at. They can only say no!

More options for content.

There are lots of options for content creation. I cannot list them all. You may even think of a new and unique way to create something that the community is lacking. Seek out opportunities to join in the community and help out in other ways. You could always contribute to public forums. Slack channels are another way you could potentially be active. There is of course twitter and social media options. But as the podcast above will tell you, you don’t get a lot of points for retweeting other vExpert advice. Talk about your own opinion based on your experience. If you have content that is not public you can always submit offline content example’s, agendas, etc. If you think you have enough content already, then start that vExpert application.

Apply again and improve it.

My final word of advice should be obvious. If you are rejected do not give up. Take pause and look back objectively on your contribution to the community. Could you have done more? Keep track of your past applications. Start a list of goals and look back monthly. What more did you do since last month? Can you do more next month? Write your application offline, keep a copy of the online application, improve it every time you submit. Best of luck to you and hit me up with a tweet or a comment if this blog helped you at all.

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The best HCI appliance just got better. Introducing ACE

VxRail had an ACE up its sleeve: Data.

Every day data is generated on the health, performance and consumption of customers VxRail VSAN clusters. This data can be sent back to Dell Technologies using Secure Remote Support (SRS) and customers benefit from an improved support experience. SRS can be used to send a heartbeat and create automated alerts and to allow remote access when needed. The VxRail team store this telemetry info in a support cloud and built a platform to run analytics against this rich data set. This gives support the ability to see common issues across different customers configurations. They have now enabled a front end interface to this data lake called ACE (Analytical Consulting Engine). ACE allows customers access to their own hci appliance data including CPU, memory, storage and VM details.

ACE for existing customers no extra cost

The first phase of the ACE project comes for free to existing VxRail customers. So if you are already using SRS and sending heartbeat data home then you just need access to login to the VxRail portal. Enabling SRS is really easy using a virtual appliance and your Dell EMC support account logon and Site ID. If you didn’t deploy this initially, I highly recommend installing it now. It takes no time at all.

ACE global dashboard for all sites

What if you have multiple sites with multiple clusters? The ACE dashboard provides a simple interface to view all your sites and clusters easily at a glance. Drill down from location to Cluster to individual nodes and VMs. Customers have loved the VxRail appliance experience. Some of the largest customers have said they only thing they have been missing is a VxRail manager of managers. In future, ACE will be the answer for them.

Cluster health scores made simple

ACE uses the data collected from SRS and continually monitors the health of a customers cluster. ACE will present a health score that is easy to understand at a glance. “VxRail ACE provides a health score for you entire HCI appliance stack. Allowing you to proactively address trouble spots that may affect delivery of services. Customers can efficiently scale their HCI based on the projected growth of IT needs.” You can learn more about ACE capability in this overview here, and also find instructions on how to get connected.

How do you polish a diamond?

The VxRail team have been on an amazing tear for the last few years. They have listened to customer need and are releasing new features on a regular cadence to improve upon an already great solution. The team have stayed clearly focused on making VxRail the only appliance for VMware VSAN the best experience for customers. They did it by offering a solution to offload from infrastructure teams as much work as a any customer will allow them. Tasks like configuration, sizing, deployment as well as day 2 ops including automated full stack patching are handled by the appliance now. This reduces risks and allows those infrastructure teams to focus their energies around projects the business wants and needs. No one ever gets a pat on the back for managing infrastructure!

Where can you see ACE and learn more?

I was lucky to get to meet some of the ACE product team in Vegas at Dell Technologies World this year. I learned about the current technology and the future exciting roadmap for ACE right there at the Meet The Experts zone. As soon as I got back home to the Customer Solution Center I made sure to get my VxRail HCI appliance configured and setup for customers to test drive. As new features are added to the platform we will be able to show off the capability immediately.

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Let’s get technical and Meet The Experts at DTW 2019

So you went to Vegas on (airquotes) a work trip yeah?

What on earth was I doing in Vegas last week? My friends and family think I’m off on a holiday without my wife and stare blankly in disbelief when I say i was there for work. Anyone in the Tech Conference business knows about Dell Technologies World, however I still need to be able to elevator pitch exactly what my role was for the week. The answer essentially? I was working the Meet The Experts Zone for Hyperconverged solutions and delivering Design Sessions on Smart Fabrics and 2-Node for VxRail. Sound interesting? If you want to hear a little more I give you two options. Listen to the podcast myself and Paul Wynne recorded with Barry Coombs Live at the show, or read on and Ill try and make it real for you.

Meet The Experts and Hands on Labs

The Hands on Labs area needs little introduction. Want to get Hands-On with the solutions sold by Dell Technologies? The Demo Center team have taken their Demo catalog on the road to Vegas. You can choose from the extensive catalog and sit down at a station and follow a guide or explore a new technology at your own pace. This is a pretty amazing capability that is also available post-show and the team that bring it all together are some of the hardest working and darn clever people I have met at DT.

If you look to the left of the HOL zone entrance, you cant help but notice a newly re-designed and well branded Meet The Experts area developed by the Customer Solutions Center team. Here there exist two offerings the Meet The Experts “Guru” Bar and the Design Sessions rooms.

Meet The Experts “Guru Bar”

On the far wall facing the HOL zone you can see 6 high tables with what looks like bartenders waiting for customers to place orders. The tables are made of whiteboard and the bartenders are holding pens serving knowledge not cocktails. This area is first come first served and staffed round the clock by various experts across topics like Storage, Data Protection, Hyperconverged, Multi-Cloud, VDI, IOT, A.I. and Surveillance solutions. Most of the time the sessions were quick and the customers questions were deeper and technical in nature. The experts had no idea what or who would walk up looking for info so the atmosphere was pretty electric and fast-paced.

MTE Design Session Rooms

In addition to the adhoc sessions at the Bar, several of the Customer Solutions Center experts designed a powerpoint-free session for up to 12 people that could be booked in advance. These sessions were focused around specific topics and leveraged a digital whiteboard. The sessions were interactive because the audience was small and the presenters were able to answer questions from the customers in attendance. Quite often the questions would dictate the direction the session would take, rather than following a set path.

So how did we do?

The team that designed the area put a lot of thought into creating an experience that was a living breathing example of what happens 365 days a year across the Customer Solutions Centers. The data is still flowing in but by all accounts we smashed last years numbers and the feedback we are hearing from all across the organization is that the conversations were deeper, more focused and better serving to Dell Technologies customers right across the board. Personally I am well proud to have played a small part in the success of the event and I am excited to see where the brand and vision takes us.

This all looks very familiar.

It isn’t by chance that the Meet The Experts “Guru Bar” has a very familiar look and feel to VMworld Barcelona. I wrote about my experience there back in November. I came home from that event, wrote up a report, and gave my opinion to anyone that would listen. We had to do something similar for Dell Technologies World 2019. In past years we did have a similar area, but the brand wasn’t as strong and the area didn’t “catch the eye”. I have to admit our management team went leaps and bounds above expectations to create a powerful presence at the show that anyone working there could be proud of being a part of!

Experts from across Dell Technologies always meet at Meet The Experts Zone
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How to enable SmartFabric for VxRail Step 1

I decided to document the steps I used to enable SmartFabric Services on VxRail.  These are partly notes for myself and Customer Solution Centre engineers that will likely need to showcase this capability very soon.  The demand for this solution is very high and the customers I have met are impressed by what is now possible (wait until you see the roadmap!). 

Note: This is not a guide for end user customers because a lot of what I write about is handled thru our automated deployment appliance; VxRail. A note of thanks to Allan Scott from New York CSC that helped with the first SFS deployment and documentation.

Step 1: Enable SmartFabric Services on the ToR Switch

  • Cabling the ToR Switches
  • Installing/Upgrading OS10 on Dell EMC Switch
  • Enable the VxRail Personality on OS10
  • Ready for Part2 – Deploying VxRail with Smart Fabric Services

Next Blog: Step 2: Deploy VxRail Cluster incl. ToR with VxRail Manager

Step 3: Deploy the SmartFabric OMNI plugin in VMware vSphere

Step 4: Virtualization engineer controls Day 2 Ops for the Full Stack


Getting Started :


How to enable SmartFabric Services on the ToRs

SmartFabric is supported on the 4100 series from Dell EMC. Current models are 10G – S4112 F/T, S4128 F/T or S4148 F/T  (25G coming soon). Sales can order these switches to be delivered from factory with OS10 and licenses already applied.

If you need the latest version of OS10 – get it here: force10networks.com , request login thru support page and download 10.4.1.x. Put OS10 .bin file and licence .xml file in a USB drive – insert USB drive into switch.

Cabling the TORs

First cable up ports 29 and 30 – 100GB cables for ISL (VLT).

Next cable up ports 25 and 26 – 100GB cables for Uplink.

Plug laptop into port 1 on switch.

Connect new VxRail appliances in any other port starting at port 2.

Installing or Upgrading OS10 on switch:

This is an optional step. The switches can be ordered and configured in factory, and so should arrive ready to begin at Step 2.

Connect the laptop to the serial port on one of the switches and start putty. Putty settings are 115200, 8, stop, none, none. I used a USB serial port so my COM port was COM3.

Powerup the serial connected switch – and break into ONIE mode by hitting ESC during bootup.

Choose “onie-discovery-stop” from the menu.

At prompt type: fdisk -l

USB Thumbdrive should be /dev/sdb1

mkdir /mnt/usb

mount -t vfat /dev/sdb1 /mnt/usb

Install OS10:

cd /mnt/usb

onie-nos-install /mnt/usb/XXXXXXXXXX.bin

Check IOS10 Version & Install License:

show version

show license status (skip next step if already installed)

license install usb://xxxxxxxx-NOSEnterprise-License.xml

Configure mgmt interface if required:

conf

int mgmt 1/1/1

no ip address dhcp

ip address 10.204.86.250/24

no shut

exit

management route 10.204.86.0/24 managementethernet

exit

Repeat these steps for the second ToR switch.

Optional step. Configure 40GB uplinks:

My showcase lab is using 40GB uplinks rather than 100GB so I needed to change the profile of the uplinks before applying the VxRail SFS personality. You can skip this step if you are using 100GB links.

OS10(config)# switch-port-profile 1/1 profile-2

Warning: Switch port profile will be applied only after a save and reload. All management port configurations will be retained but all other configurations will be wiped out after the reload.

OS10(config)# exit

OS10# write memory

OS10# reload

Enable the VxRail personality:

The SFS personality script is included in OS10. Once applied to each ToR switch, the switches will reboot with SmartFabric Mode enabled and you are now ready to perform a VxRail deployment from the VxRail Manager.

system bash

sudo sfs_enable_vxrail_personality.py -d 20 -a-m 2002

‘-d 20’ is a unique Domain ID that you assign to each cluster

‘-m 2002’ is a non-routed vlan used to do the initial build, local to the ToR switches only (Internal management network)

‘-a’ indicates that the port-channel on the upstream switches is configured with LACP

VxRail personality profile script options :


 
Domain -d <id> Required numeric value unique to data center (1 to 254) applied to ToR switch configuration settings Default: 1
Uplink -u <port,port> Override default 100Gb uplink ports Default: ports 25& 26
ISL -I <port,port> Override default 100Gb ISL ports Default: ports 29 & 30
Uplink tagging -t Whether external management VLAN is tagged or untagged when passed through uplinks. Default: untagged
Uplink LACP -a Whether LACP is active on uplink port channel (dynamic) or not (static). Default: static
Uplink breakout -b <2X50GE, 4X25GE, 4X10GE> Breakout 100Gb uplinks. Used to support connectivity to upstream switches without 100Gb ports
Management VLAN -m <VLAN> VxRail Cluster Build Network VLAN.
Default: 1

Validate Personality:

system bash

sudo sfs_validate_vxrail_personality.py

Links to useful guides that helped us document this build:

VxRail Fabric Automation SmartFabric Services User Guide

Dell EMC OpenManage Network Integration for VMware vCenter

How to Install Dell Networking FTOS on Dell Open Networking (ON) Switches


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SmartFabric is Smart for VxRail HCI

My guide to enable SmartFabric on Dell EMC switches is here.

No time to read? Listen to an interview with Barry Coombs from ComputerWorld UK on SmartFabric.

Now with SmartFabric for @VxRail, Ned can still own the core, and leave the #HCI network problems to the Virtualization team. Click To Tweet

Is networking in HCI complex?

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 SmartFabric for VxRail appliances? Start up a conversation with Ned the network engineer about the automated deployment and simplified life-cycle management capabilities of SmartFabrics 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!”

It’s not easy to impress a NetAdmin

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 SmartFabric 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 . 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 life-cycle.

VxRail appliances don’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 deployment is done, day 2 simplified operations begins. As a result 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.

Can SmartFabric simplify HCI?

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 Fabric for VxRail, Ned can still own the core, and leave the HCI network problems to the Virtualization team.  SmartFabric 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, SmartFabric 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 SmartFabric will fully automate the changes to the TOR switch, no need for Ned to ever get involved.

Is BYO Networking still an Option?

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 VxRail SmartFabric does NOT mean that the BYON option is no longer a choice. Hopefully the automation that comes with SmartFabric for VxRail will entice some customers to converge the entire HCI stack and give Ned some peace of mind.

Here is a great Blog on vSAN and Network Switch choices from @LostSignal on this Blog: https://blogs.vmware.com/virtualblocks/2019/03/21/designing-vsan-networks-2019-update/

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 SmartFabric Services. Please check it out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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Search and Recovery in the Community

When the Irish pleasure diving season draws to a close in late October, many divers put their gear away until next year and head for the pool to stay SCUBA fit. For some divers, the winter season marks the start of Search and Recovery training on a regular basis. I am fortunate to have a local unit based ten minutes from where I live, so I am able to meet up weekly to run Search and Recovery (SAR) training exercises.  Our unit trains mid-week in the evening after work, so every session is a night dive.  I think this makes a difference to our units skill-set as search call-outs can happen at any time.

The unit I volunteer for is Killaloe Ballina Search & Recovery which was setup to serve the local community in 2001.  The unit is small and tight knit, made up of experienced divers, coxswain and crew members plus a dedicated backroom team that manages the paperwork and fundraising. Every penny spent on search and recovery activities is funded by the community and its volunteers.  Most people are unaware that volunteer divers performing recoveries are totally unfunded by the government.

search and recovery training
Local volunteer SAR dive unit getting ready

KBSR has been involved in many searches over the years and played a vital role in partnership with the local Killaloe Coast Guard Unit as well as working closely with local Gardaí.  The unit is also a member of the Diving Ireland (CFT/IUC) group of SAR units and joins search and training efforts from the wider national group. In May of 2016 the Irish Underwater Council (IUC) signed a Service Level Agreement with The Irish Coast Guard which formally enables all units part of the IUC to be “asked to task” by the IRCG.

AGA mask SAR training

We recently ran a course with Diving Ireland in UL that had a dozen divers learning the basics of current SAR methods. The course included a full day on the water in Ballina/Killaloe practicing various search techniques in the canal and a tow-bar search off the boat. We also took the class up to the pool in the Lakeside Hotel for a chance to try out Full Face Mask.  If you are interested in learning more about joining a local SAR unit in your area – reach out to Diving Ireland to get started.

coastgaurd and search and recovery

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The day job: Presales at the Customer Solution Center

Technology Pre-Sales is a great career.

Someone once told me, the best job that they ever had in their career was in pre-sales. I have thought about that a few times in the past, now I thinpresalesk I know why. At the Dell Technologies Customer Solution Center I get to present to an audience several times a week on technology that interests me, and i have my own lab with real hardware for getting stick time building out solutions! In pre-sales your job is to help customers and sales people to solve problems and close sales. You get the chance to meet customers, discuss solutions to real problems, and to present on the latest technology trends.

Pre-Sales is a bit like teaching…

Every day you are like a teacher, but the students are always fresh and new.  The subjects only stay the same for a while until something new comes out, so you have to stay current on the latest technology.  You participate in the sales process, without the burden of a sales quota.  This means you can also look at the problem without bias and solve it in different ways.  Unlike teaching, it is you that is graded by the audience through a customer’s NPS score, a Partners trust and a sales persons handshake – this leads to a promise of further visits with more customers.

Dell Technologies Customer Solution Centers

When I decided to start this blog, I figured the first post should be about me and where I work. This would be easy, since I have been giving an elevator pitch on what I do almost daily for the last few years in front of customers that visit us in the Limerick Dell Technologies Customer Solution Center.

Every customer engagement at a Solution Center begins the same way.  A customer or partner has a problem (an opportunity) and the sales team needs our help to solve it. The first step is to ask for help, and then we shape an engagement that meets everyone’s needs.  There are three main offerings as part of a Solution Center visit.

The first offering is the Technical Deep Dive

Customers and Partners may be new to the Dell Technologies portfolio or existing customers may want a closer look at the many solutions we offer.  This is above and beyond the typical 101 presentation and could include a Demo or hands-on. These sessions are custom designed to meet the customers expectations rather than a blanket, this is whats on the truck style sales pitch.

The second offering is a Design Workshop.

These are best for customers that are already keenly aware of our portfolio, and have identified a solution that might address their needs.  Here we can help a customer match a solution with their existing environment, or visualize a green field solution based on their requirements.

The last offering is the Proof of Concept.

At this point a customer needs to prove that our solution will achieve the goal they set out to accomplish. They want to set the testing criteria and perform performance testing or functionality testing in our Data Centers and provide proof that their investment will not fall short of their requirements.

How can you engage with the CSC?

So that’s the story. If you think you have an opportunity and would like to engage the help of a CSC (there are 20 around the globe) then feel free to reach out.  You can also find out more here: https://delltechnologies.com/csc

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