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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Starting a vExpert Blog : Some tips and advice.

Just do it. Start a Blog. Today.

Stop procrastinating right now and start your vExpert Blog. This is the quickest way to get involved in the vCommunity. It doesn’t require any travel, and you don’t have to conquer your fear of public speaking. You only need to find a place to publicly share your ramblings and there is lots of choice there. From using a service like Medium, or publishing directly on LinkedIN you can get started almost immediately. If you want a little more control of where your content is hosted, then maybe starting a WordPress blog is for you. That’s what I ended up doing and I never looked back! Here is my advice on why I did it and some tips on the most useful Plugins i use for my vExpert Blog and why I use them.

Why I started a blog.

VMware vExpert

Why did I start writing a blog in the first place? The main reason I started a blog was to complete the #BlogtoberTech 2018 challenge. I had always threatened to start a blog and this gave me the motivation i needed to buckle down and get it done. Secondly I was looking for a way to publicly give back to the vCommunity in a way that was measurable. I wanted to include it in my vExpert application and improve my own personal brand. What I did not realize was how much I would enjoy doing it. I have found blogging to be a great tool for organizing my ideas, and capturing key concepts that i will later present to customers. Before i started blogging my ideas were lost on the back of napkins, buried in A4 diaries or spread out across multiple OneNote entries.

Blogging to help your presenting.

Strangely enough I find that blogging actually helps my public speaking. The best advice I ever got around how to give better presentations was to start with an agenda. I used to just get on stage and wing it. I was notorious for drifting from one idea to the next with very little structure and no beginning, middle or end in sight! If you get up in front of an audience, you only have a few seconds of attention span before their eyes start to glaze over and they get that far-away look. When you write or blog, your audience is similar, you just don’t see them when they get bored and click past! I find blogging is one way to organize my thoughts and to put some structure around my ideas.

Capture ideas in WordPress not OneNote.

I have started writing directly in WordPress. Once I started writing directly into WordPress I found it much easier and quicker to get the blog to published status. Write it and walk away, save it in drafts. Sometimes you will come back to it and delete it, other times you will finish it. The default WordPress editor interface is simple to use. You don’t want to get distracted with lots of tools for formatting and layout, just a quick way to get your ideas down on the page. Sometimes all you need to kickstart a new vExpert blog is editor time. There is a handy WordPress app for mobile devices that you can use when on the go.

5 Best Plugins for WordPress Blogs

There are a ton of free and paid WordPress plugins available in the marketplace. You can browse directly from the WordPress Admin console. They have lists of Featured, Popular and Recommended Plugins, or you can search for a topic and see what is out there. For example I needed an SSL cert solution for my WordPress site and I didn’t want to pay for a Certificate.

Free SSL Certificate for WordPress

Using this plugin you can finally setup your site to be secure. You may not be reaching all your audience if you don’t enable SSL as many browsers will not even let your readers in. This Plugin enables you to use the free Certificate Authority from LetsEncrypt.org. The process to request and renew certificates can be handled directly from the Plugin interface. It’s free to use, but the author gives you a button to donate coffee. No self respecting vExpert blog is complete without https!

JetPack by WordPress.com

This is a very powerful plugin for your WordPress site. It has features to help prevent unwanted spam, security against brute-force attacks and has site accelerator for serving your images through a global CDN. Some of the basic features are free but you can upgrade paid-for options as well. There are Personal, Premium and Professional options with different features.

reSmush.it Image Optimizer

Do you like to include pictures with your blog writing? Then I highly recommend using a plugin that will optimize your images. reSmush.it is a free plugin that automatically compresses your images so that your site doesn’t start to crawl. If it takes too long for your blog to load, then your visitors will not hang around waiting.

Yoast SEO

Even if you are a total novice and have no idea what SEO is – you are going to want this plugin. Search Engine Optimization is a vast topic. Some people make their living providing services to help websites rank highest in searches. You don’t have to spend hours keeping up with the latest techniques if you install Yoast. The plugin will make suggestions and recommendations on how to simply improve your content. This will help to get that blog ranking to the first page in google search results. Must have!

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP

How can you improve if you don’t measure? I use both JetPack and Google Analytics to report on my blog site traffic. The detail that google provides is immense and lets face it – if you don’t show up there than it is very unlikely your blog is going to ever be read by anyone! Using a combination of Yoast and Google Analytics you can even write blogs to target specific search terms from your audience. This is a great way to get noticed.

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VxRail Error Codes reference

Download the VxRail error codes guide.

Last week a customer asked me about some of the alarms showing up in vSphere on their VxRail hosts in VMware vCenter. The alarms were actually generated by VxRail manager and are VxRail error codes unique to the HCI appliance. VxRail Manager uses these codes to highlight any insights at the hardware, hyper-visor or software layer of the integrated appliance. The codes start with VXR in the description.

VxRail Event Code Reference document
Download the VxRail Event Codes Reference Guide PDF

This customer wanted access to details around these event codes and error codes that appeared in vSphere. I shared a link to a document that contains all the VxRail appliance event codes. This document is regularly updated and publicly available here. The document is titled the VxRail appliance event code reference. These include the events for vCenter, iDRAC, SRS, the VxRail appliance and VxRail Manager.

Setup SRS and ACE for the best experience

The error codes will be used to phone home to Dell EMC support through SRS (Secure Remote Support). SRS is able to automatically create an SR (Service Request) for any issues that may be more serious in nature. Customers that have SRS installed will enjoy faster time to resolution for issues that require support from Dell EMC.

This customer was not using the latest version of VxRail software (4.7.300 at time of writing). I encouraged the customer to take advantage of both SRS and ACE. This makes it much easier to monitor and manage multiple clusters. There are also improvements to VxRail error and event code handling in the latest code.

The VxDoctor is in the house.

The latest update to VxRail in the 4.7.300 code includes a new framework for intelligent event handling. This new engine will gather alerts generated and perform logic to either report or dismiss. Only the important events will be forwarded to support. The logic will suppress any benign events to avoid unnecessary SR creation. This event throttling capability will determine if the event can be self-healed first. If self-healing is not possible than a smart logging feature will kick in. It will gather the correct logs required for this specific issue, rather than all logs on the system.

Customers that choose the VxRail appliance see the value that automation brings to infrastructure management. Intelligent appliances are replacing the need for DIY infrastructure. that gives a public-cloud-like experience. Systems that are designed with the principal of SRE are the new normal. Using VxRail and ACE together with SRS a customer can more quickly achieve a cost-effective and reliable on-premises infrastructure.

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VxRail ACE in Continuous Development

New VxRail ACE features arriving fast and often

Did you know that VxRail ACE dashboard has had 4 updates since the soft launch in May this year? As customers log into the Ace dashboard they are first presented with the latest updates that have been released since their last visit. So far there is roughly a monthly cadence between updates. This rapid development is down to the ACE solution being built on the Pivotal platform. Since the soft launch of VxRail ACE in I have been talking to customers about ACE and showing off this first phase of capabilities. Have you had the chance to check out ACE yet?

Customers dont need to install ACE, the data lake is on our side.

A big advantage for customers is that the ACE Data lake sits on our infrastructure. The customer requires no resources to collect and process the data. This data lake is swelled by the 6200+ customers of VxRail. We want to enable as many customers to use ACE since more data gives better results. The next phases of ACE will begin to introduce AI technologies like machine learning. This will give customers options to have VxRail self-drive and auto-repair their clusters.

How do i setup VxRail ACE?

Getting connected to ACE is even easier with the 4.7.300 update for VXRail . We now can deploy SRS directly in vSphere with just a few clicks. Customers need a Dell EMC support logon and the plugin will auto deploy the srs appliance in seconds. Just provide the Support account credentials and an ip address for the SRS appliance(s). The new appliance will be deployed in the VxRail cluster. You can still point SRS at an existing external SRS appliance that is already running in your network.

Dell EMC Secure Remote Support SRS

Remind me. What is VxRail ACE?

How can customers take advantage of new technologies without requiring a heavy lift on their internal IT resources? Firstly offer an appliance rather then DIY build for infrastructure helps (VxRail). Then give customers a choice to subscribe to premium services that add value beyond the simplified HCI experience. “VxRail ACE (Analytical Consulting Engine) is a centralized data collection and analytics platform that streamlines monitoring of your VxRail clusters, improves serviceability, and helps you make better decisions to manage the performance and capacity of your pre-engineered hyperconverged infrastructure. ” – From the ACE overview.

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Deleting a Workload Domain in VCF on VxRail

Warning: Check Solve before reading.

This Blog comes with a health warning! This is not to be consumed by customers directly. This is not a procedure for them to use in VCF on VxRail environments at this time. I wrote this as a reminder to myself and for other engineers that might need to perform the task in demo or POC environments. Always check Solve Online and download the current procedure for any tasks you might want to perform. If there isnt a procedure to perform the tasks in Solve then you may need to check if you are authorized to perform the task.

Always check Solve Online for the correct procedure for any tasks. If its not listed, you many not be authorized to perform the task!

VCF on VxRail is a white glove experience.

One of the advantages of using VxRail as the infrastructure for VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF on VxRail) is the simplified and automated processes that the engineered appliance brings to bear. This solution is a white glove experience for customers as only qualified and experienced installers perform the Day Zero deployment activities. Configuration is automated and validated to remove the chance of human error. Once VCF is deployed, many of the manual tasks that could be difficult are automated by SDDC Manager. Deleting a Workload Domain is one of those workflows.

Once a Workload Domain is deployed, you will see the option to Delete the Workload Domain, ever wondered what this does?

Warning! Deleting a WLD is permanent.

Once you select the Delete Workload Domain workflow from the current inventory, you are presented with a popup warning. I highly recommend you read carefully exactly what this message says as the process is irreversible. As the warning suggests the entire Workload Domain will be removed and deleted. This includes VSAN as well as the vCenter and NSX Manager and NSX Controllers associated with this Workload Domain.

Don’t click past this warning message!
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VxRail as a building block for VxRack SDDC

I have been interested in the evolution of software defined solutions for the last few years especially anything that makes it easier for customers to quickly deploy hardware, hypervisor, storage,  and virtualization. Post Dell Technologies merger I was quick to raise my hand and volunteer to learn about the VxRail appliance.  It makes sense to me to have an appliance form factor for the Data Center – where the engineering , testing and validation effort is done by the Dell EMC side, rather than by customers – this is about Time-to-Value for sure.  The beauty of the VxRail appliance is the small starting point, ability to scale and the BYONetwork flexibility.  Although I wasn’t ever involved in the VxRack turnkey offerings from EMC pre-merger, this also interested me for larger customers who were interested in rack-scale solutions. I was always curious how Dell EMC would evolve these two use cases aimed at similar customers. Both are looking for a quicker outcome, simplified deployment, scale out and always key is how day 2 operations can be made simple, risk free and still happen fast – helping customers to keep up with the pace of change!

I decided to try and deploy the turnkey stack for the software defined data center; VxRack SDDC which is based on VMware technology. It has vSphere, vSAN and NSX built in with a simplified (automated) deployment and a validated and tested configuration with validated, tested bundles for LifeCycle management covering the entire (hardware & software) stack.

I have a small lab with different VxRail nodes from our portfolio.  I had heard that as the VxRack solution evolved, they would eventually be supporting Cisco and Dell switches as well as VxRail nodes.  This is a pretty exciting development – and makes sense from a Sales, Support, Services pint of view… one building block that is highly engineered by our Dell, VMware and EMC engineering teams to deliver an excellent turnkey experience for our customers.  Talk about hitting the ground running and not needing to reinvent the wheel.  VxRail has been hugely successful for customers and now this would be the building block for rack scale.

I got a chance in my lab to deploy VxRack using VxRail nodes – and I wanted to capture my notes and experience.  The first thing I should caveat is that this not a DIY solution. VxRack is fully engineered in factory. So my notes are more about my experience, not a guide to follow!  In order to get the latest code and a step by step deployment procedure for a VxRack install, only certified services teams, partners and employees have access to download from the support portal. Each new version has a very detailed step by step guide so that there are no snowflakes. Since I was using my lab hardware I need to first check that the hardware I used had the correct Bios, Firmware and software versions to meet the minimum supported standard.  I cheated a little here if I’m honest.  I used VxRail nodes that were imaged with the latest version of software.  I figured that way I didn’t need to manually update each node – I could use the proven VxRail engineering method to automate the update.  I was right and this saved me a lot of time at the start. The only manual task I needed was to assign iDRAC ip addresses that match the guides OOB deployment network.

So now I had the nodes ready (I used 8 E series VxRail nodes). I needed to configure the networking layer.  I had a Dell S3048 for the Management layer and a pair of Cisco 9372s for TOR. I needed to ensure the OS on these matched the guidelines, but that was easy to upgrade. Once I had that ready I needed to follow the wiring diagram.  This was pretty straightforward and yet the only place where I made a simple mistake. Double and triple check your cables is my advice, especially if you are dyslexic when it comes to reading port labels.  Once the cabling is in place, you can wipe the TOR switch config and put the Dell MGMT switch in ONIE mode.  This allows the automated imaging process to image the switch layer as the first task of the deployment.  The deployment network is actually setup on a private network on a simple flat switch, here you will connect the laptop that hosts the imaging appliance, port 48 on the S3048 and the management port of the S3048.

Using VMware workstation and the Dell EMC VxRack imaging appliance OVA that I downloaded, it’s very straightforward to load up the latest VxRack bundle, and specify the number of nodes you plan to image.  The laptop that you use should also have a few tools like putty, Winscp and some Dell software like racadm and OpenManage BMC Utilities. This is used to run some health check scripts and to automate the PXE boot process. I kicked off the imaging from the appliance and it started by first imaging the S3048 management switch.  A short time later it built the two TOR switches and then signaled it was ready to image the first node. Using a racadm script I put the nodes in PXE mode and powered them on one at a time, about 100 seconds apart. The VxRack imaging appliance provided the PXE server environment, recognized the nodes and began imaging them one by one. Once again I can’t highlight enough that the wiring is critical here, every port should match exactly according to the wiring diagram as the TOR and Management switch is strictly defined. When you power on the first node it becomes the first management node and the imaging appliance expects the iDRAC and Nics to match as it records the MAC addresses.  I had a few cables that I had reused at this stage that really I should have replaced, and once I had done that everything went perfectly smoothly.  Next up is the Bring-Up phase of the deployment.  The first node that is imaged now has the SDDC manager VM and a Utility VM deployed, and that is what we will use to access the GUI for configuring the rest of the deployment (part 2 coming soon).

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VxRail and RP4VMs : Better Together

It is always great to host customers at the CSC when they are exploring new Data Center designs or considering new technology they haven’t used before.  It’s even better when we can help them on one successful purchase to  host them again on a new project.  We recently helped a customer that was interested in looking at HCI for a new project.  They were interested in replacing a legacy design with Software defined and that included an active-active capability across multiple Data Centers.

They had been evaluating several vendors for HCI and we actually helped them test both XC (on ESXi) in a synchronous config and VxRail in a stretched config.  The customer had a set of test criteria that meant they wanted to evaluate everything from deployment, through configuration, and failure scenarios plus ease of management and lifecycle updates. The interesting part of this testing was that we hosted the environment built to an agreed design, and then handed it over for their testing – which was all carried out remotely.  When they needed to run some functional testing and to simulate node and site failures I jumped on a Skype session and assisted.  This sped up drastically the amount of time required by the customer to complete all the testing they required.  The timeline was quite tight as the customer needed to draft a comprehensive report on the results to share with their executive board in order to make the purchase decision.

In the end they went with a VxRail vSAN stretched cluster for the first phase of this project.  We would later learn from their Partner (and my running buddy @VictorForde) that the second phase of the project was going to involve another VxRail stretch Cluster and Recoverpoint for Virtual machines.  Once again they asked could we assist and build out a design that could test Recoverpoint running between VxRail Stretch clusters.   This design would allow them to tolerate site failures and also protect against data corruption – giving them the ability to roll back to any point in time copies of their protected VMs.  Victor said, “We configured the environment to remote replicate across two Stretch Clusters within a site with PiT rollback to protect across clusters within a site as well as rollback from logical corruption. vSAN does the protection across each side of the cluster so no RP4VM replication traffic between sites.”

Recoverpoint for VMs (RP4VMs) and VxRail with VMware vSAN are better together for several reasons.  Firstly VxRail is the simplest starting point for a vSAN cluster.  They are easy to size, simple to deploy and make the day to day management a breeze. RP4VMs is really easy to deploy (just drop the latest ova) in a VMware environment.  Although RP4VMs is actually storage agnostic – vSAN is an excellent choice for operational simplicity and ease of….well just about everything storage related! RP4VMs uses a vCenter plug-in that tightly integrates management into vSphere and allows customers a simple interface with orchestration and automation capabilities. It only takes 7 clicks to protect a VM!  Failing back is fast as well, no need extra step needed to copy the data, just roll through the journal to find the point in time needed.  It also rolls from the latest copy back, rather than requires you to roll from the oldest first.

When the customer was finished with their testing they were confident in deployment, configuration, ease of use and disaster testing.  The partner was also happy as they were able to be involved in the entire process from beginning and provide input while also documenting the steps and process involved.  In fact the partner saw a future for this project that other customers might also like, they even gave the solution a new name vStretchPoint – not sure if marketing will run with it, but you never know!

Big thanks to the team involved in the testing for this POC they deserve most of the credit too; @rw4shaw

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Is HCI networking easy?

Even though hyper-converged solutions have been  one of the hottest trends in the Datacenter since virtualization, you will still meet traditional architects that are seeing this technology for the first time.  Many times the customer will come to the conversation with just the virtualization lead,  sometimes they will bring the Storage or Compute team, but often they will forget to tell the Networking team any of their plans (no wonder the network engineer can be so grumpy).  This can prove problematic for a networking team that is not familiar with a few of the basic HCI requirements. Continue reading “Is HCI networking easy?”

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Hardware is not invisible – VxRail HCI appliance

One of the biggest pain points customers have when managing their current traditional architectures is patching and upgrades. They want a so

Upgrading the full stack

lution that helps them to keep updated but does not introduce risk or take a lot of work to validate and test. Pressures on headcount reductions don’t balance with demands from the business to do more at lower costs.  Often preventative maintenance is the first to suffer, and that means existing infrastructure is left to fall further and further behind patching schedules. Continue reading “Hardware is not invisible – VxRail HCI appliance”

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Does the H in HCI matter?

If twitter is where the conversation is then you might be following the debate about what exactly is HCI? and does it matter? Does it matter if the H in HCI is for Hypervisor or Hybrid if the outcome is the same? If the H is still really all about the hypervisor, then does it matter which one is used? What about the infrastructure, is it important or invisible in a software defined world? Continue reading “Does the H in HCI matter?”

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