Monthly Archives: July 2016

Log Insight Manager – Install Content Pack

I’m working a bit with VMware Log Insight Manager for the first time, so I wanted to provide people with a taste of this product.  People don’t tend to know about Log Insight Manager, so hopefully this might ease your worries about it.  It is a pretty easy to use product.  If you’re not familiar with this product, Log Insight Manager is a syslog and event log aggregator and analyzer from VMware that helps to parse, analyze, and alert based on queries.

Installing Content Packs into Log Insight Manager

Content packs are the rule sets of what to look for in syslogs that Log Insight Manager is ingesting.  You can make your own.  You can also install content packs from the marketplace as well.  Finally, you can manually import them.

Installing from Marketplace

Installing from the marketplace is easy.  Just click the settings bar in the top right, click Content Packs, and you’ll be taken to the marketplace (in red).

log insight manager install content pack

Unfortunately, this customer has locked down internet access.  I don’t have time at the moment to show how easy this is.  Basically, you can install the content packs right out of this portal, and you’re off to the races.

Importing a Content Pack

This is also very easy.  First off, you would download the Content Pack file.  Once into the Content Packs portion of the web interface, click “Import Content Pack” in the bottom left (in green box).

Browse to the content pack file you downloaded, and select if this should be installed as a content pack, or your own content space.  In this case, I’m installing VMware’s NSX content pack, so I selected “Install as content pack”.  Click import.

log insight manager select content pack

Content packs often give you further instructions.  In this case, the NSX content pack gave instructions to point all NSX components for syslogging to Log Insight Manager.

You should then see the Content Pack listed under Installed Content Packs.

log insight manager installed content pack

And there you have it!

vSphere 5.0 & 5.1 End of General Support Coming

vsphere 5.0 5.1 end of general support

Just a little Public Service Announcement and reminder.  vSphere 5.0 and 5.1 end of general support is coming soon.  End of General Support for ESXi 5.0/5.1 along with vCenter 5.0/5.1 and ancillary products (SRM 5.0/5.1, Data Recovery 2.0, Update Manager 5.0/5.1) is set for 2016-08-28.

What does End of General Support mean?

General Support provides full support of the product, which includes:

  • Phone Support
  • Maintenance Updates
  • Upgrades
  • Bug and Security Fixes

So what happens to vSphere 5.0/5.1 now?

vSphere 5.0 and 5.1 now enter the technical guidance phase.  While phone support is not provided, help can be obtained through a self-help portal.  You can also still receive support and potential solutions for low severity problems.  You can get further details here.

So what should customers running 5.0/5.1 do?

I recommend customers should look to upgrade to vSphere 5.5 or 6.0.  If you have a valid support contract, it shouldn’t cost you anything to upgrade as far as licensing goes.  It’s important to verify your hardware is supported though, including:

  • Servers
  • Storage, whether it be a traditional storage array, or internal controller, or hyper-converged solution
  • I/O cards
    • HBAs
    • NICs
  • Third party products, such as
    • Backup products
    • Orchestration
    • Monitoring
    • VDI

While it’s not absolutely critical to upgrade exactly by 8/28/2016, plans should be made to upgrade.  You don’t want to handle that upgrade in a hurry!

Final tips

If you’re upgrading, be aware that you can mix ESXi versions with vCenter versions.  For this reason, if there’s a specific reason you can’t/don’t want to upgrade to ESXi 6.0, you can upgrade your hosts to 5.5, and run vCenter 6.0, assuming your other products are compatible with vCenter 6.  That might make it easier to upgrade to subsequent versions of vCenter or ESXI down the road.  You might want to consider the vCenter Appliance.

Happy upgrading!

How to backup ESXi servers

Do you backup your ESXi servers?  You don’t technically have to.  If you’ve documented your environment well, and/or you use things like host profiles, Distributed Virtual Switches, and Autodeploy, the need is lessened or even pointless.  However, if you have any manual configurations that need to persist beyond a reboot, you should do it because it’s stupid easy.  Here’s how to backup ESXi servers.

Backup ESXi servers the easy way

This is really easy if you do it with PowerCLI.  Ready?

Get-VMHost | Get-VMHostfirmware –BackupConfiguration –DestinationPath “C:\BackupLocation”

That’s it!  If you used Connect-VIServer to connect to vCenter, this one liner creates within the backup location a file for each server.  Done!

You might want to run this when:

  • You’re about to make any configuration changes.
  • Periodically in case others make configuration changes you’re not aware of.
  • Before you patch your servers.
  • After you patch your servers, and you’ve determined they’re functioning properly.
  • If the ESXi install is on storage that is reporting errors.
  • To migrate ESXi installations to different storage.

This is a great way to get your ESXi servers up and going in the event of a misconfiguration or failure in the ESXi server installation storage.

Restore from backup files

Great!  You have a backup of your ESXi servers.  How do you restore it?

Set-VMHostFirmware -VMHost <IP_or_FQDN> -Restore -Force -SourcePath C:\BackupLocation

If the ESXi server is not on the network anymore, it must be returned to a network connected state first.  You may need to reinstall ESXi first, and configure its management network first.  Then, you can use Connect-VIServer to connect directly to the ESXi server in order to run the above.

Also, be aware that configuration backups can be and almost always are ESXi server version specific.  So ensure you reinstall ESXi using the same version that the server was when the backup was taken.  Ensure you create new backups after you patch your server for this reason.


Lenovo IX-4 firmware update problem

Just experienced one of the more bizarre issues I’ve encountered in my IT career.  I was attempting to install a simple Lenovo IX-4 firmware update.  I use one of these myself in my home lab.  Some of my very small customers use them for cheap replication or backup targets as well.  One customer needed a firmware update that went awry.  The solution was incomprehensible, but it fixed the problem.  I felt compelled to share!

IX-4 Firmware Update Issue

These IX-4 NAS devices are pretty straight forward to manage.  They do have a management app you can install.  However, they’re easy enough to just manage them through their built in web portal.  Updating the NAS firmware is normally standard fare, much like updating a home router firmware.

  1. Point your web browser to the NAS, login, and go to the Software Update icon.
  2. When you click to check for an updated firmware, it’ll tell you if there is one, and provide the link.  Download the firmware package.
  3. Click the browse button, and select the firmware file you downloaded.  Do a file hash checksum first of course.  The firmware will then be uploaded.
  4. Finally, click to apply the firmware.

The problem is this time, despite the file hash being correct, and trying multiple downloads of the latest firmware file, and even the next previous version, the firmware would not install.  I kept getting the error “The software could not be updated because the update file is corrupted.”

ix-4 firmware update error

I tried rebooting the IX-4 and then reapplying it.  I tried deleting it and reuploading it.  Nothing worked.

IX-4 Firmware Update Solution

I did some googling.  I found a weird forum post about resolving this issue, that other users had success with as well.  Yes, this is pretty out there.

  1. Delete the uploaded firmware file.
  2. Power down the NAS.  You can do this within the web management console.
  3. Pop the cover by removing the two screws on the back, and pulling the cover off.
  4. Remove Disk 4.lenovoix4disk4
  5. Power the NAS back up.  When you log in to the web management portal, it will show alerts that disk 4 is missing.  This is obviously expected.
  6. Upload the firmware file again and apply it.  The firmware should apply.  It did for me, which I could not believe!  Let it reboot, etc.
  7. Power NAS back down.
  8. Put Disk 4 back in.
  9. Power the NAS back up.  Ensure that the status for the NAS shows the RAID set is rebuilding, or good.
  10. Check back in and ensure that the RAID rebuild completes.

And that’s how I got the IX-4 firmware update installed!  I’d complain, but it was pretty simple to fix, and we are talking about a sub $1000 NAS here.


Exam E20-393 Unity EMCIE Review

As I alluded to in my previous post, I recently obtained the EMCIE – Unity Solutions certification from EMC by passing E20-393.  I wanted to give my thoughts on the certification process for anyone else interested.

What do you need to get the certification?

It’s pretty simple.  To get EMCIE for Unity, you simply need the EMCISA base level exam (common to all EMCIE certifications), and then pass the E20-393 exam.  Since I had the EMCISA certification for years on my way to getting EMCIE for VNX and RecoverPoint, I simply had to pass E20-393.

What study resources are available?

EMC has free elearning for partners on their certification site.  If you are not a partner, you can pay for instructor led training as well.  There are no exam prep type books on Unity that I’m aware of. I did the free partner elearning, and I found it sufficient for the instructional needs for the exam.  You should have hands on experience with Unity, too.  The partner elearning alone doesn’t provide that.

Besides the training, what else should be done for exam prep?

Other than the obvious studying of the training material, you should get some hands-on experience with Unity before attempting E20-393.  Be very familiar with the interface, where you go to do everything you need to do, how you do initialization, configuration, etc.  While you could try to memorize everything in the training material, it’s hard to beat getting familiar with Unity by working with it.  Thankfully, UnityVSA is freely available to run on an ESXi server.  Also, EMC offers a freely available simulator to run on Windows.  This is great for anyone who doesn’t have access to an ESXi server.  Simply download and install the simulator, and you’ll have access to Unity’s interface for studying!

How difficult is the E20-393 exam?

The E20-393 exam is multiple choice.  Not terribly difficult, although you shouldn’t underestimate it.

I completed the elearning during downtime between customer appointments and in my spare time.  I did take good notes within OneNote to study afterwards.  I played around for a few hours with the simulator to make sure I knew where everything was.  You must score 60% or higher to pass, and I scored a 78%.

The best way I could explain the exam is about half of the exam asks questions that you conceptually understand the array and how to do things.  Most of the remainder of the exam asks very specific questions that would be difficult to answer all of them unless you’ve been working with the array for a long time and know details about the array just from sheer repetition through every option of the array.  You should be able to answer though enough of those to pass with some practical experience with it coupled with answering most of the conceptual type questions.

Hope this helps!


Unity – EMC’s new unified storage array

As you may know, EMC released their new unified storage array for block and file called Unity.  I wanted to go over it a bit to help people understand where this array fits within the storage landscape to see if it might be a good fit for them.

What exactly is Unity?

Unity is a block and file unified array.  It’s very similar to both the VNXe and VNX models of the past.  Like most of those, Unity supports both Fiber Channel and iSCSI protocols for block storage.  It also supports CIFS and NFS for File protocols as well.

It is a dual storage processor ALUA array for redundancy, with dual processors, redundant components across the board.

For IO ports, it includes 2x 1GbE ports and 2 Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) per storage processor.  The CNA’s at the factory can be configured to act as 10GbE adapters for iSCSI or NFS, or as up to 16Gb fibre channel interfaces.  Note those modes cannot be switched after the device is shipped.  You can also add up to two IO modules per storage processor in identical pairs to provide additional IO ports, including 1GbE, 10GbE, or FC.  All unity arrays also have 2 SAS ports to connect to additional racks of disks called DAEs (just like the VNX).  The 500 and 600 arrays can have additional SAS ports installed as an IO module to approach their maximum supported disk configurations as well.

The Unity arrays effectively replace all the VNXe storage arrays going forward.  In addition, they replace most VNX storage arrays.  The only exception are the VNX 7600 and 8000 arrays, which will continue due to their higher scalability relative to the Unity models.

Unity has all the other features you come to expect from EMC, including secure remote support and monitoring in ESRS, FAST Cache using SSDs as a third layer of cache for storage acceleration, FAST VP auto storage tiering, and more.

Also, the Unity arrays have all flash models for each of the models as well for the performance conscious.

Improvements Over the VNX/VNXe

There are quite a few improvements I wanted to point out over the VNX and/or VNXe.

  • HTML5 based Unisphere – YES!  TAKE THAT JAVA!
  • Simplified and easier to use interface
  • Significantly smaller rack footprint when offering  both block and file
    • Within the VNX line, you had to have Storage Processors, X-blade data movers, and Control Stations typically to offer both protocols.  taking up way more rack space and power.  Now, just the DPE provides the same functionality!
  • Support for both block and file VMware vVols
  • Easy setup of ESRS within the array, similar to the VNXe did, but not the VNX
  • All arrays come with IO ports that could potentially bring both iSCSI and FC support without requiring any additional IO cards
  • Far faster setup
  • Better remote monitoring and data analytics of the storage array
  • Ability to run Unity as a virtual storage appliance for dev/test, potentially even for free!

That’s quite a jump from the VNX/VNXe, even though the concepts of the two arrays are the same.

Where can I learn more?

There actually is an abundance of learning resources about the Unity arrays already available.  I would suggest checking out the following:

vCenter 6 – Windows vs Linux Appliance?

One of the first questions for a vSphere 6 design is which version should be used – the linux based VCSA appliance, or the traditional Windows installable version?

The debate on whether to go with the Linux based vSphere Appliance vs. the Windows installable version began when the first version of the appliance was introduced.  Through vSphere 5.5, I generally recommended the Windows version for numerous reasons:

  • It’s more mature
  • VCSA didn’t support linked mode
  • It uses a SQL database
  • You need Windows anyway for VMware Update Manager
  • It scaled better with backend databases that were more common (MS SQL)

Many blog articles have compared the two, and I don’t want to rehash a lot of that information here.  A case could be made for either.

vSphere 6 has been out for awhile, and I’ve deployed it for numerous customers, both the appliance and Windows versions.  I feel like now I can make offer something more on the debate, based on practical experience.

Which works best generally speaking?

I’m going to be honest, I’m coming at this from a Windows centered background.  I’ve worked with linux a bit, don’t get me wrong.  But at the end of the day, I am far more comfortable with Windows.  So, I’ve generally been partial to Windows based vCenter servers for my customers partly because I can support Windows based OS’s easier than linux based, and most of the customers I’ve dealt with are also more familiar with Windows.

With all that said, after deploying vSphere 6 for awhile now, it’s time for the vCenter Appliance.  I preface this with that doesn’t mean for everyone.  It does mean I start with the assumption of the appliance first.  If the customer has reasons why a Windows version makes more sense for them, I’ll recommend the Windows version.  But my de facto recommendation otherwise is go with the VCSA.  This is the first time in my entire workings with vSphere I’ve recommended the VCSA over the Windows version generally speaking.

Why the VCSA is better?

Some reasons for the VCSA have been consistent since its introduction:

  • No need for licensing of Windows or SQL
  • It’s more secure (honestly this is debatable)
  • If you’re a linux shop, you don’t need to introduce Windows for vCenter
  • It’s faster to deploy

But this version is different for numerous reasons.

VCSA is faster

After you work on both, you start noticing the VCSA is noticeably faster.  As a consultant, I jump around between environments that have different hardware that varies drastically.  I started to wonder if I truly remembered correctly which environments were faster.  Maybe the faster environments had faster storage arrays or servers?

One customer I did work for, they had hardware issues that caused me to rebuild their vCenter environment.  We elected the second time to deploy it as a VCSA instead since it had to be rebuilt from scratch to save time.  This provided a rare opportunity to compare them on the same hardware.  I don’t have numbers or benchmarks to provide.  I can only say that the customer commented it was noticeably faster within the Web Client.  I noticed it as well.

It’s faster to deploy

I know, I said this version was different for numerous reasons.  Why bring that up again?  Because vCenter 6 works best by deploying the Platform Services Controller into a separate OS from the vCenter server.  That’s two VMs to build.  It’s far faster to deploy two VCSA’s than two Windows servers.  There’s no contest there.

It scales better without a licensed database

You can scale vCenter to its highest limits of VMs and hosts with the included database within the VCSA.  If you deploy the Windows version and use the vPostgress database, it only scales to 10 hosts and 200 VMs.

Who doesn’t have full VM backup capabilities now?

Back when the VCSA first came out, I dealt with numerous customers who used traditional in guest agent backup products such as Backup Exec without the ability to do whole VM based backups.  To backup the vCenter database, they needed to use a SQL database, which locked them into using the Windows vCenter version.  Now, most environments have whole VM based backup products, whether it be Veeam, add-ons for backup products they’ve been using for a long time such as Backup Exec, or using the generally included VMware Data Protection in most licensed versions of vSphere.  How to backup the VCSA just isn’t a challenge to overcome anymore.

No feature limitations

There used to be functional limits with the VCSA compared to the Windows version of VCSA.  Almost always, this centered around Linked Mode.  Why deploy any version of vCenter that might stop you from using included features, even if you aren’t using those today?  VMware since rewrote Linked Mode, and it works with both versions.  There isn’t any other native VMware feature you can’t use in conjunction with the VCSA.

It’s the future of vCenter

This is speculation on my part, but I think it’s clear VMware wants vCenter to become the VCSA.  Best to go that direction now than later.

Why might the Windows version still be better for some environments?

There can still be some compelling reasons to go with the Windows version.

Windows in place upgrades and SQL based databases

vCenter 6 is supported on Windows 2008 R2 and above.  If your old vCenter runs on a supported Windows OS instance, this potentially allows you to do in place upgrades.  The same can be said for the SQL backend database.  With that said, if VCSA becomes the only version down the road, it might be better to bite the bullet now instead of later to migrate to it.

No whole VM backup products

If a customer doesn’t have any whole VM backup products and doesn’t wish to deploy anything, including VDP, then they may need a SQL backend database that can be backed up with their backup product.

Better operational skills with Windows

Sometimes environments have IT personnel better skilled with Windows than linux.  With that said, linux based appliances, whether it be vCenter or for some other service or application, are far more common than in the past.  It’s increasingly likely the customer has or will have one or more in their environment, whether it be a Cisco wifi controller, or perhaps a security appliance.  Perhaps the VCSA is a good starting point before learning some linux is suddenly forced on the staff unexpectedly.

vCenter High Availability

With vCenter Heartbeat gone, Microsoft clustering is the only way to provide application layer high availability for vCenter.  That can only come through the Windows version.  However, for most customers, they often elect for HA as sufficient protection of vCenter.  Windows Failover Clustering often caused more service loss than it avoids, especially if there is insufficient knowledge and/or experience, on managing it within environments.

VUM still needs Windows

Unfortunately, VUM must be installed within a Windows OS.  You can use VUM in conjunction with the VCSA.  It must run in its own Windows OS.  I don’t think that’s a good justification to not go with VCSA.  I prefer to run VUM within its own OS instance anyway.  However, some customers would rather not mix them, or prefer to deploy VUM in the same VM as vCenter.

vCenter 6 – The appliance rocks!

I highly encourage using the appliance in most cases.  The one piece of advice I can give is don’t dismiss the appliance because you’ve never used it.  Also, unfamiliarity with linux may not be a good reason either.  That one is tricky.  On the one hand, you don’t want to introduce risk due to the lack of linux skills.  On the other hand, you’ll rarely need to be in the linux parts of the appliance anyway.

Either way, the VCSA for vCenter 6 is a solid option, and should be heavily considered.