Creating Space – For Health

This week, I had the privilege of attending a 3 day leadership/personal development course courtesy of Varrow. There will be, over time, more here at vNook (at least there better be) about my time at the Golden Apple Center for Inner Excellence.

Today, I’ll just note one takeaway. We were asked at one point to follow an exercise where we identified a number of things in our lives (passions, gifts, purpose). As a part of this exercise, I was asked to list what the five most pressing needs of my world are. My first was rather simple: Creating Space.

Creating Space is not easy in my life. Between family/friends, church, and work, most (and sometimes all) of my waking hours are spoken for. This is not to complain – I love my life and am thankful for every aspect of it. However, because life if full, stress is always lurking.

Lately, stress has really been weighing me down. Work has been a major contributor, but there have been personal issues as well that have been heavy and hard. A major consequence of all this has been my health. My energy is low, my sleep is poor, and my weight is up. This is something I’ve been noticing for a month or two, and have been doing some thinking about how I might enact some positive change.

One will be to re-order my sleep patterns (good/long article here on benefits of sleep). I simply do not do a good job of valuing sleep, and that needs to change. It is obvious to me  that I am less effective at work, and less available to my family and friends the day after a short (and/or poor) nights sleep. So why do I keep up this pattern?

Another is to make some additions and substitutions to my diet. And that starts with juicing. In my next blog post, I’ll share some of my journey that has brought me to this place, what I’ll be doing, and what I hope it will do for me. But for now, despite my desire to keep writing, I need to get some sleep!

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vCenter Server Appliance – Active Directory Integration Issue

For my home lab setup, I use the vCenter Server Appliance (VCVA) to manage my two-host ESXi environment in lieu of the traditional vCenter running on a Windows VM setup.

Acknowledging the general caveats around the VCVA, I’ve found it very easy to deploy, equally easy to update, and generally very stable. The changes I’ve made to the VCVA are minimal, and when I leave it alone, it just runs and works well. (I do cut down on how much RAM it gets – defaults are 2 vCPUs and 8GB of RAM, which is a high cost for a low-budget home lab with only 32GB of RAM total! I run it, after initially deploying and configuring with the default resources, at 2 vCPU and 4GB of RAM).

One issue that I’ve had with the VCVA however is around Active Directory Integration. Try as I might, I could not get it to integrate with AD without a tweak to the configuration. Having verified that my AD setup is working (both Forward and Reverse Lookup zones set, ability to add machines (both server and workstations) to the AD environment (both inside and outside the ESXi environment)), I decided to do some digging into the issue to see if I could get AD integration to work.

The error I was initially getting when attempting to configure AD integration in the Setup wizard was Error: Invalid Active Directory Domain. Sorry, no screenshot as I foolishly forgot to take one.

To resolve this, I had to edit the ‘hosts’ file in /etc on the VCVA. By adding an entry via VI for my AD server in the following format, I got past the above error.

IP Address FQDN Hostname

For those of you who, like me, don’t spent their days in VI, here’s a rundown of the commands I used to edit the ‘hosts’ file.

SSH or login via the console to the VCVA using root and the assigned password.

#cd /etc

#vi hosts

[Down Arrow] to location you wish to insert your new record

[i]

IP Address FQDN Hostname

[ESC]

[:w]

[:q]

#exit

This will return you to the VCVA main screen, having added the record, saved/written the file, and quit out of VI and the CLI.

Once complete, returning to VCVA setup, I got a new error on attempting AD configuration – but this time it was clear VCVA could now find my AD/DNS server (an improvement!).

vCSA - AD Error

To resolve this error, I had a much simpler time. In this blog article, the author notes the need to use the FQDN in the VCVA hostname setup on the Network/Address tab. I thought I’d done it, but hadn’t – so I added it, and:

vCSA - AD Error Fixed

I still think there’s probably an issue lurking somewhere in my AD configuration that caused all this (as opposed to the VCVA), but I’m glad to have found a workaround for it and hope this helps someone if they run into a similar issue.

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Varrow Madness 2013 – Session Callouts

Last year, I was a newly minted member of the Varrow team when Varrow Madness 2012 took place. As I was still very much in customer mode, I was viewing it much as I would have if I had attended previously as a customer. What impressed me last year was, above all (yes, even more than the Flash Mob!), the technical content of the sessions that were offered. And this year? No exception.

In this blog post, I want to make a few recommendations on speakers/sessions that stood out to me as I reviewed the list of offerings. Please know that I can’t possible just say ‘all of the sessions’, so I’m necessarily leaving out some really talented speakers talking about really good topics. Such is the risk I take!

Session Group A

  • XenDesktop Provisioning: MCS or PVS? by Phillip Jones
    • If you use XenDesktop, might use XenDesktop, or if you simply want to hear a bona fide expert at his craft speak, go to this session. Phillip is a world-class engineer and excellent speaker (and an all-around great guy).

Session Group B

  • vSphere Physical Connectivity – Deep Dive and Best Practices by Jason Nash
    • Want to hear a VCDX talk about an under-discussed topic in vSphere? This is your session then. As Jason said on his blog – if port channels or teaming or hashing cause you issues, please join!

Session Group C

  • Deploying an Active/Active Datacenter with SRM 5 by Joe Kelly
    • Just about every customer I have the privilege of working with these days are discussing whether or not to transition from the traditional Prod/DR datacenter split to a true Active/Active environment. So this is a timely topic, by a true expert of SRM. Quite simply, when Joe talks, I listen. You should too.
  • VNX Performance Optimization and Tuning by David Gadwah
    • I know no one who knows the VNX platform better than David Gadwah. Each time I’ve sat in a training session with him, or visited his lab with a customer, I walk away more knowledgeable about whatever topic David was teaching that day. I have every confidence this session will produce similar results.

Session Group D

  • Virtualizing SQL Workloads – Best Practices for Performance and HA by Tony Pittman and Kyle Quinby
    • While virtualizing SQL is nothing new, virtualizing it well, and protecting the environment properly, still requires good thought and planning. Join this session to hear from two guys who really know SQL and how best to virtualize it.

Lastly, if you haven’t signed up yet for Varrow Madness, why not? Go here. And put Jason Nash down as the person who referred you – I’m part of a conspiracy to see our sales reps lose the internal referral contest and I’m pushing my registrants to Nash. United we engineers stand – divided, we lose to reps 😉

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VMware Partner Exchange – Day Two

A couple of unexpected (but good) meetings ended up disrupting my schedule today, so I attend just two sessions today. First, I went to an EUC update around What’s New in VMware View, and immediately afterward attended a storage update around vSphere 5.1 storage features.

Horizon View 5.2

Several new features have been added to View with the 5.2 release. Many more than the below list, but these are the ones that stood out to me as the presentation unfolded.

  • Combination of vSphere 5.1 and View 5.2 bring support for up to 32 ESXi hosts
  • Multi-network pools now supported
    • Enables multiple VLANs in a single pool, eliminating the need to split pools based on insufficient IP addresses within single range
  • Maintenance Enhancements
    • Rolling-Refit operation keeps minimum number of desktops available during recompose/refresh/rebalance operations
    • 2X improvement in end-to-end provisioning, recompose and rebalance
      • Up to 2000 desktops can now be completed in a single 8-hour shift
  • HTML5 Browser-Based Desktop Access
    • View Desktop delivered through any (read “Chrome”) HTML5-ready browser
    • Accessible via View Portal or Horizon UI
    • Adds an install-free access methodology for desktops, and additionally enables access to View desktops from device platforms that was previously unavailable due to lack of native client
  • vSGA – Horizon View Media Services for 3D Graphics
    • This new features gives shared access amongst VMs to physical GPU hardware
    • Drives better performance for 3D applications like CAD

     

vSphere 5.1 Storage Features

Picking up where vSphere 5.0 began, vSphere 5.1 extends or introduces a number of key new storage features. Here are some highlights.

  • VMFS-5 is now as scalable as NFS from a file-locking perspective (up to 32 ESXi hosts)
  • VOMA implemented – vSphere On-Disk Metadata Analyzer
    • VOMA is a reporting tool, run via CLI only.
    • Meant as a peace of mind – useful to check key stats and health of a VMFS volume.
    • No running VMs can be present on the volume at time of check
    • Syntax: voma -f check -d [VMFS path]
  • VAAI
    • No new primitives added in 5.1; 9 total remain
    • Thin Provisioning Primitive – Feature Callout
      • Thin Provision Stun (Out of Space (OoS) Condition)
        • OoS lifts an advanced warning into vCenter
        • Upon OoS, only those VMs which are requesting additional storage are paused or ‘stunned’. VMs not requiring additional space are able to keep running without disruption
  • svMotion Enhancements
    • Prior to 5.1, svMotion was serial (one at a time). With 5.1, you can now perform up to 4 parallel svMotion’s. However, this is only possible if the svMotion’s are carried out on 4 different datastores
    • Support for “shared nothing” svMotion in 5.1
  • IO Device Management
    • New Troubleshooting Feature adds storage namespace into ESXCLI
      • For instance, you can get (and reset) SAN FC stats using IO Device Management. By resetting the counters to zero, you can track and troubleshoot for storage/volume related issues with this new tool.
      • Syntax for FC: “esxcli storage san fc stats get”

SE Sparse Disk

Finally, the two sessions brought together a shared feature. In vSphere 5.1, a new VMDK disk type was introduced. SE Sparse Disk introduces two new features. First, it introduces a variable block grain size as opposed to previous fixed grain sizes in other disk types.

But second, and most importantly for this post, the single use case for SE Sparse Disk at this time is for View 5.2 (HW Version 9 required). And importantly, it applies to linked clones that are leveraged for persistent desktops.

SE Sparse Disk carries with it a feature called Space Reclamation. Space Reclamation features two actions. First, a WIPE is initiated via VMware Tools in the Guest OS. This WIPE process marks all unused blocks as free, then reorganizes the disk to create a continuous block of free space. After this completes, a SHRINK action takes place, which reclaims the free space and returns it to the storage array.

SE Sparse Disk is now the default disk type for View 5.2. There remain as of the completion of this session some questions around the impact of the Space Reclamation feature, but the EUC presenters noted that the performance team should be publishing metrics soon to give partners some visibility into what the impact will look like, and helps us design and schedule around the spike in storage activity while the dead space is reclaimed.

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VMware Partner Exchange – Day One

Day one of VMware Partner Exchange started early. Up at 5am for a 7:50am flight, we landed in LAS around 9:30am local time.

In the afternoon, I had my first session of PEX. vCenter Operations Manager Esssential workshop is a VBCA (Virtualizing Business Critical Applications) accreditation class, of which you must complete three to receive your personal accreditation.

The workshop was 2 hours, the first 75 minutes being course material and the last 45 minutes dedicated to taking the associated exam (passed!).

vCOPs is a really powerful application, and for my money probably my favorite of all the current offerings VMware has for its customers. When I think back to some of the challenges I had as a vSphere Admin on the customer side, many of those would have been answered by having vCOPs in place. Questions like “Am I being efficient in the use of resources in my cluster?” or “Are my datastores properly balanced?” or “How is the production cluster doing overall?”. Those and other questions I asked and answered, but they were answered by digging or through multiple tools. vCOPs eliminates both of those requirements and lifts the answers/information into a single source.

Related to the last paragraph is a question/scenario you can run against vCOPs (standard version and up). In the Planning tab of vCOPs, you can see trends and forecasts around resources in your cluster(s). But you can also do something very cool and dead helpful – you can run scenarios by injecting fictitious quantities of disk or CPU or RAM (for instance), and ask vCOPs to tell you the impact. Consider two scenarios:

  • Budget Season: You wish to budget for appropriate vSphere upgrades that will have the greatest impact on the environment.
  • New Business Application/Requirement: A business unit comes to you, and with them comes requirements for a new application which will be added to your Test/Dev and Production environment.

In both scenarios, you have questions (and more than I write here!). How will adding CPU impact my environment vs. RAM? How will this new application (and its resource requirements) affect my present environment, and how do I need to plan for it (or even bill back to the BU for it)?

By leveraging the Planning tab of vCOPs, you can run scenarios related to the above to gain much needed and helpful information around these questions to aid in your decision-making.

vCOPs helps you know the current health of your environment, what the risk is to the environment longer-term, and where you can gain efficiencies. For any vSphere admin, it is a welcome tool for the administration of their environment.

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VMware Partner Exchange – My Schedule

Monday morning about 7:45am, I’ll be heading to Las Vegas to attend VMware Partner Exchange. I hope to blog about my experience while there, and also do some blogging about sessions and topics that come up (non-NDA). I’ll be taking copious notes with my trusty iPad and Evernote (no interest in fighting for charging station access!), so I hope to be able to share that with you as a gift back to the larger IT community and those who cannot attend.

For now, here’s a snapshot of what my week will look like at this point. I’m very pleased with how my schedule has worked out – particularly the privilege I’ll have to have a 1:1 meeting with one of the VMware vSAN product managers to discuss VMware’s strategy and roadmap in that space.

Monday

  • vCenter Operations Management Essentials Workshop

Tuesday

  • Software-Defined Storage – Opportunities for Partners
  • What’s New in VMware View
  • vSphere 5.1 New Storage Features
  • vCloud Network and Security – Deployment Examples

Wednesday

  • vCloud Networking and Security – What’s New
  • SQL Server Virtualization – HA Deep Dive
  • Partner Summit – BCDR Session
  • Oracle Database Virtualization – Best Practices

Thursday

  • EUC Design Double Check – Effectively Validating your EUC Solutions
  • Site Recovery Manager – Technical Walkthrough

I’ll also be exploring the Solution Exchange, and will be sure to tweet or blog about cool solutions I run across, and any interesting informal and impromptu conversations I have.

More soon!

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2013 Kickoff Reflections

For the last two days, I and the rest (or most of the rest) of Varrow were at the 2013 Kickoff Event. It was held this year at the Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, NC. Having never been to Blowing Rock before, I’m now officially spoiled. Chetola was beautiful, the accomodations were very comfortable (loft room FTW), and the meeting facilities were well-suited to our needs.

For some of my own purposes, but mostly to share, I wanted to develop a few reflections on my time at the 2013 Kickoff. Hopefully some of what I write will be encouraging to you, wherever you are as you read (and, thanks for reading!).

Camaraderie

I expect if you polled the 87 people who make up Varrow, I’d expect the most popular response to “What’s your favorite part of kickoffs and oil changes?”, you’d hear some variation of “hanging out with friends/colleagues”. And while it might sound like the thing to say, or a canned response, I think there’s another reason it would be a popular response: it’s true.

One of the things I am consistently amazed to see when we gather together as a company is how much happy conversation takes place. Varrow likes being with Varrow.

Conversation

I’m on the road a lot for my job. When I interviewed, our CEO Jeremiah Cook told me “your car is your office”. He was right, and that’s a good thing because if I’m on the road, it means I’m meeting with customers (and meeting with customers is a good thing in my role!). But the downside, such as it is, is that I’m pretty isolated from the rest of the company. So one of the things I consistently look forward to during our oil change/kickoffs are conversations. And, specifically, conversations with the engineering side of Varrow. I really feed on those conversations – whether it’s bouncing ideas around design, delivery improvements, new (or potentially new) product or services offerings, or just generally enjoying conversations of a technical nature, I enjoy them and need them. I’m better at my job when I talk to and learn from my peers on the services team.

Content

Being my first annual kickoff, I have nothing to compare what this year was like, but if this year was any indication, Varrow knows how to deliver a raft of content in a small window. The amount of expert information that was put in front of me the last two days was incredible. From new product, services, and solutions offerings to strategies around cloud and mobility, I was very fortunate to sit and absorb (and now process) a lot of incredibly helpful information. In particular, this reflection reminds me of just how much talent and vision Varrow has. It’s honestly an embarrassment of riches and I was struck again at how fortunate I am to be counted among this group.

Contemplation

Perhaps the last of my reflections came from a conversation I had with Paul Penny, our VP of Advisory Services. Asking me how I was doing, I told him I was really energized because the kickoff was affording me the chance to do something I have precious little time for in a normal week: thinking strategically. It’s the nature of my job at Varrow to run, and to run hard. And running hard doesn’t naturally lead to thinking strategically. You run station to station and you’re just looking at the next station continually. Trees 1, Forest 0.

The rub is, I am much more effective as a TC, and useful to my customers, if I am strategic in my approach. So I leave the kickoff reminded of the need to be strategic, thankful for the opportunity to slow down for a bit and do some thinking, and now resolved to puzzle through how to build time into my calendar to stop, pause, and thoughtfully look at the forest.

 

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Thanksgiving

There are quite a lot of reasons I love working at Varrow, but one of the top ones is our culture. It is, to describe it one way, a culture of sharing. Sharing time to help one another, sharing ideas to stimulate growth and learning, and sharing meaningful things to encourage one another.

One tradition that captures our culture is a tradition of e-mailing the company with what we’re thankful for around Thanksgiving. This tradition was shared with me during my interview process as a means of defining and promoting Varrow’s culture, and I was thrilled to have been able to contribute to the discussion this year as an employee.

As soon as I hit “Post”, I’m heading out on a few days of rest and time with the family, so I’ll leave you with this. My “What I’m Thankful For” that I sent to the rest of my Varrow family. Happy Thanksgiving.

Stream of consciousness, in no particular order after the first three:

 The joy of salvation in Christ. Being married to Angela and walking through life with her. The privilege of being Jack’s daddy. Homemade pepperoni pizza, root beer, and Friday Date Night. The challenge of measuring up as a TC at Varrow. Chocolate chip cookies. Good friends, drinking good beer, having good conversation. The way a good sneeze feels. Octobers on Hilton Head. Running on the Greenway, listening to a good book. Crazy customer questions that keep me on my toes. My A4 (which really needs a wash). Colleagues that compete with me, and not against me. The sound of feet, pitter patter, outside my office. Opportunities like this, that make me realize I’ve written a paragraph and only scratched the surface of how much I have to be thankful for.

Psalm 107:1

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Topics in my Cisco Live Recap – Now with Links!

Given how rapid-fire my Cisco Live recap was yesterday, I thought I would post here some supplemental materials that I used, to varying degrees, in developing the topics I reviewed. Hope they are helpful to you, or someone you forward to, as you think through your current and future data center network state.

Oh, and this post double-qualifies as a vLink post! (Woefully behind on my pledge for those puppies)

FEX and VM-FEX

  • At a Glance” Cisco PDF on FEX and VM-FEX (with additional links embedded)
  • ESXi and VM-FEX Best Practices DeploymentGuide (Though I didn’t have time to mention it, VMDirectPath is discussed here, and worth reading and understanding.)

FabricPath

OTV and LISP

  • Under the Covers” with OTV.
    • <soapbox>I’ve never understood why people seem to insist on using sexual metaphors for in-depth looks at things…and to be clear, I’m not picking on Omar – I’m picking on *everyone* who does this.</soapbox>
  • VXLAN, OTV, LISP. Ivan again. Read it.
  • Lisp.Cisco.Com – Lots of Information about LISP, on a site running on LISP!
    • Particularly worth reading is the LISP Overview link, and the PDF overview preso there.
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Reflections on My First Full Quarter

I finished my first full quarter with Varrow last weekend. It was many of the things I expected it to be – busy, taxing, exciting, stretching. It was successful in some regards, and unsuccessful in others. I hope I’ve learned from both, and I hope both help shape me as I head into my subsequent quarters with Varrow.

As a way of reflecting on the time, I’ll jot down some thoughts here. I’m not sure it’ll be anything revelatory, but as I don’t charge for this stuff, you get what you get.

To Do the Job Well Requires Hard Work, and That’s a Good Thing

My friend has as his Gmail signature a portion of a poem by Marge Piercy titled “To Be of Use“. Here’s what he copied in:

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I’m admittedly not the world’s biggest fan of poetry (or quotes in signatures for that matter!), but I love truth in any form. And this poem just rings with it. A person is made for work that is real, and it really should be our desire to be of use. Acknowledged or not, we were made for it, and will be corrected for if it’s absent.

I’m persuaded that a large part of why I like this job so much is that I’m made for work, and not work that is easy. An easy job is not a satisfying job for me, because I was made for real work that is challenging and costly. To be sure, I have many ‘jobs’ in my life, and balancing them is the real challenge, but I’m called to work, and to work to do the thing well. I continue to love the job, and this is perhaps the chief reason – to do it well requires hard work.

I Work With Some Seriously Talented People, and They Help Me

So, two for two here on the non-revelatory stuff, but I work with some seriously talented people at Varrow. That in itself though isn’t my main reflection. My main reflection is that these seriously talented people (who are also really busy) are also seriously willing to help their colleagues.

It’d be one thing to work with these folks and observe them from a distance and note their amazing talents. I’d be able to learn from them, despite the distance. But however it happened, Varrow has employed the type of talented professional who is also willing to help. Whether that’s on a specific technical question I have, or on strategy for driving value into an account, or how to juggle priorities, my peers and supervisors are helpful, and are not, as Marge Piercy wrote, ‘parlor generals and field deserters’. No one seems to be interested in hoarding their expertise, but rather is willing to help. We’re competing against others, and not against ourselves. May we never lose that.

Customers Need our Help, But Listen Before You Leap

If I had one major reflection on what I’ve learned by being in front of a number of customers this last quarter, it’s the importance of recognizing that to really help a customer, we have to take the time to listen. We have to ask good questions, but then we need to listen to the answers. One of my colleagues recently noted how little he likes the generic term ‘best practices’, and he said this because every customer is different. Fine if you want to leverage best practices as a starting point, and good on you to keep things tried and true where possible, but we need to understand that it only goes so far. I might have two seemingly identical meetings on my calendar, where the topic of discussion might look identical, but they won’t be. There will be similarities probably, but there will be subtle or not so subtle differences, and the differences will make all the difference in the work between a generic solution that might work, and a specific solution that will. Customers need our help, but to really help them, we have to take the time to listen. We earned the business of a couple of great customers last quarter not because our solution was the best (though it was), but because we took the time to listen, understand their needs, and meet them. Know how I know that? They told me so unprompted, and I heard them because I was listening – even after the PO came in! It’ll be on me to remember that lesson, and to build on it going forward. And lest you think I have this down, think again. I note this as the biggest lesson because I’m more naturally a talker than a listener, and all the more when I’m excited about the topic at hand. So maybe you’ll join me in learning to listen first, and leap second?

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