Thank you, EMC!

It is with a heavy heart that I announce that today is my last day at EMC. Instead of talking about what is next for me I thought it would be appropriate for me to reflect and take some time to thank VCE/EMC for everything that they have done for me in the past 2.5 years. It has been an amazing ride after all.

Wow, where do I start? In 2.5 years we’ve been busy. Life/career changing for me. I was a leader of several large cloud engagements, achieved VCDX-Cloud, made Principal SA at EMC, spoke at my first 2 VMworlds, and recorded my first training course. I filled a passport, had a huge health scare, lost 60 pounds,  and went back to school. All of this happened not just because of me but because of EMC and the people that work there. I owe a lot of “thank you’s” to a lot of people for my success… I’ll do my best to cover them in no particular order below.

I owe a huge thanks to Tim Gleed. Tim got me my first interview at VCE and after starting provided invaluable mentoring and leadership to me. Beyond that he has become someone I consider to be one of my closest mates (see, I even use British words now) that will surely extend beyond my employment at EMC. If I could say one thing about Tim it’s that you won’t find anyone on the planet that is as passionate and hard working as he is. I’m used to out-working everyone, but Tim can’t be out-worked. His passion, determination, and ability to function without sleep are unmatched! I’m going to miss working with you dude! Keep up the epicness, your team is lucky to have you!

The next thank you goes to my line manager for the duration of this stint at EMC, Steve Anderson. What can I say – Steve is the best manager I have had in my career. Funnily enough, he wasn’t meant to be my manager when I signed my offer to join VCE, but due to a restructure that happened between the time I signed my offer and the time I started, Steve was my boss man. I literally spoke with him for the first time on my first day at VCE. At first I was unhappy about it but it didn’t take long for him to change my perspective and realize just how lucky I was. Steve gave me all of the tools I needed to grow and be successful at EMC. He would go to war for any one of his guys, which is why we all love working for him. He’s a great man that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Steve, thank you for being my leader at EMC – I hope that our paths cross again someday!

To James Kennedy and his entire team in our Cork and Raleigh Cloud Development COE. James leads a team of unbelievably talented developers that make all of the magic happen in the field. Simply put, they save our butts and make us look good J. James himself is an amazing talent – possibly one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I jokingly call him the Cloud Doctor, as he has a PhD in software development. I think I learned more technically from James and members of his team than anyone while at EMC. Thank you for that knowledge – it was an absolute pleasure working with you guys.

To the rest of our senior leadership team (Rick, Bill, Charlie, Ed) – Thank you for your leadership. The success of our team at EMC is no question because of the solid leaders we have at the top.

To my team… Simply put, the EMC Global Cloud Services team is the most talented team I have ever had the opportunity to work with. Probably one of the most enabled and talented technical teams inside of EMC, maybe even in the industry. There are some seriously smart people in this group. We’ve done some amazing things at VCE and now EMC, there’s a lot to be proud of here. THANK YOU for being awesome at what you do. I will miss all of you and hope our paths cross again!

To the customers I have had the opportunity to work with – THANK YOU. I have had the opportunity to lead projects for some of the biggest and most influential EMC customers across multiple industries. Together we accomplished many things that haven’t been done before. Thank you for that opportunity and rewarding experience!

Just to EMC in general – thanks for being a great place to work.

I’m sorry this was so long. This post was hard for me to write. It is tough to say goodbye to so many great people and such a great company, and it’s important to me that everyone I’ve worked with know how appreciative I am to have been a part of something awesome. When most people leave a job it’s because they are unhappy there – because something in the formula is broken – but in my case I’m leaving something that isn’t broken, which is hard to do. I’m leaving EMC because an unexpected career opportunity has been put in my path, one that I can’t look away from. Luckily, where I’m going I will still be part of the “EMC Extended Family,” and I may get a chance to run into my (now former) team again. More to come on that next week after I’m settled in. Until then… I’m signing off!

Will

Installing the Samsung EVO 850 SSD in my home PC

Back in 2008 I built a gaming PC that I used for casual home gaming. That’s been my home PC, unchanged until now. I’ve recently loaded Windows 10 on it and my son is now using it to play games.  The specs are below:

  • Intel Core 2 Q6600 Processor
  • XFX nForce 680i LT SLI motherboard
  • EVGA GeForce 9600 GT video card
  • 80GB Western Digital 7.2K RPM Disk Drive
  • 4GB Corsair DDR2 PC3200 Memory

It’s time to upgrade this beast. Most modern games won’t play on it – but I don’t want to replace the whole thing outright, so I decided to do it in pieces. The first upgrade is replacing the 80GB spinning disk with an SSD – this will likely do the most to improve the overall snappiness of the system, so I purchased the Samsung EVO 850 SSD in the 250GB variety for $80 on Amazon.

It arrived yesterday and I unboxed it, plugged it in via USB via a standard SATA to USB adapter I had lying around, and installed the migration utility that allowed me to do a transfer of the contents of the original disk to the SSD. It worked beautifully, and about an hour later I opened up the machine and swapped out the SATA cable from the spinning drive to the SSD.

I did some benchmarks before and after using PCmark8 to measure the gains and the results are great. The system feels so much faster already – definitely $80 well spent. The results are below:

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Pretty impressive. Also keep in mind that this is a SATA 6Gbps drive attached to an old SATA 3Gbps controller, so once I upgrade the motherboard on the rig I expect even more performance out of it.

Next upgrade? The video card. Stay tuned for that…

My 2015 in review

Wow – it’s December 28th, 2015. Where did the year go?? I began 2015 with a lot of uncertainty after the announcement that my team would be moving to EMC. As we wind down 2015, looking back I am happy to report many personal and professional successes – and overall I am extremely pleased with my 2015. Below I’ll touch on a few of the highlights as well as what’s ahead for 2016.

2015 Professional Highlights:

VCDX-Cloud Certification

In May of 2015 I received the news that I had earned my 2nd VMware Certified Design Expert certification. I have been a VCDX-DCV since May 2012, but now had earned the credential in the Cloud track. At the time I was just one of 11 VCDX-Cloud certified individuals on the planet (there are 22 at the time of writing), and remain the only VCDX-Cloud at EMC.

A successful transition from VCE to EMC

In April I wrote a post announcing that our team at VCE (the VCE Global Cloud Practice) had officially been moved to EMC Global Professional Services, forming a new team called Global Cloud Services. Overall things went about as good as we probably could have expected. I am happy to say that we have been welcomed with open arms and the support that we have received from other groups within EMC has been outstanding. Our team has done some unbelievable things in our short time at EMC. These range from successfully leading large Enterprise Hybrid Cloud engagements, getting involved early in the pursuit process to close new cloud projects, and refining existing and developing new delivery methodologies and delivery kit assets from our experiences at VCE. It’s been a heck of a 9 months, I can’t wait to see what else we can accomplish as a group in 2016.

Formally accepted into the EMC Principal Solutions Architect program

When I was hired at VCE in 2013 I was brought into the company as a Principal level Solutions Architect. When we transitioned to EMC nothing changed – I retained the same title and everything – but still had to go through the same process that all other EMC employees that are promoted from the Advisory SA to Principal SA level go through. This process involves an exhaustive review of capabilities, accomplishments, community contributions, etc. It is reviewed by a selection committee which is made up of Global Professional Services executive leadership. The Principal SA is a “Director level” role, but still on the individual contributor track. Chad talks a bit about the different levels of EMC pre-sales SE’s in this post on virtual geek, and while his post talks specifically about SE’s, the same levels are relevant for SA’s. It is an amazing honor to be recognized as a leader in EMC PS and I am looking forward to fulfilling the responsibilities of a Principal which includes helping others get to this level and beyond.image.png

Successfully led several EMC cloud engagements

In 2015 I have had an opportunity to lead and play various other “role player” roles on a number of Enterprise Hybrid Cloud engagements. I’m happy to say that all of the projects that I was involved in were successful. It is a blast working with bright folks from some of our best customers. If any of them happen to stumble upon this – thank you! It is an honor to work with you all!

Spoke at VMworld 2015, and other events

Since I attended my first VMworld in 2009 I set a goal to obtain expert level knowledge and present at a VMworld someday. That day came in August of 2015, and again in October of 2015. In August I presented in 2 sessions – one breakout session and another as a moderator for an “Ask the Experts” style panel discussion focused on Cloud. In Barcelona we repeated the Cloud experts panel session. It was an amazing experience, one that I hope to repeat many times over in the future!! In addition to the VMworld sessions I also had the opportunity to speak at multiple VMUG regional events, customer executive briefings, and even had an opportunity to record a training course that will be viewed by hundreds of people inside of EMC which was a great experience. Improving my public speaking skills is a big goal of mine for 2016 – I’m looking forward to getting more opportunities to work on it!

vcdxInvited to the VCDX Advisory Council

In November 2015 I was asked to join the VCDX advisory council. For those that aren’t aware, the VCDX advisory council is a relatively new group that meets several times a month to discuss the VCDX program and how to improve it. It is run by Karl Childs and Chris Colotti, and is made up of both VMware and external VCDX holders. My term on the council will run through June of 2016 – I’m excited to participate in this incredibly gifted group and bring some improvements to the VCDX program!

Named a vExpert for the 4th consecutive year

In February 2015 I was recognized as a community vExpert for the 4th consecutive year. This is a big personal accomplishment. I’m proud of the vExpert program and all that it does for its members. I’m also thankful that folks in the community value my contributions and have recognized me with this prestigious honor.

2015 Personal Highlights:

old-newA healthier me – lost 60 pounds

After my January 2014 health scare which landed me in a California hospital getting brain surgery I made a vow to myself that I would get healthier and start taking better care of myself physically. It took me about a year to get my act together, but I did it. On February 16, 2015 I started a diet and exercise program and made a commitment to myself that I would lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. I was 230 pounds on that day. I lost 60 pounds in 5 months and am happy to say that for the past few months I’ve successfully kept the weight off – and am a healthy 170 pounds while typing this blog post.

Went back to college

In July of this year I (re)started the journey to complete my Bachelor’s degree. I enrolled as a full time student at Western Governors University and am happy to say that between July and December I successfully completed 15 college credits. I’m not sure how I did it around my demanding work/travel schedule – but I did it.

What’s to come in 2016?:

In 2016  there are a few things that I’d like to work on. In no particular order:

  • More team leading, less individual contributing – In 2016 I will look for more opportunities to lead and enable our global delivery teams as opposed to a delivery team for one particular project. This goes in line with the duties that come with being a Principal at EMC. This will broaden the scope of the impact that I make  at EMC to the global professional services level, not just at the individual project level.  I feel that I have a lot to give here – let’s hope my management team agrees :)
  • Continue a customer focus - everything we do at EMC is about our customers, which means if we are doing something that doesn’t positively impact our customers and the experience we deliver to them, we probably shouldn’t be doing it. We did a good job on focusing on our customers this year in my opinion, and that needs to continue if we are going to continue to be successful in 2016.
  • Continue to focus on my education - In 2015 I went back to school to finish my degree. I’m making great strides and am more than halfway done, but need to stay laser focused to ensure I get it done.
  • Look for public speaking opportunities - I did more public speaking in 2015 than I ever have done, and really enjoyed it a lot. It’s a great way to teach and develop others.
  • Take a family and “adults only” vacation  - Balancing work and personal/home life is something I’ve always struggled with. In 2015 I think I did more personal travel and spent more down time with my family than in past years, which is important when I travel as much as I do for my day job. I look to continue this trend in 2016 and find time to spend with my family and alone time with my wife.
  • Blog more - This is something that I feel like I am always saying, but it’s true – I will make a concerted effort to blog more in 2016 which will help the community and help me develop my personal brand.
  • Continue my healthy lifestyle - Last but certainly not least, I need to continue to keep the weight off and focus on eating healthy and maybe putting on some muscle. The hard part is over, now is the fun part!
  • Ignore the noise surrounding the DELL deal – We are entering 2016 with the news that DELL is acquiring EMC. If I learned anything from our transition last year, it will be to ignore the noise this time around. The key is to focus on what we do to deliver value to our customers, and the rest will take care of itself.

It’s good to look back and reflect – as I was writing this I was surprised at how much I have accomplished in 2015. Here’s hoping that 2016 is just as great!!

What did you accomplish in 2015, and what will you look to accomplish in 2016? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Help support my son Carter and the CMTA at Team Julia 2015 Swim for the Cure!

Hi everyone,

Time for a bit of an unorthodox post for me but one that is near and dear to mine and my family’s hearts.

Those of you that know me well know that my son Carter (age 7) was born with a disability called Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) Disease. CMT is a group of progressive peripheral neuropathies that damages the peripheral nerves. Currently there are no drugs to treat CMT and there is no cure.

carter1

There are a wide range of severities of CMT, and while many people don’t experience symptoms until adulthood, Carter has experienced symptoms from birth. He didn’t crawl or walk until he was almost 2 years old. He’s been having physical and occupational therapy since he was an infant. Today he walks and can even run (!!) thanks to the support of therapists and yoga instructors but he struggles to keep up with his peers, which unfortunately is beginning to take an emotional toll on him. His feet are becoming more deformed each day, despite efforts to slow the progression. He lives in a constant state of pain and fatigues easily, and we are in the process of getting him his own wheelchair so he has one available to him for when he feels he needs it.

Over the years my wife Alanna has done amazing things to involve herself and Carter with an unbelievable organization called the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association (CMTA). The CMTA’s mission is to “Support the development of new drugs to treat CMT, to improve the quality of life for people with CMT, and, ultimately, to find a cure.

Alanna started a Northern NJ Support & Action group at the CMTA, and through that she has met and helped so many people and parents of childPicture1ren with CMT, held countless fundraisers that have raised thousands and thousands of dollars towards research, and through community outreach has raised awareness of this disease.

I realized the other day that I’m the exact opposite. Alanna has asked every family member, friend, neighbor, and most strangers she has encountered over the years to support the CMTA and raise money for research for a treatment and eventually a cure. I’m sad to say that while I have done my best to support Alanna’s efforts with the group and fundraisers, I have never once personally asked anyone to make a donation to the CMTA to support Carter’s cause at a fundraiser that I organized. That’s all going to change now!

On Sunday September 6th, 2015 I will be swimming a mile swim at the Team Julia 2015 Swim for the Cure event, which is an annual event that is held in NJ to raise money for the CMTA’s STAR research program. This is an amazing event that over the years has raised over $600,000 for the CMTA. Julia is a teenage girl that lives in our area that has CMT – her and her family have become close friends of ours over the years. 

So here’s the ask
I’m looking to raise money for the event, 100% of which goes directly to the CMTA’s STAR research program, which you can read about here. See below for how you can help!

All donations will be matched, dollar for dollar!
Currently there is a donor match going on, which will match every dollar donated up to $500,000. This is amazing!

More about the CMTA
The CMTA is an amazing organization. I’ve personally met nearly all of the senior officers and board members, all of whom have skin in the game in finding a treatment and a cure because they either have CMT themselves or they are parents of children that have it. I’ve also personally met the majority of the doctors on the medical advisory board – they’ve met Carter and have a personal interest in improving his life and the lives of all CMT patients. I can tell you with certainty that your tax deductible donation will be put to good use – these are amazing people that run an amazing charity with an impeccable record, including the highest designation by the Independent Charities of America, which less than 5% of charities receive. With your help the CMTA can continue testing millions of compounds and continue to work towards their goal of getting at treatment into human trials in the next 24 months!

OK, OK, I want to support Carter’s cause – how do I do it?
I’ve made the decision to direct folks to the CMTA directly to make donations for 2 reasons. Firstly, it makes it quick and easy for each donator to receive an e-mail receipt that can be used for tax deductions. Secondly, I chose not to use a crowd sourcing website like GoFundMe because I want 100% of the raised funds to go straight to the CMTA. Detailed directions for how you can help are below:

  1. Head over to the CMTA’s donation page at http://www.cmtausa.org/donate/make-a-donation/
  2. Select an amount you want to donate – EVERY dollar counts and remember, donations are being matched dollar for dollar up to $500,000.00!
  3. In the drop down, select the “STAR Research Fund”
  4. Check the box to “Dedicate this gift to a friend or loved one.”
  5. Type Carter’s name – this is obviously optional but it helps me track how much we have raised.
  6. Click the “Make a Donation” button and follow the instructions on the next page.

donation

I’m sure that during the course of the event I’ll be live tweeting, posting on FB, etc. (like I normally do). I’ll also look to post pictures of the event back here after it is done.

From the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you in advance to all of those that contribute – Know that me, my family, and the millions of families out there that are affected by CMT appreciate it! I’m looking forward to a world without CMT!

Finishing what I started

After graduating high school in the winter of 2004 (I graduated a semester early – has it really been 10 years already??), I immediately moved into doing a semester at the local community college while my peers finished out their last semester. Following that I transferred to a more traditional 4 year college at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, where I would be a computer science major. Long story short, I was a terrible student, got crappy grades, and as a result I only lasted a semester there before dropping out and attending a Microsoft IT Academy for a MCSE certification program, who then placed me in my first job and I have been working and earning technical certifications ever since.

It has always bothered me that I never finished my degree. Not necessarily because I feel that it has limited me in my career to date, but more because it was something that I had started and didn’t finish. I had a swimming coach in high school who told me to never ever start something that I didn’t intend to finish– and that has stuck with me over the years. I knew that someday I would have to go back and finish what I had started and earn my Bachelor’s degree.

imageThat day is approaching rapidly. On July 1 I will be a full time student again at Western Governors University. WGU is an online, accredited university that offers Bachelor’s degrees in IT that are aligned with industry standard certifications. I had to pick an online school because of my work and travel schedule, and to me it made sense to pick one that applies a competency based learning approach because in my opinion there is a lot of value there.

Where I am struggling is picking a focus area for the degree program. WGU offers IT degrees with various concentrations – the two of which that I am deciding between are Network Administration and Software Development. I’m struggling because I feel that the Network Administration track is a “quick and easy” road, since the majority of my professional experience has been in that area and it would be easy for me to quickly move through the program towards the end goal of earning my Bachelor’s degree. The Software Development track is also interesting to me because we are starting to see more and more of this in our cloud engagements, and having basic software development skills as an infrastructure architect can be deadly in the field. The obvious downside there is that this would be the “longer and harder” road to the end result.

For now, I’m going in starting on July 1 with the Network Administration track, but I’ve arranged my first term of courses so that every course I am taking would apply to either degree program. I even pulled forward some basic scripting and programming classes to my first term so that I could get a taste of the software development degree before committing to something, then I can decide after taking those if I want to go down that route or stay the course on Network Administration.

I’m curious, what does everyone out there think? Should I take the quick and easy road and earn a degree in Network Administration, or should I take the long(er) and hard(er) road and go for Software Development? Comment on the post and let me know!

Speaking at VMworld 2015 US and Europe

I am happy to report that I will be speaking at VMworld 2015, both in the US and in Europe! The information for the two sessions that I will be presenting is below.

MGT4837 – Ask the Cloud Experts Panel Discussion
Our panel discussion was accepted – I’m really excited about this one. Be sure to check back here soon for a form that we will be publishing to gather questions in advance of the event, so we know what you want to hear about!

MGT4447 – Self Service That Just Works – Building Your XaaS in 3 Steps
This is not a session that I had originally submitted an abstract for. I had submitted one similar to this that was not selected, and the VMworld team reached out to me to see if I would be interested in co-presenting with Savina Ilieva from the vCO product management team, which I graciously accepted.

This is really exciting for me – I’ve wanted to speak at VMworld since my first conference back in 2009, and now I can check this one off the bucket list. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Mapping Workflow Stub GUIDs to Friendly Names in vRO

It is a common use case to configure vRealize Automation workflow stub custom properties to call out to vRealize Orchestrator workflows for different machine state operations in the IaaS provisioning lifecycle. This is usually done by configuring a build profile with the ExternalWFStub.machinestate custom properties and assigning the GUID of the vRO workflow that you want to invoke at that machine state and associating that build profile with a blueprint, or by simply assigning the machine state custom property directly to a blueprint. With that in place, vRA will execute those workflows at the appropriate machine state in the virtual machine lifecycle for machines provisioned from those blueprints.

What’s sometimes frustrating is we’ve come across large, complex environments with many different blueprints, managed by different teams, each using their own workflows for different machine state workflows. It is also common for developers that are writing and testing code to use different workflows for each machine state, so keeping track of the workflows can be challenging.

Since we use the GUID of the workflow as the value for the stub, it’s impossible to recognize what workflow you are actually calling, which is frustrating. Making matters worse, if you try to search for the GUID string in the vRO client, you won’t find it in the inventory, which leads me to this post – how can I track the GUID of the workflow back to a friendly name in vRO?

Here’s a little trick that we use all the time – especially when we are “inheriting” an environment or simply trying to remember what we did yesterday :). Navigate to the following URL: https://vroserver:8281/vco/api/workflows/<GUID>. In the screenshot below my vCO server is ehc-vco.vlab.local, and the GUID for the workflow that is plumbed into my sample vRA workflow stub custom property is 2c724325-8ac8-4fdd-9e78-b2cc48aa7fdf, shown in the build profile configuration in vRA IaaS.

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In this particular case my exact url would be https://ehc.vco.vlab.local:8281/vco/api/workflows/2c724325-8ac8-4fdd-9e78-b2cc48aa7fdf. The output of which is below:

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The screenshot above shows the path to my workflow in the vRO server inventory as being /vCAC/Hidden Workflow, and that the friendly name is My Machine State Workflow, and is shown in the vCO inventory screenshot below.

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We use this all the time to keep track of things – hopefully it is useful for you as well!!

vCAC/vRA Send Manager E-mails to: field

If you are familiar with creating a business group in either vCloud Automation Center or vRealize Automation, you’ll notice that there is a field on the business group creation form that is titled “Send Manager E-mails to:.” I often get asked what this field is for, and it seems that it is not clearly documented anywhere. The screenshot below shows the field that I am referring to:

image

As best as I can tell through my testing, the only time this field comes into play is when vCAC/vRA sends e-mail notifications for reservation threshold alarms. I was not able to find any other places where this field was leveraged. When editing a reservation, if you check the box that says “Send alerts to group manager,” vCAC/vRA will use the value defined in “Send Manager E-mails to” to send those alerts, in addition to any e-mail addresses manually defined on the alert reservation page.

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I took to twitter and asked Carl Prahl and Kim Delgado the same question, and Carl was gracious enough to have a look through the IaaS code base, and he found the same – this field is only utilized for reservation alerts. All other notifications have been updated to leverage the notification service, which utilizes the E-mail address that is defined in Active Directory for the business group managers. I suspect that in future versions of vRA, this legacy “send manager E-mails to” field will be removed.

VMware vRealize Automation Webinar Series

I wanted to call some attention to a series of Webinars that VMware is putting on that covers a series of topics around vRealize Automation. The theme of the webinar series is “Getting more out of vRealize Automation.” It series starts out with basic installation and configuration concepts, and then gradually advances into more advanced concepts around automation and integration. Links to the recordings to past webinars and the schedule for upcoming ones is posted below. Be sure to check them out and let me know what you think!

Episode 1: Getting More out of vRealize Automation: Installation and Configuration
In this session you will learn how to install and setup vRealize Automation in your lab environment. You will also perform basic configuration of tenants, reservations, and blueprints, and deploy your first VM.
Original Air Date: April 8, 2015 – Link to recording is here

Episode 2: Getting More out of vRealize Automation: No Scripting Required
In this session you will learn how to configure tenant settings, branding, create business groups, add and configure endpoints, configure network pools, create single and multi-machine blueprints, discover existing virtual environments, etc. All of these items cover out of the box functionality that require no scripting.
Original Air Date: April 22, 2015 – Link to recording is here

Episode 3: Getting More out of vRealize Automation: Integrate with Anything
In this session you will learn how to leverage vRealize Automation lifecycle management with vCenter Orchestrator to integrate with a popular service desk and IPAM solution. You will learn about the workflow states and how to leverage vCenter Orchestrator to perform powerful integrations with external tools.
Original Air Date: May 20, 2015 – Link to recording is here

Episode 4: Getting More out of vRealize Automation: Cloud Business Management (vRealize Business)
In this session you will learn about vRealize Business and how to configure it to enable showback in your cloud deployment.
Original Air Date: June 3, 2015 – Link to recording is here

Episode 5: Getting More out of vRealize Automation: Using vRA and NSX to Deploy and Secure Multi-tiered Applications
In this session will learn how to deploy multi-tiered applications using vRA multi-machine blueprints and VMware NSX to secure those applications.
Air Date: June 17, 2015 –  Registration link is here

As sessions are added or modified I will do my best to maintain this page with updated links. Enjoy!

High Availability Options (Option) for the vRA IaaS Database

Deploying vRealize Automation (vRA) in a highly available configuration is something that we are seeing a lot of customers do these days. Most often we recommend following the excellent vRealize Automation Reference Architecture guide, authored by Carl Prahl. If you are familiar with the reference architecture guide, you’ll know that the Medium and Large deployment models recommend a highly available vRA configuration for both high availability and scale. A diagram of the highly available architecture (you’ll also hear this referred to as a distributed deployment, though the term distributed to me means something different altogether) is below:

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What I want to focus on in this post is the area of the diagram that I’ve drawn a purple box around – this Microsoft SQL database that supports the IaaS components in the vRA stack. Unfortunately the reference architecture document does not go into detail about the HA configuration for the SQL components, just that in the diagram it is “clustered,” which means different things to different people.

There is, however, some guidance on page 5 of the current version of the document (currently version 1.4), shown below:
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The database deployment section of the document states that vRA requires machines that communicate with the database server to be configured to use the MS Distributed Transaction Coordinator (MSDTC). This has an impact on firewall requirements if SQL is sitting behind a firewall, but more importantly it also has an impact on the available SQL high availability technologies that are available for use.

According to Microsoft, MSDTC is not supported in conjunction with either SQL Mirroring or the newer SQL Availability Group high availability technologies. This means that use of either Mirroring or Availability Group HA options means we are not meeting vRA requirements for the IaaS database, and would result in an unsupported configuration.

What that leaves us with is the use of traditional MSCS Failover Clustering with shared disks.

What is the impact?

The use of MSCS Failover Clusters for SQL in a virtualized environment has several implications. The biggest of which is that the use of physical compatibility mode RDMs is required for the cluster and quorum disks if you want to cluster the VMs across physical ESXi hosts, which in this case we would always want to do in order to achieve maximum availability. Use of these physical RDMs also means you won’t be able to take snapshots of those disks (which also means no vADP backups), you won’t be able to use vMotion on those VMs in vSphere 5 (vSphere 6 addresses this), etc.

VMware maintains a phenomal KB article that talks about supported configurations and caveats to using MSCS on vSphere. You can view that article here.

What is the risk?

The risk of using mirroring or availability groups is that transactions are committed to the database independently of one another, which means in a failover scenario there is a chance that you would end up with inconsistent copies of the database. The other risk obviously comes with being in a supportable configuration with VMware.

In Summary

I do have customers that use  SQL mirroring/availability groups for the vRA IaaS database in production (and they have indeed receive support from VMware for vRA), and they mitigate the risk of having inconsistent copies of the database by only utilizing manual failover techniques. They also take regular backups of the SQL database in case they need to fall back on that. That said, we advise that to be in a fully supported configuration for high availability of SQL in a vRA environment, the use of traditional MSCS failover clusters is required. This is something that in my opinion should be called out more clearly by VMware in the documentation. Special thanks goes out to my colleague Lehi Collins for the assist on this one!