Cisco Announces its Software Defined Network – Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)

So when I did my VMworld 2013 Europe round up, I mentioned that it was strange to see that Cisco were not one of the supported partners for NSX and I hinted at the possibility of Cisco having something SDN up their sleeves (also from rumours heard from Cisco employees)…..

And so at the beginning of the month they announced their entry into the SDN arena….. Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)….

I have to hold my hands up and say I’m not a networking guy (in fact it’s pretty rare in the IT market to find someone who knows server/network/storage/virtualisation….!), so I haven’t really had a chance to read up on ACI and understand how it works and differs from VMwares’ NSX.

From what I can see, ACI is pretty much reliant on you having a Cisco switch infrastructure – and specifically their new line of Nexus 9000 switches!
So whilst VMware NSX is a proprietary software control layer which doesn’t care what the underlying switch hardware is, ACI locks you into Cisco hardware but gives you the choice of what software control layer you use via APIs (integration into OpenStack, Hyper-V, VMware, etc).
Clever tactic, as it means that whilst you maybe locked into Cisco switches, it means you can deploy any sort of hypervisor!

This obviously becomes very interesting when you start looking at the converged stacks like VCE, VSPEX and FlexPod…… if SDN is going to be implemented, it’s more than likely that Cisco’s ACI will win here just because of how open it looks!

On a side note, it turns out that ACI could be a by-product of Cisco’s stealth start-up company – Insieme Networks – funded solely by Cisco and un-surprisingly run by the same guys that brought Cisco their UCS server portfolio (Nuova) and their MDS SAN switches (Andiamo)…. There’s a very interesting article on Bloomberg about Mazzola and his motley crew of engineers!
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-26/insieme-ciscos-latest-spin-in

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Cisco acquires Whiptail

Opened up my work email this morning to be inundated with mails about Cisco acquiring the flash-array startupWhiptail – for $415m…

What makes this interesting was several years ago when I attended the launch of UCS blades, someone in the audience questioned whether Cisco would enter the storage arena…. the answer at that time was “No Way… Cisco won’t do storage!”
This has pretty much been their response for the past few years – even though the market has always been awash with rumours that they were on the prowl for a storage company (*cough* NetApp *cough*).

Cisco is one huge beast….. it has its paws in every part of the IT infrastructure…… and if I’m honest, they’ve probably pissed off a lot of people along the way….. =)
VMware – UCS Director (Cloupia)…… HP – UCS servers…… and now EMC/NetApp.

So it seems all the noise coming out of Cisco is that this acquisition is so that they can build a “flash tier within their UCS platform”….
Makes sense as the market view is that since storage is getting faster (flash/SSD), bringing it closer to the compute resources will help accelerate application/OS performance by using flash as some sort of caching tier.

It’s an clever acquisition by Cisco….. a flash-array start-up which already has products that could be pushed to market or integrated. Plus the arrays leverage a ‘scale-out’ approach to storage where a customer would start small and then just bolt on additional nodes when required – sound familiar?!? Isn’t that what blade servers are supposed to offer? The ability to scale out compute by just slotting in new stateless blades. So what UCS does for compute, Whiptail may offer Cisco for storage!

Cisco marketing bods have stated that they’re still 100% behind their involvement with VCE, so it will be interesting to see what they end up doing with the flash-arrays that Whiptail sells….. surely they won’t just kill all off the work that has gone into these arrays!
Yes, they’ll strip out some of the flash tech to build into UCS, but I still reckon that they’ll release some sort of flash-array to the market!
Afterall, that would be the smart (and logical) thing to do……
Imagine:
Compute – Cisco UCS
Storage – Cisco Whiptail
Network – Cisco Nexus
Cloud – Cisco UCS Director (formally Cloupia)

… all they need now is a hypervisor and they will pretty much OWN a cloud stack!!
Hmm… there’s probably some KVM-based hypervisor offering out there that could be gobbled up! Any suggestions?

So yes, while in the short term Cisco will still buddy up to EMC/NetApp for their vBlock/VSPEX/FlexPod offerings, in the long term I guess this will all be answered by how Cisco go to market with Whiptail….. whether they will continue offering it as a standalone storage array, or whether (like their other acquisitions) they roll it all in as part of a solution bundle.
And whether they push the Whiptail products as being a Direct Attached Storage to their UCS platform rather than NAS/SAN storage (which will directly challenge the likes of EMC/NetApp).

In fact…. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went the way of HP and offered a Cisco/Whiptail storage blade!! (Remember, you read that prediction here first…..) ;oP

Watch this space…… Interesting times ahead!

 

Edit: Just read a really good article by Jason Nash regarding Cisco’s acquisition of Whiptail…. he’s put forward some good points about why Whiptail and how it fits into Cisco’s view of SDDC!

VMworld 2013 just round the corner!

So with VMworld 2013 kicking off in San Francisco on Sunday, the internet (or at least the VMware community) are awash with what could be announced…..
With it being the 10th Anniversary of VMworld, you would expect some big announcements to go alongside a big shindig……!
However, from what I’ve read we might be in for a bit of a disappointment (that or VMware have been taking a leaf out of JJ Abrams’ books by keeping their cards really close to their chest!).

It’s been interesting reading what’s happening within VMware’s ranks this year…..
Their new(ish) CEO – Pat Gelsinger – decided quite early on in his reign to refocus the company’s route to market – focusing on their core server virtualisation (vSphere) and their cloud business (vCloud Suite).
There’s been a big push on the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) messaging as it’s a key foundation to the direction VMware are moving…..
As such, they went through a bout of restructuring in Q1 (even though their revenue increased over last years), and cut a lot of their workforce….
And they’ve sold off some of the smaller apps/solutions which now fall out of scope:
Zimbra – which let’s be honest never got anywhere!
WaveMaker – which was a Java development tool that they didn’t really build upon or integrate (obviously bought to try and integrate with the vFabric solutions)
Shavlik – patch management tools which didn’t quite get rolled into vCenter or other management products….
(Just to name a few)

VMware have refocused on 3 key strategies:

  • SDDC (vSphere)
  • Hybrid Cloud (vCloud)
  • Mobility (Horizon)

Whilst already established in server virtualisation (vSphere being market leaders and probably the best hypervisor in the market – IMO), they’re still quite new into cloud computing and still struggling to go up against the likes of Amazon.
vCloud Suite, for all it’s advancement over the past year or so, still falls short of usability……
It’s great for deploying and managing the underlying cloud virtual infrastructure (albeit not great with DR of cloud resources – see my previous blog posts), but it is very lacking on the orchestration and self service portal front…… something they’re trying to address with vCloud Automation Center (the old Dynamic Ops product). But this is yet another layer upon a layer upon a layer….. It’s becoming like Microsoft!!
End users love Amazon because it’s EASY to use and administer……. something you can’t really say about vCloud Director.

Cisco have also waded into the cloud management market by buying out Cloupia and re-branding it UCS Director (lol)……. whilst the re-branding doesn’t go down well with all, it’s undeniable that the Cloupia product itself is quite a good tool!
It’s easy to use, easy to administer, easy to setup, a single pane of glass to manage virtual AND physical infrastructure, plus a decent end-user portal!
(Probably something I’ll post about at a later date)

Then there’s the spin off by EMC and VMware – The Pivotal Initiative – chucking big data Greenplum, Pivotal Labs, and Cloud Foundry together (headed by the old VMware CEO – Paul Maritz)…. pretty much a cloud PaaS offering.
(Which I won’t go into as I haven’t read up enough about them)

 

Anyways, I’ve digressed away from VMworld……. So to summarise what I’ve read/heard:

  1. vSphere 5.5 release (not the big v6.0 that most people were expecting)
    • A re-written, simplified SSO (yay!)
    • Enhancements to vSphere Replication
    • Increased maximums
    • Possibly another new VM hardware version (v10)
    • Improved Web Client (given that the vSphere client will probably be dropped at the next big version release)
  2. Tighter integration of the vCloud Suite products (possibly doing away with all the different products by rolling some of it into vSphere – like vCNS)
  3. Enhancements to Horizon Suite

Unfortunately I couldn’t find much info on the feature upgrade/enhancements on the latter two…. but then again, it’s all rumours at present. We’ll find out next week!

A few things I would like to see announced at VMworld:

  1. Product launch of NSX which they’ve been working on since the acquisition of Nicira.
  2. Re-engineered version of SRM which will protect cloud resources.
  3. Integration of vCAC and vCD into a single product. Or at least making vCAC easier to deploy with vCloud.

Anyways, should be a good show next week…… and I’m still hoping to head on out to Barcelona when VMworld hits Europe in October!

Troubleshooting a vCloud Director Installation

The problem about working full time is it’s really hard to find time to blog, and also to find topics to blog about! =)

One of the great things about my job is we have a solution centre in the office which allows me to play around with kit! =)
Our solution centre is based around an EMC VSPEX architecture….. so EMC VNX storage, Cisco UCS blades and VMware virtualisation!!

I’ve been busy the last week or so putting together a vCloud solution for some of the engineers to play around with, as well as finally completing the detailed installation guide for deploying the vCloud Suite (one of these days I promise I will post it up).

Anyways, so I ended up installing two RHEL 6.2 VMs as my vCD cells on a MS SQL 2008 R2 DB, load-balanced using a vCNS edge….. but when I tried to start the vCD services on my linux VMs, they would say they’ve started (simple service vmware-vcd status command) but wouldn’t give me the vCD web console/UI….. all I got was a Blank Grey Webpage and after a while it would error out saying it couldn’t connect to the website!! Hmmmm……

Anyways, this gave me a good opportunity to test out my troubleshooting skills and offer a topic for my blog! =)

So here goes……

Troubleshooting vCD….

The Log files for vCloud Director are located at /opt/vmware/vcloud-director/logs. There are three main files to look at (well there’s more than 3 but these are the ones I usually use and 99% of the time I can work out what’s wrong):

1. cell.log

This log file provides information on the status of the vCloud Director cell services and the application as it starts up.
Use tail -f cell.log to view the live status when starting a vCloud Director Cell.
A successful start up will allow you to access the vCD web-console/UI and will display a started status for each service, plus 100% for Application Initialization.
Image

Usually if there is an issue with accessing the web-front end UI then it is more than likely that the services are still waiting to complete, as below:

Image

If you’re seeing lots of services showing a “WAITING” status, then check the other logs to determine what could be causing this issue.

2. vmware-vcd-watchdog.log

This log file shows any alerts, errors or information that the vCloud Director cell services maybe experiencing. A healthy vmware-vcd-watchdog.log looks similar to the below:

Image

If there’s an issue, then you could get an ‘Alert’ entry, similar to the one below:

Image

I believe vCloud Director will automatically try to re-start the services as I didn’t see a time stamp for an entry when I manually restarted the service. Also this log looks very similar to what you would get if you typed in ‘service vmware-vcd status‘ as that command reports on both the vmware-vcd-watchdog and vmware-vcd-cell services.

3. vcloud-container-info.log

This log file shows the status of the initial installation of vCloud Director and will log how the application is currently functioning. If you have any errors or failures during installation, this log file will provide you with the details required to troubleshoot the cause of the failure.
In addition, this log will also provide information on any errors that may cause the vCloud Director services to fail to start.
In my case, after doing a cat vcloud-container-info.log | more I discovered the following error:

Image

Turns out that the error shows that the vCloud Director cell could not resolve its hostname in DNS.

When I went through the pre-reqs before installation, I realised that I had only put in DNS entries for the two IPs used for the HTTP and the Remote Console access….. I forgot to put an entry into DNS that resolved the hostname of the Linux VM to the HTTP IP address.
A quick edit to DNS and then a restart of the vCD services fixed the problem I experienced.

4. vcloud-container-debug.log

This log file shows the debugging information. The detail in this log file will be dependant upon the level of debugging set. I didn’t actually end up looking at this log as the error was discovered in the -info.log…. However, it’s another port of call if you can’t work out what’s causing your vCD services to fail.

Rights….. blog entry over…… I’m off to eat my dinner! =)

New Road Ahead…..

Been a bit silent on my blog recently due to the number of interviews I’ve been going to over the past 2 weeks…..

However, I’m thankful to say I’ve landed on my feet and will be starting a new role next Monday at MTI (http://www.mti.com) as a Technical Account Manager!

Yay….

 

Looking forward to the new role as it’s going to give me the opportunity to fill in two LARGE holes in my knowledge – Storage & Networking!

Got a lot of learning to do in the up-coming months as they put me through training on EMC storage and also on Cisco Nexus…..

In addition, I get to brush up my Cisco UCS skills and continue honing my VMware skills! Result! =)

 

Now that my interviews are over (or cancelled in some cases….), need to decide whether to study for some HP exams I was due to take before 2e2 went under or focus on putting some content on this blog and getting it out to the VMware community! =)