Dell Azure Stack Is an Appliance

I am interested in seeing what customers do with Microsoft Azure Stack. I think it is a significant part of a hybrid cloud infrastructure for enterprise customers. The interesting part to me is the split in responsibilities between the customer, Dell, and Microsoft. The workload is managed by the customer as another Azure region. The software platform is managed by Microsoft with their own updating cycle. The hardware platform is managed by the hardware vendor but is on-site in the customer’s datacentre. There is an inherent risk with customer-managed premises underneath cloud provider managed software; this needs to be addressed by the hardware vendor. Even more, the complication comes if customers choose a custom, snowflake hardware configurations.


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Getting Started With PyVmomi

It does seem that there is always a new programming language to learn. I do wish that I had done some real programming courses when I was a student. My Physics degree from the 1990’s didn’t prepare me well for needing to write a lot of scripts which seem to get more complicated every month. I have been working on a project which requires a Linux virtual appliance be used to build a bunch of Linux VMs. I did start by looking at the option of running PowerCLI on Linux and quickly came to the conclusion that it was too soon for me to use that technology. So, I fell back to Python and the Python bindings for the VMware vSphere API called pyVmomi. This Python module allows me to interact with vCenter to get tasks done.

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Back to San Francisco for Pure Accelerate

The springtime conference season continues, I will be attending Pure Accelerate in San Francisco from May 22nd to 24th as a guest of Pure Storage. This will be my first time at Accelerate; the last two years conferences never quite worked out for me. I learned quite a lot about the Flash Array product when we did a vBrownBag Build Day Live event last year. I am expecting to learn a bit more about the Flash Blade product and how it is being used by real customers. Also more presence for FlashStack, which is a converged infrastructure with Cisco UCS servers and Pure Storage Flash Array. I also expect to see some evolution of the Pure1 web service that is used to manage an estate of Pure Storage arrays.  There has been quite a contingent of bloggers and influencers at past Pure Accelerate conferences; I expect to see a few friends and make a few new ones. I also have quite a few friends at Pure Storage, so it will be nice to catch up with them if they have a spare moment at the conference.

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Vendor Briefing Tocario

I am always interested in new ways of delivering virtual desktops. Although it is still not the year of VDI, there are plenty of customers who need remote access to a desktop. Tonight, I heard from Tocariowho is based in Stuttgart and have a turn-key solution for service providers and medium businesses to deliver desktops from a data center. The desktops can run any x86 operating system, as all display and device remoting are provided in the virtual hardware (KVM hypervisor) rather than using in-guest drivers and agents. The client side can be a mobile device with a native client or an HTML5 client. The HTML5 client even has screen sharing, potentially for dozens of students watching one VM’s screen in their web browser.

Deployment starts with a scale-out management component that is usually on existing virtualization but can be bare metal. Then the physical hosts are deployed from those management hosts, KVM on bare metal. The hosts consume shared storage, either NFS or iSCSI to provide resilience. The management cluster offers load balancing and the usual brokering. There is full multi-tenancy for service providers and larger businesses. Service providers also get nested multi-tenancy. A reseller can have their clients access through the reseller’s tenant portal as if the platform belonged to the reseller but without the management requirement. Service providers also get some built-in sales enablement, such as a self-service trial function built-in. All licensing is per-desktop VM; service providers pay for usage per-month while on-premises deployment is bought in packs of 10 or 100 desktops, again priced per desktop per month.

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HCI Isn’t the Only Simplified Management

Having decided that HCI is all about simplified deployment and management, I have started thinking about how simple it is to manage modern on-premises infrastructure. I feel that HCI is often compared with the technology it is replacing, rather than the alternatives that are available now. One aspect of that it when an HCI vendor says that a client replaced five racks of five-year-old equipment with half a rack of HCI. A new SAN and servers would not require five racks, so some of the reduced footprint is about hardware generations, rather than HCI. Another aspect is simplified management. HCI uses management that is centered around VMs and ideally policy based. Older architectures tend to have isolated control of each hardware type: compute, network, and storage. Comparing HCI’s simple management to a ten-year-old management practice is also not valid, HCI needs to be compared to the manageability of modern products with which HCI products compete.

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SolarWinds, Not Just On-premises, There Is SaaS Too

I usually think of SolarWinds as a suite of on-premises software that helps monitor and manage many aspects of IT and application infrastructure. While this is true, it isn’t the complete story. As I have heard at a couple of Tech Field Day events (TFD13 & TFD16  plus TFD disclaimer), SolarWinds also has a suite of online services that can help monitor and manage, even without on-premises SolarWinds management. This shift, towards SaaS solutions for management, is essential in a couple of ways. It seems evident that cloud-native applications would be managed by cloud-native management platforms, it makes sense to use current application architectures. Initially, it was less clear that managing on-premises infrastructure from cloud-based services was a smart idea. For some uses it is still not acceptable, some on-premises infrastructure does have to be managed wholly on-premises. But there is a lot to like about a management application as a service, it is always up-to-date and was implemented following the vendor’s best practices. It always has enough capacity for your business growth without a lot of planning by your IT team. So, what are these online management products that SolarWinds has?

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Conference Season Begins, Dell Technologies World

The spring conference season is upon us, and particularly upon me. I am starting the season with a trip to Dell Technologies World (DTW) in Las Vegas at the end of April. I will be attending the conference as the guest of Dell, who will provide my flights, hotel accommodation, probably some nice hospitality, and access to some interesting people. I am interested to see the continued merging of the EMC and Dell data center product lines. Now that the initial dust has settled I expect to see some announcements around the development of some products and silence about others. This will tell us the makeup of the combined storage product line. After the Dell presentation at TFD16 in February, my interest in managing fleets of x86 servers is renewed, so I will be looking for more stories about how easy it is to manage dozens of servers. For me, this is a great comparison to the ease of management that we expect from HyperConverged products. While I’m talking about HCI, I really do need to learn a bit more about Dell’s VxRail product as I hear that it is hugely successful.

I will be in Las Vegas April 29th to May 2nd, although DTW continues until the 3rd. It will be a big geek week in Las Vegas, InteropITX will be in town the same week. I have a pass for Interop, so may see people there as well as at DTW.

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IT Security Is a People Problem

What information do your organization’s security tools take as input to decide whether an action is safe? Most security software only takes IT technical information as inputs; firewalls use IP information and malware detection often uses file fingerprinting. I think we know that there are significant shortcomings with just looking at IT data when we assess risk. These inputs fail to address the most significant threat in any security landscape, the people. At Tech Field day 16 we heard from Forcepoint (video here) about how their User and Entity Behaviour Analytics (UEBA) product takes a lot of external data to make decisions about the risk associated with specific actions by a staff member, or other entity. My usual TFD disclaimer applies.

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A GUI for PowerShell scripts

It was bound to happen eventually, no matter how much I resisted the idea, eventually I needed a PowerShell script with a GUI. This week I needed a script that allows searching for a VM and selection from a few lists, as well as some optional configuration. I could have written a script that prompted the user for a series of answers, but what I needed was a GUI with a bunch of Windows form controls just like I used to use in Visual Basic. The good news is that there is a pretty web application for designing precisely this purpose and generating a PowerShell script skeleton that you can fill out with your application code. I used to create the web form part, then put together the main script logic as usual.

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The True Meaning of HyperConverged

Is it just me that gets annoyed when category definitions are arbitrary and fail to match up to real business needs? One example is Gartner’s All-Flash Array (AFA) storage analysis. Any product that can be either AFA or hybrid is excluded, so vendors make unique product IDs that are really just an all-flash configuration of a hybrid array. Gartner’s definition of AFA gets in the way of customers looking for a set of benefits. I have come to realize that I have made the same mistake about HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI) as a category. The realization arrived as I took part in Tech Field Day 16, particularly this presentation by Adam Carter. Naturally, my standard TFD disclaimer applies. HCI is not really about putting clustered storage inside a bunch of hypervisor hosts; it is far more about the simplicity of operating an environment designed purely to run VMs. There is a range of vendors with products that make it easy to deploy and manage a virtualization platform which is what HCI is really about. To me, the big surprise is that VMware does not have a general-purpose deployment tool, even for a basic vSphere cluster.

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