Tag Archives: Cisco

What is a VBlock.. the latest

Overview

Back in 2009 VMware, Cisco and EMC joined forces to create a new approach to selling full datacenter  pre-configured solution stacks. Rather than simply a gentlemen’s agreement and a cross pollination of development from the three companies, it was decided they would  create a new start up business as the delivery mechanism to drive this new concept to market. This new start up, known as VCE (Virtual Computing Environment), would take to market a new range of pre-validated, pre-configured and singularly supported solution stacks called VBlock.

The purpose of a VBlock is to simplify infrastructure down to effectively units of IT and define that a workload can be supported by “a number of floor tiles” in the data centre. This approach is enabled by the fact that everything within a VBlock is pre-validated from an interoperability perspective and customizable components are reduced down to packs of Blades (compute), Disks and network components  required to connect into the upstream customer environment, means that solution design is massively simplified and can be focus to supoprting the identified workload.

Pre-Validated

VCE extensively soak test workloads and configurations available within the VBlock to reduce pre-sales time spent on researching interoperability between the Network/compute/storage layers of the Data centre. This means that defining how a workload is supported is the focus and planning phases are significantly reduced. This pre-validated approach means that power and cooling requirements are easily determined  in preparation for site deployment.

Pre Build and Pre Configured

As part of the VBlock proposition, the physical and logical build process are carried out in VCE facilities, so that time on customer site is restricted to that if integrating into the customer environment and application layer services. This reduces deployment time massively.

Single Support Presence

 Rather than dealing with the parent companies (VMware, Cisco, EMC) of VCE on a per vendor basis. VCE act as a single support presence and will own any VBlock related issue end to end. This is partly enabled by the pre-validated aspect of VBlock, as VCE have a number of VBlocks in house and provided the VBlock is constructed as per approved architectures, VCE can simulate the environment which has caused the error to decrease time to resolution.

The Technology

The technology element at the core of the VBlock consists of VMware VSphere, Cisco UCS (Cisco’s Unified compute solution), Cisco Nexus (Cisco’s Unified fabric offering) and EMC VNX’s unified storage platform. Cisco simplify management of their blade computing platform down to a single point of management (UCS Manager) which resides on the 6100 Fabric interconnects and allows for  “stateless” computing, in that it is possible to  abstract the server “personality” (Mac addresses, word wide names, firmware, etc) away from the server hardware, then create and apply these personalities on demand to any blade within the UCS system. This management system manages all aspects of the UCS system (blade/chassis management, connectivity, firmware and connectivity). Cisco’s Unified Fabric commonly refers to their Nexus range (but elements of unified fabric apply to UCS). Cisco Nexus allows both IP network traffic and fibre channel traffic to be delivered over common 10 Gigabit switches using FcoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet). In addition the Cisco Nexus 1000v enables deployment of a virtual switch within the Vmware environment ,allowing network services to be deployed within virtual infrastructure  where it was previously only possible in the physical world.

EMC VNX is a multi protocol storage array allowing for storage connectivity via block storage technologies (iSCSI/Fibre Channel) or NAS connectivity (CIFS/NFS/pNFS), giving the end user free choice as to how storage is provided to the UCS Server estate. EMC also drive efficiencies in how capacity and performance are handled by leveraging technologies such as deduplication and thin provisioning to achieve a lower cost per gigabyte. EMC are also able to leverage solid state disk technologies to extend storage Cache or enable sub LUN level tiering of data between Solid state disk and traditional mechanical disk technologies based on data access patterns.

VMware Vsphere has provided many companies cost saving in the past but in the Vblock is leveraged to maximum effect to provide operational efficiencies with features such as dynamic and automated mobility of virtual machines between physical servers based in load, high availability and the native integration that is inherent between VMware and EMC with the VAAI API integration. This integration enables much lower SAN fabric utilisation for what were very intensive storage network operations such as storage migration. EMC Powerpath/VE is also included in the Vblock which enables true intelligent load balancing of storage traffic across the SAN fabric.

Management

VCE utilise the Ionix Unified Infrastructure Manager (UIM) as a management overlay which integrates with the Storage,Compute,Network and Virtualisation  technologies within the Vblock and allows high level automation of and operational simplicity with how resources are provisioned within the VBlock. UIM will discover resources within the VBlock and the administrator then classifies those resources. As an example High performance blades may be deemed “Gold” blades verses lower specification blades which may be classified as “silver” blades. This classification is also applied to other resources within the Vblock such as storage. Once resources have been classified, then they can be applied on a per tenancy/application/department basis which is allowed access to differing levels of Gold/silver/Bronze resources within the Vblock. UIM now also includes operational aspects which give end to end visibility of exactly which hardware within a VBlock a particular VM is utilising (Blades, disks, etc).  Native Vendor management tools can be utilised, although with the exception of Vcenter, UIM would be the point of management of 90% of VBlock tasks after initial deployment.

In Summary

The VCE approach to IT infrastructure with VBlock enables simplification of procurement and IT infrastructure  planning as VCE are able to reduce their infrastructure offerings to essentially  units of IT which are sized to support a defined workload  within a number of “floor tiles” in the data centre. These predetermined units of IT have deterministic power and cooling requirements and scale in such aware to where all VBlock instances (be it few or Many) can be managed from a single point of management and are all supported under a single instance of support. Leveraging technologies which drive efficiencies around Virtualisation, networking, storage and computing we see benefits such as higher performance in smaller physical footprints when addressing storage and compute, minimised cables management and complexity with 10GbE enabling technologies such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet and operational simplicity with the Native Vblock unified infrastructure management tool UIM.management tool UIM.


VBlock 0 : Want a Vblock ? Don’t need to support 1000’s of Virtual machines though ?

So, with all the hype of Vblock and VCE, we have marveled at the integration between the 3 vendors of VCE and slick positioning of vBlock…     but..   what if a vBlock 1 or 2 is going to break the bank and you need something scaled down a touch, but with the benefits of single support across the 3 vendor components ?

Now EMC have released the VBlock 0, things are looking more compelling for aspirations to the private cloud, who may not want to invest in vBlock 1 or 2 and geared to support thousands of Virtual Machines.

In the below video, Scott Lowe and Mike Foley from the VCE team  talk through what the vBlock 0 consists of for the techhead.co.uk site

The reference architecture for vBlock 0 can be found here.


VBlock single support offering

So I’ve just come back from a week over at EMC in Cork  and have the privilege of seeing the flashy lights of a Vblock and speaking with the Various VCE subject matter experts. So where do I start ?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Vblock or what the VCE (VMware, Cisco, EMC) coalition is all about you can go to www.vcecoalition.com or watch the below vid from the VCE guys for the polished positioning :

This post is more for those of you who are familiar with the VCE offerings. I shall start with the single support element of the Vblock which has been a subject of some debate since, as there was some ambiguity around what acadia does and where it operates…   so, lets start with forgetting about Acadia. That sorts that 🙂 its all about the SST (Seamless support Team). The SST is a dedicated vBlock support team based in Cork (amongst other places), which consists of VMWare, Cisco and EMC qualified staff, all working under one roof, they are responsible for qualifying a vblock, supporting customer implementations of vBlock and more importantly for those who qualify as VCE partners, the SST will also support in the pre-sales element of vBlock and in qualifying the opportunity.

Slide from VCE around the SST

More information on VBlock support can be found here

Can I add a xxxxx to my vBlock ?

No !..   well not without an official exception from the SST anyway and to be fair, aside from maybe adjusting quantities of disks/blades/memory, the architecture for a vBlock shouldn’t need to be changed. For the most part, if your goal if to move toward the virtualised Datacenter then the vBlock should meet that requirement with the validated architecture. Bear in mind the vBlock is designed to sit in a Datacenter environment, effectively at the access layer and  uplink into an existing network core/aggregation layer (which is where you would provide services such as firewall/VPN termination/Layer 3 routing, etc.. ) and these elements do not fall under the remit of the seamless support team. The SST only look after the vBlock component(s), other components aside from the vBlock will have to fall under the support of their native vendors.

Why can’t we just add everything VMWare/Cisco/EMC which we have to the same support contract ?!

One of the reasons the SST is so effective is that they have a number of vBlocks within their support centers which all support personnel have access to, this means that they can re-create any issue which a customer may log and massively increase the speed to resolution. This wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t police what a supported vBlock implementation is, then it would make life very difficult in this issue staging and resolution. Also, yes the vBlock is an impressive of flashing lights and cool tech, but aim of a pre-validated architecture is that this enables the customer conversations to be geared more toward meeting business requirements than technical one, as the technical validation is already done.  All the validated reference architectures are available at http://www.vcecoalition.com/solutions.htm

However, if it is felt that a component is absolutely required the an exception can be applied for and approved at the discretion of the SST. But don’t go asking to add a HP server or juniper switch… not gonna happen 😉

Bear in mind that it is early doors and although it may appear to be restrictive having to abide by the validated architectures and use cases,but  it is early days and more and more validated architectures and options to the vblocks are in the process of going through the required testing to ensure that they are truly technically validated and can be supported by the SST.

I will post more on the positioning and technology of vBlock in due course.    for now..   I gotta eat.


Building Blocks of a Vblock

Seeing as lots of people are asking lots of questions around EMC,Vmware and Cisco’sVblock. I thought I’d best dig something out. Attached is a very concise, granular, document which outlines the different elements of a Vblock, how the disks are configured, supported Vblock applications and…   some pretty pictures for your delectation.

solution_overview_vce

The below clip is the Cisco Vice President talking about the various Vblock packages.


Interesting Times

I wanted to do a post simply based on some of the technologies which have facilitated this vision of…  the cloud and to look at some of those things in isolation with a view to understanding the bigger picture.

IT is at an interesting crossroads at the moment, there is a whisper in the wind accumulating Clarity and momentum by the day. A whisper which tells us that the way people think about IT is changing. The concept of the cloud is not a new one, but its shape and purpose have differed quite dramatically depending on who you talk to. For the moment at least and for the various vendor channels, its been very much business as usual. People are still buying tin, assessing the viability of virtualization, putting out to tender for the traditional server/SAN type solutions and vendors will continue to cater for those traditional needs. However, Vendors have also been doing something else…   better defining this cloud thing, how they can commoditise it, slap a price tag on it, stick it in a box and sell it.

Lets look at some of these technologies which have been developed to facilitate this transition.

Virtualisation on the whole giving us the ability to better utilise  tin and deploy new virtual servers with speed and ease. VMWare’s Vmotion/Dynamic power management/Distributed Resource Scheduling gives us the ability to move virtual servers between physical servers without disruption for any number of reasons (DPM allows us to reduce our power requirements by moving virtual servers onto a lesser number of physical machines, powering down machines left unused, as and when the business deems it suitable. DRS allows us to distribute virtual servers dynamically between physical servers based on the resource requirements of the virtual server).  This mobility allows the business be flexible and adaptive. The advent of virtualisation also allows us to in effect commiditise resource, be it memory, CPU resource or storage and distribute that in the most effective manner possible.

Storage has become something which is intelligent. Virtualisation and automation technologies in the storage world have given storage platforms the ability to adapt. Things like thin provisioning and online archive give us the ability to make better use of storage. Also players like compellent and EMC with their FAST technology gives storage the edge by digging down into the bare blocks of storage and moving individual blocks of data between fast/expensive and cheaper/high density storage based on how often those blocks of data are being access and their IOPS requirements. Deduplication, again another technology allowing transparency to the user while efficiently storing data.

Mobility. VMWare again, with virtual desktops being delivered on demand to where-ever the user needs it and maintaining access to all their bits and pieces. IP telephony and VPN, giving the external user the ability to access all the resources of the internal user and be as mobile as they need to. With networking capabilities becoming ever more efficient and robust also with things like 10GbE anf FCoE coming to the market, the datacenter is able to consolidate their network infrastructure and provide resources to the user in ever more efficient and increasingly more intelligent ways.

Here are a couple of video’s just showing some deployments of IP telephony and virtual desktops and the likes which I found interesting :

 Here’s a very cool way in which Subway have deployed IP telephony in their setup

and a video showing VMware virtual desktop offering

Management. We’re seeing integration between the network, the serverside and the storage in a big way. You can now manage EMC storage from within VMWare, VMware have pulled Ionix into their portfolio meaning they can manage physical and virtual infrastructure. Again, Ionix have released the unified infrastructure Manager which can manage Cisco Nexus networking tin, VMWare and EMC Storage. Meaning that not only can you have all these separate and different technologies working as one, but you can manage them as one.

 Here’s a video showing the fore mentioned Ionix Unified infrastructure manager

EMC/VMWare/Cisco have their offering with the Vblock, Netapp are hot on the tails of EMC and microsoft and HP/Lefthand are all working to a common goal (in competition with eachother ofcourse). To be right where its happening when service providers take a the next step from providing telecoms, disaster recovery, software as a service..  and start providing effectively resource as a service, infrastructure as a service.

When organisations are comfortable that they trust a 3rd party to host their applications, their user data and their desktops even, any vendor worth their salt wants to be there. Before long, we won’t be asking customers what switches, servers and storage they want. We’ll be asking broader questions…   How many IOPS do you want ? how much memory ? how much computing power you need ? and how much bandwidth you want?  How many people do you want to be able to make phone calls ? This adaptable, mobile architecture we’re seeing now will be doing the math….  Service Providers will be selling virtual commodities.

Below is a video by Gartner, with some of their analysts discussing some of the points of cloud computing :

Ofcourse, we’re a little while away from seeing that happen in the mainstream, a little way away from seeing the masses flock to these service providers.  People like to have control over their data, they know that if its in a rack they can walk up to and touch..   they have control. The market needs to have confidence in this concept that is the cloud…  and again, there are businesses who understand and are comfortable with this concept and have adopted it with aspects of their business. But when people start entrusting there critical core business applications, which are bound to OLA’s and SLA’s… this is when it will get really exciting.


FCoE or not FCoE?.. that is the question

So I spent a day at Cisco last Friday for a cram training session on Cisco’s new Nexus range of switches, aside from some very impressive features of the switches by way of flexibility, speeds and feeds (12 Terrabits per seconds capability of you’re interested) and some very cool virtualisation features in the switches; one thing that came up was FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) which effectively encapsulates a Fibre Channel frame into an Ethernet frame with no extra frills,  no additional clunky IP protocols..  keep it simple, keep it quick, as opposed to iSCSI which is used to carry SCSI commands and provide block level storage connectivity over TCP/IP which is prone to packet loss. FCoE uses something coined enhanced Ethernet and something called priority flow control where packets are embedded with Class of Service (CoS) value.. where packets with a certain CoS value (namely FCoE packets) utilize no drop, reliable behavior and other packets use the familiar ‘Best Effort’ Policy as traditional Ethernet does. This means that Ethernet can be a viable medium to carry fibre channel traffic within the data center, where iSCSI is not.  Don’t get me wrong, iSCSI still has its place, FCoE is currently only supported over 10GbE and it will be a while until many organizations adopt 10 GbE fully.

Currently FCoE is geared more to the datacenter, the idea being that less cabling is required within the datacenter rack as both storage connectivity and standard IP traffic can be delivered through one form of connectivity; no need for NICs and FC HBA’s…  Converged Network Adapters or CNA’s are the new flavour (basically a NIC which supports FCoE). This means that server build times are reduced, doubling up on switching infrastructure to support FC and IP traffic is no more, cabling is reduced and everything is generally tidier.

There are still arguements against FCoE..   to site one example from the blog Etherealmind.com and the flip coin of the arguement from a Cisco Chappy Dante Malagrino (see here for his response to the previous link), so its not to the taste of all…

Have a dig into it and make your own judgements.

Some good sites of reference :

http://www.fcoe.com/

http://features.techworld.com/storage/3306/fcoe–or-iscsi/


VBlock? Acadia ? VCE ?… Who ? what ? where ? When ? How ?

If you work in the IT sector, you will have had to have been locked in a small room with no outside contact for the better part of half a year not to have heard the term “Cloud Computing” bantered around. Back in 1960 a rather insightfull computer scientist called John McCarthy stated “Computation may someday be organised as a Public Utility”..   and a mere 50 years later..   we’re getting there 😉

Last year VMWare, EMC and Cisco announced The VCE Coallition and Acadia. This Cleverly crafted acronym depicts the 3 players in this coalition… yes, you guessed it ! VMWare, Cisco, EMC !  Cunningly this 3 letter acronym also give’s them a veritable feast of marketing slogans..  as it has the letter “V” in it, so they can use the word “virtual”.. Great ! The 3 have also decided to put their money where their mouth is and started a joint venture called Acadia..  essentially a technical organisation staffed by a combination of 130 Cisco, EMC and VMWare employees for services engagement, assessments and support for what has come to pass as Vblock. But, Acadia is not going to be involved in any of the sales elements of Vblock, its simply the one throat to choke for technical and support issues… 

So What is Vblock ?! Well..   what does your typical organsiation require by way of computing…   Servers, storage and infrastructure; what do the 3 main players in this VCE coalition excel in ? conveniently servers, infrastructure and storage !!

The Vblock is a datacenter in a rack, consisting of Vsphere sitting on Cisco UCS Servers and EMC storage. There are 3 flavours of Vblock currently, Vblock 0, Vblock 1 and Vblock 2. The common elements within all of these is the use of Cisco’s UCS Servers, MDS and Nexus switches and VMWare’s Vsphere for server delivery. The element that does vary is the underlying storage, Vblock 0 uses Celerra for storage provision, Vblock 1 uses Clariion CX4 a and VBlock 2 sports the ever so flash VMax (Symmetrix).

The idea being that end users can minimise captital expenditure by simply renting the infrastructure they need from a provider in possesion of a Vblock environment. The software which ties all of this together comes from the Ionix range (previously named ControlCenter) and is called Unified Infrastructure Manager or UIM, this software is essentially the glue that binds the 3 different vendors technologies, one point of management for switching, Vsphere Management and Storage management and the nice thing is that as you scale out a Vblock environment (by adding more Vblocks), they are all managed via the one Ionix UIM console. Also, UIM supports multi tenancy which means that if you are using Vblock to deliver SaaS/Cloud/whatever you want to call it, you can offer customers their own management bubble, where they can log in and manage the components relating to their service. See below video from EMC from a nice walkthough of the software from EMC.

More to come, as I get stuck into some training over the comming months.