Virtualization Pro

December 14, 2009  10:47 PM

Holiday gift ideas for VMware administrators

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

It’s the holiday season again and last year I wrote about stocking stuffer ideas for VMware administrators, so I thought I would do the same this year. Do you need some ideas on what to get a dedicated hardworking VMware administrator for Christmas? Well here’s a few:


Of course I’d love it if you got them my book but there are some other great books out there that they would appreciate also:


VMware admins play with bare-metal virtualization products all day but having a desktop virtualization product like Fusion or Workstation is nice also. Is that big data center in your living room or basement driving you crazy? Using Workstation, admins can run ESX on their desktops and laptops eliminating the need for a data center in your house. Got lots of money to spend? I’m sure they would appreciate an upgrade of their Enterprise licenses to Enterprise Plus or some Cisco Nexus 1000v licenses.


Every admin wants to learn as much as they can about the products they support. You might consider getting them a classroom training course or if you’re on a budget consider a lower-cost alternative such as this vSphere DVD training course from TrainSignal. This gift could benefit you also, because the smarter your admin is the better the chance that they could find a higher-paying job.


You can never have too much storage, flash drives are great but home network storage units are much better. Consider getting them one of the cool new low-cost network storage units from Iomega, Buffalo or Drobo. Or if you want to combine the two than check out this cool gadget that lets you turn flash drives into network storage.


Every VMware admin wants to show off his love for VMware so what better way to do that than with some VMware-branded apparel. From caps to shirts to backpacks to pens you can be sure to find something to please them at the VMware online store.


Almost every VMware admin is a geek at heart, so what better way to please their inner geek with some cool gadgets. Check out some of these gadgets that are sure to please any admin.

  • JuiceBar Portable Solar Charger – You’re already saving lots of power using virtualization, why not save more using a solar charger to harness the power of the sun to charge your mobile devices.
  • Flux Capacitor Replica – Want to have the coolest looking datacenter on the planet? Try putting one of these in it to really dress it up, you can tell everyone that virtualization is so great you can run your whole data center with only one of these.
  • Cable Monkey Cable Organizer – Messy cables behind servers drive most admins crazy, you can use these cool organizers to straighten up the mess and add some cuteness to your server racks.
  • Optimus Maximus Keyboard – If you have more money than you know what to do with, this cool keyboard is sure to make any admin drool. This OLED keyboard is the ultimate computer gadget and the keys can be programmed to display any image and run scripts. Think how cool it would be to have a vMotion key right on your keyboard.

Well that’s just a few suggestions for some great gifts for the VMware admins in your life. If nothing else you might consider expressing your appreciation for their hard work and dedication which is something most administrators often do not hear enough.

Happy holidays too all!

December 2, 2009  6:25 PM

What is Changed Block Tracking in vSphere?

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

I’ve recently written several articles on new backup and storage features in vSphere and spent a lot of time trying to learn more about the vStorage APIs and the new Changed Block Tracking (CBT) feature to understand how it works, so I thought I would share that information.

CBT is a new feature in vSphere that can keep track of the blocks of a virtual disk that have changed since a certain point in time. This is extremely useful for backup and replication applications that can use this information to greatly improve incremental backup and replication times. Without CBT these applications have to figure out changed blocks on their own so being able to get this information for free using the vStorage advanced programming interfaces is extremely valuable to them.

Continued »

November 30, 2009  5:26 PM

Giving vThanks this holiday season

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

With the holiday spirit of thanks and giving, I thought I would make a list of the virtualization-related things that I give thanks for, so here it is:

  • I give thanks for High Availability; how many times have you saved the day by bringing my VMs back up on other hosts after a failure?
  • I give thanks to the blogging community for providing me with some outstanding information on a daily basis.
  • I give thanks to the VMTN communities for getting me started with helping others and showing me how much I enjoy it.
  • I give thanks to Distributed Power Management which helps save my company money by lowering our energy bills.
  • I give thanks to VMware for inventing the best virtualization product on the market and continuing to make a great product even better.
  • I give thanks to John Troyer at VMware who’s always there to help me out if I need anything.
  • I give thanks for Storage VMotion which makes my SAN maintenance a piece of cake and limits my VM downtime.
  • I give thanks for all the many great friends and acquaintances that I have made in dealing with virtualization, you’re all an inspiration to me.
  • I give thanks for being able to live in a time where technology like virtualization is even possible.
  • I give thanks for VMotion which makes it so easy to move VMs around between hosts for maintenance purposes.
  • I give thanks for Twitter which allows me to communicate daily with all the great virtualization people in the world.

Well that’s plenty to be thankful for. If you have anything virtualization-related to be thankful for also, let us know in the comments.

November 20, 2009  7:33 PM

First update to vSphere released

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

VMware has finally released the first update to vSphere almost 6 months after the initial release of vSphere in May 2009. Version 4.0 Update 1 delivers many fixes to bugs and issues as well as support for new features, products and operating systems. Perhaps the biggest updates in this release are support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 as guest operating systems as well as support for the newly released VMware View 4.0. Continued »

November 19, 2009  8:08 PM

Why use vShield Zones?

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

VMware introduced vShield Zones as part of the vSphere release along with VMware Data Recovery as a value-added product that is available in certain editions. I’m always interested in virtualization security products so I spent a lot of time checking out the product which resulted in me writing a series of tips about it. That was a while ago, so I thought I would summarize the information in this blog post and provide some use cases for vShield Zones.

Let’s start with what a vShield Zone is.

A vShield Zone is essentially a virtual security guard for your vSwitches that protects virtual machines (VMs) based on rules you define. If you took a physical firewall and did a physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversion, you would end up with a vShield Zone appliance that is a virtual firewall that works inside an ESX(i) host to protect the VMs on it. Continued »

November 18, 2009  8:02 PM

What can we learn about DR from survival situations?

Makking Mak King Profile: Makking

From the time I was little I was always taught to be prepared. I took outdoor survival classes and first aid courses in the evenings long before I was old enough to drive. My vehicles have extra tools in them. When mountain biking in Moab I carried enough equipment to rebuild a small nuclear reactor. Several years ago I moved to the “end of the road,” that is, Fairbanks, Alaska, to learn what it took to live in a tough environment — the last frontier. Thus, I was thrilled to find the October Popular Mechanics titled “Survive Anything.” I particularly appreciated this observation about how people react in a crisis: 

In a disaster roughly 10 percent of people panic, while 80 percent essentially do nothing. Unable to come to terms with what’s happening, they freeze. The remaining 10 percent jump into action.

Are there parallels to the 10-80-10 rule in IT? I believe so. Perhaps we can pose the question: Which group do I fall into? The very idea of jumping into action, doing more with less and using the resources at hand to improve our situation sounds like a foundation that a solid VMware environment is built on, doesn’t it? Following the principle of moving forward and better utilizing available resources is a key concept in any survival situation, whether it be in the wilderness, the datacenter or the corporate shark tank.
We all know that VMware is built around the premise of doing more with less, and doing it better than anyone else. But are we doing that ourselves?
There is an abundance of features in VMware packages that can help us make incremental improvements in our environment. When we learn or stumble upon a new feature, how do we respond? Drawing parallels to the above, 80% of the people might consider it interesting, but probably not implement it. 10% would avoid it since they are unfamiliar with the technology and are afraid of changing their current environment. The last 10% would immediately begin figuring out how to apply it to their advantage, and then implement it.
My mom used to tell my brother and I: “There are those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that wonder what happened.”
No doubt you have seen this yourself during your career (IT can be a petri dish of crisis situations) – some people refuse to adapt, improve, think on their feet and move forward. Such ones tend to be left behind, with ever diminishing chances of catching up. “One physical server, one OS, one application.” Sound familiar? To some, that is a paradigm that is difficult, nay, nearly impossible, to leave behind. Yet, the ability to adapt quickly, to leave our comfort zone and embrace change — almost always intimidating and often scary at the outset — and all that it brings is vital if we are to survive in IT. Try to recall the first time you heard the term “virtualization” and how just wrapping your mind around it seemed difficult. Now compare that to where you are today. I bet you are pretty glad you took that step off the “one server, one OS, one application” plank, aren’t you?
We can ask ourselves: When was the last time I tried something new in my VMware environment? How did it turn out? If it didn’t work, did it help me to think along new lines about how I would build it better myself? When was the last time I browsed some of the new third-party tools that keep springing up daily? Is there something I can evaluate today, or is it going to be relegated into the “I’ll get to it someday when I have time” category? That is a very common way of thinking, with many legitimate reasons. Yet, at the end of the day that still leaves us in the same place we were that morning.
I would encourage all dear readers to ask yourself the question: Am I in the 10% that jump into action, or the rest that either do nothing or actually resist improving the situation? Only we ourselves, and of course our actions, can answer that question.
Mak King

November 12, 2009  3:22 AM

Quota limits in vSphere?

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

A reader was recently reading the VMware white paper  What Is New in VMware vSphere 4: Storage and he came across this paragraph:

Improved Storage Resources Control

As the scope of storage resources have increased significantly with large deployments of virtualization environments, so has the need for greater automation and control of these resources. In the vSphere release, vCenter has been enhanced with several new storage specific capabilities to help the virtual administrator manage these environments with a higher degree of control. These enhancements provide administrators with proactive alerts and alarms to address issues before they interrupt the availability of applications running on those resources. vCenter allows setting permissions and quota limits on datastores, as well as per VM.

His question was to explain the meaning of the following line: “vCenter allows setting permissions and quota limits on datastores, as well as per VM.” In particular he wanted to know about setting quota limits on data stores and VMs. While I know a lot about the new permissions in vSphere, particularly for data stores, the part about quota limits confused me also because I have never heard of quota limits in vSphere. I did some research, checked all the vSphere documentation and couldn’t find anything about them. So I contacted VMware to get some clarification and I received the following response from the white paper author:

The quota limit applies to the storage given to a VM.  There is not really an equivalent for a data store.  One can set alarms to notify/alert one when a certain percent-full or overcommit is hit. But I am not aware of a means to stop allocations or placement of VMs when a certain percent overcommit is hit.  That is a common request that I do not believe is there now.

So basically “quota limits” simply  means the amount of disk space assigned to a VM. I guess technically it’s a quota but once you assign the space to the VM you can’t control how much of it that it can use. If you create a 20 GB virtual disk for a VM the guest operating system is going to see all 20 GB of it regardless of whether it is a thick disk or thin disk. If you do overcommit your data stores by using thin disks you need to carefully monitor datastore free space using alarms and reporting. Currently in vSphere there is no way to set any type of quotas for snapshots, virtual disks or datastores.

So while alarms and permissions are greatly improved in vSphere there are really no quota limits that you can use. Perhaps in a future release VMware will put some type of quota controls in place. Thanks to John Troyer and Paul Manning from VMware for the clarification on this.

November 11, 2009  10:36 PM

Does virtualization really reduce administrator headcount and workloads?

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

One benefit of virtualization that is often stated is that by virtualizing you will reduce the number of administrators needed to manage your server environment. I heard this first hand years ago when we were looking to do a server virtualization project and I was skeptical as to how that would be possible. VMware itself touts this as a benefit of virtualization on their cost savings webpage stating the following:

VMware shifts the paradigm from managing “the raw ingredients of IT”, i.e. component-level infrastructure management, to cloud-based delivery of IT services. This dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of managing IT. VMware vSphere and the VMware vCenter Product Family simplify tedious day-to-day tasks such as provisioning, hardware maintenance, patching and capacity, incident, and performance management through policy-based automation. As a result IT resources and budgets can be shifted from tactical maintenance to strategic projects and innovation that dynamically respond to and ultimately drive the business.

In my experience virtualization has not reduced administrator headcount at all. Why is that? Because the number of servers that we started with before virtualizing was about the same after we virtualized. The only difference being instead of 80 or so physical servers we now only have about six physical servers that were still running those 80 original servers as virtual machines. As a result we may have less physical servers to manage but we now have more operating systems to manage. In addition to the 80 original ones we had six new ones as a result of the ESX hypervisors. So there may be less hardware maintenance which is very minimal to begin with but there are more operating systems to patch and maintain. Continued »

November 11, 2009  5:23 PM

PC-over-IP remote display technology: The inner workings of VMware View 4

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

VMware recently announced that the release of VMware View 4 is slated for later this month which will include a new display protocol called PC-over-IP (PCoIP), which should greatly enhance the user experience.

What is PCoIP?

PCoIP is a relatively new technology developed by a company called Teradici that VMware has chosen to partner with to use this technology in VMware View. Teradici has developed a breakthrough innovation in display compression and propagation over LAN and WAN networks that uses hardware chips on both the host and remote to offload the compression overhead.

Continued »

November 10, 2009  7:11 PM

Several ways to explain virtualization to a non-techie person

Eric Siebert Eric Siebert Profile: Eric Siebert

So what do a school bus, four teenage daughters, an apartment complex, a six-foot sub and a hotel have in common? They can all be used for virtualization analogies!

In a previous post I covered the basics on what virtualization is and used an analogy to describe it. I also challenged others to submit their own analogies on how they would describe virtualization and received many responses. I thought I would share a few with everyone.


The first is from Rob Bohmann:

Virtualization is like a school bus. Instead of each parent driving their kid to school each day in their car with the resulting traffic jams and waste of time and fuel or having to build lots of extra lanes on the roads, we have the kids ride a big bus that can effectively carry a lot of people. We save resources like gas and space on the highways, as well as the parents’ time.


So if you substitute the energy of gas for the energy in electricity, whether derived from coal or nukes or hydro, etc., and the congestion around schools for the space in your data center and the more efficient management and provisioning of servers, I think the analogy works well, especially for people who are not in the technology arena.


The next is from Guy Leech:

The analogy I like to use is that of a block of flats (an apartment building in US speak?) compared with a large house on the same site. It’s the same space but obviously the flats are self contained/isolated and share the utilities. The house has the same utilities but probably doesn’t use anywhere near as much due to the inefficient use of space.


The next is from Michael Nunn:

Imagine you are a parent of four teenage daughters. All your life you have wanted to provide your daughters with their very own “resources,” like their own bedrooms, their own bathrooms, their own computers, their own clothes, etc., but you just could not afford to do it.

What if I could tell you how to give them all everything they wanted and they really believed that they each had their own bedrooms and bathrooms, but in reality you only had to build one bedroom and one bathroom? You would be well within your budget, your daughters would be very happy, and you would not be using space, materials and money to build all those separate rooms.


The next is from Robbie Singh:

Virtualization is similar to utilizing the same resources without even knowing about it. For example, if one person lives in a house he uses the same resources as phone, heat, water, rent, etc. Add one more person and everything remains almost the same. This way both people benefit. It’s like adding two or more servers on the same physical server. Obviously the scale of people vs. resources is the same as physical server to number of virtual servers.


The next is from Kendrick Coleman:

Me: When you go to Subway, you know how they have those six-foot party subs?

Other Guy: Yea

Me: Well think of the 6ft party sub as your typical physical server. Every time you have to deploy a new server, you have to order a six-foot party sub. When you go to subway, do you order a six-foot party sub for lunch?

Other Guy: Well, no.

Me: Why not?

Other Guy: Because you would have a lot of wasted food.

Me: Exactly, so you would probably want five to 10 other people to help you eat that six-foot party sub so nothing goes to waste. With today’s hardware, there are a  lot of wasted resources when you have to deploy a single physical server. Virtualization gives you the ability to have five-10 servers running on that one physical server concurrently so your resources aren’t going to waste. Make sense?


*Editor’s note: Who else thinks Kendrick was eating a Subway sub when he came up with this?  <grin>

The final analogy is elaborate. Mike Laverick often tells it to his students.

In the past, the server was a like a very expensive hotel. It was the worst kind of hotel. It only had one big room and only one person could stay there. However, all employees, whether they were the CEO or copy-boy, had to stay there if they were away on business.


This is like the guest operating system being installed to a physical server. Half the time the occupant is out doing other things, asleep, or just lying on the bed surfing up and down the channels looking for the type of channels his wife wouldn’t let him have at home. This is like when Linux or Windows is idling and only using 5% – 10% of CPU or memory. It became considered too costly to build such hotels and filling them with one occupant was very wasteful – because they consume heat, water and power – and most of the time the single occupant either wasn’t there or was asleep!


So someone had the idea of a better hotel, one which was divided into a series of different rooms. Each could be different sizes and offer different qualities of service. It didn’t matter what one guest did in one room, as it could not affect others. This hotel had really thick sound insulation so you couldn’t hear the wedding party downstairs or the newlyweds doing newlywed things next door.

On the top floor beyond the bridal suite, were the penthouse suites which were reserved for the high rollers, specifically for Mr. Exchange, Miss, SQL and Mrs. SAP – but in other floors the rooms were barely large enough to swing a small furry animal – this is where Mr. DHCP and Dr. DNS resided. The old hotel was so expensive only people like Howard Hughes could afford a room there – but this new, more efficient, hotel cost the same to build and maintain – and everyone could find a room that was suitable for their needs – from the odd billionaire to the business man on an overnight stay before catching a flight. It also meant we had to build fewer hotels.


The other thing we discovered was when Mr. Exchange or Miss SQL weren’t around or sleeping – as they were consuming less resources – their resources could be divvied out to the residents in the hotel to improve their experience. It would be easier to get that table in the fancy restaurant, and it was quicker to get served in the bar. Finally, the old hotel model died a swift and untimely death when the economy fell off the end of a cliff. It became increasingly regarded as a luxury no company could afford. The Hotel Virtualization model ruled the roost because it offered the most flexible model of accommodating guest operating systems with their wildly different resource demands.


Mike provides a very detailed, nice explanation, but I like Kendrick’s the best as it’s simple and easy to remember, and involves food, which is something we all can relate to. So the next time you’re in a position where you have to explain virtualization to a layman, you now have some great analogies you can use.

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