September 2015 archive

Want to learn more about VMware Virtual Volumes (VVols), here’s 3 great sessions to help you

VMware recently released about 50 VMworld 2015 sessions to the general public and within those there are 3 great sessions on VVols that will help you better understand the architecture and what VVols is all about. The sessions are all pretty technical which is good, one is from VMware and two of them are from storage partners (one of them is mine!).

The first session features Ken Werneburg and Patrick Dirks from VMware, Ken is a storage technical marketing guy and Patrick is on the engineering side so their is a lot of great technical deep dive content on VVols in this session.

STO4649 – Virtual Volumes Technical Deep Dive (Ken Werneburg, VMware – Patrick Dirks, VMware)

The second session features Andy Banta from SolidFire along with Ken Werneburg from VMware, it has a lot of cool real world analogies that explain how the components in VVols work.

STO5074 – Explaining Advanced Virtual Volumes Configurations (Ken Werneburg, VMware – Andy Banta, SolidFire)

The final session is mine and covers a wide range of topics on VVols including the architecture, benefits, migration, VAAI, implementation, thin provisioning and snapshots, backups and much more.

STO5888 – Top 10 Thing You MUST Know Before Implementing Virtual Volumes (Eric Siebert, HP)

And if after watching these you want to learn even more about VVols check out my huge Virtual Volumes link collection which also features links specific to each vendor.


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Another new vChat episode recorded live from VMworld!

While at VMworld 2015, David, Simon and I managed to get together and record a new vChat episode where we talked about what was happening at the event. We recorded it in a secret recording studio deep under the Mosser hotel, it might look like we were in a data center but we recorded in front of a green screen and Simon added the backdrop in afterwards. So give it a watch and look for more episodes coming soon! You can also read my thoughts and observations on VMworld here.

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VMware releases another batch of Free VMworld 2015 session recordings

I posted last week about the VMworld 2015 session recordings that VMware released for free to the general public (non-attendees) via their YouTube channel. VMware has just published another batch bringing the total sessions released up to 54 so I have updated my previous post to add the new sessions in. The sessions span many different tracks but if you look at the topics and speakers you will see that the free sessions are mainly composed of the following:

  • Mostly VMware speakers, however there are a small amount of vendor sessions (I’m one of them!)
  • Lots of VDI sessions, VMware wants more people doing VDI so they historically release many VDI sessions
  • Sessions that target specific technologies that VMware wants to promote like VSAN, VVols and NSX
  • Some of the most popular and well attended sessions

Traditionally VMware releases around this number of free sessions each year with the rest only accessible by paid attendees or through other avenues. As a result this is probably the last batch of free sessions that we will see until next VMworld when VMware releases all the prior year sessions for free. I’ve highlighted below a few of the free sessions that look good (of course a shameless plug for my VVols session) and may interest you:

Click here to view the full list of all free VMworld 2015 sessions sorted by track

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vSphere 5.5 Update 3 now available

Hot on the heels of the vSphere 6.0 Update 1 release last week, VMware today released vSphere 5.5 Update 3 that has some new stuff in it and the usual fixes and enhancements. With vSphere 6.0 being out for over a year now I’m willing to bet this will be the last big update that you’ll see to vSphere 5.5.

This release of VMware ESXi contains the following enhancements:

  • Log Rotation Enablement – Log rotation for vmx files allows you to reduce the log file sizes by specifying the size of each log and the number of previous logs to keep.
  • Certification of PVSCSI Adapter – PVSCSI adapter is certified for use with MSCS, core clustering and applications including SQL and Exchange. This creates performance gains when moving from LSI Logic SAS to PVSCSI.
  • Support for Next Generation Processors – In this release we will continue our support for next generation processors from Intel and AMD. Please see the VMware Compatibility Guide for more info.
  • ESXi Authentication for Active Directory – ESXi is modified to only support AES256-CTS/AES128-CTS/RC4-HMAC encryption for Kerberos communication between ESXi and Active Directory.

What’s New in vCenter Server:

  • vCenter Server database support: vCenter Server now supports the following external databases: Oracle 12c R1 P2 (, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Service Pack 2, Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 3
  • Increased guest operating system support: vCenter Server has added support for the following guest operating systems: CentOS 7.0,
    Oracle Linux 7.0, Ubuntu 14.10, Windows 10, RHEL 6.6, RHEL 7 .1, CentOS 7.1, Oracle Linux 7.1
  • Features Added: Log information of files uploaded and downloaded from a host using vSphere Web Client or vSphere Client are stored. For more details see KB 2117341
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New Virtual Volumes (VVols) technical papers from VMware

VMware has recently published 3 new technical papers that focus on their new Virtual Volumes (VVols) storage architecture that are definitely worth a read.

The first is a FAQ which does a good job summarizing important information around VVols and provides you a lot of quick facts around the architecture and implementation of VVols.

The next is a What’s New paper for Virtual Volumes, this one is about 6 months late as their is nothing new with VVols since the initial release in vSphere 6.0 in March but better late than never. This one is more a general tech paper on VVols and does an introduction to VVols and also covers the architecture and benefits of VVols.

The last one is a Getting Started Guide and is a walkthrough of how to use VVols from a vSphere perspective which covers things like how to make sure time is synced, creating a Storage Container, working with Storage Policies and assigning them to VMs. It’s designed to be used together with your array documentation that should cover the array side setup for VVols. The guide also covers some vSphere CLI commands for managing VVols components using escli.

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How VMware Virtual Volumes (VVols) will impact your backups

As I’ve been learning more and more about VMware Virtual Volumes and the impact that it will have on everyday storage operations in vSphere one thing that I’ve been trying to find out is the impact that VVols will have on backups. In this post I’ll focus on 2 areas related to backups in a VVol environment: backup transport mechanisms and backup snapshots.

How VVols impacts backup transport methods

There are several methods that you can use to backup your virtual machine using software from vendors like Veeam, Unitrends and Symantec. The first is the traditional method, backing up using an agent inside the guest OS, this one is generally not recommended as it is not very efficient in a virtual environment. The next is the Hot Add method, this essentially allows a VM running backup software to hot add another VM’s virtual disk to it so it can be backed up without impacting the VM. This allows the backup VM to have direct access to the virtual disk to back it up. Then there is the LAN (NBD) method where a ESXi host reads VM data from storage and sends it across a network to the backup server, this method uses the network stack instead of the storage stack so it not as efficient.

Finally there is the Direct to SAN method, this method requires a backup application or proxy running on a physical server that has direct access to your SAN where your VMFS datastores reside as shown below.

san-mode-1This is the fastest and most efficient method as it does not consume host resources and is the shortest path for the backup server to access VM virtual disks to back them up. How VVols impacts this is that the Direct to SAN method is not supported with VVol-based VM’s. Where VMFS-based VM’s could be accessed directly by a physical backup server using the vSphere APIs and VMware’s Virtual Disk Development Kit (VDDK), VVols-based VM cannot be accessed this way.

The reason for this is that with VVols, VM’s do not reside on LUNs with a file system over-layed (VMFS), instead VM’s are packaged into VVols and stored directly on a storage array inside Storage Containers (logical entity). VM’s are then accessed by ESXi hosts via a Protocol Endpoint that resides within the array, the PE is essentially a special LUN that has conglomerate status (admin LUN). The PE then binds VVols to a host using secondary LUN IDs (sub-LUNs) that are assigned to each VVol and reported back to a ESXi host via the VASA Provider as shown below.

VVol-PEAs a result of this new architecture it is no longer possible for a physical server to directly connect to a VVol Storage Container to access VMs which is why the Direct to SAN architecture is not supported with VVols. VMware may create some additional APIs to allow this direct access in the future, the physical backup server would essentially need a way to communicate directly with the Protocol Endpoint and the VASA Provider to interact with the VVols in the Storage Container directly. So why you can’t use this backup method with VVols, the other backup methods are still supported, you can read more about the backup methods in the Virtual Disk Programming Guide (pages 23-26).

How VVols impacts backup snapshots

Before a virtual machine can be backed up using the methods described a snapshot must be taken of a VM in vSphere. Doing this allows the VM to be frozen at a point of time so it can be backed up without any changes (writes) occurring while the backup process completes. Once a backup is finished the snapshot is discarded, this process (creation/deletion of snapshot) is controlled by the backup application at the beginning and at the end of the VM backup.

What happens when you take a VM snapshot in vSphere is the VM is briefly stunned and a separate delta virtual disk is created that contain any disk writes that might occur within the VM while the snapshot is active. The original virtual disk remains Read Only and all new writes that occur while the snapshot is running are deflected to the delta virtual which is Read-Write. If an additional snapshot is taken then the previous snapshot becomes Read Only and a new delta virtual disk is created that becomes Read-Write. Once you no longer need a snapshot and it is deleted all of the changes that occurred while the snapshot was active need to be merged back (committed) into the original virtual disk from the delta virtual disk. Once all that operation completes the delta virtual disk files that were created are then deleted and the original disk becomes Read-Write again.

This commit process can be time consuming based on how long a snapshot is active and the amount of writes that occur while it is active. If you have a very write intensive application running inside the VM and the snapshot is active for a long time (days/weeks) the commit process can take hours to complete.

With VVols the whole VM snapshot process changes dramatically, a snapshot taken in vSphere is not performed by vSphere but instead created and managed on the storage array. The process is similar in the fact that separate delta files are still created but the files are VVol snapshots that are array-based and more importantly what happens while they are active is reversed. When a snapshot of a VM on VVol-based storage is initiated in vSphere a delta VVol is created for each virtual disk that a VM has but the original disk remains Read-Write and instead the delta VVols contain any disk blocks that were changed while the snapshot is running. The delta VVols are all Read-Only as they are simply storing changed disk blocks while the original disk remains Read-Write as illustrated in the short video below.

Now the big change occurs when we delete a snapshot, with VVols because the original disk is Read-Write, we can simply discard the delta VVols and there is no data to commit back into the original disk. This process can take milliseconds compared to minutes or hours that is needed to commit a snapshot on VMFS datastores. How does this impact your backups? Because we have to take a VM snapshot of a VM, the backup application no longer has to sit around waiting at the end of the backup for any changes to commit while the snapshot is deleted. Depending on the size of your VM and how much change that occurs within the VM while the backup is running with VVols this can reduce your backup times from seconds to minutes or more per VM, multiply this times dozens or hundreds of VMs and you can really reduce your backup window by a good amount of time.

To validate this Symantec has done some testing by doing some benchmarking that compares a group of VMs being backed up on a VMFS datastore versus the same VMs being backed up on a VVol Storage Container. The following information is a summary of their results from the VMworld session that they presented on this topic (STO5844 – Benchmark Testing: Making Backups Better Than Ever Using Virtual Volumes).

Their environment consisted of NetBackup 7.7 with a 3PAR 7200c storage array that had 24 1.2TB 10K disks. They did a comparison using 60 VMs with 100GB virtual disks and 40 of them powered on. They did simulate a 10% data change rate inside the VM while the backup is running and they first tested with VMFS and then wiped out the array and configured it for VVols. Their testing focused on the amount of time it took to create VM snapshots when the backups are started and the time it took to delete and consolidate them when the backup is finished.

From their testing they found that overall backup times were reduced by around 30% as seen below on the slides from their VMworld session. They found out that snapshot creation time took a few seconds longer with a VVol-based snapshot, but the snapshot deletion time was dramatically reduced. They tested this using different numbers of simultaneously running backups with consistent results. They also found that snapshot errors that sometimes occur during the delete process were virtually eliminated. The net effect of this much improved snapshot mechanism with VVols can amount to a much more efficient and shorter backup operation.


Source: Symantec, VMworld 2015 session ID STO5844

Looking beyond backups the new VVol-based snapshot mechanism will be a great time and resource saver in any vSphere environment. Of all the VM snapshots that we take for whatever reason, how many do we actually use to revert back to a point in time, very few I would say. Typically we are creating VM snapshots for insurance purposes and never really end up using them.  Not having that long resource intensive commit process running on your ESXi host as well as the extra resource consumption required to maintain snapshots on VMFS means less burden on the host and more resources for your VM workloads. The storage array is much better equipped to do snapshots and the shift to move them off the host and to the storage array with VVols is a great benefit not just for backups but also for any use case that you might use snapshots for in your vSphere environment.

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vSphere 6.0 Update 1 now available

VMware has just released an incremental update to vSphere (vCenter Server and ESXi) which is 6.0 Update 1 as well as updates to vSphere Replication (6.1), Data Protection (6.1), Site Recovery Manager (6.1) and  vRealize Orchestrator Appliance (6.0.3). I don’t know why they are versioning everything else as 6.1 and vCenter Server and ESXi as 6.0 U1. They have been referring to the new VSAN version as 6.1 so it would be logical if ESXi and vCenter Server were 6.1 as well, now it looks like they are calling it VSAN 6.0.1

This may look like a minor and incremental upgrade which it mostly is but their are some big new features in VSAN 6.1 which they don’t do it justice in the release notes, read all about what’s new in VSAN 6.1 here. Almost all the product updates in this release center around the new VSAN 6.1 version which is included in it. There are some big updates in SRM with support for Storage Policy Based Management (SPBM) and stretched clusters and vSphere Replication also has a new and improved 5 minute RPO replication with VSAN. The other big thing is support for VAIO in ESXi, I don’t see a lot of vendors integrating with this new APIs yet but I know there are some that are working on it such as Infinio and SanDisk (design partner).

This release of VMware ESXi contains the following enhancements:

  • I/O Filter: vSphere APIs for I/O Filtering (VAIO) provide a framework that allows third parties to create software components called I/O filters. The filters can be installed on ESXi hosts and can offer additional data services to virtual machines by processing I/O requests that move between the guest operating system of a virtual machine and virtual disks.
  • Exclusive affinity to additional system contexts associated with a low-latency VM: This release introduces a new VMX option sched.cpu.latencySensitivity.sysContexts to address issues on vSphere 6.0 where most system contexts are still worldlets. The Scheduler utilizes the sched.cpu.latencySensitivity.sysContexts option for each virtual machine to automatically identify a set of system contexts that might be involved in the latency-sensitive workloads. For each of these system contexts, exclusive affinity to one dedicated physical core is provided. The VMX option sched.cpu.latencySensitivity.sysContexts denotes how many exclusive cores a low-latency VM can get for the system contexts.
  • ESXi Authentication for Active Directory:ESXi is modified to only support AES256-CTS/AES128-CTS/RC4-HMAC encryption for Kerberos communication between ESXi and Active Directory.
  • Support for SSLv3: Support for SSLv3 has been disabled by default. For further details, see Knowledge Base article 2121021.
  • Stretched Clusters: Virtual SAN 6.0 Update 1 supports stretched clusters that span geographic locations to protect data from site failures or loss of network connection.

This release of VMware vCenter Server contains the following enhancements:

  • Customer Experience Improvement Program: The Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) provides VMware with information that enables VMware to improve the VMware products and services and to fix problems. When you choose to participate in CEIP, VMware will collect technical information listed below about your use of the VMware products and services in CEIP reports on a regular basis. This information does not personally identify you. For more details, see the vSphere Documentation Center.
  • Feature Enhancement: Suite UI is now enabled by default for the vSphere Web Client.
  • Support for SSLv3: Support for SSLv3 has been disabled by default.
  • vCSA Authentication for Active Directory: VMware vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (vCSA) has been modified to only support AES256-CTS/AES128-CTS/RC4-HMAC encryption for Kerberos authentication between vCSA and Active Directory.
  • Installation and Upgrade using HTML 5 installer: The following installation and upgrade scenarios are supported for vCenter Server using HTML 5 installer:
    • Installation using HTML 5 installer and target as vCenter Server is supported
    • Upgrade using HTML 5 installer and target as vCenter Server is not supported
    • Upgrade using command line and target as vCenter Server is supported
  • Resolved Issues: This release of vCenter Server 6.0 Update 1 addresses issues that have been documented in the Resolved Issues section.

VMware Site Recovery Manager 6.1 provides the following new features:

  • Support for VMware vSphere 6.0 update 1.
  • Storage policy based protection of virtual machines.
  • Support for stretched storage when using storage policy protection groups in enhanced linked mode.
  • Support for auto-mapping of stretched NSX networks.
  • Enhancements to mappings for test networks.

VMware vSphere Replication 6.1 provides the following new features:

  • 5 minute Recovery Point Objective (RPO) for replication between Virtual SAN data stores – This version of vSphere Replication allows customers to replicate virtual machine workloads with an RPO setting as low as 5 minutes between Virtual SAN data stores.
  • Support for NFS v 4.1 – This release introduces support for NFS v 4.1 data stores. It allows customers to protect and recover virtual machines that are provisioned onto NFS v 4.1 environments using vSphere Replication.
  • UI Enhancements – the RPO settings in the Configure Replication wizard are simplified and provide more granular options of predefined RPO settings.
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Watch any VMworld US 2015 session right now via the mobile app

VMware has not released the session recordings yet on their website so registered attendees can watch them from a PC, if you go the page for session playback on the website they only have up to 2014 listed there. I tried changing the 2014 URL to 2015 but the page is not found so I suspect they are still working on getting that page created or are waiting until after VMworld in Barcelona to end to post them. However if you have the VMworld 2015 mobile app on your tablet or phone you can access all of the session recordings right now.

Just load the app and login to it (must be a registered attendee) and then click the Videos link in the menu sidebar. You’ll then see all the sessions listed alphabetically for you to choose from. One thing to note is that the VMworld app only supports portrait viewing of the videos so if you rotate your device to landscape it won’t switch to it and you are stuck watching it in portrait which can be fairly small on a phone. However if you hit the upper arrow button when the app is playing it will open in a browser which will rotate to landscape mode (lower arrow button expands it in the app which is still portrait).

vmw-pano2Now once in the browser you will see the direct URL for the video which is hosted on, you might be tempted to try opening that URL on a PC so you can watch it there.

Screenshot_2015-09-09-20-09-01-small-4However you will be prompted for credentials from if you do that and your VMworld login won’t work so you can’t watch it that way. I’m guessing they hard-coded some credentials in the app that has access to the videos on so you’ll just have to wait until they post them on the page to watch them from a PC (or download BlueStacks).



It looks like you can also do this if you go to the VMworld Content Catalog and click on a session, there will be a Media link on the right sidebar to playback the session.


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