February 2016 archive

Last call for blog-o-hol before Top vBlog 2016 begins

last-call-sponsors-300x133I’ve added lots of new blogs to my vLaunchpad but I’m sure there are some that I’ve missed. Every year I get emails from bloggers after the voting starts wanting to be added but once it starts its too late as it messes up the ballot. I’ve also archived a bunch of blogs that have not blogged in over a year in a special section, those archived blogs still have good content so I haven’t removed them but since they are not active they will not be on the Top vBlog ballot. In addition for the first time blogs must have at least 10 posts last year to be included on the ballot.

So if you’re not listed on the vLaunchpad, here’s your last chance to get listed. Please use this form and give me your name, blog name, blog URL, twitter handle & RSS URL. So if you haven’t submitted your blog here’s your last chance to do it so you don’t miss out on the recognition and cool commemorative coin that the top 50 blogs will receive. So hurry on up so the voting can begin, the nominations for voting categories will be opening up very soon.

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HPE snatches up one of the last remaining small backup companies

There have been a number of small backup companies that were formed years ago to fill the data protection void that was created by virtualization. Over the years many of these companies have been snatched up by larger companies and now one of the last remaining small companies has been bought out. Trilead, the creators of a popular free tool, VM Explorer was recently purchased by Hewlett Packard  Enterprise for an undisclosed amount. Before I go into that let’s take a look at the original players in that SMB backup space and look at where they are at now.

  • Vizioncore vRanger – Founded in 2002 and one of the original big 3 SMB backup products for virtualization, they were acquired by Quest Software in 2008 and then by Dell in 2012.
  • PHD Virtual – Founded in 2005 and another of the original big 3 SMB backup products, they were acquired by Unitrends in 2013.
  • Veeam Backup & Replication – Founded in 2006 and the last member of the big 3 SMB backup products, Veeam was the most successful and has grown so large they rival the big players like Symantec.
  • AppAssure – Founded in 2006 and acquired by Dell in 2012.
  • vSphere Data Protection – VMware’s foray into data protection, started life as vSphere Data Recovery (VDR) in 2009 and was a pretty limited and basic solution. VMware killed it off and replaced it with vSphere Data Protection (VDP) in 2012, VDP is based on EMC Avamar technology to provide a more robust and mature solution then VDR.

And that leaves us with Trilead which was founded in 2007, their VM Explorer product allowed you to do VM file management as well as backup and recovery of VMs. Their product started out fairly basic but has evolved a bit over the years and is very affordable (Pro Edition $790/Enterprise Edition $1460). The licensing cost is per site for use with unlimited hosts and virtual machines. They also offer a limited free edition that has been very popular. Their latest version 6.0 release added automatic backup testing, cloud backup, a new web interface as well as support for Microsoft Hyper-V 3.0.

So why did HPE snatch them up when they already have a backup product in-house, Data Protector. That surprised me at first, but when I thought about it for a while it made sense. while Data Protector is a enterprise level, very robust and highly scalable backup product, it’s a bit too complex and costly for the low-end SMB market. So it seems like rather than trying to bring Data Protector down to the low end they opted to purchase a product that is already there.

As far as I know Trilead was one of the smallest players in the SMB backup space so I’m sure the move was more about getting the Trilead intellectual property than it is about getting their customer base. It will be interesting to see what HPE does with it, I imagine at some point they will roll it into the Data Protector family name. The product should definitely get a development boost which will be good for current customers but I rather doubt that they will keep the price as cheap as it is today. The official word from HPE is below:

[important]As part of our strategic focus and investment in virtualization, HPE has acquired Trilead, a next-generation provider of VM backup software that supports both VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V. Trilead provides HPE with a virtualized environment backup platform that is highly complementary with HPE’s Data Protector suite. HPE customers can expect the same level of service and support with the enhanced capabilities that Trilead’s technology brings to our portfolio.[/important]

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Top 12 essential plug-ins every WordPress blog should have

I’ve been using WordPress to host this blog for over 5 years and I’ve found plug-ins to be an invaluable way to enhance and protect my blog. There are literally thousands of plug-ins that you can add to WordPress that cover just about any functionality that you can think of. Trying to sort through them all and find the good ones can be a challenge though. I thought I would share what I use with this blog and get feedback from other bloggers on the plug-ins that they use as well.

  • Wordfence Security – Must have plug-in to secure your WordPress blog and protect it from hackers. A Swiss army knife of plug-ins it does vulnerability scanning, user monitoring, anti-virus, firewall, high speed cache and much more. Wordfence starts by checking if your site is already infected. We do a deep server-side scan of your source code comparing it to the Official WordPress repository for core, themes and plugins. Then Wordfence secures your site and makes it up to 50 times faster
  • UpdraftPlus Backup and Restoration – Another must have plug-in to protect your valuable content via scheduled backups.UpdraftPlus simplifies backups (and restoration). Backup into the cloud (Amazon S3 (or compatible), Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace Cloud, DreamObjects, FTP, Openstack Swift, UpdraftPlus Vault and email) and restore with a single click. Backups of files and database can have separate schedules.
  • Ninja Forms – Ninja Forms is the easiest way to build any form you need for your WordPress website. No longer mess with code or worry about made-up limitations. Create the form you want, when you want with a simple drag and drop interface provided by the very powerful Ninja Forms framework.
  • TablePress – TablePress allows you to easily create and manage beautiful tables. You can embed the tables into posts, pages, or text widgets with a simple Shortcode. Table data can be edited in a speadsheet-like interface, so no coding is necessary. Tables can contain any type of data, even formulas that will be evaluated.
  • Page Links To – This plugin allows you to make a WordPress page or post link to a URL of your choosing, instead of its WordPress page or post URL. It also will redirect people who go to the old (or “normal”) URL to the new one you’ve chosen.
  • Contact Form 7 & Contact Form DB – Contact Form 7 can manage multiple contact forms, plus you can customize the form and the mail contents flexibly with simple markup. The form supports Ajax-powered submitting, CAPTCHA, Akismet spam filtering and so on. The “CFDB” plugin saves contact form submissions to your WordPress database and provides and administration page and short codes to view and display the data.
  • Captcha by BestWebSoft – The Captcha plugin adds a captcha form into web pages. This captcha can be used for login, registration, password recovery, comments forms. It protects your website from spammers by means of math logic, easily understandable by human beings. All you need is to do one of the three basic maths actions – add, subtract and multiply.
  • Jetpack by WordPress.com – Jetpack simplifies managing WordPress sites by giving you visitor stats, security services, speeding up images, and helping you get more traffic.
  • WP-Optimize – WP-Optimize is an extensive WordPress database cleanup and optimization tool. It doesn’t require PhpMyAdmin to clean and optimize your database tables.
  • WPTouch – WPtouch is a mobile plugin for WordPress that automatically adds a simple and elegant mobile theme for mobile visitors to your WordPress website. Recommended by Google, it will instantly enable a mobile-friendly version of your website that passes the Google Mobile test, and ensure your SEO rankings do not drop due to not having a mobile-friendly website.
  • W3 Total Cache – W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.
  • Yoast SEO – This plugin is written from the ground up to improve your site’s SEO on all needed aspects. While this Yoast SEO plugin goes the extra mile to take care of all the technical optimization, it first and foremost helps you write better content. Yoast SEO forces you to choose a focus keyword when you’re writing your articles, and then makes sure you use that focus keyword everywhere.
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New VMware White Paper: What’s New with VMware Virtual SAN 6.2

VMware released a new technical white paper to coincide with the announcement of VSAN 6.2, it goes into more detail on some of the new architecture features such as dedepulication, compression, erasure coding and QoS. The paper is written by Jase McCarty and Jeff Hunter from VMware and provides the missing technical details on VSAN 6.2 that you won’t find in the VMware announcements. Be sure and read my complete overview of VSAN 6.2 first and then give the technical paper a read and you’ll know everything you need to know about VSAN 6.2.

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Top vBlog 2016 requirements finalized

Based on a lot of feedback from my last post about new requirements for blogs to participate in Top vBlog I’m going to set the minimum post count to be in the voting at 10 posts for the 12 month period of 2015. Almost everyone thought 6 was too low with most saying 10-12 was just about right. So if you only had 9 or fewer posts last year you won’t be in the running for Top vBlog. You can check the post counts for all the blogs over at Andreas’s site. Based on that requirement there will only be about 200 blogs in Top vBlog this year, last year there was over 400. If you are a new blog for 2015 and you didn’t get 10 posts in let me know for special consideration.

Why I am doing this is to make the voting more fair, if you didn’t put the time in and do at least 10 posts last year you probably shouldn’t be voted as one of the Top vBlogs among all the other bloggers that did put it in alot of hard work. What usually happens each year is people are voted based on name recognition regardless of what there contributions were for the year which isn’t fair. If you ever saw the Eddie Murphy movie Distinguished Gentleman it highlights a similar pattern, the synopsis for that movie is a con man get on the election ballot using a dead Congressman’s old campaign material and runs a low budget campaign that appeals to name recognition, figuring most people do not pay much attention and simply vote for the “name you know.” He wins a slim victory and is off to Washington.

I have the vLaunchpad mostly cleaned up, I archived almost 60 blogs that have not blogged in the last year, If your blog is not listed there use this form and I’ll get it up there in the next week. The new coin design is set and being made right now and I expect to kick things off with VMTurbo as the official sponsor of Top vBlog 2016 in the next few weeks.

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What’s New in VMware VSAN 6.2

vmware-virtual-san-VMware just announced a new release of  VSAN, version 6.2 and this post will provide you with an overview of what is new in this release. Before we jump into that lets like at a brief history of VSAN so you can see how it has evolved over it’s fairly short life cycle.

  • August 2011 – VMware officially becomes a storage vendor with the release of vSphere Storage Appliance 1.0
  • August 2012 – VMware CTO Steve Herrod announces new Virtual SAN initiative as part of his VMworld keynote (47:00 mark of this recording)
  • September 2012 – VMware releases version 5.1 of their vSphere Storage Appliance
  • August 2013 – VMware unveils VSAN as part of VMworld announcements
  • September 2013 – VMware releases VSAN public beta
  • March 2014 – GA of VSAN 1.0 as part of vSphere 5.5 Update 1
  • April 2014 – VMware announces EOA of vSphere Storage Appliance
  • Feburary 2015 – VMware releases version 6.0 of VSAN as part of vSphere 6 which includes the follow enhancements: All-flash deployment model, increased scalability to 64 hosts, new on disk format, JBOD support, new vsanSparse snapshot disk type, improved fault domains and improved health monitoring. Read all about it here.
  • August 2015 – VMware releases version 6.1 of VSAN which includes the following enhancements: stretched cluster support, vSMP support, enhanced replication and support for 2-node VSAN clusters. Read all about it here.

With this 6.2 release VSAN turns 2 years old and it has come a long way in those two years. Note while VMware has announced VSAN 6.2 it is not yet available, if VMware operates in their traditional manner I suspect you will see it GA sometime in March as part of vSphere 6.0 Update 2. Let’s now dive into what’s new in VSAN version 6.2. After reading this post you should also check out VMware’s What’s New with VMware Virtual SAN 6.2 white paper for more detailed information.

VMware continues to expand the Ecosystem and tweak licensing

VMware is continually trying to expand the market for VSAN and has put a lot of effort into working with hardware partners to expand the ecosystem. You’ll notice a couple key things here that has changed some things that have held them back in the past. The first is a more flexible licensing and support model. In addition VMware is now trying to get VSAN pre-installed on server hardware to make it even easier for customers to deploy it. You’ll see support from Fujitsu, Hitachi and SuperMicro right away on this, I suspect you’ll also see Dell and Cisco at some point, don’t hold your breath for HP Enterprise to do this though.
VSAN62-1In VSAN 6.1 licensing will split into Standard and Advanced with the Advanced license getting you the ability to use the All-Flash deployment model. In VSAN 6.2 a new licensing tier is added, Enterprise which provides the ability to use Stretched Clustering and QoS (IOPS Limits). Note the new de-dupe and compression features in VSAN 6.2 are included in Advanced, also current Advanced customers are entitled to get VSAN Enterprise.

VSAN62There are more VSAN customers then ever

You would sure hope so, VMware is now claiming 3,000 VSAN customers. Back in August with the release of VSAN 6.1 they claimed 2,000 customers, so if you do the math they have added 1,000 new VSAN customers in the past 6 months. Not too bad growth but I’m sure VMware would like to see that number a lot higher after 2 years of VSAN GA. VMware is also claiming “More Customers Enable HCI with VMware HCS than Competition”, I’m not sure if I believe that claim, I wonder where they got the numbers that prove it.

VSAN62-2What’s new the quick overview

We’ll dive into these areas deeper but this gives you the quick overview of what’s new in VSAN 6.2 if you want to do the TL:DR thing. The big things are deduplication and compression,  QoS and new RAID levels.

VSAN62-3Deduplication and Compression

If you’re going to play in the storage big leagues you have to have these key features and VSAN now has them, but only on the All-Flash VSAN deployment model. This is pretty much in line with what you see in the industry as de-dupe and compression and SSDs are a perfect match so you can make more efficient use of the limited capacity of SSD drives. VMware hasn’t provided a lot of detail on how their implementation works under the covers beyond this slide but I suspect you will see a technical white paper on it at some point.

Note this deduplication is enabled at the cluster level so you can’t pick and choose what VSAN hosts it will be enabled on. While it is inline, the de-dupe operation occurs after data is written to the write cache and before it is moved to the capacity tier, compression happens right after de-dupe. VMware refers to this method as “nearline” and it allows them to be able to not waste resources trying to de-dupe “hot” data that is frequently changing. The de-dupe block size is fixed at 4KB, the storage industry block size tends to range from 4KB to 32KB with many vendors choosing greater than 4KB block sizes, 4KB is definitely a lot more granular which can result in higher de-dupe ratios.

VSAN62-dedupeDeduplication and compression are tied together with VSAN meaning they work together and you can’t just enable one or the other. Of course enabling deduplication and compression will add resource overhead to your hosts, as they are both CPU intensive operations. VMware claims it is minimal (around 5%) as they are using LZ4 compression which is designed to be extremely fast with minimal CPU overhead, but I’d like to see comparisons with this enabled and disabled to see how much impact it will be.

VSAN62-4New RAID levels

VSAN has never required the use of any hardware RAID configured on the server side, you essentially use RAID-0 (no RAID) when configuring your disks and then VSAN handles redundancy by doing it’s own RAID at the VM-level. Prior to 6.2 there was only one option for this which was essentially RAID-1 (mirroring) where whole copies of a VM are written to additional hosts for redundancy in case of a host failure. While that worked OK it consumed a lot of extra disk capacity on hosts as well as more host overhead.

With 6.2 VMware has introduced two new RAID levels, RAID-5 and RAID-6 which improves efficiency and reduces the required capacity requirements. These new RAID levels are only available on the All-Flash deployment model and can be enabled on a per VM-level. They refer to these methods as “Erasure Coding” which is different from traditional RAID in the way that data is broken up and written. Erasure coding is supposed to be more efficient than RAID when re-constructing data and has a downside that it can be more CPU intensive than RAID. These new RAID levels work much like their equivalent traditional disk RAID levels where parity data is striped across multiple hosts. In 6.2 these new RAID levels do not support stretch clustering but VMware expects to support that later on.

RAID-5 requires a minimum of 4 hosts to enable and is configured as 3+1 where parity data is written across 3 other hosts. Using RAID-5 the parity data only requires 1.33 times the additional space where as RAID-1 always consumed double additional space (2x). As a result a VM that is 20GB in size will only consume an additional 7GB on other hosts with RAID-5, with RAID-1 it would consume 20GB as you are writing an entire copy of the entire VM to other hosts.

VSAN62-5With RAID-6 you are providing additional protection by writing an additional parity block and as a result there is a 6 host minimum (4+2) and the parity data consumes only 1.5 times the additional space. This provides better protection to allow you to survive up to 2 host failures. Using RAID-6 a 20GB VM would only consume an additional 10GB of disk on other hosts, if you did this with RAID-1 it would consume an additional 40GB as you are writing two copies of the entire VM to other hosts.

VSAN62-6These RAID levels are tied to the Failures To Tolerate (FTT) setting in the VSAN configuration which specifies how many failures VSAN can tolerate before data loss occurs. When FTT is set to 1 RAID-5 is utilized and you can tolerate one host failure and not lose any data. When FTT is set to 2 RAID-6 is utilized, and you can tolerate two host failures and not lose any data. While there is a minimum  number of hosts required to use these RAID levels once you meet that number any number of hosts is supported with them. If you have less than 4 hosts in a VSAN cluster than the old RAID-1 is used.

New Software Checksum

A new software checksum has been introduced for increased resiliency that is designed to provide even better data integrity and complement hardware checksums. This will help in case data corruption occurs because of disk errors. A checksum is a calculation using a hash function that essentially takes a block of data and assigns a value to it.  A background process will use checksums to validate the integrity of data at rest by looking at disk blocks and comparing the current checksum of that block to it’s last know value which is stored in a table. If an error or mismatch occurs it will replace that block with another copy that is stored in parity on other hosts. While enabled by default at the cluster level and it can disabled on a per VM basis if needed.

VSAN62-7New Quality of Service (QoS) controls

VSAN has some new QoS controls designed to regulate storage performance within a host to protect against noisy neighbors or for anyone looking to set and manage performance SLAs on a per VM basis. The new QoS controls work via vSphere Storage Policies and allow you to set IOPS limits on VMs and virtual disks. These limits will be initially based on a 32KB block size but that will be adjustable as needed. VMware didn’t go into a lot of detail on how this all works but it seems fairly straightforward as you are just capping the amount of IOPS that a VM can consume.

VSAN62-8VSAN6.2-IOPSIPv6 Support

This one is pretty straightforward, vSphere has had IPv6 support for years, VMware has had requests for IPv6 support with VSAN and now they have it. There is support for a mixed IPv4 and IPv6 environment for migration purposes.

VSAN62-9Improved Application Support

VSAN already has pretty good application support with key apps such as Oracle and Exchange, they have extended that in 6.2 with new support for SAP and tighter integration with Horizon View. VMware is working hard to make VSAN capable of running just about any application workload.

VSAN62-10Enhanced Management and Monitoring

It’s even easier to manage and monitor VSAN in 6.2 from directly within vCenter, prior to 6.2 you had to leverage external tools such as vSAN Observer or vRealize Operations Manager to get detailed health, capacity and performance metrics. This new performance management capability is built directly into vCenter but it’s separate from the traditional performance metrics that vCenter collects and stores in it’s database. The new VSAN performance service will have it’s own separate database contained with the VSAN object store. The size of this database will be around 255GB and you can choose to protect it with either traditional mirroring (RAID 1) or using the new erasure coding methods (RAID-5 or RAID-6). By default this is not enabled to conserve host space but can be enabled if needed in the settings for VSAN.

VSAN62-11VSAN6.2-PERFNative Health Check

You no longer need to use a special Health Check Plug-in to monitor the health of VSAN. This allows you to have end to end monitoring of VSAN to quickly recognize problems and issues and resolve them. They have also improved the ability to detect and identify faults to enable better health reporting with VSAN.

VSAN62-12VSAN6.2-HEALTHAdditional Improvements

Finally there are a few minor additional improvements with VSAN in 6.2, the first one is rather interesting. VMware is introducing a new client (host) cache in VSAN 6.2 that utilizes host memory (RAM) as a dynamic read cache to help improve performance. The size of this cache will be .4% of total host memory up to a maximum size of 1GB. This is similar to what 3rd party vendors such as Pernix and Infinio do by leveraging host memory as a cache to speed up storage operations. While this new client cache is currently limited to VSAN you have to wonder if VMware will open this up in a future release to work with local VMFS datastores or SAN/NAS storage.

Another new feature is the ability to have your VM memory swap files (.vswp) use the new Sparse disk format that VMware introduced in VSAN 6.0 as a more efficient disk format. As memory over-commitment is not always used by customers this enables you to reclaim a lot of that wasted space used by vswp files that are created automatically when VMs are powered on.


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Denver VMUG coming soon – go register now

We don’t seem to have that many VMUGs in Denver as of late so when comes around you should definitely try and attend. There is an upcoming Denver VMUG on Thursday Feb. 18th from 11:00am – 3:00pm at the usual NW location of CableLabs. Sponsoring this one is the good folks from HyTrust, maker of virtualization security products and a company I know very well as I picked them as the winner of Best of VMworld many years ago. So go register and I look forward to seeing everyone there.

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vExpert class of 2016 announced – are there too many vExperts

VMW-LOGO-vEXPERT-2016-kThe annual vExpert recognition from VMware has been announced for 2016 with over 1300 people receiving the honor this year. I’m honored to be on that list again, I’ve been a recurring vExpert since the program’s inception in 2009 thanks to the efforts of John Troyer to help recognize members of the VMware community that continually give back by sharing their knowledge and experience with others. The original group was about 300 members and was mostly compromised of bloggers and VMUG leaders. The group has expanded over the years as both the number of bloggers has grown and the criteria and requirements have changed.

Personally I have always thought the group is too large and doesn’t distinguish that well based on the level of contributions. It seems like just about anyone that has a blog is included even if they only posted once or twice in a year. There are definitely people very deserving of the honor but I feel there are some people out there that start blogs just so they can get the vExpert title and they don’t put a lot of effort into it. Remember the vExpert title is not an official certification, it is simply a recognition award from VMware that validates your contributions to the VMware community. What you get from it is recognition and some other great perks like VMware licenses, beta program access, exclusive early access webinars, special events and more. Some vendors will also reward vExperts with special giveaways.

I’d like to see the bar set higher and it be a more exclusive club and/or have recognition levels like vExpert Gold/Silver/Bronze based on the level of contributions and the duration of maintaining the vExpert title. Those that have been named a vExpert every year since the beginning should also get special recognition as to keep it going year after year takes commitment and hard work. I think doing this would give the people that really deserve special recognition just that and put them in higher tier. I’ve always felt there are vExperts, and then there are vExperts, meaning I’ve always seen those that do more to earn it differently then those that do the minimum.

I also see this directly relate to blogging, there are many opportunistic bloggers out there. They see starting a blog as their path to getting something whether it be a new and better job or to get recognition for becoming a vExpert. Now there is nothing wrong with this, if someone wants to better themselves good for them. It’s not the reason I starting blogging and I know that’s true for many other bloggers. What happens too often though is they get what they want and then they dump what got them there. Just this week I removed at least 50 dead blogs from my vLaunchpad. Again there is nothing wrong with this, if that person is happy we’re they are at and doesn’t want to blog any more so be it.

The point I’m trying to make is those bloggers that stick with it year after year and publish great content should get special recognition and they do via my annual Top vBlog voting. It would be nice to see this carry over to the vExpert program, recognize those that deserve it the most instead of publishing a huge list of names with no segregation based on accomplishments. Maybe have a point system that weights accomplishments and then separating the vExperts into different tiers. Also seniority should play into it, someone who has been a vExpert for 8 years should have a higher weight then someone new to the vExpert program.

The vExpert program is a great thing to have and I appreciate VMware’s hard work and continued commitment to it. As the program continues to grow larger hopefully they can find some way to implement different levels of vExperts that I believe would make the program even more special as well as motivate people to accomplish even more instead of just doing the bare minimum. Additionally it would get those that deserve special recognition just that and give more meaning to the vExpert title.

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