Architecting a vSphere Upgrade

At the time of writing, there are 197 days left before vSphere 5.5 is end of life and no longer supported. I am currently in the middle of an architecture project at work and was reminded of the importance of upgrading — not just for the coolest new features, but for the business value in doing so.

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Last year at VMworld, I had the pleasure of presenting a session with the indomitable Melissa Palmer entitled “Upgrading to vSphere 6.5 – the VCDX Way.” We approached the question of upgrading by using architectural principles rather than clicking ‘next’ all willy-nilly.

Planning Your Upgrade

When it comes to business justification, simply saying “it’s awesome” or “latest and greatest” simply does not cut it.

Better justification is:

  • Extended lifecycle
  • Compatibility (must upgrade to ESXi 6.5 for VSAN 6.5+)
  • vCenter Server HA to ensure RTO is met for all infrastructure components
  • VM encryption to meet XYZ compliance

It is important to approach the challenge of a large-scale upgrade using a distinct methodology. Every architect has their own take on methodology, it is unique and personal to the individual but it should be repeatable. I recommend planning the upgrade project end-to-end before beginning the implementation. That includes an initial assessment (to determine new business requirements and compliance to existing requirements) as well as a post-upgrade validation (to ensure functionality and that all requirements are being met).

There are many ways to achieve a current state analysis, such as using vRealize Operations Manager, the vSphere Optimization Assessment, VMware {code} vCheck for vSphere, etc.

I tend to work through any design by walking through the conceptual model, logical design, and then physical. If you are unfamiliar with these concepts, please take a look at this post.

An example to demonstrate:

  • Conceptual –
    • Requirement: All virtual infrastructure components should be highly available.
  • Logical –
    • Design Decision: Management should be separate from production workloads.
  • Physical –
    • Design Decision: vCenter Server HA will be used and exist within the Management cluster.

However, keep in mind that this is not a journey that you may embark on solo. It is important to include members of various teams, such as networking, storage, security, etc.

Future State Design

It is important to use the current state analysis to identify the flaws in the current design or improvements that may be made. How can upgrading allow you to solve these problems? Consider the design and use of new features or products. Not every single new feature will be applicable to your current infrastructure. Keep in mind that everything is a trade off – improving security may lead to a decrease in availability or manageability.

When is it time to re-architect the infrastructure versus re-hosting?

  • Re-host – to move from one infrastructure platform to another
  • Re-architect – to redesign, make fundamental design changes

Re-hosting is effectively “lifting-and-shifting” your VMs to a newer vSphere version. I tend to lean toward re-architecting as I view upgrades as an opportunity to revisit the architecture and make improvements. I have often found myself working in a data center and wondering “why the hell did someone design and implement storage/networking/etc. that way?” Upgrades can be the time to fix it. This option may prove to be more expensive, but, it can also be the most beneficial. Now is a good time to examine the operational cost of continuing with old architectures.

Ensure to determine key success criteria before beginning the upgrade process. Doing a proof of concept for new features may prove business value. For example, if you have a test or dev cluster, perhaps upgrade it to the newest version and demo using whatever new feature to determine relevance and functionality.

Example Upgrade Plans

Rather than rehashing examples of upgrading, embedded is a copy of our slides from VMworld which contain two examples of upgrading:

  • Upgrading from vSphere 5.5 to vSphere 6.5 with NSX, vRA, and vROPs
  • Upgrading from vSphere 6.0 to vSphere 6.5 with VSAN and Horizon

These are intended to be examples to guide you through a methodology rather than something that should be copied exactly.

Happy upgrading!

Understanding Erasure Coding with Rubrik

It is imperative for any file system to be highly scalable, performant, and fault tolerant. Otherwise…why would you even bother to store data there? But realistically, achieving fault tolerance is done through data redundancy. On the flipside, the cost of redundancy is increased storage overhead. There are two possible encoding schemes for fault tolerance: triple mirroring (RF3) and erasure coding. To ensure the Scale Data Distributed Filesystem (SDFS, codenamed “Atlas”) is fault tolerant while increasing capacity and maintaining higher performance, Rubrik uses a schema called erasure coding.

Read More »

#VirtualDesignMaster Wrap-Up

Part of me feels like it flew by but then I remember the hours spent reviewing all the designs (*ahem* Adam) and then it feels like it took an eternity to get through. Admittedly, Virtual Design Master was probably one of the coolest community driven events in which I have participated. If you are unfamiliar with Virtual Design Master, I strongly encourage you to check out the site and catch up with the five seasons.Read More »

Virtual Design Master: Conceptual, Logical, Physical

This year I am honored to be one of the Virtual Design Master (vDM) judges. If you are unfamiliar with vDM, it is a technology driven reality competition that showcases virtualization community member and their talents as architects. Some competitors are seasoned architect while others are just beginning their design journey. To find out more information, please click here. One of the things that I, along with the other judges, noticed is that many of the contestants did not correctly document conceptual, logical, and physical design.

The best non-IT example that I have seen of this concept the following image:

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(Figure 1) Disclaimer: I’m not cool enough to have thought of this. I think all credit goes to @StevePantol.

The way I always describe and diagram design methodology is using the following image:

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 9.50.05 PM
(Figure 2) Mapping it all together

I will continue to refer to both images as we move forward in this post.

Conceptual

During the assess phase, the architect reaches out to the business’ key stakeholders for the project and explore what each need and want to get out of the project. The job is to identify key constraints and the business requirements that should be met for the design, deploy, and validation phases to be successful.

The assessment phase typically coincides with building the conceptual model of a design. Effectively, the conceptual model categorizes the assessment findings into requirements, constraints, assumptions, and risks categories.

For example:

 Requirements –

  1. technicloud.com should create art.
  2. The art should be durable and able to withstand years of appreciation.
  3. Art should be able to be appreciated by millions around the world.

Constraints –

  1. Art cannot be a monolithic installation piece taking up an entire floor of the museum.
  2. Art must not be so bourgeoisie that it cannot be appreciated with an untrained eye.
  3. Art must not be paint-by-numbers.

Risks –

  1. Lead IT architect at technicloud.com has no prior experience creating art.
    • Mitigation – will require art classes to be taken at local community college.
  2. Lead IT architect is left-handed which may lead to smearing of art.
    • Mitigation – IT architect will retrain as ambidextrous.

Assumptions –

  1. Art classes at community college make artists.
  2. Museum will provide security as to ensure art appreciators do not damage artwork.

As you read through the requirements and constraints, the idea of how the design should look should be getting clearer and clearer. More risks and assumptions will be added as design decisions are made and the impact is analyzed. Notice that the conceptual model was made up entirely of words? Emphasis on “concept” in the work conceptual!

Logical

Once the conceptual model is built out, the architect moves into the logical design phrase (which indicated by the arrows pointing backwards in Figure 2, demonstrating dependence on conceptual). Logical design is where the architect begins making decisions but at a higher level.

Logical art work design decisions –

  1. Art will be a painting.
  2. The painting will be of a person.
  3. The person will be a woman.

For those who are having a hard time following with the art example, a tech example would be:

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 10.27.57 PM
(Table 1) Logical design decision example

An example of what a logical diagram may look something like this:

Picture1
(Figure 3) Logical storage diagram example

Notice that this are higher level decisions and diagrams. We’re not quite to filling in the details yet when working on logical design. However, note that these design decisions should map back to the conceptual model.

Physical

Once the logical design has been mapped out, architect moves to physical design where hardware and software vendors are chosen and configuration specifications are made. Simply put, this is the phase where the details are determined.

Physical art work design decisions –

  1. The painting will be a half-length portrait.
  2. The medium will be oil on a poplar panel.
  3. The woman will have brown hair.

Once again, if you hate the Mona Lisa then the IT design decision example would be:

  1. XYZ vendor and model of storage array will be purchased.
  2. Storage policy based management will be used to place VMs on the correct storage tier.
  3. Tier-1 LUNs will be replicated hourly.

These are physical design decisions, which directly correlate and extend the logical design decisions with more information. But, again, at the end of the day, this should all tie back to meeting the business requirements.

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 10.32.54 PM
(Table 2) Physical design decision example

An example of a physical design would be something like:

phys
(Figure 4) Physical storage diagram example

Notice that in this diagram, we’re starting to see more details: vendor, model, how things are connected, etc. Remember that physical should expand on logical design decisions and fill in the blanks. At the end of the day, both logical and physical design decisions should map back to meeting the business requirements set forth in the conceptual model (as evidenced by Figure 2).

Final Thoughts

Being able to quickly and easily distinguish takes time and practice. I am hoping this clarifies some of the mystery and confusion surrounding this idea. Looking forward to seeing more vDM submissions next week.