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!

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:

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(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.

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(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.

Learning from Failure – My Path to VCDX (Part II)

ICYMI, you can find Part I here.

Second Attempt – Pass!

The important decision to make whether I should wait or reapply immediately. Brett and I talked a lot about this over the two days following our results. I decided that I would shore up the gaps in our design (primarily our DR plan and the capacity planning) and reapply for the November defense. The deadline for application was Aug 24…that meant I had slightly less than two weeks to edit the design and reapply. Brett decided to wait because he had a lot of work obligations for the second half of the year. Per policy, VCDX partners can defend separately (however, must apply at the same time) but must be within two defenses of each other.

In case you did not know, a second defense on the same design requires a change log to be created. Check out Lior Kamrat’s blog post here.

In hindsight, it was a crazy move to reapply so quickly. Between application and defense in November, I had VMworld US, two Europe trips, and VMworld EU…translating to not a lot of time to prepare. But I felt like I had a better idea of what I needed to do and what the panelists wanted to see.

I talked to many VCDX candidates and VCDXs while at VMworld US and VMworld EU. I listened to all their advice and how they prepared. I’m grateful for the time that so many spent with me.

This time I decided to prepare differently. I was going to do it my way. I went into a little bit of an isolation; I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t work with as many people, I kept my group small. I just focused on working with my study group. I didn’t do as many mocks for myself (I think only two or three), but I participated in quite a few mocks as a “panelist” for others. I created flashcards for questions I thought panelists would ask. And I completely rebuilt my slide deck so that the intro (or main deck) would talk more to my requirements and constraints, as well as specifically highlight my design decisions.

I went up to Palo Alto a few days before my defense to do some mocks and study with a member of my study group. Unluckily, my defense was the morning after the US election so I stayed up later than I had planned. I went over my slide deck, slide-by-slide, with someone in my study group that night. I woke up early, flipped through my main deck one last time, and then headed to VMware’s campus. While I waited for my panel, I reviewed through my Quizlet sets one more time.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I did. I felt more comfortable in the design scenario because I did what I normally do with a client—I wasn’t so focused on following someone else’s template. In the defense section, I felt I did ok but I could tell I wasn’t doing well explaining my networking. I got a little ramble-y in that area. I think I may have made up for that in the scenario. Either way, I was convinced I’d failed again.

To VMware’s credit, they cranked out our results much quicker than in July. I defended on Wednesday and found out my results the following Tuesday. I passed! I’m officially #243.

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My Thoughts  

  • Make sure your friends and family realize how much time you’ll be dedicating to VCDX.
  • No (wo)man is an island. Surround yourself with a community of others doing the same.
  • Join a study group. Gregg Robertson runs a great one on Google+ and Slack. Join it! But then find a smaller group who are preparing to defend around the same time as you.
  • Have someone (or multiple people) review your design as you are writing it.
  • Review your design and have someone else review your design once submitted. There will be gaps and errors—-find them! Figure out how to address them in your defense.
  • Do mocks! Do more mocks!!
  • Create backup slides in your PPT for reference, but do not be afraid to whiteboard in your defense.
  • Be familiar with your slide deck. You don’t want to waste time fumbling around looking for a slide in the defense. Work out those kinks in mocks.

But you should do what feels right to you. Don’t focus on the techniques that helped others. Don’t feel the need to follow someone else’s template. Achieve VCDX your own way. Grant Orchard (#233) just wrote a brilliant post along the same lines, read it here.

Obligatory Thank You(s) 

First and foremost, I would like to thank my VCDX partner, Brett Guarino, and his wife, Leann, for putting up with us working weekends and late nights and letting me stay all of those weeks in their home in Raleigh while we worked. Thank you to Brett’s managers at VMware for letting him dedicate time to this project. I can’t wait until he gets his number.

And a massive thank you to:

Lastly, Chris Williams, thank you so much for being the only person who responded with notes when we sent our design out for review. Your time reading our design is greatly appreciated and your notes were invaluable.