Vote for your Favorite Virtualization Blog!

As a blogger, it is important to give relevant material for what readers need to do their jobs and learn a new technology. That's the objective of the Everyday Virtualization blog, as I provide the topics I deal with on a daily basis for readers.

Eric Siebert is one of my colleagues in the blogosphere. Eric runs the popular VMware vLaunchpad (VLP) site. The VLP is a great aggregate collection of blogs and virtualization links. In fact, the VLP and Twitter are the two resources I use most to keep up to date on virtualization topics.

Each year, the VLP accepts votes for the favorite blogs. The Everyday Virtualization blog is on the list with the best of them. Go to the VLP voting site and cast your vote for your favorite virtualization blogs!

Posted by Rick Vanover on 01/06/2010 at 12:47 PM3 comments


Virtualization for a 3-Year-Old?

Well, not exactly. This holiday season, virtualization saved the day for me in one regard. While virtualization is usually the modus operandi in the workplace and for most of my lab activities, I had an opportunity to use it for my family computing needs. My three-year old daughter received a gift that was an electronic reading device that hovers over a special book to interact with learning games. While the maker of the software is fine enough in the childhood education space, I don't exactly want this software installed on our home computing systems.

This is where virtualization came to the rescue. I installed the software product on a virtual machine and used Sun VirtualBox USB device filters to connect the reading device to the virtual machine. I've mentioned here before the VirtualBox is the Type 2 hypervisor that I use most. The VirtualBox USB device filters allow devices to be connected to the host system, but presented to the guest virtual machine (see Fig. 1).

DroboPro Dashboard
Figure 1.The USB device filters allow a device to be assigned from the host to the guest virtual machine. (Click image to view larger version)

The funny thing is how I explained to my daughter and wife how this works. While I was clearly more engaged with the details, things like this can help out a number of situations. This example was not wanting occasional software installed on a system, but other use cases include operating system support. Again for the home use case, my scanner only has drivers for Windows XP. The next time I need to scan a document, I'll likely set up a filter for that device and an XP system.

Have USB device filters on VirtualBox or other hypervisors helped you out? Share your story here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 01/05/2010 at 12:47 PM3 comments


vCenter Converter Gulps on Newer OSes

When VMware released ESXi, ESX, and vCenter 4 Update 1; all of the base components received an update to the popular virtualization suite. One of the driving factors of the update was support for both Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 which were released recently.

For organizations who use VMware Converter Standalone Edition, there may be an issue in certain situations on newer versions of ESX and ESXi. The current version of the standalone converter is 4.0.1 which was released on May 21, 2009. Update 1 for vSphere was released after that, and the new operating systems may not show up correctly when performing certain conversions. In particular, powered-off conversions may fail with the message shown in Fig. 1.

Test Property Pages
Figure 1. The 4.0.1 version of vCenter Converter Standalone can't process a Windows Server 2008 R2 or other newer operating system.

The workaround is simple, just change the operating system designation to a lower-family member. In this example, changing the operating system back to the non-R2 version of Windows Server 2008 allows the conversion to proceed.

For vCenter Server Installations, the 4.1.1 version of the plug-in that was issued with Update 1 seems to have similar behavior. Converting powered-off virtual machines on an ESX or ESXi host that are a newer operating system gives an "Unable to determine guest operating system" message. The resolution there is to downward configure the operating system family to Windows Server 2008 base release as well.

There various posts of messages like this in the VMware Communities, but this resolution is quick and easy for the newer operating systems.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 01/05/2010 at 12:47 PM3 comments


VirtualBox 3.1.2 Released

The VirtualBox Type 2 hypervisor has been released with a new feature: teleportation. This is a virtual machine migration technology from one host to another. VirtualBox's implementation of this is quite interesting in a number of ways:
  • This is the only Type 2 hypervisor with a live migration functionality.
  • This allows live virtual machines to cross host types (Windows, Linux, Solaris, etc.).
  • This is the third major virtualization product to offer a free live migration solution.

The 3.1.x series of VirtualBox includes other new features, including the branched snapshot feature. VirtualBox allows an unlimited number of snapshots -- at the expense of drive space -- to allow ultimate flexibility. A branched snapshot allows snapshots to be taken or restored from an existing snapshot (see Fig. 1).

VirtualBox snapshots
Figure 1.VirtualBox snapshots allow a multitude of restore options. (Click image to view larger version)

Other major updates for 3.1.x of VirtualBox include a number of enhancements for ease of use and performance. One of these is the ability to change the network type while the VM is running. This was my biggest complaint of VirtualBox, as changing from the default NAT configuration required shutting the VM down.

Additional performance improvements for 2D video and flexible CD/DVD attachment are also part of the new release. Full information on the new release can be found in the VirtualBox user manual online.

VirtualBox is the only Type 2 hypervisor that I use. While VMware products abound in the Type 2 hypervisors for server consolidation, VirtualBox is my preferred product to install on top of an operating system.

VirtualBox is a free product, and is available for download from the VirtualBox Web site.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/29/2009 at 12:47 PM4 comments


DroboPro Firmware Update Targets VMware Installations

Since the inaugural Tech Field Day, I've been focused on getting a Drobo storage device for my personal virtualization lab. When I had my previous post on considering the Drobo devices that offer iSCSI connectivity, I was secretly drooling while mine was on its way to me.

Once it arrived, I quickly set it up and got started with the DroboPro device. I'll admit, I'm a pretty cheap guy; I would have purchased the DroboElite model. For my DroboPro device, the firmware that arrived on the unit was 1.1.3. Just days after my device had shipped, Data Robotics had released the 1.1.4 firmware for the DroboPro unit.

In the Release Notes for the 1.1.4 firmware, there are specific mentions of performance improvements for VMware installations. I did a quick test with PassMark's BurnInTest software before and after the new firmware, and the improvements were definitely noticed. The 1.1.4 firmware is installed via a manual firmware upgrade. This process is documented in the manual firmware upgrade instructions document.

The DroboPro firmware updates and Drobo Dashboard software are available as downloads from the Data Robotics support site. Fig. 1 shows the Drobo Dashboard software with the updated firmware.

DroboPro Dashboard
Figure 1. The updated firmware and software versions are displayed in the Drobo Dashboard interface. (Click image to view larger version)

If you are using a DroboPro or DroboElite unit for test or tier-appropriate virtualization storage, it is worth the time to keep the firmware up to date. While the DroboElite was just released, there will likely be an update for this unit at some point as well.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/23/2009 at 12:47 PM0 comments


A Decade of Virtualization

Earlier this year, I wrote that virtualization has changed my life. I think it is also a good time to look back on how virtualization has come into my life over the years and how it has changed my life as the technologies and my exposures have developed.

2000
In 2000, I was working with a large company providing internal LAN, PC and server support. VMware Workstation came up as a really cool tool. I remember conversations like, "look at this, there is a separate BIOS contained in this file." I really didn't grasp exactly how powerful virtualization was at that point. Mostly, I used it to practice Windows NT-to-2000 migrations. In that era, it was difficult coming up with systems with enough RAM to double the workload.

2001-2007
For this block of years, I found myself becoming more and more creative with VMware virtualization products. I remember one particular requirement where VMware Workstation filled a big gap. At the time, I was working for a large supply chain automation company and our challenge was to create a demonstration system for sales. The issue was, that this mobile picking system unit only had room for one PC in the built-in chassis. The application had a client interface and a server engine that had a database. The application could not be installed on the same instance of Windows as the server due to conflicting ports. Creating a virtual machine with the server was the perfect solution. Further, with a snapshot the orders for the demonstration were always the same and repeatable.

While in this role, I also started to use VMware GSX and then VMware Server. These tools became critical to test client configurations without scores of hardware for the diverse customer base that I worked with. These configurations also extended to creating test environments before critical updates were applied to these custom software solutions.

2007 to Now
In 2007, my responsibilities shifted back to the realm of internal infrastructure. This prime time for infrastructure showed me how to solve the problem of a crowded datacenter and save thousands of dollars per server in the process. My virtualization practice has extended to many levels of datacenter server consolidation. I've learned quite a bit about shared storage and have been able to talk ROI with decision makers in organizations of many sizes.

2010 and Beyond
Virtualization isn't done yet. Not by a long shot. What will the next big step be in my virtualization ladder? Who knows. In the early part of this decade, I would have never have imagined what has transpired from the measly preview of VMware Workstation.

How has virtualization impacted your IT practice over this decade? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/22/2009 at 12:47 PM0 comments


Running ESXi from Flash Drives for Testing

ESXi allows you to boot from a very small disk requirement. This is the perfect vehicle to use in test virtualization environments to learn more about virtualization or test configurations before you roll them into production. In my private lab, I've decided to boot ESXi from a USB flash device.

For ESXi 3.5, configuring boot from USB flash was a little more work that most people would like to do. There are a number of resources on how to create the USB flash-bootable image, among the most popular being Remon Lam's post at VMinfo.nl.

With ESXi 4, we're now able to do the install from the bootable CD-ROM disk to install upon the USB flash. A few prerequisites need to be configured first, however. The primary requirement is that the USB controller on the server in question is supported as a boot device. This may be configured in the BIOS of the server in question. One of my servers in my private lab is an HP ProLiant ML 350 G5 server. This option is configured in the boot devices section of the BIOS, shown in Figure 1 below:


[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. The server BIOS will permit boot from USB flash functionality.

Different server models may have different boot behavior for USB devices, especially if multiple USB controllers are present. It may be necessary to move the USB flash drive to another interface capable of booting an image. If you want to install ESXi onto a bootable flash from the ESXi product CD, simply ensure that there are no other storage devices accessible during the installation. This includes fibre channel HBAs that may be connected to storage fabric, as well as any local drive arrays or disk on the server.

While this practice is adequate for test and lab use, it's not a production-class configuration. For diskless boot of ESXi, there are two primary options. The first is a dedicated LUN for each ESXi server. This LUN should be masked to only one host. The second is to use a built-in SD Flash to boot ESXi on the server. Newer servers have this option for virtualization-specific configurations. The HP offering (part # 580387-B21) offers a 4GB flash media for the server.

Diskless ESXi boot is nice, especially for lab configurations. Your VMFS volumes, if on local disk, will be preserved in case you need to reload the hypervisor. And thanks to VMFS-3's backward and forward version compatibility, there won't be any surprises down the way.

Are you booting ESXi from flash? What tips and tricks have you learned along the way? Share your comments below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/16/2009 at 12:47 PM2 comments


Prime Time for ESXi

I've been working with ESXi for a while in both private lab and non-production workloads. For VI3 installations, ESXi 3 was relegated to toy and science experiment levels. With vSphere, I'm putting ESXi as the single product going forward in my virtualization practice.

Before the hecklers roll in, let me first clarify a few things about ESXi.

First of all, ESXi is fully capable of all of the vCenter features that are available to ESX. This includes vMotion, HA, Fault Tolerance and DRS. These features come alive when the host is configured to use the licensing allocated from the vCenter Server. While it's true that the free edition of ESXi doesn't support the management features, it's just a licensing difference to the same product.

For new vSphere implementations, I'm starting out with ESXi in production-class workloads. Is this going to be a learning curve? Absolutely. But each of these workloads is fully covered with VMware support. Just as we learned tricks in ESX to kill orphaned virtual machines, we may have to learn tricks on ESXi.

My conservative side has arranged avenues of escape, should I change my mind. (We've never changed our mind in virtualization, now, have we?) In a licensed vSphere cluster with features like DRS and vMotion, a running virtual machine can be migrated to an ESX host from an ESXi host. The shared storage driver (VMFS), of course, is fully compatible between the two platforms. This makes for an easy host reconfiguration should that course of action be required. Even with the current sticking point of an issue that can affect ESXi hosts by not being able to update the host hypervisor, the simplicity of ESXi is welcome and clearly VMware's direction.

Thus far, it has been a very smooth transition. Waiting for vSphere Update 1 was likely a good indicator of readiness (conservative side showing through), as well as ample lab and test time. Where are you with ESXi? Share your comments below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/14/2009 at 12:47 PM0 comments


VI3 Update 5 Notes

Last week, VMware released Update 5 for VMware Infrastructure 3. This is an important update as many organizations have not yet migrated to vSphere (version 4). There are a number of new features with this release, among them:

  • Support for Intel Xeon 3400 series processors with Enhanced vMotion support.
  • Driver updates for network and host bus adapter controllers as well as some new controllers are now supported.
  • Increased guest operating system support to include Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Ubuntu 9.04 (Desktop and server).

This is on the heels of the vSphere Update 1 release that included the Windows operating system support for the recently released Microsoft products. When going about the upgrade, be sure to get vCenter upgraded first, then apply to the hosts.

I was a little surprised to see that ESX 3.5 Update 5 did not include the version 3.33 driver for vStorage VMFS when formatting VMFS volumes. VMFS versions are generally something that no one pays attention to, but it is important to know what versions are in play. ESX 3.5 Update 5 and ESXi 3.5 Update 1 still format new VMFS at version 3.31. When vSphere was released, we see the 3.33 version of the VMFS file system available on newly created VMFS volumes. VMFS is backwards and forwards compatible, so this difference is academic.

Many organizations are still on VI3 for their VMware platforms, so having continued development on the prior platform is important. VMware wants everyone to migrate to vSphere, if you haven’t noticed.

Did Update 1 seal the deal to start planning your migration to vSphere? Or is VI3 still your platform of choice? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/10/2009 at 12:47 PM3 comments


Virtualization Holiday Shopping List

As a blogger, I have a particular challenge to work with a lot of technologies that extend beyond my primary responsibility. To me, this is an opportunity to extend my skill set to many other segments of the larger IT space. To do this, I need to provide an infrastructure to support this effort in my private lab.

Currently my private lab has two servers, a handful of workstations, an ioSafe fireproof hard drive for select backups, a few networks and power protection. One is a newer HP ProLiant server and the other is an older generic server. Both are capable of running all of the virtualization platforms that make a great environment to evaluate a number of products.

Since the blogging activity has matured for me, I've made it a point to make my primary holiday gift something to boost the infrastructure in the private lab. Last year it was the newer ProLiant server. Neither of the servers have a Nehalem series processor, so one option is to get an additional server to take advantage of this new processor. The other candidate for my private lab is storage-related. I have frequently used the Openfiler as a virtual machine for much of the shared storage activities in the private lab. For most of my VMware blogging research, I take advantage of the ESX on ESX practice. But, I can not yet do that practice for Microsoft Hyper-V or Citrix XenServer.

With that, I've decided that I will be purchasing a shared storage device. Luckily, I know just what to buy. During Tech Field Day last month, I had an opportunity to see a Drobo Pro unit from Data Robotics. Select Drobo models offer iSCSI connectivity, allowing me to utilize my beloved VMFS file system.

I mentioned in an earlier blog how the Drobo would be a great device for test storage, which is where I will be doing my holiday shopping this year. That's the easy decision; now, which model should I purchase? There are two new Drobo models, one which would work for my application. The new DroboElite unit continues all of the exciting features of the product line, including BeyondRAID which allows mixed drive sizes and makes, automatic resizing of arrays and file content awareness. The DroboPro is also an option as well.
I've got some decisions to make, but am very excited to be purchasing the unit later this month. It may sound a little much for the private lab, but I take my virtualization pursuit seriously.

Are you purchasing any fun items this year to help advance your virtualization journey? Share your wish list here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/08/2009 at 12:47 PM6 comments


Add a Disk with ESXi

For ESXi installations, command-line options are available for virtualization administrators. For licensed installations with vCenter, the VI Toolkit is a very powerful interface to manage the hosts. For unmanaged (or free ESXi), there are options to manage virtual machines, the hosts and other aspects of virtualization as well.

One common task is to add an additional disk file (VMDK) to a virtual machine. While this can be done in the vSphere client, things like this can be done via the command line as well. The command we will need to perform this task is the vim-cmd series of commands for ESXi. Let's go through a common scenario of adding an additional virtual disk that is thick-provisioned to a running virtual machine:

  • Get to a command line on ESXi. You can find how to do this by reading my May 2009 How-To post.
  • Determine the vmid of the virtual machine you want to add the disk to:

    vim-cmd vmsvc/getallvms

    The result is Fig. 1.
Adding a Disk
Figure 1. In my example, the virtual machine "BEATBOX-NUEVO" will be receiving the additional VMDK and is vmid #16. (Click image to view larger version.)

  • Enter the command to add a 10 GB disk:

    vim-cmd vmsvc/device.diskadd 16 10000 scsi0 2 datastore1

This adds to vmid 16 a 10000 KB disk on the SCSI0 controller, as the second disk (there is already a disk at the 1 position), to datastore1.

Once that command is passed, the VM now has the disk attached and did not require downtime to add the additional storage.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/03/2009 at 12:47 PM4 comments


RAM Provisioning and x64 OSes

Don't get me wrong. I am really excited for the recent updates to VMware and Microsoft recently. With Windows Server 2008 R2 and VMware's vSphere Update 1 being released, this is a good time for a facelift to the modern data center.

vSphere Update 1 brings a lot of new features to the table, but Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 support are where I am focused now. What concerns me is now that Windows Server is 64-bit only (x64), we may run into higher memory provisioning scenarios. For 32-bit (x86) Windows OSes, the memory limits were a softer 4 GB for Windows Server 2003 x86 Standard Edition and select editions of the x86 Windows Server 2008 base release.

With Windows Server 2008 R2, x86 is dead in favor of x64 only. So, gone, too, is our 4 GB limit for RAM for the Standard editions of Windows Server, which, in many data centers, is the most common operating system. Now that virtualization is very comfortable in the data center, will we see a higher number of virtual machines with assignments greater than 4GB? I'm not sure, and every environment will depend on many factors.

What does this really mean? Primarily, it can be a consolidation ratio killer. In my virtualization practice, the occasional virtual machine with 4 GB of RAM was not uncommon but was definitely not the norm. If the occasional 8 or 12 GB of RAM virtual machine start to show up in the mix, I would start to get concerned about my host provisioning practice. As of late, I am sure we all have enjoyed relatively low costs for RAM in virtualization hardware, but I am not sure that will be the case forever.

For VMware environments, we still can rely on the memory management technologies such as the balloon driver and transparent page sharing. But, I don't want to rely on those as a host-provisioning practice.

How are you approaching large RAM virtual machines? Share your comments below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/01/2009 at 12:47 PM5 comments


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