DNS Resolution for ESXi Hosts

DNS has always been a critical component or VMware server-based virtualization. When an ESX or ESXi cluster came into the mix, its criticality increased exponentially. One of the big differences between and ESX and an ESXi installation is the hostname. ESX will prompt it during the installation, where ESXi does a self-resolution to define its hostname.

Given that ESXi is now confirmed to be the hypervisor of the future, it good times to ensure the basics are in good order.

This is the reason why if an ESXi host boots up and displays "localhost" on the direct console user interface or DCUI (which, by the way is the official name of the yellow and grey screen); that means that the ESXi host as it is cannot resolve its name. There are a few considerations to configuring the host, however. Primarily, how is the host configured with IP addressing and DNS suffixes within the vSphere Client or via a host profile or installation script?

Fig. 1 shows a host that is correctly resolving its IP address to a DNS name in the zone that is configured. The host assigns its addresses via DHCP through a static reservation for the primary MAC address of a virtual switch with two vmnic interfaces assigned to it. Most production environments will not use DHCP, however.

ESXi host has correctly resolved its name

Figure 1. When a name other than localhost is shown, the ESXi host has correctly resolved its name. (Click image to view larger version.)

The fact that the hostname can't be specified in the ESXi installation is also confirmed in the vSphere Client (see Fig. 2).

DNS server configuration permits hostname resolution

Figure 2. The vSphere Client doesn't permit for the name of the ESXi host to be changed. Rather the DNS server configuration, which permits hostname resolution. (Click image to view larger version.)

DNS will continue to be a critical piece of the virtualized infrastructure, yet it is in a way made simpler by ESXi's configuration for the host names.

What tricks have you employed to configure DNS for ESXi hosts? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/07/2010 at 12:48 PM3 comments

Changing the Name of the vCenter Server

I can come up with plenty of reasons why you'd want to change the computer name of the vCenter Server, but too many times it seems too spooky to do so. While VMware has a few KB articles on fixing specific issues, such as this one for a registry value; there's no good comprehensive guide for the name change issue. Changing the name involves quite a few steps, so I've collected them here:

Rename the Windows Server: This is the easy part and is no different than renaming any other Windows system.

Correct registry value: In the linked KB article, the "VCInstanceID" value needs the new fully qualified domain name for the server running vCenter.

Database: If the SQL Express database is used and it connects as "Localhost" within ODBC, chances are everything is fine. If the SQL database server is remote, again it should be fine. But it may be worth a call to VMware Support to ensure that you don't encounter any surprises.

Runtime Server Name: This vCenter Server Settings value will need to reflect the new name; ironically, the setting will display as the previous name, even though you are connecting to and running as a new name (see Fig. 1).

The vCenter Server Name specified in this dialog

Figure 1. The vCenter Server Name is specified in this section of the vSphere Client. (Click image to view larger version.)

Advanced Server Settings: The vCenter Server Settings options have two http paths for the SDK and WebServices interfaces. Those are not changed from the previous steps, and should be changed to reflect the new name (see Fig. 2).

Two http interfaces into vCenter need to be changed to reflect the new server name

Figure 2. Two http interfaces into vCenter need to be changed to reflect the new server name. (Click image to view larger version.)

DNS: There are no surprises that vCenter uses DNS to function correctly. I wouldn't recommend a manually created DNS CNAME record to point the old server name to the new computer name. But if all else fails, this may be a more attractive option than to rename back to the old name. Also make sure the ESX(i) hosts can successfully resolve the new vCenter Server host name.

Any Third-Party Applications: Anything such as a backup or monitoring solution that plugs into the vCenter Server will need to be reconfigured with the new name.

Overall, the process isn't that tough;, but it can be daunting. I recommend going through it on a test environment configured as similar to your production systems as possible first.

Do you have any other steps on this process to add to the checklist? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 12/02/2010 at 12:48 PM4 comments

Removing Floppy Drives with PowerCLI

The virtual machine floppy drive is one of those things that I'd rate as somewhere in the "stupid default" configuration bucket. In my virtualization practice, I very rarely use it, and so I add it as needed. While it is not a device that is supported as a hot-add hardware component, that inconvenience can be easily accepted for the unlikely event that it will be needed. The floppy drive can be removed quite easily with PowerCLI.

To remove a floppy drive, the vSphere virtual machine needs to be powered off. This is easy enough to automate with a scheduled task in the operating system. For Windows systems, the "shutdown" command can be configured as a one-time scheduled task to get the virtual machine powered off. Once the virtual machine is powered off, the Remove-FloppyDrive Cmdlet can be utilized to remove the device.

Remove-FloppyDrive works in conjunction with the Get-FloppyDrive, which retrieves the device from the virtual machine. This means that Remove-FloppyDrive can't, by itself, remove the device from a virtual machine. The Get-FloppyDrive Cmdlet needs to pass it to the Remove-FloppyDrive command. This means a simple two-line PowerCLI script will need to accomplish the task. Here's the script to remove the floppy drive for a virtual machine named VVMDEVSERVER0006:

$VMtoRemoveFloppy = Get-FloppyDrive -VM VVMDEVSERVER0006 Remove-FloppyDrive -Floppy $VMtoRemoveFloppy -Confirm:$false

This is done with the "-Confirm:$false" option to forego being prompted to confirm the task in PowerCLI. Fig. 1 shows this script being called and executed to the vCenter Server through PowerCLI.

Removing floppy drive with  the PowerCLI

Figure 1. The PowerCLI command reconfigures the virtual machine to remove the floppy drive. (Click image to view larger version.)

This can be automated with PowerShell as a scheduled task, and used in conjunction with the Start-VM command to get the virtual machine back online if the tasks are all sequential in a period of scheduled downtime.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 11/22/2010 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Religious Issue #3: Reinstall ESXi with Hardware Installations?

In the course of an ESXi (or ESX) server's lifecycle, you may find that you need to add hardware internally to the server. Adding RAM or processors is not that big of a deal (of course you would want to run a burn-in test), but adding host bus adapters or network interface controllers comes with additional considerations.

The guiding principle is to put every controller in the same slot on each server. That way, you'll be assured that the vmhba or vmnic enumeration performs the same on each host. Here's why it's critical: If the third NIC on one host is not the same as the third NIC on another, configuration policies such as a host profile may behave unexpectedly. The same goes for storage controllers: If each vmhba is cabled to a certain storage fabric, they need to be enumerated the same.

When I've added NICs and HBAs to hosts, I've also reinstalled ESXi. Doing so, though, has its pros and cons.


  • Ensures the complete hardware inventory is enumerated on the installation the same way.
  • Cleans out any configurations that you may not want on the ESXi host.
  • Is a good opportunity to update BIOS and firmware levels on the host.
  • Reconfiguration is minimal with host profiles.


  • May require more reconfiguration of multipath policies, virtual switching configuration and any advanced options if host profiles are not in use.
  • Additional work.
  • Very low risk that the vmhba and vmnic interface enumeration is not the same as the install or the other hosts.

I've done both, but more often I've reinstalled ESXi.

What is your take on adding hardware to ESXi hosts? Reinstall or not? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 11/18/2010 at 12:48 PM3 comments

Setting VM Attributes with vSphere PowerCLI

The vSphere annotation field is one of the most versatile tools to put basic information for the virtual machine right where it is needed most. If you are like me, you may change your mind on one or more things in your environment from time to time. Administrators can create annotations for the virtual machines, but need to be careful not to dilute the value of the annotation by creating too many values. Among the most critical attributes I like to see in the virtual machine summary is an indicator of its backup status, development or production status, or some business-specific information.

Annotating VMs

Figure 1. The annotation, in bold, is a global field for all VMs while the Notes section is per-VM. (Click image to view larger version.)

Using PowerCLI, we can make easy work of setting an annotation for all virtual machines. I'll take a relatively easy example of setting all virtual machines to have a value for the newly created ServiceCategory annotation.

For a given virtual machine inventory, let's assume that the virtual machine name indicates where it is production or some other state. If the string "PRD" exists in the name, it is a Production virtual machine; "TST" is Test and User Acceptance. Finally, "DEV" tells us it's a Development VM.

Using three quick one-liners, we can assign each virtual machine a value based on that logic:

Get-Vm -name *DEV* | Set-CustomField -Name "ServiceCategory" -Value "Development"
Get-Vm -name *PRD* | Set-CustomField -Name "ServiceCategory" -Value "Production"
Get-Vm -name *TST* | Set-CustomField -Name "ServiceCategory" -Value "Test and User Acceptance"

Implementing this in PowerCLI is also just as quick (see Fig. 2).

Taking, ahem, command of the annotation via the PowerCLI

Figure 2. The PowerCLI command will issue the annotation to multiple virtual machines in a quick iteration. (Click image to view larger version.)

Using the Get-VM command, additional features such as reading a list from a text file can be used as well as many other interpretive parameters.

Do you deploy virtual machine annotations via PowerCLI? If so, share your comments here and some of your most frequently used fields for each virtual machine.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 11/16/2010 at 12:48 PM1 comments

Religious Issue #4: Number of VMs Per Volume

I am not sure if I'm being increasingly brave here, but I'll say that I was inspired to weigh in with my comments on the contentious issue regarding the number of virtual machines per volume. It's good timing too. Recently, I just came across another great post by Scott Drummonds in his Pivot Point blog, Storage Consolidation (or: How Many VMDKs Per Volume?).

Scott probes the age-old question: how many virtual machines do we put per datastore? The catch-all answer of course is, "It depends."

One factor that I think is critical to how this question is approached and isn't entirely addressed in Scott's post is the "natural" datastore size that makes sense from the storage processor. Most storage controllers in the modular storage space have a number of options in how to determine the best size of a logical unit number (LUN) to present to the vSphere environment.

The de-facto standard is often 2 TB as a common maximum, but there are times when smaller sizes make more sense. Take into account other factors such as storage tiers, hard drive sizes, RAID levels and number of hard drives in an array; and 2 TB may not be the magic number for a datastore size. Larger storage systems can provision a LUN as a datastore across a high number of disks and can be totally abstracted from these details, making the comfortable LUN size something smaller, such as 500 GB or even less.

Scott also mentions cautioned use of a configuration command to increase the queue length for a datastore from the default value of 32. I mentioned this value in a previous post (see On the Prowl for vSphere Performance Tweaks). Like Scott, I issue caution and testing to see if it make sense for each environment. The simple example is, if there will be a small number of datastores, this command makes perfect sense. But if the vSphere environment would be highly consolidated (i.e. 60 or more virtual machines per host) across a high number of datastores (i.e. 60 or more separate datastores), the risk of the microburst phenomena may be introduced. There is no defined threshold of virtual machines or datastores, and this example (60) isn't even that extreme any more.

My general practice is to put lightweight virtual machines in the 25 or less range per 2 TB datastore for lower tiers of storage. These workloads are the basic applications that we all have and hate; yet don't really require much in terms of throughput or storage requirements. I utilize all of the good stuff such as thin provisioning and would like to always keep headroom of about 40-50 percent free space on the datastore.

For the larger virtual machines, I usually go the datastore-per-VM or datastore-per-few-VMs approach on higher tiers of storage. I'll still utilize thin provisioning, but with a smaller amount of virtual machines per datastore the free space is kept at a minimum, as usually these applications have a more defined growth requirement.

I've always thought that capacity planning (and I'd lump this into a form of capacity planning) takes a certain amount of swagger and finesse. Further, this isn't always compiled of discreet information from application requirements, storage details and a clear roadmap for growth. But we all have that clearly spelled out for us, right?

Posted by Rick Vanover on 11/09/2010 at 12:48 PM2 comments

Journey to 8 Virtual Symmetric Multiprocessors

In my virtualization journey, I frequently find storage and memory as the most contended resources. This contention is usually based around memory growth by newer OSes and everyone wants more storage that performs faster. With vSphere, we now can assign eight virtual symmetric multiprocessors (vSMP) to a single virtual machine. This is available only for the Enterprise Plus offering (see last week's post), as all other editions limit a virtual machine to four vSMP.

Straight out of the box, that means that a virtual machine can be configured with eight vSMP but not used in the most typical situation. This is presented as eight processors (sockets) at one core each. In the Windows world, we have to be careful. If the server operating system is the Standard edition, it is limited to four sockets. See the Windows 2008 edition comparison, where each edition's capabilities are highlighted. If we have a Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard edition server with eight vSMP, it will only recognize four of them within the operating system.

This means that if ESXi is installed on a host system with two sockets (with four cores each) and licensed at Enterprise Plus with a Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard edition guest virtual machine provisioned with eight vSMP, it will only see four vSMP. Flip that over, and if Windows Standard Edition is installed directly on that server without virtualization, the operating system will see all eight cores.

The solution is to install a custom value in the virtual machine configuration that presents the vSMP allocation as number of cores per socket. This is the cpuid.coresPerSocket value, and values such as two, four or eight are safe entries. Figure 1 shows this configured on a vSphere 4.1 virtual machine.

I see more than 4...

Figure 1. Adding a configuration value to the virtual machine will enable Windows Server Standard Editions to see more than four processors by presenting cores to the guest. (Click image to view larger version.)

vSphere 4.1 now supports this feature and it is explained in KB 1010184. Consider the licensing and support requirements of this value, as I can't make a broad recommendation but can say that it works. Duncan Epping (of course!) had posted about this feature last year and explained that it was an unsupported capability of the base release of vSphere. Now that it part of the mainstream offering for vSphere, it is clear to use.

From a virtual machine provisioning standpoint, I'd still recommend that this would be used exclusively on an as-needed basis. Have you used this value yet? If so, share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 11/04/2010 at 12:48 PM7 comments

Religious Issue #5: Application Design

When it comes to providing a virtualized platform for servers, we always need to consider the application. In my experience, I’ve been on each end of the spectrum in terms of designing the application and the impact it brings to the virtualized platform.

One of the options we’ve always had is to have an application that is designed with redundancy built-in. These are the best, as you can meet so many objectives without going through major circus acts on the infrastructure side. Key considerations such as scaling, disaster recovery, separating zones of failure and test environments can be built-in if the right questions are asked. This can usually come with the help of technologies such as load balancers, virtual IP addresses or DNS finesse.

The issue becomes how clear do the benefits need to be before a robust application coupled with an agile infrastructure is a no-brainer? There is usually higher infrastructure and possibly higher application costs to design an application that can cover all of the bases on its own, yet frequently this can be done without significant complexity. Complexity is important, but the benefits of a robust application can outweigh an increase in complexity.

Whether the application be a pool of web servers spread across two sites or more involved as something that includes replicated databases with a globally distributed file content namespace, the situations will always vary but there may be options to achieve absolute nirvana. If the application is able to cover all of the bases, then the virtualized platform doesn’t become irrelevant.

The agile platform can still provide data protection, as well as on-demand scale if needed. I won’t go so far as to call it self-service, but you know what I mean. I’ve been successful in taking the time to ask these applications and dispel any myths about virtual machines (like – DR is built-in). Do you find yourself battling application designers to bake-in all of the rich features that complement the agile infrastructure? Share your comments on the application battle below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 11/02/2010 at 12:48 PM1 comments

vSphere Folder Organization Tip

vSphere has many options for administrators to organize hosts, clusters, virtual machines and all of the supporting components of the virtualized infrastructure. I was talking with a friend about how it is always a good idea to review and reorganize the virtualized infrastructure (see Virtualization Housekeeping 101) and the topic of resource pools came up. I still find people who use a DRS resource pool as an organizational unit instead of the vSphere folder.

The DRS resource pool is not an organizational unit, but a resource allocation unit. Sure, the resource pool can be created with no reservations or limits, making no perceived impact on the available resources; but the parent-to-child pool chain is modified with the pool in place. The vSphere folder can contain datacenters, hosts, clusters, virtual machines and other folders.

The beauty of the vSphere folder is it can have its own permissions configuration. By default, it inherits the permissions from the parent; but it can be configured for explicit permissions. Fig. 1 shows a folder of Web servers and the ability to assign permissions for that collection of virtual machines.

vSphere Folders

Figure 1. Permissions can be extended to folders to function as containers for roles or simply organizing virtual machines. (Click image to view larger version.)

I find myself using the permissions of a folder to function like a group membership assignment that follows in the Active Directory world. The role functionality of vSphere allows the administrator to delegate a lot to different categories of users of a virtual machine. This can be as simple as view the virtual machine console, allow virtual media mount capabilities or even the virtual power button.

Do you use the folder for organization or permissions? If so, share how you use it here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 10/28/2010 at 12:48 PM1 comments

Sub-$500 VDI: Not Just From the Big Boys

Anyone who has tried to go down the VDI path for a small client virtualization installation and came to a hard stop will welcome any arrangement that makes it easy. VDI is a tough technology to reign in compared to the great success we've had in virtualizing servers. Many situations can bring a VDI effort to a stop, including a cost model that still puts physical PCs as the ROI winner.

At VMworld, one product that caught my eye is Kaviza's VDI-in-a-box. Simply put, Kaviza makes a broker that works pretty much anywhere to anywhere. The current offering includes support for XenServer and VMware hypervisors, with Hyper-V support coming. The endpoint can be anything from a PC client install (bring your own computer to work anyone?) to native RDP and Citrix HDX support for use on a number of thin-client devices such as Wyse and 10ZiG devices.

I noticed a few things from running the demo. For one thing, VDI-in-a-box can utilize direct attached storage. I've long thought that DAS has a use case in virtualization to some extent, as the cost savings can be so great that a shared storage infrastructure may not be required. Of course, many factors go into any decision; but DAS can be high-performance and eight drives or more can be on a local array.

The Kaviza solution utilizes a virtual appliance on each hypervisor to broker the connections to a wide array of supported endpoints (see Fig. 1).

Kaviza VDI-in-a-box

Figure 1. Kaviza's VDI-in-a-box builds on commodity components (in green) and provides the broker as a virtual appliance and uses a supported protocol to bring a VDI session to a number of devices. (Click image to view larger version.)

The best part of the Kaviza solution is that it can run under $500. This includes the server, hypervisor, Kaviza ($125 per concurrent user) and Microsoft costs. This cost does not include the device if a non-PC is used; on the high-end the street price would be $425 per client with Kaviza's online ROI guide.

Does a sub-$500 VDI solution not offered by VMware, Citrix or Microsoft appeal to you? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 10/26/2010 at 12:48 PM2 comments

vSphere Decisions: Enterprise vs. Enterprise Plus

When vSphere was first released, the new features and their alignment to existing investments created lots of confusion. Customers that have an active Support and Subscription (SnS) agreement were entitled to a certain level of vSphere features. There were no direct mappings to the Enterprise Plus level of vSphere that did not involve the promotional pricing to upgrade all processors to Enterprise Plus, however.

At the time, the Enterprise level of vSphere licensing was slated to be available for sale for a limited time. To this day, Enterprise is still available for sale. For anyone considering between the two versions, I will definitely nudge you towards Enterprise Plus. Here are a few reasons why:

  • vSMP support: Enterprise currently limits a virtual machine to 4 vCPU, effectively still functioning at the same level as ESXi 3.x. vSphere is capable of 8 vSMP to a single virtual machine, but it isn't licensed to that level unless Enterprise Plus is utilized.
  • Cores per processor: Enterprise limits this to six cores per socket. While the current mainstream processors are available with six cores and will easily fit most installations, consider the future and any licensing that will be reapplied to new servers.
  • Distributed switch functionality: This is somewhat forward-looking, but if at any point vCloud Director would be a consideration in the future; this is made much easier with the heavy networking investment.
  • Host profiles: This vSphere feature allows customized host configurations for almost any manageable value to be applied centrally to vCenter after a host ESXi system is installed.

The full breakdown of Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus licensing levels is here.

The other side of the coin is, if all of these levels bring too much cost into the picture and the features are not required, VMware has made a serious leap forward with the revised Essentials Plus offering. Basically, small and remote sites that need a virtualized infrastructure will see it as a winning solution; but not all of the features of the big datacenters. Check out the Essentials Plus offering here.

Enterprise Plus may not be needed for all installations, but if the decision rests between Enterprise and Enterprise Plus; it should be pretty clear which way to go.

Have you made the case to stay on Enterprise? If so, share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 10/21/2010 at 12:48 PM5 comments

VMware Standalone Converter Updated

During VMworld in San Francisco, an important update crept out for the VMware vCenter Converter Standalone edition. It was great news for me, as I had started to wonder if the product was going the way of a deprecated product. The virtual machine conversion mechanism is still an important part of the arsenal for today's virtualization administrator. I frequently use it for additional physical-to-virtual conversions, specialized virtual-to-virtual operations such as a data center migration and to shrink existing virtual machines.

Version 4.3 was released on August 30 with two key features. The first is support for Windows 7 x86 and x64 editions; the other is support for Windows Server 2008 x86, x64 and R2 editions. This support is both for a machine to be converted as well as the platform to run VMware Converter. After installing VMware Converter 4.3, the supported operating system table only goes as old as Windows XP for Windows systems. This means that Windows 2000 has fallen off of the supported platform list for Converter 4.3. It may be a good idea to grab one of the older copies of VMware Converter while you can, in case you still support Windows 2000.

VMware Converter 4.3 adds a number of other natural platform support configurations, including support for vSphere 4.1. But perhaps the most intriguing support with this release is a broad offering of Hyper-V support. Windows virtual machines that are powered on while running on Hyper-V may be converted as well as powered-off virtual machines that run Windows Server 2008 including x86, x64 and R2 editions, Windows 7, Windows Vista, XP, SUSE Linux 10 and 11, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. Microsoft .VHD and .VMC virtual disk formats can also be imported.

I've used it a few times since it was released and have not had any issues with it performing virtual-to-virtual conversion tasks. VMware Converter is still a critical part of the daily administrator's toolkit and finally made complete with Windows 7 and Server 2008 support.

Have you had any issues with the new version thus far? Share your comments here.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 10/19/2010 at 12:48 PM5 comments

Virtualization Review

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.