Most people think that VMware HCX is a only migration tool that helps you moving workloads to a vSphere based cloud like VMware Cloud on AWS or Azure VMware Solution. But it can do so much more for you than only application or workload migrations. HCX is also designed for workload rebalancing and business continuity across data centers or VMware clouds. Why I say “across VMware clouds” and not only “clouds”?

A few years ago everyone thought or said that customers will move all their workloads to the public cloud and the majority of them don’t need local data centers anymore. But we all know that this perception has changed and that the future cloud operation is model hybrid. 

A hybrid cloud environment leverages both the private and public clouds to operate. A multi-cloud environment includes two or more public cloud vendors which provide cloud-based services to a business that may or may not have a private cloud. A hybrid cloud environment might also be a multi-cloud environment.

We all know that the past perception was an illusion and we didn’t have a clue where the hyperscalers like AWS, Azure or GCP would be in the next 5 or 7 years. And I believe that even the AWS and Microsoft didn’t expect what is going to happen since we observed interesting shifts in the last few years.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been launched 14 years ago (2006) to provide web services from the cloud. At AWS re:Invent 2018 the CEO Andy Jassy announced AWS Outposts because their customers have been asking for an AWS option on-premises. In the end, Outpost is just an extension of an AWS region into the own data center, where you can launch EC2 instances or Amazon EBS volumes locally. AWS already had some hybrid services available (like Storage Gateway) but here we talk about infrastructure and making your own data center part of the AWS Global Infrastructure.

Microsoft Azure was released in 2010 and the first technical preview of Azure Stack has been announced in 2016. So, Microsoft also realized that the future cloud model is a hybrid approach “that provides consistency across private, hosted and public clouds”.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) offers cloud computing services since 2008. Eleven years later (in 2019) Google introduced Anthos that you can “run an app anywhere –  simply, flexibly and securely”.

All the hyperscalers changed their cloud model to provide customers a consistent infrastructure with consistent operations and management as we understand now.

VMware is coming from the other end of this hybrid world and has the same overall goal or vision to make a hybrid or multi-cloud reality. But with one very important difference. VMware helps you to abstract the complexity of a hybrid environment and gives you the choice to run your workloads in any cloud infrastructure with a cloud-agnostic approach.

As organizations try to migrate their workloads to the public, they face multiple challenges and barriers:

  • How can I migrate my workload to the public cloud?
  • How long does it take to migrate?
  • What about application downtime?
  • Which migration options do I have?
  • Which cloud is the best destination for which workloads?
  • Do I need to refactor or develop some applications?
  • Can I do a lift and shift migration and modernize the application later?
  • How can I consistently deploy workloads and services for my multi-cloud?
  • How can I operate and monitor (visibility and observability) all the different clouds?
  • What if tomorrow one the public cloud provider is not strategic anymore? How can I move my workloads away?
  • How can I control costs over all clouds?
  • How can I maintain security?
  • What about the current tools and 3rd party software I am using now?
  • What if I want to migrate VMs back from the public cloud?
  • What if I want to move away/back somewhen from a specific cloud provider?

In summary, the challenges with a hybrid cloud are about costs, complexity, tooling and skills. Each public cloud added to your current on-premises infrastructure is in fact a new silo. If you have the extra money and time and don’t need consistent infrastructures and consistent operations and management, you’ll accept the fact that you have a heterogeneous environment with different technology formats, skill/tool sets, operational inconsistencies and security controls.

If you are interested in a more consistent platform then you should build a more unified hybrid cloud. Unified means that you provide consistent operations with the existing skills and tools (e.g. vCenter, vRealize Automation, vRealize Operations) and the same policies and security configuration over all clouds – your data center, public cloud or at the edge. 

To provide such a cloud agnostic platform you need to abstract the technology format and infrastructure in the public cloud. This is why VMware built the VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) platform that delivers a set of software-defined services for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management for any cloud.

VMC on AWS, Azure VMware Solution, Google Cloud VMware Engine and all the other hybrid cloud offerings (IBM, Oracle, Alibaba, VCPP) are based on VMware Cloud Foundation. This is the underlying technology stack you would need if your goal is to be independent and to achieve workload mobility between clouds. With this important basic understanding we can take a closer look at VMware HCX.

VMware HCX Use Cases

HCX provides an any-to-any vSphere workload mobility service without requiring retrofit as we use the same technology stack in any cloud. 

VMware HCX Use Cases

HCX enables you to schedule application migrations of hundreds or thousands of vSphere VMs within your data centers and across public clouds without requiring a reboot or a downtime.

If you would like to change the current platform or have to modernize your current data center, HCX allows you to migrate workloads from vSphere 5.x and non-vSphere (Hyper-V and KVM) environments.

VMware HCX Migration

Workload rebalancing means providing a mobility platform across cloud regions and cloud providers to move applications and workloads at any time for any reason.

Workload mobility is cool and may be the future but is not possible today as the public cloud’s egress costs would be way too high at the moment. Let’s say you pay $0.05 per GB when you move data away from the public cloud to any external destination, this would generate costs of $2.50 for a 50GB virtual machine.

Not that much, right? If you move away 500 VMs, the bill would list $1’250 for egress costs. Evacuating VMs from one public cloud to another one is not so expensive if it happens three or four times a year. But if the rebalancing should happen at a higher cadence, the egress costs would get too high. But we can assume that this fact will change in the future as the public cloud computing prices will come down in the future. 

HCX Components and Services

HCX is available with an Advanced and Enterprise license. The Advanced license services are standard with HCX and are also included in the HCX Enterprise license. The Enterprise license is needed when you migrate non-vSphere workloads into a vSphere environment. This capability is called OS Assisted Migration (OSAM).

HCX Services

The HCX Advanced features are included in a NSX Data Center Enterprise Plus license. With a managed service like VMware Cloud on AWS or Azure VMware Solution HCX Advanced is already be included.

HCX Connector Advanced License

If you want to move workloads from a vSphere environment to a vSphere enabled public cloud, you don’t need the complete VMware Cloud Foundation stack at the source site:

  • On-premises vSphere version 5.5 and above
  • Minimum of 100 Mbps bandwidth between source and destination
  • Virtual switch based on vDS (vSphere Distributed Switch), Cisco Nexus 1000v or vSphere Standard Switch
  • Minimum of virtual machine hardware version 9
  • VMs with hard disks not larger than 2TB

Depending on the HCX license and services you need, you have to deploy some or all of the HCX components. HCX comprises components and appliances at the source and destination sites.

HCX Manager Destination

The HCX Connector services and appliances are deployed at the destination site first before you are going to deploy the virtual appliances at the source site (HCX Interconnect appliance).

HCX Interconnect Appliance Download Link

After you deployed the appliances at the source site, you can create the site pairing.

HCX Site Pairing

As soon as you have installed HCX in both sites, you can manage and configure the services within the vSphere Client.

HCX in vSphere Client

After a successful site pairing, you can start to create the HCX Service Mesh.

The Multi-Site Service mesh is used to create a secure optimized transport fabric between any two sites managed by HCX. When HCX Migration, Disaster recovery, Network Extension, and WAN Optimization services are enabled, HCX deploys Virtual Appliances in the source site and corresponding “peer” virtual appliances on the destination site. The Multi-Site Service Mesh enables the configuration, deployment, and serviceability of these Interconnect virtual appliance pairs.

HCX Service Mesh

In the HCX site-to-site architecture, there is notion of an HCX source and HCX destination environment. Depending on the environment, there is a specific HCX installer:

HCX Connector (previously HCX Enterprise) or HCX Cloud. HCX Connector is always deployed as the source. HCX Cloud is typically deployed as the destination, but it can be used as the source in cloud-to-cloud deployments. In HCX-enabled public clouds, the cloud provider deploys HCX Cloud. The public cloud tenant deploys HCX Connector on-premises.
The source and destination sites are paired together for HCX operations. 

In both the source and destination environments, HCX is deployed to the management zone, next to each site’s vCenter Server, which provides a single plane (HCX Manager) for administering VMware HCX. This HCX Manager provides a framework for deploying HCX service virtual machines across both the source and destination sites. VMware HCX administrators are authenticated, and each task authorized through the existing vSphere SSO identity sources. VMware HCX mobility, extension, protection actions can be initiated from the HCX User Interface or from within the vCenter Server Navigator screen’s context menus.

In the NSX Data Center Enterprise Plus (HCX for Private to Private deployments), the tenant deploys both source and destination HCX Managers.

The HCX-IX service appliance provides replication and vMotion-based migration capabilities over the Internet and private lines to the destination site whereas providing strong encryption, traffic engineering, and virtual machine mobility.

The VMware HCX WAN Optimization service appliance improves performance characteristics of the private lines or Internet paths by applying WAN optimization techniques like the data de-duplication and line conditioning. It makes performance closer to a LAN environment. It accelerates on-boarding to the destination site using Internet/VPN- without waiting for Direct Connect/MPLS circuits.

The VMware HCX Network Extension service appliance provides a late Performance (4–6 Gbps) Layer 2 extension capability. The extension service permits keeping the same IP and MAC addresses during a Virtual Machine migration. Network Extension with Proximity Routing provides the optimal ingress and egress connectivity for virtual machines at the destination site.

 

Using VMware HCX OS Assisted Migration (OSAM), you can migrate guest (non-vSphere) virtual machines from on-premise data centers to the cloud. The OSAM service has several components: the HCX Sentinel software that is installed on each virtual machine to be migrated, a Sentinel Gateway (SGW) appliance for connecting and forwarding guest workloads in the source environment, and a Sentinel Data Receiver (SDR) in the destination environment.

The HCX Sentinel Data Receiver (SDR) appliance works with the HCX Sentinel Gateway appliance to receive, manage, and monitor data replication operations at the destination environment.

HCX Migration Types

VMs can be moved from one HCX-enabled data center using different migration technologies or types.

HCX Migration Types

HCX cold migration uses the VMware NFC (Network File Copy) protocol and is automatically selected when the source VM is powered off.

HCX vMotion

  • This option is designed for moving a single virtual machine at a time
  • There is no service interruption during the HCX vMotion migration
  • Encrypted vMotion between legacy source and SDDC target
  • Bi-directional (Cross-CPU family compatibility without cluster EVC)
  • In-flight Optimization (deduplication/compression)
  • Compatible from vSphere 5.5+ environments (VM HW v9)

HCX Bulk Migration

  • Bulk migration uses the host-based replication (HBR) to move a virtual machine between HCX data centers
  • This option is designed for moving virtual machines in parallel (migration in waves)
  • This migration type can set to complete on a predefined schedule
  • The virtual machine runs at the source site until the failover begins. The service interruption with the bulk migration is equivalent to a reboot
  • Encrypted Replication migration between legacy source and SDDC target
  • Bi-directional (Cross-CPU family compatibility)
  • WAN Optimized (deduplication/compression)
  • VMware Tools and VM Hardware can be upgraded to the latest at the target.

HCX Replication Assisted vMotion

VMware HCX Replication Assisted vMotion (RAV) combines advantages from VMware HCX Bulk Migration (parallel operations, resiliency, and scheduling) with VMware HCX vMotion (zero downtime virtual machine state migration).

HCX OS Assisted Migration

This migration method provides for the bulk migration of guest (non-vSphere) virtual machines using OS Assisted Migration to VMware vSphere on-premise or cloud-based data centers. Enabling this service requires additional HCX licensing.

 

  • Utilizes OS assisted replication to migrate (conceptually similar to vSphere replication)
  • Source VM remains online during replication
  • Quiesce the source VM for final sync before migration
  • Source VM is powered off and the migrated VM is powered on in target site, for low downtime switchover
  • VMware tools is installed on the migrated VM

Cross-Cloud Mobility

Most customers will probably start with one public cloud first, e.g. VMC on AWS, to evaluate the hybridity and mobility HCX delivers. Cross-cloud monility is maybe not a requirement today or tomorrow but gets more important when your company has a multi-cloud strategy which becomes reality very soon.

If you want to be able to move workloads seamlessly between clouds, extend networks and protect workloads the same way across any cloud, then you should consider a VMware platform and use HCX.

HCX Cross-Cloud Mobility

Let’s take network and security as an example. How would you configure and manage all the different network, security, firewall policies etc. in your different clouds with the different infrastructure and security management consoles?

If you abstract the hyperscaler’s global infrastructure and put VMware on top, you could in this case use NSX (software-defined networking) everywhere. And because all the different policies are tied to a virtual machine, it doesn’t matter anymore if you migrate a VM from host to host or from cloud to cloud.

This is what you would call consistent operations and management which is enabled by a consistent infrastructure (across any cloud).

And how would you migrate workloads in a very cost and time efficient way without a layer 2 stretch? You would have to take care of re-IPing workloads and this involves a lot of changes and dependencies. If you have hundreds of applications then the cloud migration would be a never ending project with costs you could not justify.

In the case you need to move workload back to your own on-premises data center, HCX also gives you this advantage.

You have the choice in which cloud you want to run your applications, at any time.

 

HCX and vSphere 7

At the time of writing HCX has no official support for vSphere 7.0 yet. I tested it in my home lab and ran into an error while creating the Service Mesh. At least one other colleague had the same issue with vSphere 7 using NSX-T 3.0 and VDS 7.0.

HCX vSphere 7 Error

I would like to thank Danny Stettler for reviewing and contributing. 🙂 Big kudos to you, Danny! 🙂

I hope the article has helped you to get an overview what HCX and a hybrid cloud model really mean. Drop a comment and share your view and experience when it comes to cloud strategies and migrations.