Azure VMware Solution

Azure VMware Solution

Update May 2020:

On May 4th Microsoft announced the preview (and the “next evolution”) of Azure VMware Solution which is now a first-party offering service designed, built and supported my Microsoft and endorsed by VMware. This is an entirely new service entirely delivered and supported by Microsoft and does not replace the current AVS solution/service by CloudSimple at this time. This is truly just a Microsoft technology offering and has also nothing to do with a Virtustream branded Azure VMware Solution offering. Short: A way cleaner offering and service with a contract only between Microsoft and VMware.

— Original Text below —

Since Dell Technologies World 2019 it’s clear: VMware and Microsoft are not frenemies anymore!

Dell Technologies and Microsoft announced an expanded partnership which should help customers and provide them more choice and flexibility for their future digital workspace projects or cloud integrations.

One result and announcement of this new partnership is the still pretty new offering called “Azure VMware Solution” (AVS). Other people and websites may also call it “Azure VMware Solution by Virtustream” or “Azure VMware Solution by CloudSimple”.

AVS is a Microsoft first-party offering. Meaning, that it’s sold and supported by Microsoft, NOT VMware. This is one very important difference if you compare it with VMC on AWS. The operation, development and delivery are done by a VMware Cloud Verified and Metal-as-a-Service VCPP (VMware Cloud Provider Program) partner; CloudSimple or Virtustream (subsidiary of Dell Technologies). AVS is fully supported and verified by VMware.

VMware Metal-as-a-Service Authorized partners Virtustream and CloudSimple run the latest VMware software-defined data center technology, ensuring customers enjoy the same benefits of a consistent infrastructure and consistent operations in the cloud as they achieve in their own physical data center, while allowing customers to also access the capabilities of Microsoft Azure.

So, why would someone like Microsoft run VMware’s Cloud Foundation (VCF) stack on Azure? The answer is quite simple. VMware has over 500’000 customers and an estimated number of 70mio VMs which are mostly running on-premises. Microsoft’s doesn’t care if virtual machines (VMs) are running on vSphere, they care about Azure and the consumption in the end. AVS is just another form of Azure, Microsoft says. I would say it’s very unlikely that a customer moves on to Azure native once they are onboarded via Azure VMware Solution.

Microsoft would like to see some of the 70mio running on their platform, no matter if it’s VCF on top of their Azure servers. Customers should get the option to move to the Azure cloud, using Azure native services (e.g. Azure NetApp Files, Azure databases etc.), but give them the choice and flexibility to use their existing technology stack, ecosystem and tools (e.g. automation or operation) they are familiar with – the whole or some part of the VCF coupled with products from the vRealize Suite. Plus, other VMware 3rd party integrations they might have for data protection or backup. This is one unique specialty – Microsoft says – that there is no restricted functionality as you may experience in other VMware clouds.

Azure VMware Solutions Components

From VMware’s perspective most of our customers are already Microsoft customers as well. In addition to that VMware’s vision is to provide the freedom of choice and flexibility, same like Microsoft, but it one small difference: to be cloud and infrastructure agnostic. This vision says that VMware doesn’t care if you run your workloads on-prem, on AWS, Azure or GCP (or even at a VCPP partner’s cloud) as long it’s running on the VCF stack. Cloud is not a choice or destination anymore, it has become an operation model.

And to keep it an operation model without having a new silo and the vendor lock-in, it makes totally sense to use VMware’s VCF on top of AWS, Azure, GCP, Oracle, Alibaba or any other VCPP partners. This ensures that customers have the choice and flexibility they are looking for, coupled with the new and maybe still surprising “new” or “special” public cloud. If your vision is also about workload mobility on any cloud, then VMware is the right choice and partner!

Use Cases

What are the reasons to move to Azure and use Azure VMware Solution?

If you don’t want to scale up or scale out your own infrastructure and would like to get additional capacity almost instantly, then speed is definitely one reason. Microsoft can spin up a new AVS SDDC under 60min, which is impressive. How is this possible? With automation! This proves that VMware Cloud Foundation is the new data center operating system of the future and that automation is a key design requirement. If you would like to experience nearly the same speed and work with the same principles as public cloud provider do, then VCF is the way to go.

The rest of the use cases or reasons are in general the same if we talk about cloud. If it’s not only speed, then agility, (burstable) capacity, expansion in a new geography, DRaaS or for app modernization reasons using cloud native services.

Microsoft Licenses

What I have learned from this MS Ignite recording, is, that you can bring your existing MS licenses to AVS and that you don’t have to buy them AGAIN. In any other cloud this is not the case.

This information can be found here as well:

Beginning October 1, 2019, on-premises licenses purchased without Software Assurance and mobility rights cannot be deployed with dedicated hosted cloud services offered by the following public cloud providers: Microsoft, Alibaba, Amazon (including VMware Cloud on AWS), and Google. They will be referred to as “Listed Providers”.

Regions

If you check the Azure documentation, you’ll see that AVS is only available in US East and West Azure regions, but should be available in Western Europe “in the near future”. In the YouTube video above Microsoft was showing this slide which shows their global rollout strategy and the planned availability for Q2 2020:

Azure VMware Solutions Regions 2020

According to the Azure regions website Azure VMware Solution is available at the following locations and countries in Europe:

Azure VMware Solutions by Azure RegionSo, North Europe (UK) is expected for H2 2020 and AVS is already available in the West Europe Azure region. Since no information available about the Swiss regions, even the slide from the MS Ignite recording may suggest the availability until May 2020, it’s very unlikely that AVS will be available in Zurich or Geneva before 2021.

Azure VMware Solution Components

You need at least three hosts to get started with the AVS service and you can scale up to 16 hosts per cluster with a SLA of 99.9%. More information about the available node specifications for your region can be found here. At the moment CloudSimple offers the following host types:

  • CS28 node: CPU:2x 2.2 GHz, total 28 cores, 48 HT. RAM: 256 GB. Storage: 1600 GB NVMe cache, 5760 GB data (All-Flash). Network: 4x25Gbe NIC
  • CS36 node: CPU 2x 2.3 GHz, total 36 cores, 72 HT. RAM: 512 GB. Storage: 3200 GB NVMe cache 11520 GB data (All-Flash). Network: 4x25Gbe NIC
  • CS36m node (only option for West Europe): CPU 2x 2.3 GHz, total 36 cores, 72 HT. RAM: 576 GB. Storage: 3200 GB NVMe cache 13360 GB data (All-Flash). Network: 4x25Gbe NIC

I think it’s clear that the used hypervisor is vSphere and that it’s maintained by Microsoft and not by VMware. There is no host-level access, but Microsoft gives you the possibility of a special “just in time” privileges access (root access) feature, which allows to install necessary software bits you might need – for example for 3rd party software integrations.

The storage infrastructure is based on vSAN with an all-flash persistent storage and a NVMe cache storage. More capacity can be made available by adding additional nodes or use Azure offerings which can be added to VMs directly.

Networking and security are based on NSX-T which fully supports micro segmentation.

To offer choice, Microsoft gives you the option to manage and see your AVS VMware infrastructure via vCenter or Azure Resource Manager (ARM). The ARM integration will allow you to create, start, stop and delete virtual machines and is not meant to replace existing VMware tools.

Microsoft support is your single point of contact and CloudSimple contacts VMware if needed.

Connectivity Options

CloudSimple provides the following connectivity options to connect to your AVS region network:

Depending on the connectivity option you have different ways to bring your VMs to your AVS private cloud:

How do I get started?

You have to contact your Microsoft account manager or business development manager if would like to know more. But VMware account representatives are also available to support you. If you want to learn more, check https://aka.ms/startavs.

Can I burn my existing Azure Credits?

Yes. Customers with Azure credits can use them through Azure VMware Solution.

VMware’s Tanzu Kubernetes Grid

Since the announcement of Tanzu and Project Pacific at VMworld US 2019 a lot happened and people want to know more what VMware is doing with Kubernetes. This article is a summary about the past announcements in the cloud native space. As you already may know at this point, when we talk about Kubernetes, VMware made very important acquisitions regarding this open-source project.

VMware Kubernetes Acquisitions

It all started with the acquisition of Heptio, a leader in the open Kubernetes ecosystem. With two of the creators of Kubernetes (K8s), namely Joe Beda and Craig McLuckie, Heptio should help to drive the cloud native technologies within VMware forward and help customers and the open source community to accelerate the enterprise adoption of K8s on-premises and in multi-cloud environments.

The second important milestone was in May 2019, where the intent to acquire Bitnami, a leader in application packaging solutions for Kubernetes environments, has been made public. At VMworld US 2019 VMware announced Project Galleon to bring Bitnami capabilities to the enterprise to offer customized application stacks to their developers.

One week before VMworld US 2019 the third milestone has been communicated, the agreement to acquire Pivotal. The solutions from Pivotal have helped customers learn how to adopt modern techniques to build and run software and they are the provider of the most popular developer framework for Java, Spring and Spring Boot.

On the 26th August 2019, VMware gave those strategic acquisitions the name VMware Tanzu. Tanzu should help customers to BUILD modern applications, RUN Kubernetes consistently in any cloud and MANAGE all Kubernetes environments from a single point of control (single console).

VMware Tanzu

Tanzu Mission Control (Tanzu MC) is the cornerstone of the Tanzu portfolio and should help to relieve the problems we have or going to have with a lof of Kubernetes clusters (fragmentation) within organizations. Multiple teams in the same company are creating and deploying applications on their own K8s clusters – on-premises or in any cloud (e.g. AWS, Azure or GCP). There are many valid reasons why different teams choose different clouds for different applications, but is causing fragmentation and management overhead because you are faced with different management consoles and silo’d infrastructures. And what about visibility into app/cluster health, cost, security requirements, IAM, networking policies and so on? Tanzu MC let customers manage all their K8s clusters across vSphere, VMware PKS, public cloud, managed services or even DIY – from a single console.

Tanzu Mission Control

It lets you provision K8s clusters in any environment and configure policies which establish guardrails. Those guardrails are configured by IT operations and they will apply policies for access, security, backup or quotas.

Tanzu Mission Control

As you can see, Mission Control has a lot of capabilities. If you look at the last two images you can see that you not only can create clusters directly from Tanzu MC, but also have the ability to attach existing K8s clusters. This can be done by installing an agent in the remote K8s cluster, which then provides a secure connection back to Tanzu MC.

We focused on the BUILD and MANAGE layers now. Let’s take a look at the RUN layer which should help us to run Kubernetes consistently across clouds. Without consistency across cloud environments (this includes on-prem) enterprises will struggle to manage their hundred or even thousands of modern apps. It’s just getting too complex.

VMware’s goal in general is to abstract complexity and to make your life easier and for this case VMware has announced the so-called Tanzu Kubernetes Grid (TKG) to provide us a common Kubernetes distribution across all the different environments.

Tanzu Kubernetes Grid

In my understanding TKG means VMware’s Kubernetes distribution, will include Project Pacific as soon as it’s GA and is based on three principles:

  • Open Source Kubernetes – tested and secured
  • Cluster Lifecycle management – fully integrated
  • 24×7 support

Meaning, that TKG is based on open source technologies, packaged for enterprises and supported by VMware’s Global Support Services (GSS). Based on these facts you could say, that today your Kubernetes journey with VMware starts with VMware PKS. PKS is the way VMware deliver the principles of Tanzu today – across vSphere, VCF, VMC on AWS, public clouds and edge.

Project Pacific

Project Pacific, which has been announced at VMworld US 2019 as well, is a complement to VMware PKS and will be available in a future release. If you are not familiar with Pacific yet, then read the introduction of Project Pacific. Otherwise, it’s sufficient to say, that Project Pacific means the re-architecture of vSphere to natively integrate Kubernetes. There is no nesting or any kind of it and it’s not Kubernetes in vSphere. It’s more like vSphere on top of Kubernetes since the idea of this project is to use Kubernetes to steer vSphere.

Project Pacific

Pacific will embed Kubernetes into the control plane of vSphere and converge VMs and containers on the same underlying platform. This will give the IT operators the possibility to see and manage Kubernetes from the vSphere client and provide developers the interfaces and tools they are already familiar with.

Project Pacific Console

If you are interested in the Project Pacific Beta Program, you’ll find all information here.

I would have access to download the vSphere build which includes Project Pacific, but I haven’t got time at the moment and my home lab is also not ready yet. We hear customers asking about the requirements for Pacific. If you watch all the different recordings from the VMworld sessions about Project Pacific and the Supervisor Cluster, then we could predict, that only NSX-T is a prerequisite to deploy and enable Project Pacific. This slide shows why NSX-T is part of Pacific:

Project Pacific Supervisor ClusterFrom this slide (from session HBI1452BE) we learn that a load balancer built on NSX Edge is sitting in front of the three K8s Control Plane VMs and that you’ll find a Distributed Load Balancer spanned across all hosts to enable the pod-to-pod or east-west communication.

Nobody of the speakers ever mentioned vSAN as a requirement and I also doubt that vSAN is going to be a prerequisite for Pacific.

You may ask yourself now which Kubernetes version will be shipped with ESXi and how you upgrade your K8s distribution? And what about if this setup with Pacific is too “static” for you? Well, for the Supervisor Clusters VMware releases patches with vSphere and you apply them with the known tools like VUM. For your own built K8s clusters, or if you need to deploy Guest Clusters, then the upgrades are easy as well. You just have to download the new distribution and specify the new version/distribution in the (Guest Cluster Manager) YAML file.

Conclusion

Rumos say that Pacific will be shipped with the upcoming vSphere 7.0 release, which even should include NSX-T 3.0. For now we don’t know when Pacific will be shipped with vSphere and if it really will be included with the next major version. I would be impressed if that would be the case, because you need a stable hypervisor version, then a new NSX-T version is also coming into play and in the end Pacific relies on these stable components. Our experience has shown that the first release normally is never perfect and stable and that we need to wait for the next cycle or quarter. With that in mind I would say that Pacific could be GA in Q3 2020 or Q4 2020. And beside that the beta program for Project Pacific just has started!

Nevertheless I think that Pacific and the whole Kubernetes Grid from VMware will help customers to run their (modern) apps on any Kubernetes infrastructure. We just need to be aware that there are some limitations when K8s is embedded in the hypervisor, but for these use cases Guest Clusters could be deployed anyway.

In my opinion Tanzu and Pacific alone don’t make “the” big difference. It’s getting more interesting if you talk about multi-cloud management with vRA 8.0 (or vRA Cloud), use Tanzu MC for the management of all your K8s clusters, networking with NSX-T (and NSX Cloud), create a container host with a container image (via vRA’s Service Broker) for AI- and ML-based workloads and provide the GPU over the network with Bitfusion.

Bitfusion Architecture

Looking forward to such conversations! 😀

vSAN Basics for a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure with VMware Horizon

As an EUC architect you need fundamental knowledge about VMware’s SDDC stack and this time I would like to share some more basics about VMware vSAN for VMware Horizon.

In part 5 of my VCAP7-DTM Design exam series I already posted some YouTube videos about vSAN in case you prefer videos instead of reading. To further proof my vSAN knowledge I decided to take the vSAN Specialist exam which focuses on the version 6.6.

To extend my vSAN skills and to prep myself for this certification I have bought the VMware vSAN 6.7 U1 Deep Dive book which is available on Amazon.

vSAN 6.7 U1 Deep Dive

vSAN Basics – Facts and Requirements

Out in the field not every EUC guy has enough sic knowledge about vSAN and I want to provide some facts about this technology here. This is no article about all the background information and detailed stuff you can do with vSAN, but it should help you to get a basic understanding. If you need more details about vSAN I highly recommend the vSAN 6.7 U1 Deep Dive book and the content available on storagehub.vmware.com.

  • The vSAN cluster requires at least one flash device and capacity device (magnetic or flash)
  • A minimum of three hosts is required except you go for a two-node configuration (requires a witness appliance)
  • Each host participating in the vSAN cluster requires a vSAN enabled VMkernel port
  • Hybrid configurations require a minimum of one 1GbE NIC, 10GbE is recommended by VMware
  • All-Flash configurations require a minimum of one 10GbE NIC
  • vSAN can use RAID-1 (mirroring) and RAID5-/6 (erasure coding) for the VM storage policies
  • RAID-1 is used for performance reasons, erasure coding is used for capacity reasons
  • Disk groups require one flash device for the cache tier and one or more flash/magnetic device for the capacity tier
  • There can be only one cache device per disk group
  • Hybrid configuration – The SSD cache is used for read and write (70/30)
  • All-Flash configuration – The SSD cache is used 100% as a write cache
  • Since version 6.6 there is no multicast requirement anymore
  • vSAN supports IPv4 and IPv6
  • vSphere HA needs to be disabled before vSAN can be enabled and configured
  • The raw capacity of a vSAN datastore is calculated by the number of capacity devices multiplied by the number of ESXi hosts (e.g. 5 x 2TB x 6 hosts = 60 TB raw)
  • Deduplication and compression are only available in all-flash configurations
  • vSAN stores VM data in objects (VM home, swap, VMDK, snapshots)
  • The witness does not store any VM specific data, only metadata
  • vSAN provides data at rest encryption which is a cluster-wide feature
  • vSAN integrates with CBRC (host memory read cache) which is mostly used for VMware Horizon
  • By default, the default VM storage policy is assigned to a VM
  • Each stretched cluster must have its own witness host (no additional vSAN license needed)
  • Fault domains are mostly described with the term “rack awareness”

vSAN for VMware Horizon

The following information can be found in the VMware Docs for Horizon:

When you use vSAN, Horizon 7 defines virtual machine storage requirements, such as capacity, performance, and availability, in the form of default storage policy profiles, which you can modify. Storage is provisioned and automatically configured according to the assigned policies. The default policies that are created during desktop pool creation depend on the type of pool you create.

This means that Horizon will create storage policies when a desktop pool get created. To get more information I will provision a floating Windows 10 instant clone desktop pool. Before I’m doing that, let’s have a look first at the policies which will appear in vCenter depending on the pool type:

Since I’m going to create a floating instant clone desktop pool I assume that I should see some the storage policies marked in yellow. 

Instant Clones

First of all we need to take a quick look again at instant clones. I only cover instant clones since it’s the recommended provisioning method by VMware. As you can learn from this VMware blog post, you can maissvely reduce the time for a desktop to be provisioned (compared to View Composer Linked Clones).

VMware Instant Clones

The big advantage of the instant clone technology (vmFork) is the in-memory cloning technique of a running parent VM.

The following table summarizes the types of VMs used or created during the instant-cloning process:

Instant Cloning VMs
Source: VMWARE HORIZON 7 INSTANT-CLONE DESKTOPS AND RDSH SERVERS 

Horizon Default Storage Policies

To add a desktop pool I have created my master image first and took a snapshot of it. In my case the VM is called “dummyVM_blog” and has the “vSAN Default Storage Policy” assigned.

How does it go from here when I create the floating Windows 10 instant clone desktop pool?

Instant Clone Technology

The second step in the process is where the instant-clone engine uses the master VM snapshot to create one template VM. This template VM is linked to the master VM. My template VM automatically got the following storage policy assigned:

The third step is where the replica VM gets created with the usage of the template VM. The replica VM is a thinprovisioned full clone of the internal template VM. The replica VM shares a read disk with the instantclone VMs after they are created. I only have the vSAN datastore available and one replica VM is created per datastore. The replica VM automatically got the following storage policy assigned:

The fourth step involves the snapshot of the replica VM which is used to create one running parent VM per ESXi host per datastore. The parent VM automatically got the following storage policies assigned:

After, the running parent VM is used to create the instant clone, but the instant clone will be linked to the replica VM and not the running parent VM. This means a parent VM can be deleted without affecting the instant clone. The instant clone automatically got the following storage policies assigned:

And the complete stack of VMs with the two-node vSAN cluster in my home lab, without any further datastores, looks like this:

vCenter Resource Pool 

Now we know the workflow from a master VM to the instant clone and which default storage policies got created and assigned by VMware Horizon. We only know from the VMware Docs that FTT=1 and one stripe per object is configured and that there isn’t any difference except for the name. I checked all storage policies in the GUI again and indeed they are all exactly the same. Note this:

Once these policies are created for the virtual machines, they will never be changed by Horizon 7

Even I didn’t use linked clones with a persistent disk the storage policy PERSISTENT_DISK_<guid> gets created. With instant clones there is no option for a persistent disk yet (you have to use App Volumes with writable volumes), but I think that this will come in the future for instant clones and then we also don’t need View Composer anymore. 🙂

App Volumes Caveat

Don’t forget this caveat for App Volumes when using a vSAN stretched cluster.

New Supermicro Home Lab

For a few years I ve been using three Intel NUC Skull Canyon (NUC6i7KYK) mini PCs for my home lab. Each NUC is equipped with the following:

  • 6th Gen Intel i7-6770HQ processor with Intel Iris Pro graphics
  • 2x 16GB Kingston Value RAM DDR4-2133
  • 2x 500GB Samsung 960 EVO NVMe M.2
  • 1x Transcend JetFlash 710S USB boot device

These small computers were nice in terms of space, but are limited to 32GB RAM, have only 1 network interface and no separate management interface.

This was enough and acceptable when I worked with XenServer, used local storage and just had to validate XenDesktop/XenApp configurations and designs during my time as Citrix consultant.

When I started to replace XenServer with ESXi and created a 3-node vSAN cluster for my first Horizon 7 environment, all was running fine at the beginning. But after while I had strange issues doing vMotions, OS installations, VCSA or ESXi upgrades.

So, I thought it’s time build a “real” home lab and was looking for ideas. After doing some research and talking to my colleague Erik Bussink, it was clear for me that I have to build my computing nodes based on a Supermicro mainboard. As you may know, the Skull Canyons are not that cheap and therefore I will continue using them for my domain controller VMs, vSAN witness, vCenter Server appliance etc.

Yes, my new home lab is going to to be a 2-node vSAN cluster.

Motherboard

I found two Supermicro X11SPM-TF motherboards for a reduced price, because people ordered and never used them. This was my chance and a “sign” that I have to buy my stuff for the new home lab NOW! Let’s pretend it’s my Christmas gift. 😀

The key features for me?

Chassis

I went for the Fractal Design Node 804 because it offers me space for the hardware and cooling. And I like the square form factor which allows me to stack them.

CPU

I need some number of cores in my system to run tests and have enough performance in general. I will mainly run Workspace ONE and Horizon stuff (multi-site architectures) in my lab, but this will change in the future. So I have chosen the 8-core Intel Xeon Silver 4110 Processor with 2.10 GHz.

Memory

RAM was always a limiting factor with my NUCs. I will reuse two of them and start with two 32GB 2666 MHz Kingston Server Premier modules for each ESXi host (total 64GB per host). If memory prices are reducing and I would need more capacity, I easily can expand my system.

Boot Device

Samsung 860 EVO Basic 250GB which is way too much for ESXi, but the price is low and I could use the disk for something else (e.g. for a new PC) if needed.

Caching Device for vSAN

I will remove one Samsung 960 EVO 500GB M.2 of each NUC and use them for the vSAN caching tier. Both NUCs will have still one 960 EVO 500 left to be used as local storage.

Capacity Device for vSAN

Samsung 860 Evo Basic 1TB.

Network

Currently, my home network only consists of Ubiquiti network devices with 1GbE interfaces.

So I ordered the Ubiquiti 10G 16-port switch which comes with four 1/10 Gigabit RJ45 ports – no SFPs needed for now. Maybe in the future 😀

This is the home lab configuration I ordered and all parts should arrive until end of November 2018.

What do you think about this setup?

Your feedback is very welcome!