Cloud vSphere Labs for fun and profit

Some material from my keynote at the Silicon Valley VMUG User Conference on April 14, 2015:

newkingmakers-2You, as a technologist, have unprecedented power at the moment. The book at the right is The New Kingmakers by Stephen Grady. It’s not long. You should read it. Even if you’re not a developer per se, you should read it. Most of what Stephen lays out is also true for all technologists. In short, the Internet and open source and all the things that come from those developments — like social media, SaaS, easily-installable products — mean that time-to-value for new products and technologies are low. No longer do you have to enter into a big contract and a lot of customization before you figure out if something is going to work or even if you like it. As a technologist, that means you can now participate in technology selection and evaluation because you should be able to actually try out most technologies easily, and a lot of things can even be tried out for free. I mean, if your boss wants to know if you should use, say, Docker, in your company, it’s open source and easy to use — you can get started in an afternoon, and not after a million dollars of vendor consultants come and set it up.

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One important way technologists try out new technologies is in a lab. Work lab, home lab, whatever. The trouble with home labs is that they are normally built with whatever kit you can scavenge together – old retired servers from work or off eBay. They are slow, draw way too much power, run way too hot, and sound like an airport runway.

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For a while I thought that laptops running nested virtualization would be the way we’d all do our labs. This started in 2007 when some folks figured out how to put VMware VI3 (what we then called ESX Server) inside VMware Workstation. By 2009 all the VMworld labs were nested like this, and ESXi was even supported as a guest. This can still be done on a home machine easily but the trend towards lighter laptops — the latest Macbook Air has a max of 8GB of soldered-in RAM — and increasing memory requirements — the latest ESXi 6 needs 6GB  — has meant that the world where you can do something useful with nested virtualization on your laptop.

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So what’s the solution? One solution is now available in beta from Ravello Systems. I’ve been working with Ravello to launch their new support for what they sometimes call nested2 virtualization — that is, ESXi (or kvm) running inside the cloud (the big boy real cloud at AWS or Google).

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This is great for labs. But because you can ‘hoist’ both your workloads and your networks (and via regular nested virtualization it’s easy to put up some VSA-style storage), you can also do things like test out an upgrade or other infrastructure changes and figure out how you’re about to take down your production infrastructure. Just as abstracting a machine made virtualization powerful, abstracting an entire data center makes nested2 virtualization powerful.

But back to labs. ESXi in the cloud, you pay by what you use, and you have basically an infinite pool of resources, not your puny little laptop or 5-year-old rack mount space heater. What can you do with it?

Spin up 250 ESXi nodes just for the heck of it (courtesy Scott Lowe)

Create a 64-node VSAN cluster (courtesy William Lam)

vMotion from one cloud to another (courtesy Mike Preston)

Functionality aside, the good folks at Ravello Systems have been great in reaching out to the VMware and vExpert community. There are some open source automation tools they’re releasing and they’re also working with Alastair Cooke on a new version of AutoLab that supports vSphere 6 and makes it easier to get your images into Ravello’s system. They’ve been working with me and other vExperts to explore what is possible with their platform — expect more news soon. In the meantime, check out the content over on the Ravello Systems blog — they’ve got all sorts of use cases, examples, and tutorials. You can sign up for a free trial.

Thanks to Navin Thadani and Shruti Bhat from Ravello for their commitment to the community and congrats on the launch!

Disclaimer: Ravello Systems is a client

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