Archive for December, 2008

… and have a Happy New Year!

December 30, 2008

Well thankfully I’ve returned from my stint over 200 clicks north of the arctic circle with all my fingers and toes! Mind you, we were lucky to catch some unseasonably warm weather – the coldest it got was a toasty -3 (celsius) instead of the average -20 at this time of year.

Anyhou, I’ve been working on a bit of a special rant philosophical post to end the year, so I’ll get my well wishes out of the way now.

I hope you’ve had a great 2008. I had almost zero expectations when I started this blog back in January, and have been completely blown away at the level of readership and attention in the community that I have received. So to that end, thanks everyone for reading, thanks to the guys in the community I talk to / know (they’re listed in the “linkage” section down the right there). Thanks to John Troyer at VMware for helping to get me on the map and for being so tolerant with the profanity ;-), and thanks to all the other people at VMware who have helped along the way… Lance, Carter, Steve, the account team that handles my company (you think I give VMware a hard time as a blogger… that’s nothing compared to what I put them through as a customer). And a special shout out to all those who took the time to email me over the year – I really appreciate the time anyone takes to give me their angle or experiences with regards to a post, keep it coming.

In the new year I’ll be moving to dedicated hosting, so hopefully I can start doing some more stuff like hosting a few whitepapers and small utilities / scripts. And get a bit more of a custom theme going (the green ain’t going nowhere though ;-).

The coming year is going to be interesting for many people on many fronts, and I don’t expect it will be an easy one. But as Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of difficulty lies opportunity”. Here’s wishing that you all make the most of those opportunities should they arise, and have a great 2009.

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2008

Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas to everyone. I’ll be ducking off to try and catch the Northern Lights between now and new years, including a stint of sleeping on ice. Should be cool (ho ho ho, pun fully intended!). Wherever you are, I hope you have a safe and happy festive season.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Citrix…

December 21, 2008

VDI that is. Technically that should say ‘terminal services’, but I had to get in a Christmas themed post title before the 25th 🙂

Remember back when VDI reached that tipping point in the enterprise? It was hailed as offering unprecedented levels of flexibility. Hailed as the slayer of terminal server based environments with their draconian mandatory profiles and restricted application sets. And biggest of all, hailed as finally providing us with a unified environment for application packaging, support and delivery. And so we all embarked on this VDI journey. But of course, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. And having travelled this road for a while now, a sense of déjà vu is creeping in.

Yes, it is decidedly feeling a lot like Citrix. In an effort to drive down costs, the VDI restrictions and caveats are coming out of the woodwork. Scheduled desktop “refreshes”, locking down desktop functionality in the name of stopping writes to the system drive, redirecting profiles to other volumes, squeezing a common set of required applications into a base ‘master’ template and disallowing application installs, etc etc. Software solutions are being ushered in to address these issues (brokers, app virtualisation, user environment virtualisation) – all for a premium of course. The same way it happened with Terminal Services / Citrix. We need to buy Terminal Server CALs from Microsoft, Citrix CAL’s from Citrix, pay additional for enterprise features like useful load balancing, even more for decent reporting capabilities, then we need to do something about profile management, we need separate packaging standards, there are separate support teams, separate application compatibility and supportability issues, etc etc.

If we continue to slap all these restrictions and add all these infrastructure / software (ie cost) requirements on top of VDI, we run the risk of turning it into the very thing we were trying to get away from in the first place. The problem is without them, VDI doesn’t provide a cost effective solution for _general desktop replacement in well connected environments_ yet. I’ll emphasize the important bit in that sentence, in bold caps so I’m not misunderstood. _GENERAL DESKTOP REPLACEMENT IN WELL CONNECTED ENVIRONMENTS_. There are of course loads of other use cases where VDI makes great sense. But a desktop replacement for the average office worker in a well connected environment ain’t one of them.

And the desktop requirements for the average office worker is on the rise. In this new world of communication, IM based voice and video is coming to the fore. And yet none of the big players in the VDI space have a solution for universal USB redirection or high quality bi-directional audio/video to remote machines. But does it even make sense to develop such things? Either way, you still have a requirement for local compute resources and a local operating environment in which these devices can be used. Surely it makes more sense to use that local machine for the minimal desktop and applications that use this hardware (VOIP clients, etc), and remote all the other apps into the physical machine from somewhere else?

Maybe we’d be better off parking those plans for VDI world domination for the moment, and focusing on next generation application delivery and user environment virtualisation for our current desktop infrastructure (both physical and virtual). Once those things are in place, we will be in a much better position to assess just how much sense VDI really makes as a general desktop replacement.

Boche, Lowe – You Got It All Wrong!

December 15, 2008

About this Mohamed Fawzi bloke. He’s talking about _music_ fellas, more specifically para-metal. I don’t mind the odd bit of thrash, maybe I can find some of these Hyper Wii’s (or whatever they’re called) on iTunes.

Kicking ESX Host Hardware Standards Down a Notch

December 14, 2008

The hardware vs software race is becoming more and more a hare vs tortoise these days, with the advent of multicore. And you can understand why – concurrency is hard. _Very_ hard. But oddly enough, I don’t see much on the intertubes about people changing their hardware standards, except for the odd bit of marketing.

Although the HP BL 495c is in some respects an interim step to where we really want to go (think PCIe-V), the CPU / memory design of the blade is pretty much spot on. That is, as more cores become available, we should be moving to less sockets and more slots.

I’m not going to entertain the whole blade vs rackmount debate. I totally understand that blades may not make much sense in small shops (places with only a few hundred servers). I probably should change the description of my blog… I only talk enterprise here people. Not small scale, not internet scale, but enterprise scale (although to be honest a lot of the same principles apply to enterprise and internet scale architectures, on the infrastructure side at least).

The next release of VMware Virtual Infrastructure will make this even more painfully obvious. VMware Fault Tolerance was never designed for big iron – it’s designed to make many small nodes function like big iron. OK, so maybe the hare vs tortoise comparison isn’t really fair with regards to VMware ;-).

But this doesn’t only apply to ESX host hardware standards – it should apply to pretty much any x86 hardware standards, _especially_ those targetted at Windows workloads. We’ve seen it time and time again – even if the Windows operating system did scale really well across lots of cores (and it won’t until 2008 R2), the applications just don’t. We only need to look at the Exchange 2007 benchmarks that were getting attention around the time of VMworld Europe 2008 for evidence of this. If Exchange works better with 4 cores than it does 16, you can bet your life that 99.999% of Windows apps will be in the same boat. Giving your business the opportunity to purchase the latest and greatest 4 way box will do nothing but throw up artifical barriers to virtualisation. The only Windows apps that require so much grunt are poorly written ones.

So if you haven’t revisited your ESX host hardware standards in the past year or so, it’s probably time to do so now, so you can be ready when finally drops. Concurrency may be hard, but I wouldnt call distrubted processing easy either – the more the underlying platform can abstract these difficult programming constructs, the more easy it will be to virtualise.

Check out Martin Ingram on DABCC…

December 13, 2008

While I’m a little insulted that Martin didn’t tell me he is now contributing to Doug Brown’s excellent site (j/k Martin :-), he is and you should keep an eye out for his posts.

Martin is Strategy VP for AppSense. I and others have been saying for a while that user environment virtualisation is the final piece of the virtualisation pie to fully realise statelessness, and let me tell you now there is no better product on the market for this than Environment Manager. No I’m not getting paid to write this, but in the name of responsible disclosure I will say we have a long standing and excellent relationship with AppSense at the place I work. We have stacked them up against their competitors many times over the years and on the technical / feature side they have blown the competition away every time. They are the VMware of the user environment virtualisation space.

So welcome to the blogosphere Martin, and to make up for you not telling me about the blogging I’ll be expecting a ticket to get onboard the AppSense yacht at VMworld Europe 2009 :-D. And while I’m here, shout outs to Sheps and 6 figures at AppSense.

ESXi 3 Update 3 – Free Version Unshackled, hoo-rah!

December 10, 2008

I’m not going to try and claim credit for this development, but Rich Brambley (the only blog with a description that I feel outshines my own 🙂 broke the news today that the free version ESXi 3 Update 3 appears to have a fully functional API. I plan on testing this out tomorrow, and will report back as I’m sure others will too!

UPDATE The great Mike D has beaten me to it. Looks like all systems are go for the evolution of statelesx… 😉

UPDATE 2 Oh man… who the !#$% is running QA in VMware? What a shocker!

VMware View – Linked Clones Not A Panacea for VDI Storage Pain!

December 10, 2008

Why do I always seem to be the bad guy. I know the other guys dont gloss over the limitations or realities of product features on purpose, but sheesh it always seems to be me cutting a swathe of destruction through the marketing hype. Somehow I don’t think I will be in contention for VVP status anytime soon (I’m sure the profanity doesn’t help either but… fuck it. Hey it’s not like kids read this, and I’m certainly not out there doing this kind of thing).

As any reader of this blog will be aware, VMware View was launched a week or so ago. Amongst it’s many touted features was the oft requested “linked clone” functionality, designed to reduce the storage overheads associated with VDI. But it may not be the panacea it’s being made out to be.

My 2 main concerns are:

1) Snapshots can grow up to the same size as the source disk. Although this situation will probably not be too common, you can bet your life that they will grow to the size of the free space in the base image in a manner of weeks. I’ve spent an _extensive_ amount of time testing this stuff out to try and battle the VDI storage cost problem. But no matter how much you tune the guest OS, there’s just no way to overcome the fact that the NTFS filesystem will _always_ write to available zero’ed blocks before it writes to blocks containing deleted files. This means if you have 10GB free space, and you create and delete a 1GB file 10 times, you will end up with no net change in used storage within the guest however your snapshot will now be 10GB in size. Don’t belive me? Try it yourself. Now users creating and deleting large files in this manner may again be uncommon, but temporary internet files, software distribution / patching application caches, patch uninstall directories, AV caches and definition files, temporary office files… these things all add up. Fast. Now of course each environment will differ in this regard, so the best thing you can do to get an idea of what the storage savings you can expect is take a fresh VDI machine, snapshot it, and then use it normally for a month. Of if you think you’re not the average user, pick a newly provisioned user VDI machine and do the test. Monitor the growth of that snap file weekly. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find. Linked clones are just snapshots at the end of the day, they don’t do anything tricky with deduplication, they don’t do anything tricky in the guest filesystem, they are just snapshots. Which leads me to my next major concern.

2) LUN locking. We all know that a lock is acquired on a VMFS volume whenever volume metadata is updated. Metadata updates occur everytime a snapshot file is incremented, at the moment this is hardcoded to 16MB increments. For this reason, the recommendation from VMware has always been to minimise the number of snapshotted machines on a single LUN. Something like 8 per LUN I think was the ballpark maximum. Now if the whole point of linked clones is to reduce storage, it’s fair to assume you’d be planning to increase the number of VM’s per LUN, not decrease them. In which case houston, we may have a problem. Perhaps linked clones increment in blocks of greater than 16MB, which may go some way towards solving the problem. But at this time I don’t know if that’s the case or not. Someone feel free to check this out and let me know (Rod, I’m looking at you 🙂

Now of course there are many other design considerations, such having a single small LUN for the master image and partitioning your array cache so that LUN is _always_ cached. It’s a snap’ed vmdk and therefore read only so this won’t be a problem. Unless you dont have enough array cache to do this (which will likely be the case outside of large enterprises, or even within them in some cases).

In my mind, the real panacea for the storage problem is statelessness. User environment virtualisation / streaming and app virtualisation / streaming are going to make the biggest dent in the storage footprint, while at the same time allowing us to use much cheaper storage because when the machine state is empty until a user logs on, it doesn’t matter so much if the storage containing 50 base VM images disappears (assuming you catered for this scenario, which you did because you know that cheaper disk normally means increased failure rate).

So by all means, check View out. If high latency isn’t a problem for you, there’s little reason to choose another broker (aside from cost of course). But don’t offset the cost of the broker with promises of massive storage cost reduction without trying out my snap experiment in your environment first, or you may get burnt.

UPDATE Rod has a great post detailing his thoughts on this. Go read it!

UPDATE 2 Another excellent post on this topic from the man himself, Chad Sakac. Chad removes any fears regarding LUN locking, which IMHO is only possible with empricial testing, which is exactly what Chad and his team have done. Excellent work, and thankyou. With regards to my other concern of snapshot growth and the reality of regular snapshot reversion, he also clarifies the absolutely vital point in all of this, which I didn’t do a very good job of in my initial post – every environment will differ. Although I still believe the place I work is fairly typical of any large enterprise at this point in time, the absolute best thing for you to do in your shop is test it and see what the business are willing to except in terms of rebuiilds or investment in other technologies such as app virtualisation and profile management. They may or may not offset any storage cost reductions, again every place will differ.

Why Times Like These are _Great_ for Enterprise IT

December 7, 2008

First, my heart goes out to out to all those who have found themselves out of a job during these dark financial times. I hope you won’t find this post antagonistic in any way, it is obviously written from the perspective of someone who is still gainfully employed in a large enterprise (but what the future holds is anyone’s guess). If you are in a tight situation right now, I can only hope that this post will give you some ammunition for your next interview, or help give some focus to your time between jobs.

OK, I’ll lighten up a little now :-). So the title of this post may seem a little odd. All we seem to be hearing about these days is lay offs and cutbacks. I know of several institutions who have mandated all contractors to not be renewed, and others who are chopping full time staff alongside contractors. Either way, doesn’t sound too great at all, and in fact I’m beginning to think I may change that title.

But then I remember what’s great about restriction – it’s a lightning rod for innovation. Look at all the success stories on the web – the vast majority of them were born from tight circumstances, from the poor student to the unemployed developer. And if you’re on top of your game in the enterprise, it’s no different – you can write your own internal success story.

Some of the things I hear around my office are no doubt typical of any architecture & engineering group in a large investment bank. The focus from on high is on keeping the lights on, and cutting costs at any available opportunity. But what’s maybe different is the approach to cost cutting, which is absolutely grounded in fundamental mathematical principles. What do I mean by that? If you need to spend $1 to save $2, then you’re still saving $1 so it’s worth doing.

But why would you need financial dire straits for such behaviour? Surely you would follow the same principles in the good times as well as bad? Damn straight we do – the difference is in these times, _everything_ can be challenged. And when you can challenge everything, you can innovate like an engineer possessed.

Case in point, clouds. And let’s be honest, there’s only one viable player in the market currently, Amazon. And boy are the eyes of the business on them. But what’s been lacking until now is the ability for an internal cloud to compete with them on purely a cost basis. Amazon’s EC2 pricing includes a bucket of compute resources, SLA’s for those compute resources, and a choice of preconfigured AMI’s (I’m conveniently ignoring the ability to roll your own AMI and upload it, for the time being).

Here’s what Amazon’s pricing doesn’t include. Guest support, backup, monitoring, antivirus, patching, and auditing. Where is the greatest cost associated with enterprise compute resources? Those very same things.

Now, yes I am conveniently ignoring the ability to roll your own AMI and upload it to EC2, but even if you did include all the aforementioned agents in your image, how practical would that actually be? I have yet to see an enterprise with a monitoring system that was intelligent enough to know the difference between “down because someone shut me down because they don’t need me right now” and “down because of a hardware / software error”. So if, in order to get Amazon’s cheap pricing, we’re willing to forgo monitoring within the guest, then surely I can do the same for my internal cloud machines? And the same goes for backup. Machines on a backup schedule don’t only attract backup software licensing costs, there is monitoring overheads, and storage costs associated with the backed up data. And again, backup systems are generally inflexible. A backup missed is a backup missed, and generally the operational decree will be that it needs to be run at the first opportunity. But in order to get Amazon’s cheap pricing (there’s additional charges for network IO), we’re willing to forgo backups. Hey, there’s another cost I can strike off the list for my internal cloud offering! How about authentication? Domain membership has all sorts of implications for creation / deletion / archiving or machines, snapshots that get rolled back beyond 30 days etc. Windows based EC2 machines with “authentication services” attract something like a 50% premium. Perhaps my internal cloud machines should too. After all, does every development box _really_ need to be on the domain? How about grid nodes?

I won’t bore with going through the rest of the list, but you get the picture. In order to get this rock bottom pricing, there is a _lot_ of functionality that is generally taken for granted in the enterprise that needs to be stripped out.

One of the biggest challenges in the enterprise is reworking the charging model to strip out all these things that now look like “extras” in comparison to Amazon’s EC2. And this is where the “great times for enterprise computing” comes into the picture – it’s about time these things were fucking well treated as extras, and that an _accurate_ pricing model was available for the business that broke down all these costs, and made them optional. That’s the only way we’ll get an apples to apples comparison to the likes of EC2.

And you know what? It’s actually happening where I work. All the restrictions that would’ve hamstrung us from ever offering something on par with EC2 are being lifted. Finally, cheap utility _compute_ (I can’t stress that enough – COMPUTE) is something we’re actually going to be able to offer for the first time ever. And it’s all thanks to the financial crisis, because the laser like focus on cost would never have happened otherwise.

This of course also has implications for VMware. When I say _everything_ can be challenged, I mean _everything_. Would it be cheaper for us to pay for VMware, or for someone like me to be given a few internal developers and infrastructure resources and take a shot at building something like EC2, right down to the Xen part of things?

Right now in many companies, it’s survival of the fittest. If all we’re going to be left with internally is a skeletal staff of absolute guns in their respective fields, along with a mandate to drive down costs through innovation and to hell with how things used to be done, then you can bet your bottom dollar something like that is entirely possible.

So if you do find yourself out of work, maybe it’s time to further develop those automation skills. Get familiar with web services, pick any language you like – C#, Java, Python etc. PowerShell is a great option too, check out the PowerShell 2.0 CTP. Sign up for an Amazon Web Services account and figure out how to do stuff (you only pay for what you use, it can be cheap). Think about what they offer, find the strengths and the weaknesses, and then think about you might implement something similar in an enterprise, and what would be required to do it better. Think about how you might burst into something like EC2 from an internal cloud. What layers need to be loosely coupled in order to do such a thing in the most efficient way? What implications do external clouds have for internal cloud architecture and operations? Now take all that, and expand your scope to Google’s cloud offering, what’s coming with Azure, what other players there are in the field.

Yes sir, exciting times ahead in the next few years, even moreso than they were before the financial meltdown occurred.

ThinApp Blog – would you like a glass of water to help swallow that foot?

December 4, 2008

I’m going to try and resist the urge to make this post another ‘effenheimer’ (as Mr Boche might say 🙂 but my mind boggles as to WTF the ThinApp team were thinking when they made this post. Way to call out a major shortcoming of your own product guys! To be honest, I’m completely amazed that VMware don’t support their own client as a ThinApp Package. Say what you will about Microsoft, but you gotta respect their ‘eat our own dogfood’ mentality. To my knowledge, if you encounter an issue with any Microsoft client based app that is delivered via App-V, they will support you to the hilt.

Now that i’ve passed the Planet v12n summary wordcount, I can give in to my temptation and start dropping the F bombs, because I’m mad. The VI client is a fairly typical .NET based app. If VMware themselves don’t support ThinApp’ing it, how the fuck do they expect other ISV’s with .NET based products to support ThinApp’ing their apps? Imagine if VMware said that running vCenter in a guest wasn’t supported – what kind of message would that send about machine virtualisation! Adding to the embarrassment, it seems that ThinApp’ing the .NET Framework itself is no dramas!!!

It’s laughable that a company would spend so much time and money on marketing efforts like renaming products mid-lifecycle, but let stuff like this slip by the wayside. Let’s hope this is fixed for the next version of VI.