Monthly Archives: May 2011

Time for a home VMware lab upgrade

I have developed a theory that a significant number of VMware vSphere/ESXi customers (smaller ones; a couple of hundred servers or so at most) likely don’t use much of the functionality beyond vMotion, DRS, and virtual center. This means that there are a lot of VMware admins (trained or not) who know only basic details about what it is they can do with their environment.

The VMware Install/Configure/Manage class is really an intro level class and doesn’t touch on much more than these topics either; the focus is primary on installation, basic configuration (DRS and vMotion included of course), storage integration, vSwitches (but not Nexus), and resource pools. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the class but the reality is that it seems to be designed exactly for the “average” VMware admin that most companies need.

As my career progresses I realize I am gravitating towards the core infrastructure and (somewhat) away from the applications that run on it. I still need to understand those applications of course, but only so I know what I need to deliver. A good example would be high availability Exchange 2010 deployments as Microsoft wants to see a certain number of cores across your virtual environment in order to be able to provide full support. While my administration days are numbered the engineering skills I am required to have are increasing by the month. No complaints here! Engineering is what keeps me up at night, and sometimes through the night. The point? I need to know more about VMware. I need to be able to do more with VMware. Deep skills in SRM, HA, resource pools, update manager, interpreting log/performance data, and so on.

My current home lab is two hosts with local storage only, which won’t suffice when you need to study the laundry list of items that I do. My short term goal is to be able to get my VCAP-DCD, and at some point my VCDX. The former is definitely possible; I don’t know yet what I will need to do to attain the latter.

Current lab details:

  • 1 x Dell PowerEdge 2950 / 16GB ram / 2 x Intel Xeon 5000 Series Dual Core
  • 1 x Generic PC / 8GB ram / 1 x Intel Q6600 Quad Core
  • ESXi 4.1
  • vCenter 4.1

New lab details:

  • “Datacenter” 1:
    • Two node primary VMware cluster (yes two of these will be built)
    • Intel S5000XVN Workstation Motherboard, 1 x Intel Xeon 5000 Series Dual Core, 16GB ram, dual onboard NIC
    • Local storage will be flash only to run ESXi 4.1U1
    • Iomega ix2-200 iSCSI capable 2TB (1TB usable) NAS device. This VMware certified device will provide iSCSI shared storage to my two node cluster.
  • “Datacenter” 2:
    • Generic PC will be updated to ESXi 4.1U1 and used for performing VMware SRM labs.This box will continue to run local storage only.

Additional details: The 2950 will be parted out to provide processors and ram for the new hosts. The server is just to loud and expensive to run for long periods of time at home. While old (going on 5 years) the components are still more than adequate for most production VMware loads and are perfect for my new builds. I will use a EMC (Uber) VNX simulator in each “datacenter” to support the SRM labs. Nick Weaver (creator of the EMC VNX and Celerra simulators) has a video explaining how to make it all work. I choose NZXT Whisper cases for my 2 builds because they get decent reviews and are reasonably quiet. Corsair CX430 power supplies are good quality, not too expensive, and should provide enough power.   The updated lab should allow me to simulate most of the things I need in order to really advance my VMware skills. While it would be nice to build a lab like this one I think I can get most of what I need out of this modest setup. I look forward to all the components coming in so I can get everything setup and start playing with some of the more advanced features of VMware.

- Jason

On seizing the moment…..

Earlier today Stefanie Gordon did something innocuous, she tweeted some cool photos (and video) she shot of the space shuttle launch as seen outside the window of the plane she was on. By now you probably know that her tweets went global, being retweeted by NASA and mentioned on news shows around the globe. Her twitter feed mentions that she is looking for work, and I’ll bet that an opportunity will present itself rather soon. Is she lucky? Yes. Will I be jealous if she uses the attention to further her career? Not in the least.

I’ve met a lot of people who like to blame others for where they are (or are not) in their life; those of you who work in IT know that the field is filled with people like that. The industry changed right under their feet (lots of examples of that over the last 5 years) and they lay blame on their employer for not helping them keep their skills current. I’m not going to get into a discussion about training/career development; lets just say that I see both sides of the argument. I’ve done my share of complaining about employers who put little or no effort into their IT staff personal development plans, but at the same time I took it on myself to keep current and even grow beyond the (then) needs of my employers. I’ve spent significant amounts of money on books, lab equipment, a training class or two, and a couple of degrees. Do I regret having to do that? Not really because I know that it will all pay off in one way or another.

What I haven’t remembered until recently is that which is the title of this post, that regardless of what I have done on my own I must always take responsibility for seeking out those opportunities that interest me. I tend to focus on goals that are “out of my reach”, so to speak, as those seem to be the only ones I find satisfying. That doesn’t mean they are unobtainable, just that you may need to do more than just read a few extra books to close the gap. It means getting your name out there alongside some nuggets of information that your “target peers” might find interesting, keeping the bar raised high because you know that what you want requires it, and learning everything you can that might benefit you when your name is called (thank you LinkedIn!).

I am fortunate that I have always interviewed well (assuming I have had the necessary sleep that is). My challenge has always been getting in front of the people who make the decisions; once that happens (and assuming I have prepared) I can usually make things happen. For me it is about showing my passion for what I do; a lot of people like to see that. I feel sorry for those in my field who are not inspired; what a miserable existence that must be. Take this behind the scenes video from the vSpecialist team at EMC World 2011. The entire video is worth watching, but skip forward to the 16 minute mark if you want to see something cool (to me anyway). Need another example? How about this video by the same team shown at VMworld 2010. No it isn’t my life long dream to mimic scenes from the Oceans 11 movies, nor do I want to be an (amatuer) singer, but when I read about what guys like this do and (in some cases) meet them in person I am reminded that there are a lot of things I have yet to do within my field.

IT is not a forgiving career choice; to be the best requires a commitment to lifelong learning and the understanding that 40 hour work weeks are nice in theory but uncommon in real life. That being said, I can say with absolutely certainly that I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else for a career. Where am I going with all this? My point is that we must all make our own luck using whatever means necessary and never expect anything to be handed to us. Sometimes we get lucky and small decisions bring us huge payouts (see Stefanie above); more often than not achieving our goals requires a sustained effort and a willingness to step outside our comfort zone from time to time. I can’t stress enough that you must find your inspiration, and in my opinion that doesn’t come from reading books and websites all day. My technique is to seek out people who are “smarter” (or more senior) than myself and get every last bit of knowledge I can out of them while doing everything I can to make a lasting impression. I’ll settle for the transfer of knowledge, but my real goal is to get this person to think of me when they hear of an opportunity I might like.

-Jason

First post of many…..

Why am I doing this?

It is an odd combination of things that have led me to start a blog. First and foremost among them is that I need a way to stay more engaged in the happenings within the technology arena, something which is critical if I am going to continue to “climb the ladder” within the field. I should clarify something first, when I “happenings within the technology arena” I am referring primarily to storage, virtualization, and backup/recovery. Technically Microsoft products should be included on that list but the truth is that most of their products change only once every few years, and as I move away from administrative tasks all I really need to know are the architectural changes (which there are fewer of when compared to administrative differences).

If I were to step back and say what keeps me most on my toes it is the “disruptive” changes, which just happen to be the three areas I mentioned in the previous paragraph (storage, virtualization, backup/recovery). The best example I can make? These technologies are obsoleting most of the projects I was doing as recently as 3 years ago (small and mid size IT consulting). I would hope that some day this blog will be a source of (original) technical ideas; that is my goal. As it stands today I can contribute greatly to a team and/or conversation BUT I am not a leader within my field. I can assure you that I really want to be, and that I am working towards that end, but I need a few lucky breaks (along with a lot more self study). For now my posts will likely be random technical observations combined with what I see as the problems that many mid-size businesses face (hint: it isn’t all about budgeting).

- Jason