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Welcome to Technology Short Take #28, the first Technology Short Take for 2013. As always, I hope that you find something useful or informative here. Enjoy!

Networking

  • Ivan Pepelnjak recently wrote a piece titled “Edge and Core OpenFlow (and why MPLS is not NAT)”. It’s an informative piece—Ivan’s stuff is always informative—but what really drew my attention was his mention of a paper by Martin Casado, Teemu Koponen, and others that calls for a combination of MPLS and OpenFlow (and an evolution of OpenFlow into “edge” and “core” versions) to build next-generation networks. I’ve downloaded the paper and intend to review it in more detail. I’d love to hear from any networking experts who’ve read the paper—what are your thoughts?
  • Speaking of Ivan…it also appears that he’s quite pleased with Microsoft’s implementation of NVGRE in Hyper-V. Sounds like some of the other vendors need to get on the ball.
  • Here’s a nice explanation of CloudStack’s physical networking architecture.
  • The first fruits of Brad Hedlund’s decision to join VMware/Nicira have shown up in this joint article by Brad, Bruce Davie, and Martin Casado describing the role of network virutalization in the software-defined data center. (It doesn’t matter how many times I say or write “software-defined data center,” it still feels like a marketing term.) This post is fairly high-level and abstract; I’m looking forward to seeing more detailed and in-depth posts in the future.
  • Art Fewell speculates that the networking industry has “lost our way” and become a “big bag of protocols” in this article. I do agree with one of the final conclusions that Fewell makes in his article: that SDN (a poorly-defined and often over-used term) is the methodology of cloud computing applied to networking. Therefore, SDN is cloud networking. That, in my humble opinion, is a more holistic and useful way of looking at SDN.
  • It appears that the vCloud Connector posts (here and here) that (apparently) incorrectly identify VXLAN as a component/prerequisite of vCloud Connector have yet to be corrected. (Hat tip to Kenneth Hui at VCE.)

Servers/Hardware

Nothing this time around, but I’ll watch for content to include in future posts.

Security

  • Here’s a link to a brief (too brief, in my opinion, but perhaps I’m just being overly critical) post on KVM virtualization security, authored by Dell TechCenter. It provides some good information on securing the libvirt communication channel.

Cloud Computing/Cloud Management

  • Long-time VMware users probably remember Mike DiPetrillo, whose website has now, unfortunately, gone offline. I mention this because I’ve had this article on RabbitMQ AMQP with vCloud Director sitting in my list of “articles to write about” for a while, but some of the images were missing and I couldn’t find a link for the article. I finally found a link to a reprinted version of the article on DZone Enterprise Integration. Perhaps the article will be of some use to someone.
  • Sam Johnston talks about reliability in the cloud with a discussion on the merits of “reliable software” (software designed for failure) vs. “unreliable software” (more traditional software not designed for failure). It’s a good article, but I found the discussion between Sam and Massimo (of VMware) as equally useful.

Operating Systems/Applications

Storage

  • Want some good details on the space-efficient sparse disk format in vSphere 5.1? Andre Leibovici has you covered right here.
  • Read this article for good information from Andre on a potential timeout issue with recomposing desktops and using the View Storage Accelerator (aka context-based read cache, CRBC).
  • Apparently Cormac Hogan, aka @VMwareStorage on Twitter, hasn’t gotten the memo that “best practices” is now outlawed. He should have named this series on NFS with vSphere “NFS Recommended Practices”, but even misnamed as they are, the posts still have useful information. Check out part 1, part 2, and part 3.
  • If you’d like to get a feel for how VMware sees the future of flash storage in vSphere environments, read this.

Virtualization

  • This is a slightly older post, but informative and useful nevertheless. Cormac posted an article on VAAI offloads and KAVG latency when observed in esxtop. The summary of the article is that the commands esxtop is tracking are internal to the ESXi kernel only; therefore, abnormal KAVG values do not represent any sort of problem. (Note there’s also an associated VMware KB article.)
  • More good information from Cormac here on the use of the SunRPC.MaxConnPerIP advanced setting and its impact on NFS mounts and NFS connections.
  • Another slightly older article (from September 2012) is this one from Frank Denneman on how vSphere 5.1 handles parallel Storage vMotion operations.
  • A fellow IT pro contacted me on Twitter to see if I had any idea why some shares on his Windows Server VM weren’t working. As it turns out, the problem is related to hotplug functionality; the OS sees the second drive as “removable” due to hotplug functionality, and therefore shares don’t work. The problem is outlined in a bit more detail here.
  • William Lam outlines how to use new tagging functionality in esxcli in vSphere 5.1 for more comprehensive scripted configurations. The new tagging functionality—if I’m reading William’s write-up correctly—means that you can configure VMkernel interfaces for any of the supported traffic types via esxcli. Neat.
  • Chris Wahl has a nice write-up on the behavior of Network I/O Control with multi-NIC vMotion traffic. It was pointed out in the comments that the behavior Chris describes is documented, but the write-up is still handy, and an important factor to keep in mind in your designs.

I suppose I should end it here, before this “short take” turns into a “long take”! In any case, courteous comments are always welcome, so if you have additional information, clarifications, or corrections to share regarding any of the articles or links in this post, feel free to speak up below.

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This presentation is one that I gave at the New Mexico, New York City, and Seattle VMUG conferences (this specific deck came from the Seattle conference, as you can tell by the Twitter handle on the first slide). The topic is design considerations for running vSphere on NFS. This isn’t an attempt to bash NFS, but rather to educate users on the things to avoid if you’re going to build a rock-solid NFS infrastructure for your VMware vSphere environment. I hope that someone finds it useful.

My standard closing statements goes here–your questions, thoughts, corrections, or clarification (always courteous, please!) are welcome in the comments below.

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Welcome to Technology Short Take #23, another collection of links and thoughts related to data center technologies like networking, storage, security, cloud computing, and virtualization. As usual, we have a fairly wide-ranging collection of items this time around. Enjoy!

Networking

  • A couple of days ago I learned that there are a couple open source implementations of LISP (Locator/ID Separation Protocol). There’s OpenLISP, which runs on FreeBSD, and there’s also a project called LISPmob that brings LISP to Linux. From what I can tell, LISPmob appears to be a bit more focused on the endpoint than OpenLISP.
  • In an earlier post on STT, I mentioned that STT’s re-use of the TCP header structure could cause problems with intermediate devices. It looks like someone has figured out how to allow STT through a Cisco ASA firewall; the configuration is here.
  • Jose Barreto posted a nice breakdown of SMB Multichannel, a bandwidth-enhancing feature of SMB 3.0 that will be included in Windows Server 2012. It is, unexpectedly, only supported between two SMB 3.0-capable endpoints (which, at this time, means two Windows Server 2012 hosts). Hopefully additional vendors will adopt SMB 3.0 as a network storage protocol. Just don’t call it CIFS!
  • Reading this article, you might deduce that Ivan really likes overlay/tunneling protocols. I am, of course, far from a networking expert, but I do have to ask: at what point does it become necessary (if ever) to move some of the intelligence “deeper” into the stack? Networking experts everywhere advocate the “complex edge-simple core” design, but does it ever make sense to move certain parts of the edge’s complexity into the core? Do we hamper innovation by insisting that the core always remain simple? As I said, I’m not an expert, so perhaps these are stupid questions.
  • Massimo Re Ferre posted a good article on a typical VXLAN use case. Read this if you’re looking for a more concrete example of how VXLAN could be used in a typical enterprise data center.
  • Bruce Davie of Nicira helps explain the difference between VPNs and network virtualization; this is a nice companion article to his colleague’s post (which Bruce helped to author) on the difference between network virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN).
  • The folks at Nicira also collaborated on this post regarding software overhead of tunneling. The results clearly favor STT (which was designed to take advantage of NIC offloading) over GRE, but the authors do admit that as “GRE awareness” is added to the cards that protocol’s performance will improve.
  • Oh, and while we’re on the topic of SDN…you might have noticed that VMware has taken to using the term “software-defined” to describe many of the services that vSphere (and related products) provide. This includes the use of software-defined networking (SDN) to describe the functionality of vSwitches, distributed vSwitches, vShield, and other features. Personally, I think that the term software-based networking (SBN) is far more applicable than SDN to what VMware does. It is just me?
  • Brad Hedlund wrote this post a few months ago, but I’m just now getting around to commenting about it. The gist of the article—forgive me if I munge it too much, Brad—is that the use of open source software components might dramatically change the shape/way/means in which networking protocols and standards are created and utilized. If two components are communicating over the network via open source components, is some sort of networking standard needed to avoid being “proprietary”? It’s an interesting thought, and goes to show the power of open source on the IT industry. Great post, Brad.
  • One more mention of OpenFlow/SDN: it’s great technology (and I’m excited about the possibilities that it creates), but it’s not a silver bullet for scalability.

Security

  • I came across this interesting post on a security attack based on VMDKs. It’s quite an interesting read, even if the probability of being able to actually leverage this attack vector is fairly low (as I understand it).

Storage

  • Chris Wahl has a good series on NFS with VMware vSphere. You can catch the start of the series here. One comment on the testing he performs in the “Same Subnet” article: if I’m not mistaken, I believe the VMkernel selection is based upon which VMkernel interface is listed in the first routing table entry for the subnet. This is something about which I wrote back in 2008, but I’m glad to see Chris bringing it to light again.
  • George Crump published this article on using DCB to enhance iSCSI. (Note: The article is quite favorable to Dell, and George discloses an affiliation with Dell at the end of the article.) One thing I did want to point out is that—if I recall correctly—the 802.1Qbb standard for Priority Flow Control only defines a single “no drop” class of service (CoS). Normally that CoS is assigned to FCoE traffic, but in an environment without FCoE you could assign it to iSCSI. In an environment with both, that could be a potential problem, as I see it. Feel free to correct me in the comments if my understanding is incorrect.
  • Microsoft is introducing data deduplication in Windows Server 2012, and here is a good post providing an introduction to Microsoft’s deduplication implementation.
  • SANRAD VXL looks interesting—anyone have any experience with it? Or more detailed technical information?
  • I really enjoyed Scott Drummonds’ recent storage performance analysis post. He goes pretty deep into some storage concepts and provides real-world, relevant information and recommendations. Good stuff.

Cloud Computing/Cloud Management

  • After moving CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation, Citrix published this discourse on “open washing” and provides a set of questions to determine the “openness” of software projects with which you may become involved. While the article is clearly structured to favor Citrix and CloudStack, the underlying point—to understand exactly what “open source” means to your vendors—is valid and worth consideration.
  • Per the AWS blog, you can now export EC2 instances out of Amazon and into another environment, including VMware, Hyper-V, and Xen environments. I guess this kind of puts a dent in the whole “Hotel California” marketing play that some vendors have been using to describe Amazon.
  • Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve most likely heard about Nick Weaver’s Razor project. (If you haven’t heard about it, here’s Nick’s blog post on it.) To help with the adoption/use of Razor, Nick also recently announced an overview of the Razor API.

Virtualization

  • Frank Denneman continues to do a great job writing solid technical articles. The latest article to catch my eye (and I’m sure that I missed some) was this post on combining affinity rule types.
  • This is an interesting post on a vSphere 5 networking bug affecting iSCSI that was fixed in vSphere 5.0 Update 1.
  • Make a note of this VMware KB article regarding UDP traffic on Linux guests using VMXNET3; the workaround today is using E1000 instead.
  • This post is actually over a year old, but I just came across it: Luc Dekens posted a PowerCLI script that allows a user to find the maximum IOPS values over the last 5 minutes for a number of VMs. That’s handy. (BTW, I have fixed the error that kept me from seeing the post when it was first published—I’ve now subscribed to Luc’s blog.)
  • Want to use a Debian server to provide NFS for your VMware environment? Here is some information that might prove helpful.
  • Jeremy Waldrop of Varrow provides some information on creating a custom installation ISO for ESXi 5, Nexus 1000V, and PowerPath/VE. Cool!
  • Cormac Hogan continues to pump out some very useful storage-focused articles on the official VMware vSphere blog. For example, both the VMFS locking article and the article on extending an EagerZeroedThick disk were great posts. I sincerely hope that Cormac keeps up the great work.
  • Thanks to this Project Kronos page, I’ve been able to successfully set up XCP on Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS. Here’s hoping it gets easier in future releases.
  • Chris Colotti takes on some vCloud Director “challenges”, mostly surrounding vShield Edge and vCloud Director’s reliance on vShield Edge for specific networking configurations. While I do agree with many of Chris’ points, I personally would disagree that using vSphere HA to protect vShield Edge is an acceptable configuration. I was also unable to find any articles that describe how to use vSphere FT to protect the deployed vShield appliances. Can anyone point out one or more of those articles? (Put them in the comments.)
  • Want to use Puppet to automate the deployment of vCenter Server? See here.

I guess it’s time to wrap up now, lest my “short take” get even longer than it already is! Thanks for reading this far, and I hope that I’ve shared something useful with you. Feel free to speak up in the comments if you have questions, thoughts, or clarifications.

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks! I was in Vienna, Austria, all last week, and I’m on the US West Coast this week. Even though I’ve been on the go, I’ve still been collecting various virtualization-related posts and tidbits. Here they are for you in Virtualization Short Take #36! I hope you find something useful.

  • You might recall that in early 2008 I wrote about how thin provisioned VMDKs on NFS storage tend to inflate. In a recent post, Chad Sakac pointed out that VMware has addressed this problem, which is caused by the use of the eagerzeroedthick VMDK format instead of the zeroedthick format. The fix requires ESX 3.5 Update 5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 Update 6, plus a configuration change that is outlined in this VMware KB article. Kudos to VMware for fixing the underlying issue instead of just forcing customers to upgrade to vSphere.
  • VMware’s Scott Drummonds provides a bit more information on the memory compression technology previewed by Steve Herrod at Partner Exchange 2010 a few weeks ago. In my opinion, anyone who says that the hypervisor is a commodity isn’t paying attention to the fact that VMware is still innovating in this space.
  • If you perform virtualization assessments using VMware’s Capacity Planner tool, you’ll find Gabe’s Capacity Planner troubleshooting tips helpful.
  • Gabe also published a “wish list” for VMware datastores. If you take a deeper look at what Gabe is really trying to address, though, a great deal of the functionality he’s looking for could be achieved through a combination of policy-based storage tiering and greater integration between VMware and the storage array. Would you really need category labels on VMware datastores if the underlying storage was tiering data effectively based on utilization? Probably not. It might still make sense in some cases, but I think the vast majority of cases would be addressed. I think that you are going to see some very cool innovation in this space over the course of this year.
  • Simon Gallagher recently asked this question: with the move to ESXi, is NFS more useful than VMFS? It appears that a large part of Simon’s argument centers around the speed at which files can be transferred into VMFS using ESXi, and it seems to me that VMware needs to do some optimization there. I’m not knocking NFS—I’ve used it extensively in the past and I have and continue to recommend it to customers where it is appropriate—but I’m not sure that you can build an argument for NFS based on ESXi’s file transfer performance. My friend and former colleague Aaron Delp (whose blog was recently added to Planet V12n; congrats!) points out that fixing VMDK alignment using ESXi could be an issue; now that’s a great point. Even third-party utilities like vOptimizer don’t work with ESXi. In my opinion, these points underscore the need for VMware to concentrate very heavily on ESXi if that is indeed going to be the “platform moving forward”.
  • I came across an interesting VMware KB article while browsing the weekly VMware KB digest for the week ending 2/28/10. The article, which discusses a situation in which VMware HA would fail to configure at 90% completion, describes how some network switches—HP ProCurve 1810G switches with automatic denial-of-service protection enabled and Cisco Catalyst 4948 switches with ICMP rate limiting enabled—can drop packets that are necessary for VMware HA to configure and start correctly.
  • Unfortunately, the latest VMware KB weekly digest (for the week ending 3/6/2010) didn’t include links to the actual articles that were published. Bummer! Still, it’s easy enough to simply look up the articles directly.
  • EMC today released a couple of plug-ins for vCenter Server. The Celerra plug-in for VMware Environments brings Celerra NFS provisioning into the vSphere Client. The Celerra Failback Plug-in for SRM automates failback in VMware SRM environments. The official press release is here, which contains links to more information on the individual plug-ins. (Disclaimer: I work for EMC.)
  • Newly-minted VCDX #029 Frank Denneman posted a good article on using reservations on resource pools to bypass slot sizing. As Frank points out, it’s not a recommended practice necessarily, but it might be warranted depending on customer requirements.
  • Duncan’s recent article on the behavior of CPU and memory reservations is also helpful, especially for those who might not be familiar with the differences between the two types of reservations.
  • Similarly, this guest post on Duncan’s site by VCDX Craig Risinger also helps explain how shares on a resource pool work. This is good information to have if you are unfamiliar with the topic.
  • I’m not a security geek, but I did think that the RSA-Intel-VMware announcement at RSAC 2010 (third-party coverage here) was pretty cool. Security experts, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What was good about the announcement? What was missing?
  • If you will be working with distributed vSwitches, this post by EMC’s Gregg Robertson might help; it underscores the need to ensure that your environment is being consistently and thoroughly patched and maintained. vCenter Update Manager, anyone?

I do have a few other articles in my “things to read list” that I haven’t yet gotten around to reading:

The Official Quest Software Desktop Virtualization Group Blog » Blog Archive » How to Integrate ThinApp with Quest vWorkspace 7.0
DRS Resource Distribution Chart
HP Flex-10 versus Nexus 5000 & Nexus 1000V with 10GE passthrough

That’s it for now. I hope that you’ve found something useful here, and—as always—I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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I had a reader contact me with a couple of questions, one of which I felt warranted a blog post. Paraphrased, the question was this: How do I make IP-based storage work with VMware vSphere on Cisco UCS?

At first glance, you might look at this question and scoff. Remember though, that Cisco UCS does—at this time—have a few limitations that make this a bit more complicated than at first glance. Specifically:

  • Recall that the UCS 6100XP fabric interconnects only have two kinds of ports: server ports and uplink ports.
  • Server ports are southbound, meaning they can only connect to the I/O Modules running in the back of the blade chassis.
  • Uplink ports are northbound, meaning they can only connect to an upstream switch. They cannot be used to connect directly to another end host or directly to storage.

With this in mind, then, how does one connect IP-based storage to a Cisco UCS? In these scenarios, you must have another set of Ethernet switches between the 6100XP fabric interconnects and the target storage array. Further, since the 6100XP fabric interconnects require 10GbE uplinks and do not—at this time—offer any 1GbE uplink functionality, you need to have the right switches between the 6100XP fabric interconnects and the target storage array.

Naturally, the Nexus 5000 fits the bill quite nicely. You can use a pair of Nexus 5000 switches between the UCS 6100XP interconnects and the storage array. Dual-connect the 6100XP interconnects to the Nexus 5000 switches for redundancy and active-active data connections, and dual-connect the target storage array to the Nexus 5000 switches for redundancy and (depending upon the array) active-active data connections. It would look something like this:

ipstorage-with-ucs.jpg

From the VMware side of the house, since you’re using 10GbE end-to-end, it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to worry about bandwidth; that eliminates any concerns over multiple VMkernel ports on multiple subnets or using multiple NFS targets so as to be able to use link aggregation. (I’m not entirely sure you could use link aggregation with the 6100XP interconnects anyway. Anyone?) However, since you are talking Cisco UCS you’ll have only two 10GbE connections (unless you’re using the full width blade, which is unlikely). This means you’ll need to pay careful attention to the VMware vSwitch (or dvSwitch, or Nexus 1000V) configuration. In general, the recommendation in this sort of configuration is to place Service Console, VMotion, and IP-based storage traffic on one 10GbE uplink, place virtual machine traffic on the second 10GbE uplink, and use whatever mechanisms are available to preferentially specify which uplink should be used in the course of normal operation. This provides redundancy in the uplinks but some level of separation of traffic.

One quick side note: although I’m talking IP-based storage here, block-based storage fans need to remember that Cisco UCS does not—at this time—support northbound FCoE. That means that although you have FCoE support southbound, and FCoE support in the Nexus 5000, and possibly FCoE support in your storage arrays, you still can’t do end-to-end FCoE with Cisco UCS.

For those readers who are very familiar with Cisco UCS and Nexus, this will seem like a pretty simplistic post. However, we need to keep in mind that there are lots of readers out there who have not had the same level of exposure. Hopefully, this will help provide some guidance and food for thought.

(Of course, one could just buy a Vblock and not have to worry about putting all the pieces together…hey, can’t blame me for trying, right?)

Clarifications, questions, or suggestions are welcome in the comments below. Thanks!

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Recently Jason Boche posted some storage performance numbers from his EMC Celerra NS-120. Out of those storage performance tests, Jason noted that the NFS performance of the NS-120 seemed a bit off, so he contacted EMC’s vSpecialist team (also known as “Chad’s Army”, but I like vSpecialists better) to see if there was something that could or should be done to improve NFS performance on the NS-120. After collaborating internally, one of our team members (a great guy named Kevin Zawodzinski) responded to Jason with some suggestions. I wanted to reproduce those suggestions here for everyone’s benefit.

Note that some of these recommendations are already found in the multi-vendor NFS post available on here on Chad’s site as well as here on Vaughn Stewart’s site.

In addition, most if not all of these recommendations are also found in the VMware on Celerra best practices document available from EMC’s web site here.

Without further ado, then…

  • As has been stated on multiple occasions and by multiple people, be sure that virtual machine disk/application partitions have been properly aligned. We recommend a 1MB boundary. Note that Windows Server 2008 aligns at a 1MB boundary automatically.
  • Use a block size of 8KB unless other recommended or required by the application vendor. Note that the default NTFS block size is 4KB. (Pages 128 through 138 of the Celerra best practices document contain more information on this bullet as well as the previous bullet.)
  • Turn on the uncached write mechanism for NFS file systems used as VMware datastores. This can have a significant performance improvement for VMDKs on NFS but isn’t the default setting. From the Control Station, you can use this command to turn on the uncached write mechanism:
    server_mount <data mover name> -option <options>,uncached <file system name> <mount point>
    Be sure to review pages 99 through 101 of the VMware on Celerra best practices document for more information on the uncached write mechanism and any considerations for its use.
  • Change the VMware ESX settings NFS.SendBufferSize and NFS.ReadBufferSize to a value that is a multiple of 32. The recommended value is 64. See page 73 of the best practices document for more details.
  • If you’ve adjusted the NFS.MaxVolumes parameter in order to have access to more than 8 NFS datastores, you should also adjust Net.TcpIpHeapSize and Net.TcpIpHeapMax parameters. The increase should be proportional; if you increase the maximum volumes to 32 (a common configuration), then you should increase the other parameters by a factor of 4 as well. Page 73 of the best practices document covers this. This VMware KB article and this VMware KB article also have more information.
  • Although not directly related to performance, best practices call for setting NFS.HeartbeatFrequency (or NFS.HeartbeatDelta in VMware vSphere) to 12, NFS.HeartbeatTimeout to 5, and NFS.HeartbeatMaxFailures to 10.
  • Ensure that the LUNs backing the NFS file systems are allocated to the clar_r5_performance pool. This configuration will balance the load across the SPs, LUNs, etc., and help improve performance.

Depending upon the other workloads on the system, another NFS performance optimization is to ensure that the maximum amount of write cache on the SPs is configured. However, be aware this may impact other workloads on the array.

As Jason noted in his post, implementing these changes—especially the uncached write mechanism—offered performance benefits for NFS workloads.

Keep these configuration recommendations in mind when setting up your EMC Celerra for VMware on NFS.

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By Aaron Delp
Twitter: aarondelp
FriendFeed (Delicious, Twitter, & all my blogs in one spot): aarondelp

This week I’ve had the privilege of attending a Cisco Nexus 5000/7000 class. I have learned a tremendous amount about FCoE this week and after some conversations with Scott about the topic, I wanted to tackle it one more time from a different point of view. I have included a list of some of Scott’s FCoE articles at the bottom for those interested in a more in-depth analysis.

Disclaimer: I am by no means an FCoE expert! My working knowledge of FCoE is about four days old at this point. If I am incorrect in some of my situations below, please let me know (keep it nice and professional, people!) and I will be happy to make adjustments.

If you are an existing VMWare customer today with FC as your storage transport layer, should you be thinking about FCoE? How would you get started? What investments can you make in the near future to prepare you for the next generation?

These are questions I am starting to get from my customers in planning/white board sessions around VMware vSphere and the next generation of virtualization. The upgrade to vSphere is starting to prompt planning and discussions around the storage infrastructure.

Before I tackle the design aspect, let me start out with some hardware and definitions.

Cisco Nexus 5000 series switch: The Nexus 5K is a Layer 2 switch that is capable of FCoE and can provide both Ethernet and FC ports (with an expansion module). In addition to Ethernet switching, the switch also operates as an FC fabric switch providing full fabric services, or it can be set for N_Port Virtualization (NPV) mode. The Nexus 5K can’t be put in FC switch mode and NPV mode at the same time. You must pick one or the other.

N_Port Virtualization (NPV) mode: NPV allows the Nexus 5K to act as a FC “pass thru” or proxy. NPV is great for environments where the existing fabric is not Cisco and merging the fabrics could be ugly. There is a downside to this. In NPV mode, no targets (storage arrays) can be hung off the Nexus 5K. This is true for both FC and FCoE targets.

Converged Network Adapter (CNA): A CNA is single PCI card that contains both FC and Ethernet logic, negating the need for separate cards, separate switches, etc.

Now that the definitions and terminology is out of the way, I see four possible paths if you have FC in your environment today.

1. FCoE with a Nexus 5000 in a non-Cisco MDS environment (merging)

In this scenario, the easiest way to get the Nexus on the existing non-Cisco FC fabric is to put the switch in NPV mode. You could put the switch in interop mode (and all the existing FC switches), but it is a nightmare to get them all talking and you often lose vendor specific features in interop mode. Plus, to configure interop mode, the entire fabric has to be brought down. (You do have redundant fabrics, right?)

With the Nexus in NPV mode, what will it do? Not much. You can’t hang storage off of it. You aren’t taking advantage of Cisco VSANs or any other features that Cisco can provide. You are merely a pass thru. The zoning is handled by your existing switches; your storage is off the existing switches, etc.

Why would you do this? By doing this, you could put CNAs in new servers (leaving the existing servers alone) to talk to the Nexus. This will simplify the server side infrastructure because you will have fewer cables, cards, switch ports, etc. Does the cost of the CNA and new infrastructure offset the cost of just continuing the old environment? That is for you to decide.

2. FCoE with a Nexus 5000 in a non-Cisco MDS environment (non-merging)

Who says you have to put the Nexus into the existing FC fabric? We have many customers that purchase “data centers in a box”. By that I mean a few servers, FC and/or Ethernet switches, storage, and VMware all in one solution. This “box” sits in the data center and the network is merged with the legacy network, but we stand up a Cisco SAN next to the existing non-Cisco SAN and just not let them talk to each other. In this instance, we would use CNAs in the servers, Nexus as the switch, and you pick a storage vendor. This will work just like option 3.

3. FCoE with a Nexus 5000 in a Cisco MDS environment

Now we’re talking. Install the Nexus in FC switch mode, merge it with the MDS fabric, put CNAs in all the servers and install the storage off the Nexus as either FC or FCoE. You’re off to the races!

You potentially gain the same server side savings by replacing FC and Ethernet in new servers with CNAs. You are able to use all of the Cisco sexy features of FCoE. Nice solution if the cost is justified in your environment.

4. Keep the existing environment and use NFS to new servers

What did I just say? Why would I even consider that option?

OK, this last one is a little tongue-in-cheek for customers that are already using FC. The NFS vs. traditional storage for VMWare is a bit of a religious debate. I know you aren’t going to sway me and I know I’m not going to sway you.

I admit I’m thinking NetApp here in a VMWare environment; I’m a big fan so this is a biased opinion. NetApp is my background but other vendors play in this space as well. I bet Chad will be happy to leave a comment to help tell us why (and I hope he does!).

Think of it this way. You’re already moving from FC cards to CNAs. Why not buy regular 10Gb Ethernet cards instead? Why not just use the Nexus 5K as a line-rate, non-blocking 10Gb Ethernet switch? This configuration is very simple compared to FCoE at the Nexus level and management of the NetApp is very easy! Besides, you could always turn up FCoE on the Nexus (and the NetApp) at a future date.

In closing, I really like FCoE but as you can see it isn’t a perfect fit today for all environments. I really see this taking off in 1-2 years and I can’t wait. Until then, use caution and ask all the right questions!

If you are interested in some more in-depth discussion, here are links to some of Scott’s articles on FCoE:

Continuing the FCoE Discussion
Why No Multi-Hop FCoE?
There Might Be an FCoE End to End Solution

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Author’s Note: This content was first published over at Storage Monkeys, but it appears that it has since disappeared and is no longer available. For that reason, I’m republishing it here (with minor edits). Where applicable, I’ll also be republishing other old content from that site in the coming weeks. Thanks!

In this article, I’m going to tackle what will probably be a sensitive topic for some readers: VMware over NFS. All across the Internet, I run into article after article after article that sings the praises of NFS for VMware. Consider some of the following examples:

That first link looks to be mostly a reprint of this blog post by Nick Triantos. Now, Nick is a solid storage engineer; there is no question in my mind that he knows Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and NFS inside out. Nick is certainly someone who is more than qualified to speak to the validity of using NFS for VMware storage. But…

I am going to have to disagree with some of the statements that are being propagated about NFS for VMware storage. Is NFS for VMware environments a valid choice? Yes, absolutely. However, there are some myths about NFS for VMware storage that need to be addressed.

  1. Myth #1: All VMDKs are thin provisioned by default with NFS, and that saves significant amounts of storage space. That’s true—to a certain point. What I pointed out back in March of 2008, though, was that these VMDKs are only thin provisioned at the beginning. What does that mean? Perform a Storage VMotion operation to move those VMDKs from one NFS datastore to a different NFS datastore, and the VMDK will inflate to become a thick provisioned file. Clone another VM from the VM with the thin provisioned disks, and you’ll find that the cloned VM has thick VMDKs. That’s right—the only way to get those thin provisioned VMDKs is to create all your VMs from scratch. Is that what you really want to do? (Note: VMware vSphere now supports thin provisioned VMDKs on all storage platforms, and corrects the issues with thin provisioned VMDKs inflating due to a Storage VMotion or cloning operation, so this point is somewhat dated.)
  2. Myth #2: NFS uses Ethernet as the transport, so I can just add more network connections to scale the bandwidth. Well, not exactly. Yes, it is possible to add Ethernet links and get more bandwidth. However, you’ll have to deal with a whole list of issues: link aggregation/802.3ad, physical switch redundancy (which is further complicated when you want to use link aggregation/802.3ad), multiple IP addresses on the NFS server(s), multiple VMkernel ports on the VMware ESX servers, and multiple IP subnets. Let’s just say that scaling NFS bandwidth with VMware ESX isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. This article I wrote back in July of 2008 may help shed some light on the particulars that are involved when it comes to ESX and NIC utilization.
  3. Myth #3: Performance over NFS is better than Fibre Channel or iSCSI. Based on this technical report by NetApp—no doubt one of the biggest proponents of NFS for VMware storage—NFS performance trails Fibre Channel, although by less than 10%. So, performance is comparable in almost all cases, and the difference is small enough not to be noticeable. The numbers do not, however, indicate that NFS is better than Fibre Channel. You can read my views on this storage protocol comparison at my site. By the way, also check the comments; you’ll see that the results in the technical report were independently verified by VMware as well. Based on this information, someone could certainly say that NFS performance is perfectly reasonable, but one could not say that NFS performance is better than Fibre Channel.

Now, one might look at this article and say, “Scott, you hate NFS!” No, actually, I like using NFS for VMware Infrastructure implementations, and here’s why:

  • Provisioning is a breeze. It’s dead simple to add NFS datastores.
  • You can easily (depending upon the storage platform) increase or decrease the size of NFS datastores. Try decreasing the size of a VMFS datastore and see what happens!
  • You don’t need to deal with the complexity of a Fibre Channel fabric, switches, WWNs, zones, ISLs, and all that. Now, there is some complexity involved (see Myth #2 above), but it’s generally easier than Fibre Channel. Unless you’re a Fibre Channel expert, of course…

So there are some tangible benefits to using NFS for VMware Infrastructure. But let’s be real about this, and not try to gloss over technical details. While NFS has some real advantages, it also has some real disadvantages, and organizations choosing a storage protocol need to understand both sides of the coin.

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In April 2008, I wrote an article on how to use jumbo frames with VMware ESX and IP-based storage (NFS or iSCSI). It’s been a pretty popular post, ranking right up there with the ever-popular article on VMware ESX, NIC teaming, and VLAN trunks.

Since I started working with VMware vSphere (now officially available as of 5/21/2009), I have been evaluating how to replicate the same sort of setup using ESX/ESXi 4.0. For the most part, the configuration of VMkernel ports to use jumbo frames on ESX/ESXi 4.0 is much the same as with previous versions of ESX and ESXi, with one significant exception: the vNetwork Distributed Switch (vDS, what I’ll call a dvSwitch). After a fair amount of testing, I’m pleased to present some instructions on how to configure VMkernel ports for jumbo frames on a dvSwitch.

How I Tested

The lab configuration for this testing was pretty straightforward:

  • For the physical server hardware, I used a group of HP ProLiant DL385 G2 servers with dual-core AMD Opteron processors and a quad-port PCIe Intel Gigabit Ethernet NIC.
  • All the HP ProLiant DL385 G2 servers were running the GA builds of ESX 4.0, managed by a separate physical server running the GA build of vCenter Server.
  • The ESX servers participated in a DRS/HA cluster and a single dvSwitch. The dvSwitch was configured for 4 uplinks. All other settings on the dvSwitch were left at the defaults.
  • For the physical switch infrastructure, I used a Cisco Catalyst 3560G running Cisco IOS version 12.2(25)SEB4.
  • For the storage system, I used an older NetApp FAS940. The FAS940 was running Data ONTAP 7.2.4.

Keep in mind that these procedures or commands may be different in your environment, so plan accordingly.

Physical Network Configuration

Refer back to my first article on jumbo frames to review the Cisco IOS commands for configuring the physical switch to support jumbo frames. Once the physical switch is ready to support jumbo frames, you can proceed with configuring the virtual environment.

Virtual Network Configuration

The virtual network configuration consists of several steps. First, you must configure the dvSwitch to support jumbo frames by increasing the MTU. Second, you must create a distributed virtual port group (dvPort group) on the dvSwitch. Finally, you must create the VMkernel ports with the correct MTU. Each of these steps is explained in more detail below.

Setting the MTU on the dvSwitch

Setting the MTU on the dvSwitch is pretty straightforward:

  1. In the vSphere Client, navigate to the Networking inventory view (select View > Inventory > Networking from the menu).
  2. Right-click on the dvSwitch and select Edit Settings.
  3. From the Properties tab, select Advanced.
  4. Set the MTU to 9000.
  5. Click OK.

That’s it! Now, if only the rest of the process was this easy…

By the way, this same area is also where you can enable Cisco Discovery Protocol support for the dvSwitch, as I pointed out in this recent article.

Creating the dvPort Group

Like setting the MTU on the dvSwitch, this process is pretty straightforward and easily accomplished using the vSphere Client:

  1. In the vSphere Client, navigate to the Networking inventory view (select View > Inventory > Networking from the menu).
  2. Right-click on the dvSwitch and select New Port Group.
  3. Set the name of the new dvPort group.
  4. Set the number of ports for the new dvPort group.
  5. In the vast majority of instances, you’ll want to set VLAN Type to VLAN and then set the VLAN ID accordingly. (This is the same as setting the VLAN ID for a port group on a vSwitch.)
  6. Click Next.
  7. Click Finish.

See? I told you it was pretty straightforward. Now on to the final step which, unfortunately, won’t be quite so straightforward or easy.

Creating a VMkernel Port With Jumbo Frames

Now things get a bit more interesting. As of the GA code, the vSphere Client UI still does not expose an MTU setting for VMkernel ports, so we are still relegated to using the esxcfg-vswitch command (or the vicfg-vswitch command in the vSphere Management Assistant—or vMA—if you are using ESXi). The wrinkle comes in the fact that we want to create a VMkernel port attached to a dvPort ID, which is a bit more complicated than simply creating a VMkernel port attached to a local vSwitch.

Disclaimer: There may be an easier way than the process I describe here. If there is, please feel free to post it in the comments or shoot me an e-mail.

First, you’ll need to prepare yourself. Open the vSphere Client and navigate to the Hosts and Clusters inventory view. At the same time, open an SSH session to one of the hosts you’ll be configuring, and use “su -” to assume root privileges. (You’re not logging in remotely as root, are you?) If you are using ESXi, then obviously you’d want to open a session to your vMA and be prepared to run the commands there. I’ll assume you’re working with ESX.

This is a two-step process. You’ll need to repeat this process for each VMkernel port that you want to create with jumbo frame support.

Here are the steps to create a jumbo frames-enabled VMkernel port:

  1. Select the host and and go the Configuration tab.
  2. Select Networking and change the view to Distributed Virtual Switch.
  3. Click the Manage Virtual Adapters link.
  4. In the Manage Virtual Adapters dialog box, click the Add link.
  5. Select New Virtual Adapter, then click Next.
  6. Select VMkernel, then click Next.
  7. Select the appropriate port group, then click Next.
  8. Provide the appropriate IP addressing information and click Next when you are finished.
  9. Click Finish. This returns you to the Manage Virtual Adapters dialog box.

From this point on you’ll go the rest of the way from the command line. However, leave the Manage Virtual Adapters dialog box open and the vSphere Client running.

To finish the process from the command line:

  1. Type the following command (that’s a lowercase L) to show the current virtual switching configuration:
    esxcfg-vswitch -l
    At the bottom of the listing you will see the dvPort IDs listed. Make a note of the dvPort ID for the VMkernel port you just created using the vSphere Client. It will be a larger number, like 266 or 139.
  2. Delete the VMkernel port you just created:
    esxcfg-vmknic -d -s <dvSwitch Name> -v <dvPort ID>
  3. Recreate the VMkernel port and attach it to the very same dvPort ID:
    esxcfg-vmknic -a -i <IP addr> -n <Mask> -m 9000 -s <dvSwitch Name> -v <dvPort ID>
  4. Use the esxcfg-vswitch command again to verify that a new VMkernel port has been created and attached to the same dvPort ID as the original VMkernel port.

At this point, you can go back into the vSphere Client and enable the VMkernel port for VMotion or FT logging. I’ve tested jumbo frames using VMotion and everything is fine; I haven’t tested FT logging with jumbo frames as I don’t have FT-compatible CPUs. (Anyone care to donate some?)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Twitter post, I haven’t conducted any objective performance tests yet, so don’t ask. I can say that NFS feels faster with jumbo frames than without, but that’s purely subjective.

Let me know if you have any questions or if anyone finds a faster or easier way to accomplish this task.

UPDATE: I’ve updated the comments to delete and recreate the VMkernel port per the comments below.

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This session describes NetApp’s MultiStore functionality. MultiStore is the name given to NetApp’s functionality for secure logical partitioning of network and storage resources. The presenters for the session are Roger Weeks, TME with NetApp, and Scott Gelb with Insight Investments.

When using MultiStore, the basic building block is the vFiler. A vFiler is a logical construct within Data ONTAP that contains a lightweight instance of the Data ONTAP multi-protocol server. vFilers provide the ability to securely partition both storage resources and network resources. Storage resources are partitioned at either the FlexVol or Qtree level; it’s recommended to use FlexVols instead of Qtrees. (The presenters did not provide any further information beyond that recommendation. Do any readers have more information?) On the network side, the resources that can be logically partitioned are IP addresses, VLANs, VIFs, and IPspaces (logical routing tables).

Some reasons to use vFilers would include storage consolidation, seamless data migration, simple disaster recovery, or better workload management. MultiStore integrates with SnapMirror to provide some of the functionality needed for some of these use cases.

MultiStore uses vFiler0 to denote the physical hardware, and vFiler0 “owns” all the physical storage resources. You can create up to 64 vFiler instances, and active/active clustered configurations can support up to 130 vFiler instances (128 vFilers plus 2 vFiler0 instances) during a takeover scenario.

Each vFiler stores its configuration in a separate FlexVol (it’s own root vol, if you will). All the major protocols are supported within a vFiler context: NFS, CIFS, iSCSI, HTTP, and NDMP. Fibre Channel is not supported; you can only use Fibre Channel with vFiler0. This is due to the lack of NPIV support within Data ONTAP 7. (It’s theoretically possible, then, that if/when NetApp adds NPIV support to Data ONTAP that Fibre Channel would be supported within vFiler instances.)

Although it is possible to move resources between vFiler0 and a separate vFiler instance, doing so may impact client connections.

Managing vFilers appears to be the current weak spot; you can manage vFiler instances using the Data ONTAP CLI, but vFiler instances don’t have an interactive shell. Therefore, you have to direct commands to vFiler instances via SSH or RSH or using the vFiler context in vFiler0. You access the vFiler context by prepending the “vfiler” keyword to the commands at the CLI in vFiler0. Operations Manager 3.7 and Provisioning Manager can manage vFiler instances; FilerView can start, stop, or delete individual vFiler instances but cannot direct commands to an individual vFiler. If you need to manage CIFS on a vFiler instance, you can use the Computer Management MMC console to connect remotely to that vFiler instance to manage shares and share permissions, just as you can with vFiler0 (assuming CIFS is running within the vFiler, of course).

IPspaces are a logical routing construct that allow each vFiler to have its own routing table. For example, you may have a DMZ vFiler and an internal vFiler, each with their own, separate routing table. Up to 101 IPspaces are supported per controller. You can’t delete the default IPspace, as it’s the routing table for vFiler0. It is recommended to use VLANs and/or VIFs with IPspaces as a best practice.

One of the real advantages of using MultiStore and vFilers is the data migration and disaster recovery functionality that it enables when used in conjunction with SnapMirror. There are two sides to this:

  • “vfiler migrate” allows you to move an entire vFiler instance, including all data and configuration, from one physical storage system to another physical storage system. You can keep the same IP address or change the IP address. All other network identification remains the same: NetBIOS name, host name, etc., so the vFiler should look exactly the same across the network after the migration as it did before the migration.
  • “vfiler dr” is similar to “vfiler migrate” but uses SnapMirror to keep the source and target vFiler instances in sync with each other.

It makes sense, but you can’t use “vfiler dr” or “vfiler migrate” on vFiler0 (the physical storage system). My own personal thought regarding “vfiler dr”: what would this look like in a VMware environment using NFS? There could be some interesting possibilities there.

With regard to security, a Matasano security audit was performed and the results showed that there were no vulnerabilities that would allow “data leakage” between vFiler instances. This means that it’s OK to run a DMZ vFiler and an internal vFiler on the same physical system; the separation is strong enough.

Other points of interest:

  • Each vFiler adds about 400K of system memory, so keep that in mind when creating additional vFiler instances.
  • You can’t put more load on a MultiStore-enabled system than a non-MultiStore-enabled system. The ability to create logical vFilers doesn’t mean the physical storage system can suddenly handle more IOPS or more capacity.
  • You can use FlexShare on a MultiStore-enabled system to adjust priorities for the FlexVols assigned to various vFiler instances.
  • As of Data ONTAP 7.2, SnapMirror relationships created in a vFiler context are preserved during a “vfiler migrate” or “vfiler dr” operation.
  • More enhancements are planned for Data ONTAP 7.3, including deduplication support, SnapDrive 5.0 or higher support for iSCSI with vFiler instances, SnapVault additions, and SnapLock support.

Some of the potential use cases for MultiStore include file services consolidation (allows you to preserve file server identification onto separate vFiler instances), data migration, and disaster recovery. You might also use MultiStore if you needed support for multiple Active Directory domains with CIFS.

UPDATE: Apparently, my recollection of the presenters’ information was incorrect, and FTP is not a protocol supported with vFilers. I’ve updated the article accordingly.

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