vVols, please report to the Principal’s Office! VCF 4.1 and vVols!

Note: This is another guest blog by Kyle Grossmiller. Kyle is a Sr. Solutions Architect at Pure and works with Cody on all things VMware.

In VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) version 4.1, vVols have taken center stage as a Principal Storage type available for Workload Domain deployments.  This inclusion in one of VMware’s premier products reinforces the continued emphasis on vVols and all the benefits that they enable from VMware.  vVols with iSCSI is particularly exciting to us as this is the first instance of the iSCSI protocol being supported as a Principal Storage type within VCF.  We at Pure Storage are honored to have had a little bit of influence over this added functionality by serving as a design partner for this new feature and we are confident you are going to like what you see!

Someone who is using VMFS datastore with VCF today might ask themselves ‘why vVols’? This is a great question deserving of an expansive answer beyond this blog post.  Fundamentally, though, using vVols enables you to fully use the FlashArray in the way it was intended.  By leverage VASA (VMware API for Storage Awareness) you gain far more granular control and monitoring abilities over your individual VMs.  Native FlashArray capabilities such as snapshots and replication are directly executed against the underlying array via policy-driven constructs.  Further information on these and other benefits with vVols are available here.

Using vVols as Principal Storage is a lot like the methods VCF customers are used to for pre-existing Principal Storage options.  Image an ESXi host, apply a few prerequisites to it, commission it to SDDC manager and create Workload Domains.  Deploying Workload Domains with VMware Cloud Foundation automates and takes all the guesswork out of deploying vCenter and NSX-T for modern use cases such as Kubernetes via Workload Management

Stepping into some specifics for a moment; here’s the process on how to use FlashArray iSCSI and vVols for VCF Workload Domains:

The most fundamental update to SDDC Manager to allow vVols is the capability to register a VASA Provider.  In the below screenshot and following detailed information, we show an example of how you can add a FlashArray using another block protocol:  Fibre Channel:

  1. Provide a descriptive name for the VASA provider.  It is recommended to use the FlashArray name and append it with -ct0 or -ct1 to denote which controller the entry is associated with.
  2. Provide the URL for the VASA provider.  This cannot be the management VIP of the array.  Instead this field needs to be the management IP address associated with one of the controllers.  The URL also is required to have the VASA port and version.xml appended to it.  The format for the URL is:  https://<IP of FlashArrayController>:8084/version.xml
  3. Give a FlashArray user name with the arrayadmin role.  The procedure for how to create such a user can be found here.  While the pureuser account can be used, we recommend creating and using a separate FlashArray user for VASA operations.
  4. Provide the password for the FlashArray username to be used.
  5. Container Name must be Vvol container.  Note that this value is case-sensitive.
  6. For Container Type, select FC from the drop-down menu to use Fibre Channel.
  7. Once all entries are completed, click Save.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to share here so we will be expanding on this substantially in the very near future on our VMware Platform Guide site.

Rounding out this post, I’m happy to show a demo video of just how easy it is to deploy a FC+vVols-based Workload Domain with VMware Cloud Foundation.

Automating FlashStack with SmartConfig and VMware Cloud Foundation

Note: This is another guest blog by Kyle Grossmiller. Kyle is a Sr. Solutions Architect at Pure and works with Cody on all things VMware.

One of the (many) fun things we get to work on at Pure is researching and figuring out new ways to streamline things that are traditionally repetitive and time-consuming (read:  boring).  Recently, we looked at how we could go about automating the deployment of FlashStack™ end-to-end; since a traditional deployment absolutely includes some of these repetitive tasks.  Our goal is to start off with a completely greenfield FlashStack (racked, powered, cabled and otherwise completely unconfigured) and automate everything possible to end up with a fully-functional VMware environment ready for use.    After some thought, reading and discussion, we found that this goal was achievable with the combination of SmartConfig™ and VMware Cloud Foundation™. 

Automating a FlashStack deployment makes a ton of sense:  From the moment new hardware is procured and delivered to a datacenter, the race is on for it to switch from a liability to a money producing asset for the business.  Further, using SmartConfig and Cloud Foundation together is really combining two blueprint-driven solutions:  Cisco Validated Designs (CVDs) and VMware Validated Designs (VVDs).  That does a lot to take the guesswork out of building the underlying infrastructure and hypervisor layers since firmware, hardware and software versions have all been pre validated and tested by Cisco, VMware and Pure Storage.  In addition, these two tools also go through setting up these blueprints automatically via a customizable and repeatable framework.  

Once we started working through this in the lab, the following automation workflow emerged:

Along with some introduction to the key technologies in play, we have divided the in-depth deployment guide into 3 core parts.  All of these sections, including product overviews and click-by-click instructions are publicly available here on the Pure Storage VMware Platform Guide.

  1. Deploy FlashStack with ESXi via SmartConfig.  The input of this section will be factory reset Cisco hardware and the output will be a fully functional imaged/zoned/deployed UCS chassis with ESXi7 installed and ready for use with VMware Cloud Foundation.
  2. Build VMware Cloud Foundation SDDC Manager on FlashStack.  The primary input for CloudBuilder is, not ironically, the output of the work in part 1.  Specifically, ESXi hosts and their underlying infrastructure, from which we will automatically deploy a Management Domain with CloudBuilder.
  3. The last section will show how to deploy a VMware Cloud Foundation Workload Domain with Pure Storage as both Principle Storage (VMFS on FC) and Supplemental Storage (vVols).  Options such as iSCSI are covered in additional KB articles in the VMware Cloud Foundation section of the Pure Storage support site.

Post-deployment, customers will enjoy the benefits of single-click lifecycle management for the bulk of their UCS and VMware components and the ability to dynamically scale up or down their Workload Domain deployment resources independently or collectively based upon specific needs (e.g. compute/memory, network and/or storage) all from SDDC Manager.

For those who prefer a more interactive demo, I’ve recorded an in-depth overview video of this automation project followed by a four-part demo video series that shows click-by-click just how easy and fast it is to deploy a FlashStack with VMware from scratch. 

Craig Waters and I gave a Light Board session on this subject:

And this is an in-depth PowerPoint overview of the project:

Finally, this is a video series showing the end-to-end process in-depth broken into a few parts for brevity.

Extending vVols to VMware Cloud Foundation

Note: This is a guest blog by Kyle Grossmiller. Kyle is a Sr. Solutions Architect at Pure and works with Cody on all things VMware.

As we’ve covered in past posts, VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) offers immense advantage to VMware users in terms of simplifying day 0 and 1 activities and streamlining management operations within the vSphere ecosystem.  Today, we dive into how to use the Pure Storage leading vVols implementation as Supplemental storage with your Management and Workload Domains. 

First though, a brief description of the differences between Principal Storage and Supplemental Storage and how it relates to VCF is in order to set the table.  Fortunately, it is very easy to distinguish between the two storage types:

Principal Storage is any storage type that you can connect to your Workload Domain as a part of the setup process within SDDC Manager.  Today, that’s comprised of vSAN, NFS and VMFS on Fibre Channel, pictured below.  We’ve shown how to use VMFS on FC previously.

Supplemental Storage simply means that you connect your storage system to a Workload Domain after it has been deployed.  Examples of this storage type today include iSCSI and the focus of this blog:  vVols.

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