Musing on In-Guest iSCSI

Image result for throw up emoji

Sorry I had to throw up in my mouth a bit.

Anyways. In general I am not a fan of using in-guest iSCSI for VMware environments (or really any virtualized environment), but the question does come up. And I find a surprising amount of customers using it in secret. So what of it? Why do I hate it? Why should one use it? Are there reasons to?

So let me preface this post with, is in-guest iSCSI inherently evil? No, of course not. Are there situations where it makes sense? Yes, and I go into that. The post is focused on this use case: I need to provision storage from the FlashArray to my VMware VMs. What is the best method? I expect this to be a living document. So please let me know if there are more downsides or upsides and I will add them in.

Let’s take a look.

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Can Pure make cloud storage better?

Cloud Block Store is now GA! About a year ago, we announced our intentions–to bring Purity (the OS for the FlashArray) to AWS. I wrote a post about it here:

https://www.codyhosterman.com/2018/11/announcing-pure-storage-cloud-block-store-for-aws/

In the past 10 months I have been pretty focused on learning AWS. Not just how to use it, but more importantly, how others are using it. It has been a fun ride–definitely already incorporated some of my learnings into my solution work for on-premises integration and have some cool stuff coming. A lot of my work has been of course on using it, how to deploy EC2, how to deploy VMware Cloud on AWS, managing S3, CloudFormations, IAM, SSM, using the billions of other services in AWS. But much of my focus has been on listening to what people have seen, learned, and want to do with public cloud. AWS and the like have had a decent amount of runway now, so there have certainly been some lessons learned.

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End-to-End Encryption with vVols Part I: Introduction

No that’s not a typo–VVols are now capitalized as vVols. So, FYI.

Anywho…as you may or may not be aware, we just released our 5.3.0 version of the FlashArray Purity Operating Environment, with quite a few things in it. One of the features is part of a larger solution that I think is a really good example of the power of VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes (vVols). One of the main arguments I have been making for VVols is that they allow you to use features on your array as they were intended (snapshots is a great example there) but also allows us (the storage vendor) to do things that simply weren’t possible, or were rather difficult to do with VMFS without compromise.

This particular feature I am referring to is what we are calling EncryptReduce. Previously called (in its beta form) End-to-End Encryption, this is a solution we partnered with Thales with its Vormetric Transparent Encryption product. We initially announced it here.

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FlashArray HTML-5 vSphere Client Plugin VVol Support

Not long ago I posted about our initial release of our vSphere Plugin that supports the HTML-5 UI–the main problem though is that it did not yet support the VVol stuff we put in the original flash/flex based plugin.

So accordingly, the most common question I received was “when are you adding VVol support to this one?”. And my response was “Soon! We are working on it”.

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Configuring an ESXi cluster for storage provisioning for a FlashArray via PowerShell

Phew that title is a mouthful. Sorry about that. But at least you know what I’m gonna talk about here. Nothing particularly profound, but obviously something every customer must do. I’ve been on a solid PowerShell kick as of late so why not put pen to paper here.

So whether you are using VVols or VMFS (or gross: RDMs) you need to do a bit of prep work to get things up and running. I will likely write a post on doing this with the vSphere Client Plugin, but for now let’s focus on doing it with PowerShell.

So step one is to install the PowerShell module that will help you. This is hosted on the PowerShell Gallery, so it is fairly simple to install:

install-module PureStorage.FlashArray.VMware

If you already have it installed, don’t forget to pull the latest version:

update-module PureStorage.FlashArray.VMware
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Generating the default VVol Storage Container ID

A VVol datastore, is not a file system, so it is not a traditional datastore. It is just a capacity quota. So when you “mount” a VVol datastore, you aren’t really performing a traditional mounting operation as there is no underlying physical storage to address during the mount. So instead of mounting some storage device, you are mounting what is called a storage container. This is the meta data object that represents the certain amount of capacity that can be provisioned from a given array. An array can have more than one storage containers, for reasons of multi-tenancy or whatever.

In a VMFS world, when you go to create a new datastore, you pass it the serial number of the storage you want to format with VMFS. You know that serial, because, well, you created the storage device. When you “mount” a VVol datastore, instead of a device serial, you supply the storage container UUID. It comes in the form of vvol:e0ad83893ead3681-b1b7f56a45ff64f1. Of course the characters will vary a bit.

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Installing the Pure Storage vSphere Plugin with PowerShell

A common question I hear is “can I install the Pure vSphere Plugin via PowerShell?” and my answer has been up until now, “sorry no :(”

But I was asked it twice last week and I decided to actually think about it? Why couldn’t it be automated? Just because we host in in the FlashArray and it is normally installed via our GUI? That GUI has to be executing code to do the install.

Installing a vSphere plugin is really two steps. First registering the plugin as an extension (this says what the plugin is, what version, etc). And then actually installing the plugin files to the vCenter. In a normal situation, someone logs into our GUI, connect to the vCenter and then runs the “install” which is really just registering the extension. In that registered extension, there is a link to where the plugin files can be downloaded from. This is step 2. At some point after registration, the vSphere Client downloads the files. In the Flash version, it happened the next time you logged in (this is why logging in took so long the first time you logged in after installing plugin). In the HTML-5 vSphere Client, this happens in the background, so there is no delay in logging in.

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Registering VASA with PowerShell

Registering VASA providers is the first step in setting up VVols for a given vCenter, so automating this process is something that might be of interest to folks. We currently have this process in our vSphere Plugin, as well as in our vRO plugin, and of course you can do it manually. What about PowerShell? Well we have that too!

In our PowerShell Pure/VMware module there are three new cmdlets:

  • new-pfavasaprovider
  • get-pfavasaprovider
  • remove-pfavasaprovider
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The Pure Storage Plugin for the HTML-5 vSphere Client

Finally! I know… You have been waiting for this and so have I. Our first release of our vSphere Web Client Plugin that supports the HTML-5 interface is officially released. Let’s walk through what it looks like!

The HTML-5 interface is vastly superior to the flash/flex based one, not only due to more accurate readouts, faster load times, but also the extensibility of the interface and guidelines around integration. Making it a much better platform for integration as compared to prior interfaces for vSphere.

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First Class Disks and VVols

One of the major advantages we have seen with VVols is making a virtual disk a first class citizen on the array. We can restore, copy, replicate them (and their VMs) as storage objects were meant to be restored, copied, replicated etc.

Though one thing about virtual disks is that by default–they are not first class citizens in vSphere, VVols or otherwise. To create one, it has to be associated with a VM.

To retrieve one in PowerCLI (for example) get-harddisk requires a datastore or a VM to return a result:

Same if I want to create a new one:

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