Virtual Connect : “Patch Panel” or “Active Component”?

A while ago we had an internal discussion whether or not a Virtual Connect (HP Blade Technology) is to be considered as an active component or as a patch panel.  The answer is that it is kinda like a switch. It cannot be seen as an actual switch, where it comes close to a virtual switch (like defined by VMware). More details can be found op page 25 in the document (linked below), where a nice comparison table is listed.

Source :HP Virtual Connect: Common Myths, Misperceptions, and Objections, Second Edition (Google cache / quickviewer)

#1: VC Ethernet is just another switch
Incorrect: While VC uses tried-and-true, IEEE standard, Layer 2 bridging functionality, its primary purpose is to provide many server virtualization and management features that are non-existent in traditional switches. VC may perform some functions like a traditional switch; however, VC has many additional features which clearly distinguish it from a traditional switch. …

#18: VC Ethernet doesn’t provide Layer 3 routing capabilities
Correct: Virtual Connect is not a router, therefore, Virtual Connect does not provide Layer 3 capabilities (routing).

#14: HP server blade NICs stay active even after VC Ethernet uplink failure
Incorrect: Virtual Connect provides many features for ensuring highly available network connectivity for HP server blades. One feature, SmartLink, is used to disable a server blade NIC port anytime the NIC is connected to an external network where all VC uplink(s) have failed. In other words, VC can be configured to proactively disable a server NIC port whenever the server NIC is isolated from the external network. VC’s SmartLink feature, combined with NIC Teaming on the server, allows for highly available network configuration with no single point of failure.

#3: VC Ethernet doesn’t support Spanning Tree (STP)
Correct: Much to the delight of VC users, Spanning Tree support on VC is not needed. VC provides HP server blade network connectivity just like a hypervisor provides virtual server network connectivity and neither of these technologies require Spanning Tree support. VC doesn’t have to support Spanning Tree just like hypervisor hosts don’t have to support it, yet both provide network redundancy and load balancing. Just like a hypervisor host, VC provides network redundancy and load balancing features that are modeled after NIC Teaming/bonding technology instead of switch technologies like Spanning Tree. A Spanning Tree configuration error on any single switch in the data center can negatively affect any other connected switch in the network, in addition to all servers connected to the same network. With Virtual Connect, any redundancy and load balancing configuration problems only affect a single blade enclosure1
Fundamentally, VC doesn’t require support for protocols like STP because VC presents itself to the network as a “termination endpoint”, as does a typical server or a hypervisor host. VC is not and does not present itself as a “transit device”, as does a traditional switch.

#24: VC Ethernet doesn’t support the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP)
Correct: VC supports Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) – the industry standard (IEEE) version of the Cisco proprietary protocol CDP. Many Cisco devices support both CDP and LLDP (for example, 14 ). The use of the IEEE standard version, LLDP, is recommended by HP to ensure customers are not locked into a proprietary protocol.

#17: VC only supports a limited number of VLANs
Correct: The supported limit is 320 VLANs per Virtual Connect Ethernet module when using Shared Uplink Sets. The VC architecture supports 1000+ VLANs per c-Class enclosure.

ESXi on a USB memory key

Check out the following guide @ vminfo.nl :

Create an ESX 3i USB boot key

This guide will describe the basic steps to create your own VMware ESX 3i USB key.
I need to say that VMware is not supporting this way of running ESX, so be careful with this on
production environments.
When you want to use ESX 3i in production environments without the need of local hard drives,
contact your hardware manufacturer; like HP, Dell or IBM. They have supported ways to run ESX
on USB or SD cards.
Pre-requirements
• USB key of 1GB
• IZArc – http://www.izarc.org/download.html
• WinImage – http://www.winimage.com/download.htm
• VMware ESX 3i (ISO) – http://www.vmware.com/download/vi/

Seamless Linux applications on Windows

Seamless Options
One of the all-time-favorite articles here is “Running your dual boot windows inside Vmware Server within Ubuntu“. Yet some might like it the other way around, and a bit more seamless? Two handy options here are “VirtualBox” & “Ulteo Virtual Desktop“.

Virtualbox
You can put Virtualbox in the same range as Vmware. They provide a performant virtualization platform. Yet one of their core features (which I still miss in Vmware, apart from Fusion) is the “seamless” mode. It means your guest OS can appear on your desktop without having to be inside a window. You can run application (say notepad) and it will appear as a single window on your desktop.
More info?

Ulteo
With Ulteo Virtual Desktop, you just have to run the application you need to use from the Ulteo panel and its window will show up like any other Windows application. Ulteo steps in to avoid the point where you need to maintain your virtualization platform (as with the seamless solution of Virtualbox). See it as an application that will (install and) maintain the seamless solutions for you. Check out their website (and the /. comments).

Innotek (VirtualBox) Acquired by Sun

Press announcement

virtualboxSANTA CLARA, CA February 12, 2008 Sun Microsystems, Inc. (NASDAQ: JAVA) today announced that it has entered into a stock purchase agreement to acquire innotek, the provider of the leading edge, open source virtualization software called VirtualBox. By enabling developers to more efficiently build, test and run applications on multiple platforms, VirtualBox will extend the Sun xVM platform onto the desktop and strengthen Sun’s leadership in the virtualization market. This software is available for all major operating systems at http://www.virtualbox.org and http://www.openxvm.org.

So sun strengthens it’s product portfolio by adding a virtualization option.

The Virtualization options in Linux

Check out the following article at TechThrob.com.
An excerp of the intro:

This week Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, announced a partnership with Parallels, maker of the Virtualization products Parallels Workstation and Parallels Desktop for Mac. Consequently, the Parallels Workstation virtualization software is now available to download and install in Ubuntu Linux, completely supported by Canonical, and done entirely through the Add/Remove programs interface. This makes four different virtualization programs — three of which are installable via the package repositories — that run on Ubuntu Linux. (See the Correction: in the Installing VirtualBox section for more information)

This article compares four virtualization products available for Ubuntu Linux: the free, open source x86 emulator Qemu; the closed-but-free versions of VirtualBox and VMware-Server, and the commercial Parallels Workstation.

What we often forget when implementing virtualization solutions

“The beginning is the half of every action”
Someone once told me “There is nothing more permanent than temporarily.” (roughly translated), and it’s something you often see in the IT world. A server goes down, let’s do the quick fix now and do the in depth analysis/coding later. The last step is often moved the the refrigerator called “on hold”-, “TODO” or “when we have time” boxes.

The following situation might ring some bells:

X : How de we save on infrastructure costs?
Y : Maybe by virtualizing our infrastructure?
X : Sounds good, how do we do this?
Y : Let’s first try our lab/development/staging environment?
X : And if that works move all servers to it!

Help!!! My virtual servers are breeding like rabbits
Most companies who’ve started with virtualizations, like for example VmWare of Xen, have found themselves rushing (or stumbling) way too fast in this new enviroment. The virtual infrastructure needs the same amount of thought as your physical infrastructure. It’s not because a virtual server is created at a fraction of the time it would take a physical one, that one shouldn’t follow the same steps.

Perhaps the sexiest aspect of virtualization is its speed: You can create VMs in minutes, move them around easily, and deliver new computing power to the business side in a day instead of weeks. It’s fun to drive fast. But slow down long enough to think about making virtualization part of your existing IT processes

It’s not because it’s virtual that it doesn’t need to be managed
Continue reading “What we often forget when implementing virtualization solutions”

Performance impact of the VmWare Virtual Switch

Let’s start out with the basics. Vmware has several products that can be used for virtualization. The most commonly know products are “vmware workstation”, “vmware server” & “vmware player”. They should actually be classed under “emulation” rather than device sharing. In my “hobby environment” I used the VmWare server; It’s free, and it’s solid.

Yet for the enterprise needs, esx is the way to go. Esx is a kernel on it’s own, and enables the virtual machines to really share the resources. This gives esx an extreme advantage over the other products, yet be aware that it also implies technical restrictions/difficulties.

As you can probably guess, adding an extra “emulation layer” will result in some performance loss. Those products will most likely suffice for function test/development environments. Yet a bit more performance and resource sharing is required for servers that need an enterprise production level.

Another thing you need to consider is infrastructure architecture you’re going to build. Here is where the article comes down to… The network sharing part in ALL vmware products is done thru a kind of “virtual switch”. This program is software, and is bound to cpu usage. When several servers share an environment within a vmware product, and one server starts to do a lot of bandwith. Then all servers will notice this as the virtual switch will need cpu power for this.

Don’t get me wrong here… I don’t want to bash the product, but I want to make you aware of this situation so that you can design your server farms for this.
For example: organise your farm so that the intensive servers share their environment with some “light” servers
Also make sure your system architectures know this limitation! This gives them the opportunity to design a system that suits a shared hosting environment. It’s just awfull if everybodies hard work goes down the drain, due to a design issue that could have been tackled.