“All things are created twice” : Basics to IT Infrastructure Design

“All things are created twice” is one of the principles that immediately comes to mind when thinking of designing IT infrastructures. It’s the principle by Stephen Covey that says that we first create things in our mind, before we even produce anything in the physical world.

Think about that for a sec. We think first before we do something. It’s the process we do unconsciously all day. We do it every moment of the day, over and over again.

So the same goes for designing new IT infrastructures. First think about it, write that down into design documents and then build the IT infrastructure as defined in your design documents.

Compare it to building a house. Nobody goes out, buys bricks and mortar and then starts building something without a design. Same goes for building a new IT infrastructure or whatever it is that needs to be thought out before it is created. You don’t go out and randomly install software hoping it will result in the optimal IT infrastructure that suits your needs.

Or better yet the needs of your customer / company. Cause most of the times you don’t design according to what you think is best. You design the infrastructure to suit the needs and requirements of somebody else. Just like with building a house, you are the architect. Trying to figure out those needs and requirement of your customer. How big it must be? How many people are going to live in it? How should the plumbing / electricity be installed? And last but not least how much in the total amount of money that can be spend?

But we’re not building a house, we are building an IT infrastructure. The variables change, but the design methodology is the same. First think of what you want to create, then go out and build it.

And maybe this is in a nutshell what the VCDX program is all about. It’s not magical sorcery what the program is about. It’s about showing you can architect a IT infrastructure that suits the needs of your customer / company. As I always say: “There is no general perfect design, the perfect design is the design that meets the requirements of your customer while taking the constraints into account.”

Thats what is looked for in the VCDX program. People that can show that skill and be able to present and defend that to the rest if the world. Or in case of the program : the panel. So step up to the plate and show that you are an IT infrastructure designer. Good luck!

Click on the link for more information on the book by Steven Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”

My road to becoming a VCDX

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” – Mario Andretti 

Finally found some time to write down my experience on achieving my VCDX. It’s been a long road to achieving my VMware Certified Design eXpert (VCDX) certification and as the quote above states it takes determination and commitment to achieve this goal. It was a bumpy road, not only during my project, but also when doing the VCDX defenses. I didn’t achieve it the first time, but with determination and commitment I continued the journey. Sure, it was disappointing and it took me some time to get over it and regain confidence, but in the end it pays off when you receive the email stating that you’ve successfully passed for VCDX. That’s a great feeling and proves that with desire, commitment and determination you can come a long way.

Hopefully this post will help others to in achieving it the first time. But even if you didn’t pass the first time, that shouldn’t stop you from trying a second time. It isn’t a nice feeling when being told that you didn’t pass, but don’t look at it as failure, look at it as feedback. Learn from it and use that to your advantage.

Design is an art, it takes time and patience… 

For me it al started when doing a VMware vSphere 4.1 project for a customer with a large virtual infrastructure that needed to be upgraded to vSphere 4.1. Not to say that your project needs to be big. This project incorporated 60 clusters and 360 ESXi hosts. That’s what I call a big environment, but isn’t necessary for a VCDX project. What does help is that you choose real-life project.

Tip #1: Choose a real-life project.

Something to get your teeth into and that guides you along the way of design. Design is a step-by-step, iterative process and helps you in determining why certain choices were made in your design. Seek peers to review the design along the way. Ask your customer to be critical and speak to them on the choices you’ve made in the design. Present the results in the end and ask them to challenge what you’ve come up with.

And like I already stated it doesn’t need to be a large, complex environment. As long as you have a project that takes you along the following route:

1. Gather customer requirements and constraints;

2. Create a vSphere logical design that meets the requirements and takes the constraints into account;

3. Translate this logical design into a physical implementation again taking the requirements and constraints into account.

Take into account that during your design you will go up and down this list. In most designs there will be contradictions between the requirements, constraints and the things that are physically possible. This is were your architect skills will come into play and the guidance that you need to provide to your customer and in the end this process will provide you the why for choices you’ve made in your design.  Guess what is interesting during your VCDX design defense….

Tip #2  Keep a log of all the design decisions that were made during the design phase

Tip #3 : Use the VCDX blueprint when creating your design

The blueprint has been based on design areas that required in a vSphere design. Therefor it is a very useful document when creating a design. Use this information when going through your design process and try to focus on all the design areas that are mentioned in the blueprint.

Also it is useful to keep in mind that the choices you make for your design should be based on the requirements and constraints that apply to the customers environment. It is your job to explain why certain design choices have been made taking those customer requirements and constraints into account. In other words there is no single perfect design. That is not what the panel is looking for. The panel is looking for the validation of choices you made during your design phase. Show them the thinking process you went through when making a design decision.

Tip #4 : There is no single perfect design. The best design is the design that meets the requirements and constraints of your client. 

Keep this tip in mind when designing. There is no perfect design. The best design you can create is the one that you’ve agreed upon with your customer. You need to take all the requirements and constraints into account and create a design that meets those elements. Don’t try to struggle with the fact that is must be a “perfect design”. The only perfect design is the design that takes the customers needs into account. And again you need to be able to recollect why you made certain choices for the customer in you design.

Going doing the certification path.

Trying to achieve your VCDX is a choice. It needs to be your decision and you will need to commit to go along on this journey. It takes time and a lot of effort before you eventually stand in front of the panel. With time and effort comes planning, so…

Tip #5: Make a planning, set a goal for yourself

Do this at the start. Doesn’t matter when. If your a VCAP, VCP or don’t have VMware certification at all, anytime you can decide to go for your VCDX certifcation, but do create a planning and commit to it. Try to analyse what you still need before applying for the VCDX defense. This can be certifications, a vSphere design, more VMware vSpere knowledge, etc. Create a breakdown structure of the things you need to do with a date that you’ve got in mind. Write them all down, put it on a wall and look at it from time. Setting a goal will help you motivate yourself to do the things necessary to achieve VCDX in the end.

Tip #6 : The application is a summary of your design, use it as strategy approach for your defense panel

The panel is to show your design skills to the panel. The application is usefull for strategy approach with the question in mind : What do you want to show the panel? Walk through your requiremetns, constraints and assumptions and see look at the ones that had the biggest impact on your design. Those are the ones that are the most interesting and the most fun to talk about during your defense.

For more information I would like to refer to the VCDX Candidate Tips  which is full of useful tips.

Tip 7 : Seek help from others. 

Your not alone. You probably work with a lot of talented people that can challenge and help you to grow. Don’t just use them for a mock defense, but also let them help you achieve your VCDX. Ask for advice, let people read what you are doing and share the experience.

I’m not perfect, but there is no failure. There is only feedback!

Unfortunately I didn’t achieve my VCDX the first time. “We regret to inform you…” were the words that haunted my mind for quite some time. During that time I had a lot of things going through my mind. But when the dust from the “Cloud of Dissapointment” settles, it is time to pick up the pieces. And actually there is a lot of information in the experience you went through. I must admit, it wasn’t a fun experience, but it did have a lot of information in there. Here are some tips to help re-set your goal.

#Tip 8 : Have some time between the VCDX defenses. Don’t take another VCDX defense between 4 -6 months after you didn’t pass. 

Instead of looking at it as failure, turn it around, look at it and see it as feedback. It wasn’t that you weren’t good enough. You already made it through the application phase and were allowed to go to the defense panel. You are good enough, but you  just need to bring your A game, in stead of the B game that you brought to the defense that didn’t let you pass to become VCDX. And the information to bring your A game is all in the feedback that you got during the defense and in the email with the notice that you didn’t pass. OK, I’ll admit, the feedback in the email isn’t much. It has pointers, but combined with the experience you have, you can probably work out the areas that need your attention for your next try. Go through your design and adres the areas you need to work on using the following tip…

#Tip 9 : Using a real-life project doesn’t mean you can’t tweak things to your “advantage”

Some decisions in you design maybe are hard to explain or aren’t there because the customer didn’t have the information. That shouldn’t stop you from adding and tweaking your design to your “advantage”. Panels only have the information that is presented to them through the application, which basically means that you can create an ideal situation. If there a things in your design that you would like to have tweaked, feel free to do so, but do keep in mind that you need to clarify it with the requirements and constraints that the customers provided to you (or that you also added ) It needs to fit and you need to be able to explain it to the panel. Create your own world, but without losing the grip on reality!

# Tip 10 :  Learn for the past, work hard in the present, focus on the future

Please learn from the experiences that you had during the defense you did not pass. This is valuable information before walking into the defense panel again. You already know what is expected of you, you already know what you did wrong the last time, but stop and I repeat STOP going back to “the bad experience”. There is no point in re-living the bad experience over and over again. In stead learn your lessons. Use them to your advantage. Work hard to getting things back on track to your VCDX and focus on the future. Try to imagine what it would be like standing in front of the panel again. You can do this!

To conclude my write-up try to look at gaining your VCDX as a learning experience. There are lots of lessons in there and there are barriers that you need to break before you achieve your goal. If it was that easy to gain your VCDX then there wasn’t any fun in doing it at all. So when you sit down again and think about your bucket list, write this one on it : Achieve VCDX! (I know you want this, you wouldn’t have read my complete article if you didn’t want to do this… Have fun!)


New storage books for designing cloud infra

When creating a design for your cloud environment you always have to take the physical components, such as compute, network & storage into account. These components are the foundation that your cloud environment will be build on. A good design of these components is crucial for your overall design, the performance and resilience of your solution. Fact remains that you can’t know it all, but when you do want to know it, then the best way is to learn it from the experts.

Now we have the chance to do so. Three experts in the field of storage released two books about storage in relation to virtual cloud environments.

Mostafa Khalil from VMware, released the book “Storage Implementation in vSphere 5.0”

“The more important VMware virtualized infrastructure becomes, the more important virtualization storage becomes. Virtualization storage planning and management is complex, and it’s been almost impossible to find authoritative guidance – until now. In Storage Implementation in vSphere 5.0, one of VMware’s leading experts completely demystifies the “black box” of vSphere storage, and provides illustrated, step-by-step procedures for performing virtually every task associated with it. Mostafa Khalil brings together detailed techniques and guidelines, insights for better architectural design, planning and management best practices, common configuration details, and deep dives into both vSphere and external storage-related technologies. He gives technical professionals the deep understanding they need to make better choices, solve problems, and keep problems from occurring in the first place. This book answers crucial, ground-level questions such as: How do you configure storage array from “Vendor X” to support vSphere “Feature Y”? How do you know you’ve configured it correctly? What happens if you misconfigure it? How can you tell from logs and other tools that you have a problem – and how do you fix it? Most of the author’s troubleshooting techniques are based on his own personal experience as a senior VMware support engineer helping customerstroubleshoot their own vSphere production environments – experience that nobody else has.”

At the same time Vaughn Stewart and Mike Slisinger from NetApp released the book “Virtualization Changes Everything: Storage Strategies for VMware vSphere & Cloud Computing”:

Storage is a foundational component in the support of virtualization and cloud computing – and it is dynamically evolving. It is an aspect of the datacenter that is all-too-often overlooked, but without storage, there is no data, and without data, there is no cloud. Virtualization Changes Everything, by Vaughn Stewart and Mike Slisinger, examines the evolutionary influence of host virtualization and cloud computing in breaking storage deployment out of outdated silo models and into a dynamic, flexible hosting environment. Virtualization Changes Everything reviews common goals and challenges associated with providing storage service with cloud computing, and addresses each through the application of advanced storage technologies designed to scale in order to support the ever-expanding storage needs of the future. The examples within the book are pulled from real-world experience, and often involve the integration of multiple innovative technologies. If you are looking for measured guidance on high availability, efficiency, integration and performance for the storage in your cloud, then this book is for you!”

Both execellent books on the topic of storage and the impact it has on your virtual cloud environment. A must read for everybody that wants to gain more knowledge on this topic and the impact storage has on virtual cloud environments.

Architecting High Available vSphere Auto Deploy

One of the cool new features of vSphere 5 is Auto Deploy. This tool enables the stateless booting of ESXi hosts. No longer a installation to disks is required to boot the ESXi hypervisor. Instead the hypervisor is booted via PXE boot into the memory. The ESXi image is booted onto a bare-metal server, so in case the server powered off the “installation” and configuration is also lost. Of course the next time the bare-metal server is booted up again, Auto Deploy makes sure that the stateless image is again deployed via PXE into the memory of the server. So far, so good. If of course the Auto Deploy tool is available to provide the deployment of ESXi images.

And this is the question that always pops up when discussing Auto Deploy in a vSphere design: “What if the Auto Deploy tool isn’t available? Then I can’t boot my ESXi hosts anymore!”

That is true, but fortunately there is a way around that. Daniel Hiltgen, Senior Staff Engineer at VMware, explains how to architect your Auto Deploy environment and make it highly available. This also prevents the “chicken-egg” problem. So have a quick look at this short, but interesting video!