MVP ITPro Podcast – Ep2 – A Talk with Vijay Tewari about Microsoft Azure Stack

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Join us for episode 2 of the new MVP IT Pro Podcast, featuring your hosts Andy Syrewicze from Altaro Software and Rob Corradini from 5Nine!

Windows Admin Center: Tutorial and First Impressions

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For more information, check out my blog post on Windows Admin Center: Strengths, Weaknesses, Enterprise Readiness and Everything Else You Need to Know or go to the Windows Admin Center site for details on how to get started.

Until next time, Rob

Storage Spaces Direct Explained – Applications & Performance

Applications

Microsoft SQL Server product group announced that SQL Server, either virtual or bare metal, is fully supported on Storage Spaces Direct. The Exchange Team did not have a clear endorsement for Exchange on S2D and clearly still prefers that Exchange is deployed on physical servers with local JBODs using Exchange Database Availability Groups or that customers simply move to O365.
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Performance

Microsoft showed all kinds of performance #s but these are using all NVMe SSD systems and real-world workloads like 100% 4k Random Reads.
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Much like VSAN, Storage Spaces is implemented in-kernel. Their messaging is very similar as well, claiming more efficient IO path, and CPU consumption typically way less than 10% of system CPU. Like VSAN, the exact overhead of S2D is difficult to measure.
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Microsoft is pushing NVMe Flash Devices for S2D and here are some examples of their positioning.
Their guidance was to avoid NVMe devices if your primary requirement is capacity as today you will pay a significant premium $/GB.
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Where NVMe shines is on reduced latency and increased performance with NVMe systems driving 3.4x more IOPs than a similar SATA SSD on S2D.
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There is also a significant benefit to CPU consumption with NVMe consuming nearly 50% less CPU than SATA SSDs on S2D.
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I also want to point out that the Azure Storage team is working very closely with Intel and Micron and will be moving parts of Azure to 3D Xpoint as soon as possible. This will filter down to S2D at some point, and we should expect them to be close to the bleeding edge for supporting new storage class memory technologies.
Scalability

Storage Spaces Direct will scale up to 16 nodes. In earlier Tech Preview releases they supported a minimum cluster size of 4 nodes. Recently they dropped that to 3 nodes and this week at Ignite they announced support for 2-node configurations. The 2-node configurations will use 2-way mirroring and require a separate witness that can be deployed on-premise or as a remote witness in Azure. Support for min 2 node configs does give them an advantage in ROBO and mid-market especially when low-cost is more important than high availability.

S2D will support both scale-up (adding additional local disk) and scale-out (with support for adding nodes in increments of 1).
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Product Positioning

Microsoft’s guidance is for customers to use smaller hyper-converged configurations for ROBO and small departmental workloads where cost efficiency is the primary driver. For larger enterprises and hosters/service providers, Microsoft recommends a converged model that allows the independent scaling of compute and storage resources.image043
So How Do Customers Buy Storage Spaces Direct?

Storage Spaces Direct is a feature of Windows Server 2016 and customers get it for free with DataCenter Edition. Customers will have the option of DIY or purchase one of the new Storage Spaces Direct reference architecture solutions from one of 12 different partners.
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With previous storage spaces offerings in Server 2012 and 2012R2, Microsoft put the technology out there for the DIY crowd and hoped that the server vendors would find the technology interesting enough to add to their portfolios. The problem was it needed JBOD shelves and in most server vendor organizations, JBODs fell under the storage teams, not the server teams. There was no way that any storage team was going to jeopardize their high margin traditional storage business by offering low margin Storage Spaces based JBOD solutions. Most vendors didn’t even want to sell JBODs at all. For example, Dell typically overpriced their JBODs to make EqualLogic look like a good deal at just a 15% uplift from a basic JBOD shelf…. much like movie theaters get us to buy the large popcorn for 50 cents more.

With Storage Spaces Direct, Microsoft is now dealing with the server part of these organizations… and all these guys care about is selling more servers. So Spaces went from having no partner interest to having support from all of the major server vendors.

However, since S2D is free with Windows and channel partners only get paid for the server sale, there is little incentive for them push S2D over other HCI options on these platforms. Therefore, I suspect that the majority of S2D adoption should come from customers asking to buy it rather than partners pushing it as an option.
So here is what the partner ecosystem looks like today.
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To formalize this, Microsoft created a new program called Windows Server Software Defined (WSSD) allowing partners to submit validated WSSD Reference Architectures. Microsoft provides the validation tools and methodology and the partner does the testing. They get a Windows Server 2016 Certified Logo plus SDDC Additional Qualifiers.
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Partners can offer their choice of Hyper-Converged or Converged configurations. Here’s where the classic Microsoft unnecessary complexity comes in… Within Hyper-Converged there are two additional options – Standard and Premium. Premium has some additional SDN and Security features turned on, but it’s simply a configuration thing. All of these come with Datacenter Edition so there is no cost or licensing difference.
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Here are a few examples of the offerings. S2D offerings will be available starting in mid-October as soon as Server 2016 goes GA.
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You may be asking who is responsible for support? Because it’s just a reference architecture, there is a split support model. Customers will call the server vendor for hardware issues and Microsoft for software issues.

Conclusions…

Storage Spaces has come a long way since Server 2012 and will be considered a viable option for customers looking at software-defined storage solutions. Some of the customers perceived advantages of S2D will be… low cost, min 2-node config, a broad choice of hardware vendors, storage QoS, NVMe support, single vendor software stack, and choice of deployment model (Hyper-Converged or Converged). Probably the most important of those is the price. Understanding the differences will be key. It’s tough to compete against ‘good enough’ and ‘free’.

Microsoft has not been very successful driving Storage Spaces adoption in the last 2 releases. Part of this is due to product immaturity, but most of this is because they didn’t build any real sales program around it. This hasn’t really changed with the WSSD Reference Architecture program. The big boys like Dell, HP, and Cisco are not going to position S2D over their own HCI offerings and the smaller players like SuperMicro, DataON and RAID Inc will never drive any significant adoption. Regardless of hardware platform, there is a very little incentive for the channel to sell S2D reference architectures over other HCI solutions (where they get paid for both the SW+HW sale). So without a strong sales program, I don’t believe that we will see S2D emerge as a big market share anytime soon.

Until next time, Rob.

CPS Standard on Nutanix Released

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Fun and crazy days here at Nutanix. I’ve busy been fielding a lot of calls around our new offering, CPS Standard on Nutanix. Now if you don’t know what CPS is, it stands for Cloud Platform System.

So what is Microsoft CPS anyways?

Simply, Microsoft CPS is a software stack of Window Server, System Center, and Windows Azure Pack.  CPS delivers a self-service cloud environment for Windows and Linux applications that provides optimized deployment of Windows Azure Pack.
Currently based on Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Azure Pack, CPS provides an Azure-consistent experience by leveraging Azure services to deliver business continuity (through Azure Site Recovery) of your hybrid cloud for your virtualized Windows and Linux workloads. For more details on Windows Azure Pack, check out my blog series on WAP.

If you have read my WAP blog series, building your own cloud can be a complex undertaking. Integrating the hardware, installing and configuring the software, and optimizing the overall solution for usability, performance, and scale, and reliability means that many cloud deployments fall short.

Introducing Microsoft CPS on Nutanix, an easier way to deploy WAP

The solution is due to the co-engineering and joint validation efforts with Microsoft and Nutanix. Getting the solution up and running is pretty fast, accelerating your time to value.
The joint effort goes beyond initial deployment. Once the Microsoft\Nutanix CPS solution is up and running, you get a single point of contact for support and simplified patching and updating across the entire stack of firmware and software. And as an added benefit, you get the ability to scale the environment with all the Nutanix goodness.

Bits are installed at the factory, so when you get your Nutanix Block, it’s just as easy as a wizard to get you up and running.  Below is a video that my buddy @mcghee did on the install and initial configuration of CPS. The video brings you right up to the admin and tenant portals and gives you a brief tour.

Enjoy…Until next time, Rob….

Microsoft Azure Cloud Series – Understanding the Stack, Who Manages What? – Part 2

In today’s IT, there are lot of discussions about different terms like PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS.  So what do all of these cloud acronyms mean?
I’m going to give you the simplest explanation I can, to help you understand the difference between SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS. First, let’s expand those acronyms! Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, and Platform as a Service are all just different types of clouds.
Understanding the Stack

New Choices for Delivering IT

The cloud provides options for approach, sourcing, and control.  It delivers a well-defined set of services, which are perceived by the customers to have infinite capacity, continuous availability, increased agility, and improved cost efficiency. To achieve these attributes in their customers’ minds, IT must shift its traditional server-centric approach to a service-centric approach.  This implies that IT must go from deploying applications in silos with minimal leverage across environments to delivering applications on pre-determined standardized platforms with mutually agreed upon service levels.  A hybrid strategy that uses several cloud options at the same time will become the norm as organizations choose a mix of various cloud models to meet their specific needs.

Typical Service Models

Software as a Service

Software as a Service (SaaS) delivers business processes and applications, such as CRM, collaboration, and email, as standardized capabilities for a usage-based cost at an agreed, business-relevant service level. SaaS provides significant efficiencies in cost and delivery in exchange for minimal customization and represents a shift of operational risks from the consumer to the provider. All infrastructure and IT operational functions are abstracted away from the consumer.

Platform as a Service

Platform as a Service (PaaS) delivers application execution services, such as application runtime, storage, and integration for applications written for a pre-specified development framework. PaaS provides an efficient and agile approach to operate scale-out applications in a predictable and cost-effective manner. Service levels and operational risks are shared because the consumer must take responsibility for the stability, architectural compliance, and overall operations of the application while the provider delivers the platform capability (including the infrastructure and operational functions) at a predictable service level and cost.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) abstracts hardware (server, storage, and network infrastructure) into a pool of computing, storage, and connectivity capabilities that are delivered as services for a usage-based (metered) cost. Its goal is to provide a flexible, standard, and virtualized operating environment that can become a foundation for PaaS and SaaS.

IaaS is usually seen to provide a standardized virtual server. The consumer takes responsibility for configuration and operations of the guest Operating System (OS), software, and Database (DB). Compute capabilities (such as performance, bandwidth, and storage access) are also standardized.
Service levels cover the performance and availability of the virtualized infrastructure. The consumer takes on the operational risk that exists above the infrastructure.
Understanding the Stack

Infrastructure as a Service with Azure Virtual Machines

In short, IaaS gives you a server in the cloud (virtual machine) that you have complete control over. With an Azure VM, you are responsible for managing everything from the Operating System on up to the application you are running.

On-demand data centers, also known as IaaS, provide compute power, memory, and storage, typically priced per hour, based on resource consumption. You pay only for what you use, and the service provides all the capacity you need, but you are responsible for monitoring, managing, and patching your on-demand infrastructure.

The biggest advantage of IaaS is that it offers a cloud-based data center without requiring you to install new equipment or to wait for the hardware procurement process. This means you can get IT resources that otherwise might not be available.

This mode of operation will feel most like a typical on premises virtual machine where you remote desktop into the server to manage it instead of sitting down in front of a physical keyboard and mouse.

Platform as a Service – Azure Cloud Services

An Azure Cloud Service consists of two components: your application files (source code, DLLs, etc.) and a configuration file. Together, these two elements will spin up a combination of Web Roles and Worker Roles to execute your application. With Cloud Services, Azure handles all of the tedious Operating System details for you, so you can focus on what matters – building a quality application for your users.

A Web Role is an Azure VM that is pre-configured as a web server (running IIS) and will automatically have your application loaded on it by the time the server fully spins up. This will create the public endpoint for your application – usually a website, but it could also be an API or something similar.

Worker Roles run alongside your Web Roles and are responsible for performing computing functions to support your application. Typically, the Web Role will accept some sort of user input and queue up an action for the Worker Role to process at a later time. This allows the Web Roles to be more responsive and to fire-and-forget tasks to be processed later.
Understanding the Stack

Software as a Service – Basecamp, Salesforce, Office 365, Azure Websites

Finally, Software as a Service applications are built and hosted through 3rd party vendors who typically charge for a certain level of service – $30/month for X projects and Y users.

Azure Websites can serve as a SaaS offering as well. You can configure a WordPress, Drupal, OpenX, or even phpBB site with a single click. No code, no deployment hassles, and minimal configuration. Azure Websites lets you stand up the service you need in minutes, not hours or days.
Most SaaS applications today are built on a cloud platform due to the low cost of entry – with prices continually falling – and the ability to scale up as your customer base grows. If Dropcam, SmugMug, or Netflix got one million new customers tomorrow, their infrastructure (Amazon Web Services) would be able to accommodate them.

Conclusion

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) means you’re renting the app or software
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) means that you’re renting everything but the app or software
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) means you’re renting only the hardware as well as the tools used to manage the hardware

While each Azure Compute (IaaS) offering has their pros and cons, I personally prefer to build my projects around PaaS. With PaaS, you get the maximum possible amount of flexibility before you have to start worrying about the tedious world of OS maintenance, versions, security, patches, etc.

Until next time, Rob.

Nutanix SCVMM Fast Clones Plug-in

Hi Everyone…I love to show off the cool Microsoft integrations that Nutanix has and most recently Nutanix released System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2012 R2 Fast Clones plug-in.

With NOS 4.1.3, Nutanix has released a Fast Clone plugin for SCVMM.  The plug-in has the ability to provide space efficient, low impact clones from SCVMM and quickly. The plugin is a wrapper around Nutanix powershell commands for Fast Cones. The plugin does need proper access rights to the Hyper-V hosts and SCVMM and already should be setup for most environments that have Nutanix with Hyper-V deployed.  You will need to install the plugin on the SCVMM host along with the Nutanix powershell command-lets.

Once you have the SCVMM Fast Clones plug-in installed, you can start creating Fast Clones right away. Installation is quick and easy and creating clones is just as easy as shown below.

To create VM clones using the Nutanix Fast Clones wizard, follow the below steps:

  1. Start the SCVMM
  2. Navigate to the Nutanix hosts.
  3. Select a host and then select the VM to be cloned.
  4. To invoke the wizard, do one of the following: Click the “Nutanix Fast Clone” button on the top menu-bar. Right-click the target VM and select “Nutanix Fast Clone” from the pop-up context menu:
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  5. In the Introduction screen, read the instructions and then click the “Next” button.  NOTE: On start of the wizard, it makes a connection to the VMM to be able to communicate with it to run SCVMM PowerShell cmdlets to gather information about the selected VM.
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  6. The “Identity” screen is displayed. The “Source VM Name” and “Source VM Host Name” is prepopulated, enter the following information and then click the “Next” button:
    1. Clone Type: Click the “Clone One Virtual Machine” radio button and enter a name for the clone when creating a single clone or click the “Clone Multiple Virtual Machines” radio button and enter the following information:
      1. VM Prefix Name: This is the root part of the new VM name.
      2. Beginning Suffix: a number to start the numbering of the new VMs
      3. Number of Clones: a number between 1 and 100.
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  7. In the Authentication screen, enter the Prism and VMM Service Account user names and passwords in the appropriate fields, and then click the “Next” button.
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  8. In the “Select Path” screen, select the destination path and then click the “Next” button. Leave the default path “as is” or change it to a new path as needed by clicking the “Change the default path” box. Click the Browse button to select a destination path for the clone VMs. This is the path where virtual machine configuration files will be stored. The path must be on the same Nutanix SMB share as the VM configuration file.
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  9. In the “Add Properties” screen, click the appropriate radio button to either power on or not power on the VMs after cloning and then click the “Next” button.
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  10. In the Summary screen below, review (confirm) the settings are correct.
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    Clicking the “View Script” button displays the script to be executed:
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    Clicking the “Enable Verbose Messages” displays detailed log messages as the VMs are being created.
  11. When the settings are correct, click the “Create” button to create the cloned VM(s). An hour glass is displayed and progress messages are displayed.
  12. After the clones are created, click the Finish button to close the wizard and you just created VM’s at lighting speed.fastclones10 Fast Clones

If you want to check out Fast Clones for your environment, you can download Fast Clones from the Nutanix Portal at https://portal.nutanix.com.

Below is a demo video shows traditional cloning vs Fast Clones that my buddy @mcghem created.  It shows the awesome benefit of Fast Clones.

As always, if you have any questions please post a comment.

Until next time….Rob