Awesome appliance, vCenter Support Assistant

Today an awesome appliance called the vCenter Support Assistant was made available to the world. I have seen some screenshots and a demo and feel that this appliance is a MUST HAVE for anyone who files Support Requests. Just the fact that you can do that from a single interface, which also allows you to upload the support bundle just makes life a whole lot easier.

vCenter Support Assistant

Ryan Johnson wrote an excellent article on this topic… and I am going to steal his thunder so I suggest you head over to the VMware TAM Program blog (open to everyone) and read up on this excellent Appliance.

Back to Basics: Deploying the vCenter Server appliance

I am going to do a couple of blogposts with “basic” workflows using the Web Client. Let me know if you find this useful or not… I will start with deploying the vCenter Server appliance and will assume you all know how to install ESXi. I prefer using the vCenter Server appliance in my lab as I can deploy it in minutes without the need to pre-install an OS etc.

The following steps outline the import process of the vCenter Server appliance.

  • Open the vSphere Client
  • Click “File – Deploy OVF Template”
  • Browse for the OVA file
  • Provide a name for the to be imported virtual machine, in our case “vCenter-01”
  • Select a datastore where this virtual machine should be stored
  • Use the default Disk Format
  • Provide the networking details like IP address, DNS, netmask etc.
  • Finish the wizard

During the reinstallation of my lab environment I ran in to this issue a couple of times. In my environment when I deploy the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (VCVA) I always got the following error on the remote console:

No Networking Detected

This seems to happen when I point my vSphere Client directly to a host and import the OVA. When you point your vSphere Client directly at a host you do not have the option to fill out the networking details in the OVF wizard. (At least I don’t…) When I point my vSphere Client to a vCenter Server and import the OVA I get the option to fill out the networking details.

no networking detected vcenter server

You can configure networking fairly simple. Just login to the console and type the following:

/opt/vmware/share/vami/vami_config_net

Make sure to fill out the following sections:

2) Default Gateway
3) Hostname
4) DNS
6) IP Address Allocation for eth0

After this has been done type 1 to exit the configuration tool. Now the VCVA should be configured. In some cases I noticed that the “default gateway” setting did not stick. I would suggest validating this on the network tab of your management console, which can be found here: https://<IP address or DNS name of your vCenter instance>:5480.

Now that you have successfully deployed the vCenter Server appliance you can start exploring the new vCenter Web Client: https://<IP address or DNS name of your vCenter instance>:9443/vsphere-client/

Using the vCenter Appliance for the Web Client?

Today on twitter there was a discussion around having an appliance for the vSphere Web Client. I didn’t get the question as there’s already a vCenter Appliance out there. Apparently not everyone realised that the Web Client is part of the vCenter Appliance. On top of that you could even split out the components and use the vCenter Appliance just for Web Client functionality. I remembered seeing an article from one of my colleagues not too long ago. I dug up the links and here they are. I included a short snippet so you know what to expect. These articles are by Michael Webster so all credits go to him:

Deploy vSphere Web Client without Additional Windows Server License

Prior to running through the steps below you should have downloaded and deployed the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (VCVA) from the VMware web site. This process assumes you already have the VCVA connected to the network and configured with the correct timezone already. To de-register the local embedded vCenter System and to register an existing vCenter Server with the vSphere Web Client do the following….

This is the first step you can take to get the vSphere Web Client up and running. But what if you want to provide some additional redundancy. Or what if you have dozens of people literally using the Web Client and want to add some load balancing? Well Michael thought about that as well and came up with a cool solution for this.

Increase vSphere Web Client Availability and Scalability for Enterprise Environments

In the above design I’ve chosen to use the vCenter Virtual Appliance with the vCenter Services disabled to act as the vSphere Web Client Servers. I’ve used a F5 BIG-IP LTM VE to provide load balancing for the vSphere Web Client User access to the vSphere Web Client Servers, as well as for the vCenter Servers to access the vSphere License Plug-in. You can use any load balancer that will successfully load balance HTTPS traffic on port 9443, which is the port the vSphere Web Client uses.

I think this is a cool solution, and considering the Web Client is the way forward it is definitely an option exploring. I do want to point out that this has more than likely not been explicitly tested by VMware and I am uncertain if it is supported. I have reached out to our vCenter experts however to comment on it.

vCenter Appliance

I was playing around in my lab and figured I would give the vCenter Appliance (VCVA)  a try. I realize that today there are limitations when it comes to the vCenter Appliance and I wanted to list those to get them out in the open:

  • No Update Manager
  • No Linked-Mode
  • No support for the VSA (vSphere Storage Appliance)
  • Only support for Oracle as the external database
  • With the embedded database it supports 5 hosts and 50 VMs
    • vSphere 5.0 embedded database uses DB2
    • vSphere 5.0 Update 1 and higher uses vPostgres
  • No support for vCenter Heartbeat

Now that you’ve seen the limitations why would you even bother testing it? You will still need Windows if you are running VUM and you can only use Oracle for large environments… Those are probably the two biggest constraints for 80% of you reading this and I agree they are huge constraints. But I am not saying that you should go ahead and deploy this in production straight away, I do feel that the VCVA deserves to be tested as it is the way forward in my opinion! Why? Most importantly, it is very simple to implement… Seriously setting it up takes a couple of minutes. You just import the OVF, accept the EULA, select the correct database type and start the vCenter service. Without any hassle it also includes the following services:

  • vSphere Web Client
  • vCenter Single Sign On (SSO)
  • vSphere Auto Deploy Server
  • ESXi Dump Collector
  • Inventory Service
  • Syslog Collector

But that’s not all… If you look at it from a strategic perspective this is the first step. A first step towards a possible distributed vCenter solution, and I know some of you have been waiting on that for a while, so why not get your hands dirty straight away and start testing it.

If you want to know how to deploy the vCenter 5.1 Appliance I highly recommend reading this article.

**info updated – 1st of february 2013**

Creating a VMware Converter Appliance

I was playing around with VMware Converter and thought it would be cool to create a VMware Converter Appliance. I can’t put this up for download, yet, but I can describe how to build your own appliance. I will use Novell’s Suse Studio to create a thin Linux VM that contains only the necessary bits and pieces.

  • Go to susestudio.com and open an account
  • Click “Create New Appliance”
  • Select “GNOME Desktop” and click “Create Appliance”
  • Change the name of the appliance to something that makes a bit more sense…
  • I would personally add “File Roller” and “GCC” so that you can actually open archives from the GUI and make modules, which is need to install VMware tools.
  • Go to the  “Configuration Tab” and click on “Appliance”
  • Increase the memory to 1024MB for a better running appliance
  • Download VMware Converter Standalone for Linux and add it as a file in the “Overlay Files” tab
  • When uploading is finished select a folder where the tar.gz file should be extracted, I picked “/vmwconverter”
  • Click on the “Build” Tab and wait for it to complete

It’s as easy as that! With SUSE you have the option to Test Drive it and make changes to the image while test driving it. I would recommend to just download it and install VMware Converter while running the VM with VMware player. Or you could import it with vCenter and run it on an ESX host. This way you can also install VMware tools immediately.

  • Open the VMX file with VMware Player
  • Install VMware Tools:
    Right click VM “install VMware tools”
  • Open a terminal session within the VM and type:
    cd /media/VMware Tools
    tar -C /tmp -xvf <VMware Tools File>
    /tmp/vmware-tools-distrib/vmware-install.pl

    Agree with all the defaults…

  • Now to install VMware Converter open a terminal session and do the following:
    cd /vmwconverter/vmware-converter-distrib
    ./vmware-install.pl

    Use all the defaults!

  • You can add an icon to the desktop by right clicking the desktop and selecting “Create Launcher”
  • Select “/usr/bin/vmware-converter-client”
  • And add the correct icon! (/usr/share/icons/vmware-converter.png)

Now your appliance is good to go and can be used everywhere in your virtual infrastructure. I would recommend making it a template or vApp and deploy it multiple times when doing many parallel migrations!