2022398757_e0490d8e4d-2010-06-16-16-15.jpg (Our series of tubes may be virtualized but they’re just as hard to manage)

Can we make management of VMs easier?

In my role at F5 Networks I build many server environments to research and document application deployment guides. Virtualization makes it possible for me to rapidly build and iterate through software versions. Virtual Machines (VMs) are not just handy, they are a requirement, but setting them up and managing their interaction with my other lab equipment is so much work that it often feels like a chore.

We’ve been doing a lot of work this year to make VMs extendable, manageable and automated and to document great solutions to resolve the issues. Here are some of the areas that really bug me:        

* Add/Remove a VLAN to each of my 8 ESX servers to support DRS and other VMotion needs,        

* Add/Delete a newly generated VM to an existing Local Traffic Manager Pool (BIG-IP LTM),        

* Disable a VM in LTM for maintenance or testing.

When it comes to interoperating VMs with our application delivery controllers (ADCs) the system administration can be just as lengthy as if we were dealing with real machines. And the question is why? With ESX VCenter Server and client there is endless room for automation of repeatable tasks. Let’s review some of the challenges and the advancements we’ve made so far and highlight some of the advancements coming.

 Challenge #1 - Automating VLAN Creation

When I create a new environment, the first thing I do is pick the next available set of BIG-IPs and VLANs from my ZenOSS management utility (they definitely deserve a plug for being a great management platform). Now, I have to go and provision these new VLANs on each of my 8 ESX servers. Through the user interface (UI) this is a time consuming and irritating task requiring tens of clicks and lots of waiting:


(Click on the server, then Configuration, then Networking, then find the appropriate client VSwitch, click Properties, then Add, then choose VMKernel, enter the VLAN id, press okay, wait, press close and repeat this process 7 more times for each of your 8 servers!)

Automating this is a slam dunk with the esxcfg-vswitch program from the ESX servers console. In my case, I have Secure Shell (SSH) trust relationships between my host and all of my ESX hosts and a small script to which I provide my new VLAN name, VSwitch name and ID. SSH then calls each host sequentially and executes the command, adding the VLAN I need to all 8 servers. Tens of clicks skipped and many minutes saved.

Challenge #2 - What about IT Agility? How do we perform rapid movement of hosts

We started 2010 with as many questions as answers on our VM automation and acceleration projects. With the introduction of F5’s long distance VMotion solution and other solutions for VMware we’ve created a flexible toolbox that can make jobs easier and faster. Use cases are springing up all over from customers for how they would like to implement long distance VMotion but invariably, it comes back to management, how do my BIG-IPs interact with VMware and other hypervisors, this brings me to the third challenge.

Challenge #3 - Managing VMs in a load balanced environment Now that I’ve created my environment and enabled it for VMotion, what are the steps I need to make them work with my BIG-LTM ADC. In other words, how do I relate my VCenter tasks to the tasks in BIG-IP. If I’m adding a new server to an existing pool, I’d love for that pool member to be auto-detected to add the host to the appropriate pool, or to be able to remove a host, or disable and bleed off connections. What if we could address these tasks in just as automated a way as we do VLAN addition or Long Distance VMotion:        

* Automatically adding a VM to pools on the BIG-IP based on configurable criteria,        

* Disable a VM on all BIG-IPs for maintenance        

* Bring a VM back online after maintenance        

* Bleed off connections form a VM for maintenance

In the end - It’s all about reduction of time spent managing and reducing duplication of effort With virtualization, we have conquered the problem of tedious and physical datacenter work (I do kind of miss the extra physical labor though). Finding a new machine, lifting it into place, formatting its hard drive, plumbing it into the patch panel and so forth. Now we’re going to reduce the virtual heavy lifting that still exists with the management and setup of these environments.