IT Blog Award Winner

Wow.

Thanks to all those that voted for “IT Should Just Work” in the IT Blog Awards and passed the devious maths test at the bottom of the voting form. I’m shocked and humbled to let you all know that the results are in and this blog won the award for Best Analysis. It’s surprised me, and the flurry of social media activity through the weekend following the announcement has shown there’s some big winners in the other categories.

Cisco Blog Awards Winner

I’d recommend anyone reading this visits the IT Blog Awards page and checks out the other winning blogs. Congratulations all!

To quote the list:

Thanks again- it’s always good to know that someone reads what I write and (hopefully) finds it useful or informative.

AWS re:Invent comes to London

2019-01-22_10-29-04Last week (January 2019) I attended an AWS event in London to learn a bit more about Amazon Web Services and catch up on the big announcements from the November re:Invent conference held in Las Vegas. This is my write up of that one day event held at the Altitude360 tower in the capital.

Keynote

After an (unusual) request for no phones or photography during the session the day kicked off with a Keynote from Chris Hayman. Chris started with the overview of AWS’s majority market share and highlighted some of their millions of customers. Pie charts and graphs showed just how dominant Amazon is in this sector.

He then went on to touch on the large portfolio of products in the AWS stable- this featured a slide with so many product names that even sat in the front row looking at this cinema sized screen I wasn’t able to make them all out. This gamut continued throughout the day- by lunchtime I estimated I’d been introduced to at least fifty different products from the range. This is all a bit overwhelming- “how am I going to learn about all of these?” I was thinking.

But then I had something of an epiphany- stop thinking of these as discrete apps like I would with a traditional server setup and instead think of them as components or features of the overall single package. For example-  in AWS you have a product called “Amazon Route 53” which provides a DNS service, there’s “AWS Transfer for SFTP”, “Amazon Elastic Block Store”, “AWS Systems Manager”. Back on your Windows Server you’d refer to these as the DNS, IIS, iSCSI Target, or Server Manager roles or services. This isn’t to say they are all equivalent between vendors, but thinking of these AWS product lines as services under the same umbrella platform helped bridge the gap from the more traditional way of thinking.

This proliferation of names and features does make writing up the conference without it becoming a list of products a little tricky so this post will focus on my highlights from the day with links to product pages etc. where appropriate. If you do want a full list, the “Products” link at the top of the AWS website will fill you in.

Along with a high level view of the announcements from re:Invent, the keynote also included a few customer stories- EMIS group who provide software and IT services to the NHS, the London Borough of Waltham Forest who are using AWS to leverage the data they collect to help citizens in their region, and LGSS Digital who are using Amazon Connect to provide AI powered call centres for local authorities.

The IT Crowd. Pic from channel4.com

Techies love the basement life

Following the Keynote the day split into a Business and Technical track. I favoured the latter, opting to stay in the windowless basement theatre when the Business track left for the 28-floor elevator ride to their views across London. Better to focus on the content rather than be distracted by the busy cityscape below 🙂

Core Services

The first session covered the Core Services in a bit more detail, starting off with the EC2 compute power that everything hinges on. We delved into the instance types available, from the new Graviton ARM processors (A1) through to the high-end compute with 4GHz Xeon cores (z1d).

In the storage part of the talk there were a couple of new features that caught my attention- notably the Managed File System offerings- FSx. The Windows version of this provides an AD-integrated DFS file-share with all the multi-availability-zone global resilience that the public cloud offers. A second service of note was the Glacier Deep Archive which offers storage at about $1/TB/month with a 12 hour recovery time for all those files that have to be kept for long periods but won’t be needed in a hurry.

Networking and Security came up next- one of the interesting things here was the “AWS Security Hub” which brings together all the AWS security products in one place. There’s a growing number of discrete products in the AWS security sphere (as with their other product groups) so having one system to manage them all makes a lot of sense.

Dev Tools and Containers

The afternoon sessions started with one covering developer tools, containers, and microservices. A big takeaway for me here was how AWS supports a development environment where multiple teams are using multiple languages to develop these microservices that need to all talk to each other for the application as a whole to work. The complicated nature of this needs management and visibility of the components as well as consistent communications between them. Features such as the preview “AWS App Mesh” and “AWS Cloud Map” can help developers with this challenge.

DB, AI, and ML

A quick dive into the world of databases, data lakes, data warehouses, ledgers, and blockchain came next. Again, every variant comes with a product name and there’s some inconsistency here- some products such as “Amazon Managed Blockchain” or “Amazon DocumentDB” have a name that clearly shows what they do, whilst others such as “Amazon Neptune” or “Amazon Aurora” leave you guessing. Thankfully they haven’t all been reduced to acronyms across the marketing and documentation -we have S3, RDS, EC2 etc but fifty+ of those would definitely get confusing.

My highlight of the section on AI and Machine Learning was our quick look at the the “AWS DeepRacer”- a scale model car which you can go out and buy and then teach to drive itself. During the break we got to see it whizz up and down the stage.

 

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An #Amazon #DeepRacer being put through its paces.

A post shared by Chris Bradshaw (@startmenu) on

Internet of Everything Else

We were next introduced to the wide range of IoT services available on AWS. These are split into 3 categories: Data, Control, and Device. There’s lots of interesting developments happening here with Amazon working with the endpoints collecting the data- perhaps integrating with legacy equipment using “AWS IoT Sitewise”- and then storing, before analysing and acting upon it.

The final session was left to cover “Everything Else”- all those things that didn’t fit into one of the above categories. This included the VMware supported AWS Outposts where Amazon hardware can be hosted in your own datacentre and, bizarrely given the audience, a look at the AWS “Groundstation as a service” offering in case you have a satellite you need to talk to.

Summary

Overall this was an interesting excursion into the world of AWS even if it was solid PowerPoint for every session. The opportunity to drink direct from the firehose of information and then have face to face discussions with the team from Amazon on how to apply it in my own environment was definitely worth the time, and I look forward to finding out more. Details on their future events can be found here: https://aws.amazon.com/events/

IT Blog Awards

I’m pleased to announce this blog is a finalist in the 2018 IT Blog Awards hosted by Cisco in the category of “Best Analysis”. Voting is open to the tech community through January 4th 2019, so if you’ve found this blog useful or insightful at any point (or you’ve followed my advice and your datacentre didn’t catch fire as a result) please can you go to http://cs.co/itblogawards and pop in a vote for “IT Should Just Work” in the first section.

If you don’t want to vote for this blog, that’s fair enough, but I’d still recommend having a look at the voting form if only for the awesome “I’m not a bot” section at the bottom.

Thanks!

CiscoBlogAwards_Finalist_Best Analysis

UK VMUG 2018 Preview

IMG_20181106_121248612_editIn two weeks I’ll be heading up to the annual UK VMware User Group meeting. This year a later VMworld Europe has pushed this conference’s date into Christmas season from it’s usual home in November and, speaking of homes, it’s relocated from the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham to the National Space Centre in Leicester. “The Sky’s the Limit”? – not here.

The Keynotes are going to be held in the museum planetarium and I’ve heard rumours that Joe Baguely, VMware CTO, is pretty excited about the possibilities this could bring to his opening address. At the other end the day VMware’s HCI Chief Technologist Duncan Epping is giving the closing keynote so you can expect even more great tech coverage here.

It doesn’t end there though, with over 40 sessions to choose from on the day plus over 30 ecosystem vendors represented the UK VMUG is often referred to as a mini-VMworld. It’s large enough to have a range of technical depth whilst still covering a breadth of topics. Sessions cover the entire VMware stack, from vSAN to VVols, HCI to VDI, vRealize to NSX, VMs to Containers, and on-premises deployments right through to the public cloud. I always return from this event feeling I have learnt something relevant to my daily role, and something new for the future.

VMUG-UserconAny good conference starts the night before and this one is no different with it’s vCurry (held in the venue itself) which is usually accompanied by a fiendish vQuiz. Googling on your phone under the table will only get you so far in this one. The vCommunity (who are partly responsible for sticking a v in front of any noun they can) will be out in force there, and right through the event on Thursday.

On the subject of community, in the afternoon I’m talking alongside vExpert Pro Gareth Edwards as we discuss VMware’s global advocacy program; what it involves, the benefits of achieving the award, and how to go about applying to join the current crop of 161 UK vExperts for the 2019 programme.

Checkout the full agenda for more details of this and the other talks.

imageIf you’re reading this before 13th December 2018- Register at the link below, and I’ll see you in Leicester:

https://www.vmug.com/Attend/VMUG-UserCon/2018/UK-VMUG-UserCon-2018

VMworld 2018 Banner

vSAN Scalable File Services

One of the new developments that caught my eye at VMworld this year was the introduction of file services to the VMware vSAN software-defined storage platform. vSAN already offers VMDK storage to vSphere and the ability to host iSCSI volumes, but this feature will allow NFS and SMB file-shares to be hosted directly on the cluster without the need for a separate Windows Server or NFS provider.

What

Yanbing Lee and Duncan Epping discuss vSAN at VMworld Europe 2018

Yanbing Lee and Duncan Epping discuss vSAN at VMworld Europe 2018

vSAN Scalable File Services is a layer that sits on top of vSAN to provide SMB, NFS (and others in future) file shares. It’s comprised of a vSAN Distributed File System (vDFS) which provides the underlying scalable filesystem by aggregating vSAN objects, a Storage Services Platform which provides resilient file server end points, and a control plane for deployment and management.

File shares are created using the vCenter GUI or via API calls from an automation platform, and the demos at VMworld included all the functionality you’d expect with permissions, quotas and so on.

An interesting point is that all the file shares are integrated into the existing vSAN Storage Policy Based Management, and on a per-share basis. Therefore FTT, encryption,  thin provisioning, and so on can all be defined at a pretty granular level. So if only one of your file-shares has an encryption requirement that’s just a case of setting the policy in a drop down list, or likewise if a particular file-share must be configured to be site-failure resilient across a stretched cluster.

Why

Why would you want to do this? Well, a couple of use cases immediately sprang to mind. Firstly, the small office/ remote office/ branch office scenario. A company wants to host both virtual machines and file services in a compact environment- currently the choice would be to have a NAS plus compute hosts, or possibly go hyper-converged but run a VM within this serving the file data from a VMDK. vSAN file services simplifies this by providing that NFS/SMB provision from within the hypervisor- and this also means that all the benefits of resilience, deduplication, compression, and encryption can be provided to the file services.

The second case was for a SAN replacement- a traditional SAN is basically an expandable cluster of x86 servers loaded with disks running some file+disk management software. vSAN is the same thing, but can also run VM workloads. It would be an interesting price/feature comparison exercise to compare the two methodologies.

When

This offering is currently in Public Beta – details at the bottom of this article. NFS 4.1 with AD Authentication is expected at release, with SMB, OpenLDAP, vSAN Data Protection and other functionality to follow. Obviously this is all subject to change as VMware are still at the Beta stage, and a release date has not yet been confirmed.

Further Information

  • HCI3041BE – VMworld Europe 2018 session: Introducing Scalable File Storage on vSAN with Native File Services (Video and Slides)
  • HCI3728KE – VMworld Europe 2018 session:  Innovating Beyond HCI: How VMware is Driving the Next Data Center Revolution (Video)
  • www.vmware.com/go/vsan-beta – Sign up for the Beta. Phase 2 includes the ability to test vSAN File Services in your own lab environment.

VMworld Europe 2018