The Complete VMware vSphere Guide

5 (2 reviews total)
By Mike Brown , Hersey Cartwright , Martin Gavanda and 3 more
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  1. The Virtual Data Center

About this book

vSphere 6.7 is the latest release of VMware's industry-leading virtual cloud platform. By understanding how to manage, secure, and scale apps with vSphere 6.7, you can easily run even the most demanding of workloads. This Learning Path begins with an overview of the features of the vSphere 6.7 suite. You'll learn how to plan and design a virtual infrastructure. You'll also gain insights into best practices to efficiently configure, manage, and secure apps. Next, you'll pick up on how to enhance your infrastructure with high-performance storage access, such as remote direct memory access (RDMA) and Persistent memory. The book will even guide you in securing your network with security features, such as encrypted vMotion and VM-level encryption. Finally, by learning how to apply Proactive High Availability and Predictive Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), you'll be able to achieve enhanced computing, storage, network, and management capabilities for your virtual data center.

By the end of this Learning Path, you'll be able to build your own VMware vSphere lab that can run high workloads.

This Learning Path includes content from the following Packt products:

VMware vSphere 6.7 Data Center Design Cookbook - Third Edition by Mike Brown and Hersey Cartwright

Mastering VMware vSphere 6.7 - Second Edition by Martin Gavanda, Andrea Mauro, Karel Novak, and Paolo Valsecchi

Publication date:
November 2019
Publisher
Packt
Pages
768
ISBN
9781838985752

 

The Virtual Data Center

This chapter focuses on many of the basic concepts and benefits of virtualization. It provides a quick overview of VMware virtualization, introduces the virtual data center architect, and lays some of the groundwork necessary for creating and implementing a successful virtual data center design using VMware vSphere 6.7.

We will also explore the VMware Certified Advanced Professional 6-Data Center Virtualization Design (VCAP6-DCV Design) exam and the new VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certification, including a few tips that should help you prepare to successfully complete the exam and certification. Then, we will look over some of the new features of vSphere 6.7. This section will include where to find the current release notes and the latest vSphere product documentation. Finally, we will take a high-level look at the process for planning an upgrade to an existing vSphere deployment to vSphere 6.7.

In this chapter, we will cover the following recipes:

  • Becoming a virtual data center architect
  • Using a holistic approach to data center design
  • Passing the VMware VCAP6-DCV Design exam
  • Becoming a VMware Certified Design Expert
  • Identifying what's new in vSphere 6.7
  • Planning a vSphere 6.7 upgrade
 

Benefits and technologies of virtualization

If you are already familiar with virtualization, this chapter will provide a review of many of the benefits and technologies of virtualization.

Since the focus of this book is on design, we will not go into great detail discussing the specifics of how to configure resources in a virtual data center. Most of you probably already have a good understanding of VMware's virtualization architecture, so this chapter will just provide a basic overview of the key VMware components that are the building blocks to the virtual data center.

Virtualization creates a layer of abstraction between the physical hardware and the virtual machines that run on it. Virtual hardware is presented to the virtual machine granting access to the underlying physical hardware, which is scheduled by the hypervisor's kernel. The hypervisor separates the physical hardware from the virtual machine, as shown in the following diagram:

Logical representation of hypervisor layer

The hypervisor separates the physical hardware from the virtual machines. The new release of vSphere 6.7 does not change the design process or the design methodologies. The new functions and features of the release provide an architect with more tools to satisfy design requirements.

The hypervisor

At the core of any virtualization platform is the hypervisor. The VMware hypervisor is named vSphere ESXi, simply referred to as ESXi. ESXi is a Type 1 or bare-metal hypervisor. This means that it runs directly on the host's hardware to present virtual hardware to the virtual machines. In turn, the hypervisor schedules access to the physical hardware of the hosts.

ESXi allows multiple virtual machines with a variety of operating systems to run simultaneously, sharing the resources of the underlying physical hardware. Access to physical resources, such as memory, CPU, storage, and network, used by the virtual machines is managed by the scheduler, or Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM), provided by ESXi. The resources presented to the virtual machines can be over committed; this means more resources that are physically available can be allocated to the virtual machines on the physical hardware. Advanced memory sharing and reclamation techniques, such as Transparent Page Sharing (TPS) and ballooning, along with CPU scheduling, allow for over commitment of these resources to be possible, resulting in greater virtual-to-physical consolidation ratios.

ESXi 6.7 is a 64-bit hypervisor that must be run on a 64-bit hardware. An ESXi 6.7 installation requires at least 1 GB of disk space for installation. It can be installed on a hard disk locally, a USB device, a Logical Unit Number (LUN) on a Storage Area Network (SAN), or deployed stateless on hosts with no storage using Auto Deploy. The small footprint of an ESXi installation provides a reduction in the management overhead associated with patching and security hardening.

With the release of vSphere 5.0, VMware retired the ESX hypervisor. ESX had a separate, Linux-based service console for the management interface of the hypervisor. Management functions were provided by agents running in the service console. The service console has since been removed from ESXi, and agents now run directly on ESXi's VMkernel.

To manage a standalone host running ESXi, a Direct Console User Interface (DCUI) is provided for basic configuration and troubleshooting. A shell is available that can either be accessed locally from the console or remotely using Secure Shell (SSH). The esxcli command-line tools and others can be used in the shell to provide advanced configuration options. An ESXi host can also be accessed directly using the vSphere Client. The ESXi DCUI is shown in the following screenshot:


Screenshot of ESXi's DCUI
The DCUI can be accessed remotely using SSH by typing the dcui command in the prompt. Press Ctrl + C to exit the remote DCUI session.

Virtual machines

A virtual machine is a software computer that runs a guest operating system. Virtual machines are comprised of a set of configuration files and data files stored on local or remote storage. These configuration files contain information about the virtual hardware presented to the virtual machine. This virtual hardware includes the CPU, RAM, disk controllers, removable devices, and so on, and emulates the same functionality as the physical hardware. The following screenshot depicts the virtual machine files that are stored on a shared Network File System (NFS) datastore:

Virtual machine files stored on a shared NFS datastore displayed using the vSphere Web Client

The files that make up a virtual machine are typically stored in a directory set aside for the particular virtual machine they represent. These files include the configuration file, virtual disk files, NVRAM file, and virtual machine log files.

The following table lists the common virtual machine file extensions along with a description of each:

File extension Description
.vmx This is a virtual machine configuration file. It contains the configurations of the virtual hardware that is presented to the virtual machine.
.vmdk This is a virtual disk descriptor file. It contains a header and other information pertaining to the virtual disk.
-flat.vmdk This is a preallocated virtual disk. It contains the content or data on the disk used by the virtual machine.
.nvram This is a file that stores the state of a virtual machine's Basic Input Output System (BIOS) or Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) configurations.
.vswp This is a virtual machine swap file. It gets created when a virtual machine is powered on. The size of this file is equal to the amount of memory allocated minus any memory reservations.
.log This is a virtual machine log file.
.vmsd This is a virtual machine file used with snapshots to store data about each snapshot active on a virtual machine.
.vmsn This is a virtual machine snapshot data file.

 

Virtual machines can be deployed using a variety of methods, as follows:

  • Using the New Virtual Machine Wizard in the vSphere Client or vSphere Web Client
  • By getting converted from a physical machine using the VMware Converter
  • By getting imported from an Open Virtualization Format (OVF) or Open Virtualization Archive (OVA)
  • By getting cloned from an existing virtual machine
  • By getting deployed from a virtual machine template

When a new virtual machine is created, a guest operating system can be installed on the virtual machine. VMware vSphere 6.7 supports more than 120 different guest operating systems. These include many versions of the Windows server and desktop operating systems, many distributions and versions of Linux and Unix operating systems, and Apple macOS operating systems.

Virtual appliances are preconfigured virtual machines that can be imported to the virtual environment. A virtual appliance can be comprised of a single virtual machine or a group of virtual machines with all the components required to support an application. The virtual machines in a virtual appliance are preloaded with guest operating systems, and the applications they run are normally preconfigured and optimized to run in a virtual environment.

Since virtual machines are just a collection of files on a disk, they become portable. Virtual machines can be easily moved from one location to another by simply moving or copying the associated files. Using VMware vSphere features, such as vMotion, Enhanced vMotion, or Storage vMotion, virtual machines can be migrated from host to host or datastore to datastore while a virtual machine is running. Virtual machines can also be exported to an OVF or OVA to be imported into another VMware vSphere environment.

Virtual infrastructure management

VMware vCenter Server provides a centralized management interface to manage and configure groups of ESXi hosts in the virtualized data center. The vCenter Server is required to configure and control many advanced features, such as the Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), Storage DRS, and VMware High Availability (HA). The vCenter Server management Graphical User Interface (GUI) is accessed using the browser-based vSphere Client. Many vendors provide plugins that can be installed to allow third-party storage, network, and compute resources to be managed using the vSphere Client.

vCenter access using the C#, or Windows vSphere Client, is only available in versions prior to 6.5. Since the release of vSphere 5.5, however, access to, and the configuration of, new features is only available using the vSphere Web Client. The vSphere Web Client can be accessed at https://FQDN_or_IP_of_vCenter_Server:9443/.

vCenter Server 6.7 must use a 64-bit architecture if installed on a Windows Server. It can be run on dedicated physical hardware or as a virtual machine. When the vCenter Server is deployed on Windows, it requires either the embedded PostgreSQL database, a Microsoft SQL database, or an Oracle database to store configuration and performance information. IBM DB2 databases are supported with vSphere 5.1, but this support was removed in vSphere 5.5.

With the release of vCenter 6.0, the Microsoft SQL Express database is no longer used as the embedded database. Embedded PostgreSQL is now used as the embedded database for small deployments. The PostgreSQL database on a Windows Server can be used to support environments of less than 20 hosts and 200 virtual machines. When upgrading to vCenter 6.7, if the previous version was using the Microsoft SQL Express database, the database will be converted to the embedded PostgreSQL as part of the upgrade. The embedded PostgreSQL database is suitable for almost all deployments, but using an external database is still supported.

Another option for deploying the vCenter Server is the vCenter Server Appliance (VCSA). The VCSA is a preconfigured, Linux-based virtual machine preinstalled with the vCenter Server components. The appliance includes an embedded PostgreSQL database that supports the configuration maximums of 2,000 hosts and 25,000 powered-on virtual machines.

Several other management and automation tools are available to aid the day-to-day administration of a vSphere environment: the vSphere Command-Line Interface (vCLI); vSphere PowerCLI provides a Windows PowerShell interface; vRealize Orchestrator can be used to automate tasks; and the vSphere Management Assistant (vMA) is a Linux-based virtual appliance that is used to run management and automation scripts against hosts. vMA was deprecated, and its final release only supports vSphere 6.5. These tools allow an administrator to use command-line utilities to manage hosts from remote workstations.

VMware provides a suite of other products that benefit the virtualized data center. These data center products, such as VMware vRealize Operations (vROps), VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM), and VMware vRealize Automation (vRA), can each be leveraged in the virtual data center to meet specific requirements related to management, disaster recovery, and cloud services. At the core of these products is the vSphere suite, which includes ESXi, the vCenter Server, and the core supporting components.

Understanding the benefits of virtualization

The following table provides a matrix of some of the core VMware technologies and the benefits that can be realized by using them: 

VMware technology Primary benefits Description
vSphere ESXi Server consolidation
Resource efficiency
ESXi is VMware's bare-metal hypervisor that hosts virtual machines, also known as guests, and schedules virtual hardware access to physical resources.
vSphere HA Increased availability HA restarts virtual machines in the event of a host failure. It also monitors and restarts the virtual machines in the event of a guest operating system failure.
vMotion and vSphere
DRS
Resource efficiency
Increased availability
vMotion allows virtual machines to be live-migrated between hosts in a virtual data center. DRS determines the initial placement of the virtual machine on the host resources within a cluster and makes recommendations, or automatically migrates the virtual machines to balance resources across all hosts in a cluster.
Resource pools Resource efficiency These are used to guarantee, reserve, or limit the virtual machine's CPU, memory, and disk resources.
VMware Fault
Tolerance (FT)
Increased availability FT provides 100 percent uptime for a virtual machine in the event of a host hardware failure. It creates a secondary virtual
machine that mirrors all the operations of the primary. In the event of a hardware failure, the secondary virtual machine becomes the primary and a new secondary is created.
Thin provisioning Resource efficiency This allows for storage to be over provisioned by presenting the configured space to a virtual machine, but only consuming the space on the disk that the guest actually requires.
Hot add CPU and
memory
Resource efficiency
scalability
This allows for the addition of CPU and memory resources to a virtual machine while the virtual machine is running.
Storage vMotion Resource efficiency This moves virtual machine configuration files and disks between storage locations that have been presented to a host.
vSphere Storage Application Programming Interface (APIs); data protection VM backups and disaster recovery Allows third parties to build agentless backup and disaster recovery solutions that integrate with the vSphere platform
vSphere replication Disaster recovery This features provides the ability to replicate virtual machines between sites.
vCenter server Simplified management This provides a single management interface to configure and monitor the resources available to virtual data centers.
vCenter server linked
mode
Simplified management This links multiple vCenter Servers together to allow them to be managed from a single client.
Host profiles Simplified management This maintains consistent configuration and configuration compliance across all the hosts in the environment.

 

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all VMware technologies and features, but it does provide an insight into many of the technologies commonly deployed in the enterprise virtual data center.

There are many others, and each technology or feature may also have its own set of requirements that must be met in order to be implemented. The purpose here is to show how features or technologies can be mapped to benefits that can then be mapped to requirements and ultimately mapped into a design. This is helpful in ensuring that the benefits and technologies that virtualization provides satisfy design requirements.

Identifying when not to virtualize

Not all applications or server workloads are good candidates for virtualization. It is important that these workloads are identified early on in the design process.

There are a number of reasons why a server or application may not be suitable for virtualization. Some of these include the following:

  • Vendor support
  • Licensing issues
  • Specialized hardware dependencies
  • High resource demand
  • Lack of knowledge or skillsets

A common reason to not virtualize an application or workload is the reluctance of a vendor to support their application in a virtual environment. As virtualization has become more common in the enterprise data center, this has become uncommon; but, there are still application vendors that will not support their products once virtualized.

Software and operating system licensing in a virtual environment can also be a challenge, especially when it comes to physical server to virtual machine conversions. Many physical servers are purchased with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) licenses, and these licenses, in most cases, cannot be transferred to a virtual environment. Also, many licenses are tied to hardware-specific information, such as interface MAC addresses or drive signatures. Licensing issues can usually be overcome. Many times, the primary risk becomes the cost to upgrade or acquire new licensing. As with other potential design risks, it is important that any issues and potential impacts licensing may have on the design be identified early on in the design process.

Some applications may require the use of specialized hardware. Fax boards, serial ports, and security dongles are common examples. There are ways to provide solutions for many of these, but often, given the risks associated with the ability to support the application, or the loss of one or more of the potential benefits of virtualizing the application, the better solution may be to leave the application on dedicated physical hardware. Again, it is important that these types of applications be identified very early on in the design process.

Physical servers configured with a large amount of CPU and memory resources where applications are consuming a large amount of these resources may not be good candidates for virtualization. This also holds true for applications with high network utilization and large storage I/O requirements. vSphere 6.7 supports virtual machines configured with up to 128 virtual CPUs (vCPUs) and 6 TB of memory, but the high utilization of these configured resources can have a negative impact on other workloads in the virtual environment. These high-utilization workloads will also require more resources to be reserved for failover. The benefits of virtualizing resource-intensive applications must be weighed against the impact placed on the virtual environment. In some cases, it may be better to leave these applications on dedicated physical hardware.

Many administrators may lack knowledge of the benefits or skills to manage a virtualized data center. The administrator of a virtual environment must be well-versed with storage, networking, and virtualization in order to successfully configure, maintain, and monitor a virtual environment. Though this may not necessarily be a reason not to leverage the benefits of a virtualized environment, it can be a substantial risk to the acceptance of a design and the implementation. This is especially true with smaller IT departments, where the roles of the server, application, storage, and network administrators are combined.

 

Becoming a virtual data center architect

The virtual data center architect, or simply the architect, is someone who identifies requirements, designs a virtualization solution to meet those requirements, and then oversees the implementation of the solution. Sounds easy enough, right?

How it works…

The primary role of the architect is to provide solutions that meet customer requirements. At times, this can be difficult, since the architect may not always be part of the complete sales process. Often, customers may purchase hardware from other vendors and look to us to help them make it all work. In such situations, the purchased hardware becomes a constraint on the design. Identifying and dealing with constraints and other design factors will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 3, The Design Factors.

The architect must also be able to identify requirements, both business and technical, by conducting stakeholder interviews and analyzing current configurations. Once the requirements have been identified, the architect must then map the requirements into a solution by creating a design. This design is then presented to the stakeholders, and if, approved, it is implemented. During the implementation phase, the architect ensures that configurations are done to meet the design requirements and that the work done stays within the scope of the design.

The architect must also understand best practices. Not just best practice for configuring the hypervisor, but for management, storage, security, and networking. Understanding the best practice is the key. The architect not only knows best practice but understands why it is considered best practice. It is also important to understand when to deviate from what is considered best practice.

There's more…

The large part of an architect's work is facing customers. This includes conducting interviews with stakeholders to identify requirements and ultimately presenting the design to decision makers. Besides creating a solid solution to match the customer's requirements, it is important that the architect gains and maintains the trust of the project stakeholders. A professional appearance and, more importantly, a professional attitude, are both helpful in building this relationship.

 

Using a holistic approach to data center design

The virtual data center architect must be able to take a holistic approach to data center design. This means that for every decision made, the architect must understand how the environment as a whole will be impacted.

An architect is required to be, at the very least, familiar with all aspects of the data center. They must understand how the different components of a data center, such as storage, networking, computing, security, and management, are interconnected, as shown in the following diagram:

The holistic approach to data center design

It has become very important to understand how any decision or change will impact the rest of the design. Identifying dependencies becomes an important part of the design process. If a change is made to the network, how are computing, management, and storage resources affected? What other dependencies will this introduce in the design? Failing to take a holistic approach to design can result in unnecessary complications during the design process, and potentially costly fixes after the design is implemented.

How to do it…

The following scenario is built as an example which helps illustrate the concept of using a holistic design approach.

You have been engaged to design a virtualization solution for a financial organization. The solution you are proposing is to use 10 GB Converged Network Adapters (CNA) to provide connectivity to the organization's network in three 1U rack-mount servers. The organization needs to separate a Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) that is currently configured to be delivered over the CNA onto a physically separate network to satisfy a new compliance requirement. A 1 GB network will provide sufficient bandwidth for this network, and the network should be highly available. Single points of failure should be minimized.

To support this compliance requirement, you, the architect, must take a holistic approach to the design and answer a number of questions about each design decision, for example:

  1. Are there network ports available in the current rack-mount servers, or will a network card need to be added? If a card has to be added, are there Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) slots available?
  2. Will a dual-port network card provide sufficient redundancy, or will the network need to be separated across physical cards? Are there onboard network ports available that can be used with a PCI network card to provide in-box redundancy?
  3. Has the hardware for the physically separate switch been obtained? If not, how long before the equipment is received and deployed? Will this have an impact on the implementation schedule?
  4. How will the virtual switch need to be configured to provide the connectivity and redundancy that is required?

How it works…

The impact can be fairly significant, depending on some of the answers. For example, let's say the 1U rack-mount server will not support the required network adapters needed to satisfy the requirement and a different 2U rack-mount server must be used. This then raises more questions, such as whether there is sufficient space in the rack to support the new server footprint.

What if the requirement had been that the applications connected to this network be virtualized on separate physical server hardware and storage? What parts of the design would have to change? The architect must be able to understand the dependencies of each part of the design and how a change in one place may affect other areas of the design.

As you think through these questions, you should be able to see how a change to a requirement can have a deep impact on many other areas of the design. It becomes very important to identify requirements early on in the design process.

 

Passing the VMware VCAP6-DCV Design exam

VMware has VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) exams testing the ability of a person to deploy, administer, and design complex virtual environments. The exams for vSphere 6 come in two types: Design and Deployment. Passing both exams earns the designation VMware Certified Implementation Expert (VCIX). The VCIX is not a certification the same way that VCAPs are; rather it is a special designation that proves the earner has deep and wide expertise in designing and deploying complex vSphere 6 infrastructures.

VMware is constantly reviewing and updating their certification system. Recent changes to the vSphere 6.x advanced certifications included adding the VCAP6.5-Data Center Virtualization (DCV) Design exam and retiring the VCAP6-DCV Design exam. Overarching changes to the entire VMware certification program include the replacement of product versions in the certification title with the year in which the certification was earned. For example, the only current, advanced DCV Deployment exam is titled VCAP-DCV Deployment 2018. This change was made in an effort to show the timeliness of the certification simply by its name. Reading the certification page for this exam is the only way to understand which product version is tested within the exam.

The current, high-level VMware certification path is mapped out in the following flowchart:


VMware certification path for data center administrators and architects

The VCAP-DCV Design exam tests your ability to design enterprise virtualized environments. To be successful, you must have an in-depth understanding of VMware's core components and the relationship they share with other components of the data center, such as storage, networking, and application services, along with a mastery of VMware's data center design methodologies and principles. All the exam objectives, including study resources, can be found in the exam blueprint. VMware exam roadmaps and the VCAP exam blueprints can be found on the VMware Certification portal page at https://mylearn.vmware.com/portals/certification/.

Getting ready

Before you are eligible to take a VCAP6.5-DCV Design exam, you should have obtained the relevant VMware Certified Professional-Data Center Virtualization (VCP6.5-DCV) certification. Besides the training required for the VCP6.5-DCV certification, there is no other requisite training that must be completed in order to sit the VCAP6.5-DCV Design exam. When you are ready to schedule your VCAP6.5-DCV Design exam, you must submit an exam authorization request to VMware. When you submit the exam authorization request, VMware will verify that you have met the certification prerequisites and provide you with the access necessary to schedule the exam.

The VCAP6.5-DCV Design exam consists of 60 questions with a time limit of 135 minutes. The passing score is 300 out of 500. The exam questions are comprised of a mixture of multiple choice, matching, and drag and drop. VMware has removed the Visio-style design scenario formatted questions from this exam. Refer to the VMware Certification Portal for details: https://mylearn.vmware.com/portals/certification/.

How to do it…

The VCAP-DCV Design exam for vSphere 6 was one of the most challenging exams I have ever taken. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for and successfully sit the VCAP6-DCV Design exam:

  1. Study the material on the exam blueprint: The exam blueprint lists all the objectives of the exam, along with links to documentation related to each exam objective.
  2. Review the vSphere 6 release notes and product documentation: The release notes and product documentation will provide an overview of the features available, the requirements that must be met to support implementation of the new features, and the best practices for implementing features to support design requirements.
  1. Schedule your exam: Scheduling your exam sets a goal date for you to work toward. Setting the date can provide motivation to help you stay on track with your studying efforts.
  2. Watch the APAC vBrownBag DCD5 series: The APAC vBrownBag did a series of podcasts focusing on the VCAP-DCD exam for vSphere 5 exam objectives. Even though these podcasts focus on version five of the exam, many of the design methodologies and concepts are similar. These podcasts are still relevant and provide a valuable study resource. The podcast can be found at http://www.professionalvmware.com/brownbags.
  3. Get familiar with the exam design interface: On VMware's VCAP Certification page for the Design exam, there is a UI Demo that will help get you familiar with the design interface that is used on the exam.
  4. Practice time management: It is very important that you are aware of the amount of time you are taking on a question, and how much time remains. If you get hung up on a multiple choice question, take your best guess and move on. Conserve time for the more complex drag and drop and design scenario questions.
  1. Answer every question: A question left unanswered will be marked incorrect and will not benefit your score in any way. A guess has some chance of being correct.
  2. Study the material on the exam blueprint: I know this has already been mentioned once, but it is worth mentioning again. The exam blueprint contains all the testable objectives. Study it!

There's more…

For up-to-date information on the VCAP-DCV Design certification, to download the exam blueprint, and to book the exam once it has been released, visit the VMware Certification Portal page at https://mylearn.vmware.com/portals/certification/.

The final stop on the VMware Certification path is VMware Certified Design Expert-Data Center Virtualization (VCDX). The VCDX certification requires creating a VMware vSphere design, submitting the design to VMware for review, and then defending the design before a panel of VMware design experts.

 

Becoming a VMware Certified Design Expert

The VCDX is the pinnacle of VMware's certifications. A VCDX certification validates an architect's ability to design, implement, test, document, present, and defend the design of complex, enterprise solutions based on VMware products. Earning the certification ultimately comes down to two things: creating a design, and defending your design in front of a panel of VCDX veterans. 

Before attempting the VCDX certification, an architect usually has experience designing the same level of advanced, vSphere designs that the VCDX defense panel is looking for. Before designing such solutions, a VCDX candidate also usually has experience implementing and administering complex vSphere designs. While these experiences are not hard requirements, it is a natural progression that sets the candidate up for success and gives them the best chance of succeeding in the VCDX process. The only other prerequisites to attempt the VCDX6 is to hold either a VMware Certified Professional 6-Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV) or VCP6.5-DCV, and earn the VCIX6-DCV or VCIX6.5-DCV badge.

This section discusses the VCDX6-DCV that is based on vSphere 6.x designs, but there are other current tracks that lead to VCDX and include the following:

  • VCDX6: Network Virtualization (VCDX6-NV)—this certification is focused on both vSphere and NSX 6.x
  • VCDX7: Cloud Management and Automation (VCDX7-CMA)this certification is based on vRealize Automation 7.x
  • VCDX6: Desktop and Mobility (VCDX6-DTM)this certification is based on the Horizon Suite

No matter which track is chosen, understand the VCDX certification process well. VMware has published two documents for most tracks that cover this information: the blueprint and the handbook. The blueprint describes the rules of the VCDX process, including things such as what format the process uses, time limits, and the language in which the process is held. It also covers the objectives of the specific test format used and explains what the VCDX panelists are looking for in a VCDX candidate.

The handbook offers some details on how to choose a good design on which to base a VCDX defense, VMware's policy on teamwork in the VCDX process, and finally, what to expect during the live defense portion of the defense. Becoming familiar with the contents of each document will help focus a candidate's time and effort while progressing through the VCDX process.

How to do it…

After meeting the prerequisites, there are only two more steps to becoming a VCDX. The fees have changed over time, so be sure to check VMware's website for up-to-date costs. You must do the following:

  • Submit a VCDX design application with an application fee of $995
  • If successful, defend your design, live, in front of a panel of current VCDXs, and pay a defense fee of $3,000

Getting your VCDX application accepted, however, is a lot of work and a big hurdle to overcome. If your application is accepted, the VCDX program is telling you that the documentation, by itself, is of expert quality, and the only thing left to do is prove to them during the live defense panel that you are, indeed, an expert.

The VCDX application consists of a set of documents. Aside from the application itself, you must create a documentation bundle that could follow this order:

  1. Create the design document: This will be the main document of your submission, where you'll likely spend the most time. This is where you'll document requirements, constraints, assumptions, and risks, and map them to the vSphere components of compute, storage, network, management, and the virtual machine, and ensure that the design qualities of availability, manageability, performance, recoverability, and security are addressed for each component.
  2. Create an installation and configuration document: This document includes step-by-step instructions on how to install and configure the infrastructure described in the design document. This document is written in such a way that it could be handed off to someone with VCP-level knowledge and they could execute it.
  3. Create the implementation document: This document describes the implementation at a high-level, to include who is participating, what tasks will be performed and when, and prerequisites for implementation, such as racks that may need to be installed, and redundant power that needs to exist in those racks. This is a common document used in projects run by a project manager.
  4. Create a test plan: The VCDX candidate will need to be able to prove that the implemented design meets the requirements by describing the tests that need to be passed, as shown in this document.
  1. Create the operations document: This document is also called the standard operating procedures. It describes common operational tasks that result from maintaining the implemented design over time. Common examples of tasks to include here are how to put a host in maintenance mode, how to deploy a virtual machine from a template, or how to view logs.
  2. Build the bill of materials: An architect must also be able to describe all the hardware and software needed to implement their design. This is usually shown in a bill of materials document.

Once the VCDX application is submitted and the fee paid, a current VCDX will review the application for completeness and content. Incompleteness is cause for immediate application denial. If it's complete, however, the reviewer will look to see proof of design expertise through thoughtful application of design principles with an emphasis on justifying design decisions and how those decisions impact the design. If your application is sufficient, you'll be invited to defend your design live and in-person at a VMware office. Locations typically include Palo Alto, California; Broomfield, Colorado; Staines, United Kingdom; and Sydney, Australia.

The VCDX has evolved over the years and no longer includes a troubleshooting section. Instead, the defense has two parts: the oral design defense, and the ad hoc design. During the oral design defense, the candidate has 75 minutes to present the design and answer questions from the panelists. VMware recommends the initial presentation take no more than 15 minutes, leaving roughly 60 minutes for the panelists to ask questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate how their design meets the requirements and why they made certain design decisions. Most VCDX certification holders will agree that the most important aspect of this part of the defense is to be able to communicate the why of each design decision. If you can justify each decision and make it tie into a customer requirement, you're going to do well.

In the ad hoc design portion, the candidate has 45 minutes to demonstrate their design skills by going through an initial design process in front of the panel. The panelists will pretend to be customers and you, as the virtualization architect, will need to be able to gather their requirements, constraints, make assumptions, identify risks, and begin to build a design based on those inputs. The panel doesn't expect you to create a whole design in 45 minutes; rather, they're trying to assess your design method. To do this, the panel recommends the candidate think out loud and make use of the whiteboard as much as possible. You should try to give the panelists a window into your mind while engaged in your design process.

After finishing both sections of the defense, you'll make the long trip back home. If all went well, you'll receive an email within 10 days stating that you have passed, and welcoming you to the elite VCDX club.

There's more…

The VCDX certification is well known these days, and because of that, there are many more resources online to help you. Your first stop should be the blueprint that can be found at https://www.vmware.com/content/dam/digitalmarketing/vmware/en/pdf/certification/vmw-vcdx6-dcv-blueprint.pdf. You'll also want to review the handbook that can be found at https://www.vmware.com/content/dam/digitalmarketing/vmware/en/pdf/certification/vmw-vcdx6-dcv-handbook.pdf.

Beyond the official documents linked previously, the boot IT Architect: Foundation in the Art of Infrastructure Design: A Practical Guide for IT Architects by VCDX-001, John Arrasjid, is a good book to read. You can find it on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/Architect-Foundation-Infrastructure-Practical-Architects/dp/0996647708/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1543255581&sr=8-2&keywords=the+it+architect.

VMware also offers VCDX workshops, held monthly, that educate candidates on the VCDX process and helps to prepare them for the application and defense. The best resources, however, will be VMware community members who are going through the same experiences as the VCDX candidate. You should use Twitter and the VMware Technology Network forums to connect with like-minded technologists who share the same goal of becoming a VCDX and work with them to review your documentation and application and hold mock defenses. Many successful VCDX holders will say that mock defenses helped them to achieve VCDX status.

 

Identifying what's new in vSphere 6.7

vSphere 6.7 is the latest release of VMware's virtual data center platform. This release includes features that provide increased scalability, enhanced security, increased availability, and simplified management of the virtual data center infrastructure. A few of the new features and enhancements include the following:

  • Support for an embedded Platform Services Controller (PSC) with Enhanced Linked-Mode (ELM), which simplifies the vCenter architecture
  • vSphere Quick Boot, which reduces ESXi upgrade times by rebooting only ESXi and not the server hardware
  • 95% feature parity of the HTML5 vSphere Client versus the Flash-based Web Client
  • Encrypted vMotion across vCenter Servers and versions, easing cloud or data center migrations
  • Persistent Memory (PMEM), increasing storage performance capabilities
  • Hybrid Linked Mode (HLM), enabling ease of management between an on-premises vCenter and VMware Cloud on AWS
  • Per-VM Enhanced vMotion Compatibility (EVC), enabling easier cloud migrations
  • Instant Clones, formerly known as Project Fargo and vSphere vmFork
  • Storage enhancements to UNMAP vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI) primitive, Virtual Volumes (VVOLs), and more
  • With 6.7 Update 1, the new vSphere Health feature in the HTML5 client

These are just a few of the new features and enhancements introduced with the release of vSphere 6.7. A new version of vSphere, with the new features and enhancements, does not directly change the design process of methodology. The enhancements and features provide an architect with more tools and options for meeting requirements, but can also introduce complexity into the design.

How to do it…

How it works…

Reading the vSphere 6.7 release notes gives the architect a summary of the additional features, bug fixes, and known issues. There is also information on the upgrade process and workarounds for known issues.

Reviewing the vSphere documentation, including the Installation and Setup Guide, Upgrade Guide, and Administration Guides, gives the architect a deeper look at new features and how to implement new functionality. The documentation also provides specific requirements that must be satisfied in order to enable a new feature or function. These documentation sets are available online or can be downloaded in PDF, EPUB, or MOBI formats.

There's more…

In the VMware communities, https://communities.vmware.com/, there are forums available to discuss vSphere Upgrade and Install at https://communities.vmware.com/community/vmtn/vsphere/upgradecenterand ESXi 6.7 located at https://communities.vmware.com/community/vmtn/vsphere/esxialong with other communities dedicated to each vSphere product. In these forums, an architect or administrator can find real-world issues encountered by other vSphere administrators and architects. Questions and discussions can be posted related to features and issues related to all vSphere products. If you run into issues, or have questions about a specific feature, there are people in the community who are always happy to help.

 

Planning a vSphere 6.7 upgrade

Upgrading an existing vSphere environment to vSphere 6.7 is a fairly simple process, and can be completed with minimal impact to production with the proper planning.

In this recipe, we will look at the steps required to properly plan an upgrade to vSphere 6.7. We will not cover the specifics of upgrading vCenter Server, ESXi hosts, or any other component of the virtual data center. Specific recipes for upgrading vCenter Server and ESXi host have been included in Chapter 4, vSphere Management Design, and recipes for upgrading virtual machines to the latest hardware are included in Chapter 9, Virtual Machine Design.

How to do it…

The following tasks should be completed when planning a vSphere 6.7 upgrade:

  1. Verify existing hardware is on the VMware Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) at https://www.vmware.com/go/hcl.
  2. Check for interoperability between VMware products using the VMware Product Interoperability Matrix at http://partnerweb.vmware.com/comp_guide2/sim/interop_matrix.php.
  1. Determine interoperability and support between VMware vSphere 6.7 and third-party hardware and software products.
  2. Determine the proper upgrade path and sequence.
  3. Note that direct upgrades from vSphere 5.x to 6.7 are not supported. You'll need to upgrade your 5.x environment to 6.0 or 6.5 before upgrading to 6.7.

Completing these steps to properly plan a vSphere 6.7 upgrade will ensure the upgrade can be completed successfully.

How it works…

With each release of vSphere, VMware adds support for new hardware and firmware for devices such as disk controllers, server platforms, and Network Interface Cards (NICs). VMware also removes support for older hardware and firmware. It is important to verify that the hardware is on the supported compatibility list prior to attempting an upgrade. Failure to validate support for hardware on the HCL can cause significant issues after the upgrade; unsupported hardware may not be available for use or may cause instability in the environment. Replacing unsupported hardware or upgrading firmware on current hardware to a supported configuration may be required as part of the upgrade process.

Checking for interoperability between vSphere products will help to ensure there is minimal impact on functionality during and after the upgrade process. Just like the hardware and firmware, the interoperability between vSphere products changes with each version. New support is added for newer products and features, while support may be removed for older, end-of-support products and features. Details on using the VMware Product Interoperability can be found in Chapter 4, vSphere Management Design.

The virtual data center may contain many third-party products that integrate with the vSphere environment. These products often include backup and recovery software, replication software, and management and monitoring applications. Before upgrading to vSphere 6.7, check with each third-party product vendor to validate support for vSphere 6.7 or to determine the requirements for vSphere 6.7 support. This is the step I see missed most often, typically due to not fully understanding dependencies with these products. It is critical to understand what products require integration with the vSphere environment and the impact changes to the environment may have on this products. Again, this is where proper planning from the beginning ensures a successful vSphere 6.7 upgrade.

The final step is to determine the proper upgrade path. If validation of support and interoperability has been completed correctly, this step will likely be the easiest aspect of the process. Once hardware, VMware product, and third-party product interoperability have been validated, a plan can be formulated for upgrading.

Details are important when it comes to the support of hardware and software in the virtual data center. Spending time to properly plan will ensure a successful upgrade to vSphere 6.7.

About the Authors

  • Mike Brown

    Mike Brown is an army veteran and full-stack data center engineer with over 10 years in IT, with the cage nut scars to prove it. Mike has held many positions in IT, from helpdesk to systems administrator to engineer and consultant. His technical achievements include VCIX6-DCV and other VMware, Cisco, NetApp, and Microsoft certifications.

    Browse publications by this author
  • Hersey Cartwright

    Hersey Cartwright has worked in the technology industry since 1996 in many roles, from help desk support to IT management. He first started working with VMware technologies in 2006. He is currently a Solutions Engineer for VMware, where he designs, sells, and supports VMware software-defined datacenter products in enterprise environments within the healthcare industry. He has experience working with a wide variety of server, storage, and network platforms.

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  • Martin Gavanda

    Martin Gavanda has more than 10 years of experience, mainly for service providers offering IaaS solutions based on VMware vSphere products, responsible for the design and implementation of the IaaS solution in the CE region. Currently, he is working as an independent cloud architect, focusing on large infrastructure projects and practicing as a VMware instructor. He has created several virtual classes focusing on the VMware vSphere platform, with thousands of students subscribed, and he runs his own blog about virtualization and the cloud.

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  • Andrea Mauro

    Andrea Mauro has more than 20 years of industrial and academic experience in IT. He works as a solutions architect and is responsible for infrastructure implementation, architecture design, upgrades, and migration processes. He is a virtualization and storage architect, specializing in VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and Linux solutions. His first virtualized solution in production was built around ESX 2.x, several years ago. His professional certifications include not only several VMware certifications but also other vendor-related certifications. He is also a VMware vExpert, Nutanix NTC, Veeam Vanguard, and was a Microsoft MVP.

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  • Karel Novak

    Karel Novak has 18 years of experience in the IT world. He currently works as a senior virtual infrastructure engineer at Arrow ECS Czechia and is responsible for implementation, design, and complete consultation when it comes to VMware and Veeam. As an instructor of advanced VMware and Veeam, he has delivered many courses. He specializes in VMware DCV, NSX, and, of course, Veeam. He is a VMware vExpert, VMware vExpert NSX, and a Veeam Vanguard. His highest certifications are VCI-Level 2, VCIX6-NV, VCIX6-DCV, VMCT-Mentor, and VMCA. He is also a VMware certification subject matter expert.

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  • Paolo Valsecchi

    Paolo Valsecchi has worked in the IT industry for more than 20 years and currently works as a system engineer, mainly focused on VMware vSphere, Microsoft technologies, and backup/DR solutions. His current role involves covering all tasks related to ensuring IT infrastructure availability and data integrity (including implementation, upgrades, and administration). He holds the VMware VCP65-DCV and Veeam VMCE professional certifications and has been awarded the VMware vExpert title and the Veeam Vanguard title.

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Latest Reviews

(2 reviews total)
Good coverage - and the price was great.
VMware vSphere 6.7の知りたいことを学習できたから。

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