VxRack SDDC to VCF on VxRail; Part 3. Installing VMware HCX.

Quick Links
Part 1: Building the VCF on VxRail management cluster
Part 2: Virtual Infrastructure Workload Domain creation
Part 3: Deploy, Configure and Test VMware HCX

I’ve got Cloud Foundation up and running and a VI workload domain created, so I’m ready to think about getting some VMs migrated. This is where VMware HCX comes in. The subject of moving VMs around is a sometimes contentious one. You could talk to ten different people and get ten entirely unique but no less valid methods of migrating VMs from one vCenter to another, across separate SSO domains. But I’m working with HCX because that was part of the scenario.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like HCX, quite the opposite. It takes a small amount of effort to get it running, but once it is running it’s a wonderful thing. It takes a lot of the headache out of getting your VMs running where you want them to be running. It’s a no-brainer for what appears to be its primary use case, moving VMs around in a hybrid cloud environment.

Installing VMware HCX on source and destination clusters.

This is stage 3 of the build, HCX installation. I’ve worked out what VMs I can migrate to allow me to free up some more resources on the VxRack. Moving some VMs off the VxRack will allow me to decommission and convert more nodes, then add more capacity to my VCF on VxRail environment. In something of a departure from the deployment norm, the installation starts on the migration destination, not the source.

There is something I need to cover up front, lest it cause mass hysteria and confusion when I casually refer to it further down in this post. ‘Source’ and ‘destination’ are somewhat interchangeable concepts here. Usually, you’d move something from a source to a destination. With HCX, you also have the option of reverse migration. You can move from a destination to a source. Using HCX as a one-time migration tool from VxRack SDDC to VCF on VxRail, it doesn’t matter too much which clusters are my source or destination. If I intended to use HCX with other clusters in the future, or with a service like VMware Cloud on AWS, I’d probably put my source on a VxRail cluster and my first destination on VxRack SDDC. Also important here is that one source appliance can link to several destinations.

Back to the install. The HCX installer OVA is deployed on the VxRail VI workload domain that I created in the last part. The deployment is like any other. I set my management network port group and give the wizard some IP and DNS details for the appliance. The host name of the appliance is already in DNS. After the deployment the VM is powered on, then left it for about 5 minutes to allow all services to start up. As you might expect, attempting to load the UI before everything has properly started up will result in an error. When it’s ready to go, I’ll open up https://[DESTINATION-FQDN]:9443 in my browser and login at the HCX Manager login prompt.

The initial config wizard will is displayed, and it’s quite a painless process. It’s notable though that internet access is needed to configure the HCX appliance. Proxy server support is available. I enter my NSX enterprise plus license key, leaving the HCX server URL at it’s default value.

HCX license entry and activation.

Click the activate button and as I didn’t deploy the latest and greatest HCX build, a download & upgrade process begins. This takes several minutes, the appliance reboots at the end to activate the update. Your mileage will no doubt vary, depending on the speed of the internet connection you’re working on.

HCX automatic download and upgrade

After the reboot, log back in at the same URL to continue the configuration. The next part involves picking a geographic location for your cluster. Feel free to be as imaginative as you like here. With all my clusters in the same physical location, I decided to take artistic license.

Location of the HCX destination cluster.

System name stays at the default, which is the FQDN with “cloud” tagged onto the end. 

HCX system name

“vSphere” is the instance type I’m configuring. Interestingly, VIO support appears to have been added in the very recent past and is now included in the instance type list.

HCX instance type

Next up is login details for my VI workload domain vCenter and NSX manager instances.

HCX connection to vCenter and NSX

After which, the FQDN of the first PSC in the VCF management cluster.

HCX connection to external PSC

Then set the public access URL for the appliance/site. To avoid complications and potential for confusion down the road, this is set to the FQDN of the appliance.

HCX public access URL

Finally is the now ubiquitous review dialog. Make sure all the settings are correct, then restart for the config to be made active.

Completed HCX initial setup

After the restart completes, additional vSphere roles can be mapped to HCX groups if necessary. The SSO administrators group is added as HCX system administrator by default, and that’s good enough for what I’m doing. This option is located within the configuration tab at the top of the screen. Then under vSphere role mapping from the left side menu.

Deploying the OVA on the destination gives you what HCX call a “Cloud” appliance. The other side of the HCX partnership is the “Enterprise” appliance. This is what I’m deploying on the VxRack SDDC VI workload domain. This is another potential source of confusion for those new to HCX. The enterprise OVA is sourced from within the cloud appliance UI. You click a button to generate a link, from which you download the OVA. To find this button, log out of the HCX manager, then drop the :9443 from the URL and log back in using SSO administrator credentials. Go to the system updates menu and click “Request Download Link”.

Requesting a download link for HCX Enterprise OVA

It may take a few seconds to generate the link, but the button will change to either allow you to copy the link or download the enterprise OVA directly.

HCX Enterprise OVA download link

I didn’t do this the first time around, because of an acute aversion to RTFM. Instead, I installed cloud and enterprise appliances that were of slightly different builds and ultimately, they did not cooperate. The site link came up just fine, I just wound up with VMs that would only migrate in one direction and lots of weird error messages referencing JSON issues.

The freshly downloaded enterprise appliance OVA gets deployed on the VxRack, and goes through much the same activation and initial configuration process as the cloud appliance did.

HCX had two methods of pairing sites. In fact, it has two. The regular “Interconnect” method and the new “Multi-Site Service Mesh”. The second is more complicated to set up, but the first is deprecated. So I guess the choice has been made for me.

Before I get to linking sites however, I need to create some profiles. This happens on both the cloud and the enterprise sites in an identical manner. I’ll create one compute profile per site, each containing three network profiles. The compute profile collects information on vSphere constructs such as datacenter, cluster and vSAN datastore. The network profiles are for my management, uplink and vMotion networks.

Still within the HCX UI, I move over to the interconnect menu under the infrastructure heading. The first prompt I get is to create a compute profile. I’ll try to make this less screenshot heavy than the above section.

1. First, give the compute profile a name. Something descriptive so it won’t end up needle in a haystack of other compute profiles or service names. I name mine after the vSphere cluster it’s serving.

2. In services, I deselect a couple of options because I know I’m not going to use them. Those are network extension service and disaster recovery service. All others relate to migration services I’m going to need.

3. On the service resources screen, my VI workload domain data center and vSphere cluster are selected by default.

4. All I need to select on the deployment resources screen is the vSAN datastore relevant for this cluster. Only the resources within this cluster are displayed.

5. Now I get to the first of my network profiles, so back to the screenshots.

In the drop down menu for management network profile, click create network profile.

HCX service mesh network profile creation

Each network profile contains an IP pool, the size of which will vary depending on the quantity and complexity of services you want to set up. In my case, not very many or very complicated; each IP pool got just 2 addresses.

But wait a second, my uplink network profile is probably a little misleading. As I’m reusing the same IP subnet for the new environment, I created a management network profile with a sufficiently large IP pool to also serve as the uplink profile. So really, my management network profile got 4 IP addresses. I lied. Sorry about that.

The uplink profile might be a separate VLAN with an entirely different IP subnet to act as a transit network between the VxRack and VxRail. In my case, they’re on the same physical switches so that seems a little redundant. If my source and destination were in two different physical locations, my uplink port group would be using public IP addressing within my organization’s WAN. On that subject, there are ports that need to be open for this to work, but it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. TCP 443 and UDP 500 & 4500. Not a concern for me, as I have no firewalling in place between source and destination.

Finally I’ll create a vMotion network profile using the same process as the management network profile. I don’t have a default gateway on the vMotion VLAN, so I left that blank along with DNS information.

HCX service mesh network profile creation

Next up is vSphere replication, and the management network profile is selected by default. Connection rules are generated, which is of concern if firewalls exist between source and destination. Otherwise, continue and then click finish to complete the compute profile on the destination.

Now do the exact same thing on the source appliance.

With all the profiles in place, I’ll move on to setting up the link. That is accomplished on the source appliance (or HCX plugin within vSphere web client) by entering the public access URL which was setup during the deployment of the cloud appliance, along with an SSO user that has been granted a sufficiently elevated role on the HCX appliance. Keeping things simple, I left it with the default administrator account. I’ll complete everything below from within the HCX source appliance UI.

First up, I’ll import the destination SSL certificate into the source appliance. If I don’t do this now, I’ll get an error when trying to link the sites in the next step. This is done by logging into the source appliance at https://[SOURCE-FQDN]:9443, clicking on the administration menu and then the trusted CA certificate menu. Click import and enter the FQDN of the destination appliance.

HCX import destination appliance certificate

After clicking apply, I get a success message and the certificate is listed. With source and destination clusters sharing the same SSL root, the amount of setup I need to do with certificates is minimal. If I was migrating VMs across different trusted roots, I’d need a lot more to get it working. I’m not covering it here, mostly because I couldn’t explain it any better than Ken has already done on his blog.

Within the interconnect menu, open site pairing and click on the “Add a Site Pairing” button. Enter the public access URL of the destination site (remember I set it as the FQDN of the destination) and also enter a username and password for an SSO administrator account.

HCX site pairing dialog

If everything up to this point has been configured correctly, the site pairing will be created and then displayed.

HCX site pairing display

On the home stretch now, so I’m moving on to the service mesh. Within the service mesh menu, click on “Create Service Mesh”. The source appliance will be selected, click the drop down next to this to select the destination appliance. Now select compute profiles on both sites. Services to be enabled are shown. As expected, I’m missing the two I deselected during the compute profile creation. I could at this point choose entirely different network profiles if I wished. I don’t want to override the profiles created during the compute profile creation, so I don’t select anything here. The bandwidth limit for WAN optimization stays at it’s default 10Gbit/s. Finally a topology review and I’m done with service mesh. Except not quite yet. I’ll give it a name, then click finish.

The service mesh will be displayed and I’ll open up the tasks view to watch the deployment progress. But alas, it fails after a couple of minutes. Thankfully, the error message doesn’t mess around and points to the exact problem. I don’t have a multicast address pool set up on my new NSX manager.

HCX failed service mesh deployment

That’s an easy one to fix. In vSphere web client, jump over to the NSX dashboard by selecting networking and security from the menu. Then into installation and upgrade and finally logical network settings. Click on edit under segment IDs. Enable multicast addressing and give it a pool of addresses that doesn’t overlap with any other pool configured on any other instance of NSX that may be installed on VxRail or VxRack clusters.

NSX segment ID settings

With that minor issue resolved, I go back to the HCX UI and edit the failed service mesh. Step through the dialog again (not changing anything) and hit finish. Now I’m back to watching the tasks view. This time it’s entirely more successful.

The above configuration deploys two VMs per site to the cluster and vSAN datastore chosen in the compute profile. A single, standalone ‘host’ (like a host, but more virtual) is added per site to facilitate the tunnel between sites.

Leaving the newly deployed service mesh to settle and do it’s thing for a few minutes, I returned to see that the services I chose to deploy are all showing up. Viewing the interconnect appliance status shows that the tunnel between the sites is up.

HCX appliance and tunnel status

In the vSphere web client, it’s time to test that tunnel and see if I can do some migrations. The HCX plugin is available in the menu, and the dashboard shows our site pairing and other useful info.

Into the migration menu and click on “Migrate Virtual Machines”. Because I don’t really want to have to migrate them one by one. I could have done that by right clicking on each VM and making use of the “HCX Actions” menu. That was labeled “Hybridity Actions” when I was running an earlier version. I imagine that was like nails on a chalkboard to the UX people.

Inside the migrate virtual machines dialog, my remote site is already selected. If I had more than one (when I have more than one), I’ll need to select it before I can go any further. I’m going to migrate three test VMs from the VxRack SDDC to the VxRail VI workload domain, using each of the three available migration options. Those are vMotion, bulk and cold.

The majority of my destination settings are the same, so I set default options which will be applied to VMs chosen from the list. The only things I’ll need to select when picking individual VMs is the destination network and either bulk or vMotion migration.

HCX VM migration dialog

A little info on migration options. When I select a powered off VM, cold migration is the only available option. For powered on VMs, I can choose bulk or vMotion. The difference being that vMotion (much like a local vMotion) will move the VM immediately with little to no downtime. Bulk migration has the added benefit of being able to select a maintenance window. That being, a time when the VM will be cut over to the destination site. Very useful for, as the name suggests, migrating VMs in bulk.

With all my options set, I advance to the validation screen. Unsurprisingly, its telling me that my vMotion might get affected because of other migrations happening at the same time. My bulk migration might need to reboot the VM because my installation of VMware tools is out of date. As this is a test, I’m not going to worry about it.

HCX VM migration status

As you’d expect, vMotion requires CPU compatibility between clusters. Not an issue for me, because I’m reusing the same hosts so all of the nodes have Intel Xeon 2600’s. If this wasn’t the case, I’d have ended up enabling EVC. But better to figure out any incompatibility up front because enabling EVC once you’ve got VMs already on the cluster isn’t a trivial matter. Also on this subject, be aware that when a VxRail cluster is built, EVC will be on by default. I already turned it off within my destination VxRail cluster. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that bulk migration is the one I’ll end up using the most. That way, I can schedule multiple VMs during the day and set my maintenance window at the same time. Data will be replicated there and then, with VM cutover only happening later on in the maintenance window. Great for those VMs that I can take a small amount of downtime on, knowing it’ll be back up on the VxRail in the time it takes to reboot the VM.

Second will probably be cold migration, for those VMs that I care so little about that I’ve already powered them off on the VxRack. Any high maintenance VMs will get the vMotion treatment, but still certainly within a brief maintenance window. HCX may whine at me for VMware tools being out of date on (some) most of the VMs, so I’ll either upgrade tools or deal with HCX potentially needing to bulk migrate and reboot those VMs in order to move them.

As to why I left two services out of the service mesh, I won’t be using HCX in a disaster recovery scenario and I won’t be extending any layer 2 networks. The VxRack and VxRail share top of rack switching, so any and all important L2 networks will be trunked to the VxRail and have port groups created. 

That’s certainly leading on to a much larger conversation about networking and VLAN or VXLAN use. Both the VxRack SDDC and VCF on VxRail clusters have NSX installed by default, and I’m using NSX backed networks for some of my VMs. I’ll get to that in the near future as a kind of addendum to this process.

So;

How long is it going to take? – I was just a little under 2 days total before I touched HCX. A single source and destination install, along with configuration and site pairing could make up the rest of day 2. All that takes about 90 minutes.

And;

How much of it can be automated? – Depending on your chosen deployment strategy, HCX could be a one-time install. Given the relatively short time it takes to install (plus the potential for errors as we’ve seen above) makes it a hard sell for automation.

With HCX installed and running, I can move onward. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Getting some of those production VMs moving.

Convertible Cloud: VxRack SDDC to VCF on VxRail, Part 2

Quick Links
Part 1: Building the VCF on VxRail management cluster
Part 2: Virtual Infrastructure Workload Domain creation
Part 3: Deploy, Configure and Test VMware HCX

Following on from part 1, I’ve now got a four node VxRail cluster running all the required VCF management VMs. As I’m converting an entire VxRack, I’m not using the consolidated architecture. In that design, management and workload/production VMs are run on the same cluster. It’s meant for small environments of up to about six nodes. Anything beyond that falls into the standard architecture model. So right now, technically I can’t run any production VMs on my VCF on VxRail deployment. Enter stage 2 of the process.

In stage 2, I’ll steal another three nodes from the VxRack SDDC workload domain, decommission them, convert them to VxRail nodes and build another cluster. Except there’s a little bit more to it than that.

In an ideal automated world, I’d have finished up day one by decommissioning the nodes I need for this stage of the build and kicking off the automation to convert them. Then when I get into the office at the start of day 2, I’ve got three freshly converted VxRail nodes waiting to be built. It needn’t be only three nodes of course. If I could have freed up more than that from my VxRack SDDC workload domain, I’d have decommissioned as many as I could have realistically gotten away with. Just enough to leave the production workload running (with some overhead of course) and enough not to violate any vSAN storage policies. The more nodes I can free up and convert now, the less iterations of convert & build I need to do in the future.

Without automation converting the nodes, I’m looking at just under half of day 2 to get the three nodes where they need to be. I’m going to base the timing at the end of this post on a non-automated process.

Once I kick off the RASR reset on all three nodes, I know I’ve got some time to spend elsewhere. So I log into VxRail SDDC manager and create a VI workload domain. This is a little different than how you’d create one in VxRack SDDC world. There you’d pick nodes out of the pool, give the wizard some details and it’d build your cluster for you. In VCF on VxRail, we haven’t yet got the nodes to create the cluster with. So we more or less half create the VI workload domain and then add the cluster of nodes afterward. I’ll move on from my gross oversimplification and instead show you the process.

Log into SDDC manager, find the Workload Domain button and click it. Choose the only selectable option, ‘VI – VxRail Virtual Infrastructure Setup’.

I gave my new workload domain the imaginative name ‘WorkloadDomain2’. Next, give vCenter details.

The vCenter doesn’t exist yet of course, an empty one will be deployed by SDDC manager which you’ll build your VxRail cluster into. The vCenter DNS name I provided here was already set up on the DNS server.

Review all the details entered and click finish. The SDDC dashboard will reappear and the progress of the vCenter deployment is shown in the tasks view at the bottom of the UI. It may be hidden, there are buttons at the bottom right of the window that’ll expand or maximise the tasks view.

About 15 minutes later it was done and I had a new vCenter in my list with only a datacenter created within it. Once this process finishes, the new VI workload domain will display in the dashboard, but will show a status of activating.

It’ll continue to show this status until the VxRail cluster is added and the domain creation is completed. So I’ll get onto that next.

With the RASR reset finished up on the three nodes, I rebooted to the IDSDM and kicked off the factory reset. This is quick in comparison to the RASR reset and when it’s done, I rebooted the nodes so the automated build would kick off. While that’s in progress, I copied the switch config applied to the ports for the management nodes and also applied it to the ports for these three nodes.

I went through my usual prep for VxRail cluster build (briefly covered that in part 1), then kicked off the install. The only difference this time is that I’ve already got a vCenter deployed for this cluster, so I choose to join an existing vCenter and use an external PSC.

As in the management cluster build, I’m also selecting ‘None’ for the logging option.

I entered all the other usual details, validation passed and started the cluster build. It finished up quite quickly and I was back into SDDC manager to complete the VI workload domain creation.

Within the workload domains menu, I chose my currently ‘activating’ WorkloadDomain2 and selected “Add VxRail Cluster” from the actions menu.

The cluster addition dialog opens up, and after a few seconds displayed the VxRail cluster I just finished building.

I entered the host password and clicked “copy to all hosts”. Probably more of a time saver if I was building a huge cluster.

Next up is NSX settings. Very self-explanatory, nothing out of the ordinary here. I entered my VXLAN VLAN ID and some IP settings for both the NSX manager and controller cluster.

Moving on to licenses, which in my case were automatically populated from those I entered right after the SDDC bringup. Within the SDDC UI, go to Administration > Licensing.

Finally, the now familiar review screen. I clicked finish and the second half of the VI workload domain creation started.

I monitored the progress in the SDDC manager tasks view. It took about 40 minutes to run the cluster addition tasks and display my new VI workload domain in SDDC manager.

Logging into vCenter, I can see that my cluster is present and NSX has been deployed & configured.

Of course, the cluster is a little empty right now, containing only the NSX controllers and VxRail Manager. I’m going to change that in part 3 when I deploy HCX and run some test migrations from the VxRack SDDC.

Briefly back to one of the questions asked at the start of part 1;

  1. How long is it going to take? – Total so far is the best part of 2 days. Although I only used three nodes to create my first VI workload domain, I could have built it with many more. It would not have added a significant time penalty to the process of creating and finalising the workload domain. The penalty there would have been the additional time to convert the nodes in the first place.

Convertible Cloud: VxRack SDDC to VCF on VxRail, Part 1

Quick Links
Part 1: Building the VCF on VxRail management cluster
Part 2: Virtual Infrastructure Workload Domain creation
Part 3: Deploy, Configure and Test VMware HCX

Having worked with, built, torn apart and played with VxRail and VxRack for much of the last two years, I’m always up for an interesting challenge on either platform. Even better when the opportunity came along to work with both platforms on a VxRack SDDC to Cloud Foundation on VxRail conversion and data migration project. 

The scenario I’ll be working on is a very realistic one;

We’ve got a VxRack SDDC system in place with production data running on it. We can’t migrate the data off the VxRack to wipe and reinstall from scratch and we can’t upgrade. How do we turn this into a Cloud Foundation on VxRail environment and move all our production data to the new platform without massive downtime or needing extra hardware?

Also, because there’s always at least one ‘also’;

  1. How long is it going to take? 
  2. How much of it can be done remotely?
  3. How much of it can be automated?
  4. How do we migrate our VMs?

Above; where I’m starting from and where I’m going to be by the end of this blog post. To start with, a somewhat poorly maintained VxRack SDDC system with 24 13G nodes. I’m running version 2.3.1 on it currently and It needs pretty much everything done to it. It’s got a four node management domain (nodes 1 to 4) and 19 nodes in one VI workload domain (nodes 5 to 23). That’s where the production workload is running. The final node was decommissioned from SDDC manager after the VxRack was installed and is used for hosting tools (Jumpbox, VxRack imaging VMs, etc). The kind of stuff you’d have on your laptop if you were physically plugged into the rack.

Where we’re going to end up is what I’ll call ‘Stage 1’. Decommission nodes 20 to 23 from VxRack SDDC manager, convert them to VxRail, reconfigure the network, build the cluster, prep for Cloud Foundation and then deploy it.

Before all that, a little background to understand why my VxRack needs so much work. Somewhere around the 2.2 to 2.3 SDDC upgrade window (or 2.3.1 to 2.3.2 – I’m a little fuzzy on the exact versions), there were some hardware changes made to VxRack SDDC systems that are out in the wild. PowerEdge nodes that originally shipped with Perc H730 disk controllers were swapped out to the H330 Mini, a controller which is compatible with VxRail. But our little lab system was left behind. Possibly because at the time the upgrade happened, we weren’t heavily using the VxRack SDDC platform.

Another component which we didn’t have was the now standard IDSDM, an internal module that houses two SD cards and provides a platform to either boot from or, in this case, to install a node recovery/reimage mechanism (RASR). I could get by without this of course, by flashing a number of suitably large USB sticks with the node recovery software and having them permanently plugged in to each node. But let’s try not to drift from what will be a standard VxRail build.

After a box of H330s and IDSDMs arrived at the data center and were diligently installed by our data center technicians, I moved on to the minor detail of actually converting the nodes. I should add that with the exception of the physical hardware swaps in the nodes, the entire process was run remotely. So I guess that’s one of the four questions above answered already.

Thankfully it was nothing new, having already ran through the exact procedure on another VxRack some 8 months previous. But back then I wasn’t aware of the disk controller incompatibility, so the whole thing pretty much fell flat on its face after the initial installation of software and attempt at cluster build. I was immediately grateful to have helpful colleagues who nudged me in the right direction.

The process is straightforward. Time consuming of course, but this really isn’t the kind of thing you should be doing one at a time. Ideally, the more nodes you can convert at the same time, the better. Until you start losing track of what node has had what parts of the process completed on it. A spreadsheet or even a scrap of paper and a pen are your friend here.

In short;

  1. Decommission the node from SDDC manager. This is a one-by-one process as SDDC manager (or at least 2.3.1) doesn’t appear to like concurrent tasks.
  2. Power it down, install the hardware. Everything from now on can (and should) be run in parallel on multiple nodes.
  3. Power it back up, enter the BIOS and enable the IDSDM (mirroring, etc).
  4. Run through any required firmware updates. In my case, I needed to update BIOS, iDRAC, network and disk controller.
  5. From the iDRAC KVM, mount and boot from the RASR (Rapid Appliance Self Recovery) ISO file. I used VxRail version 4.7.111.
  6. Do all the FRU assignment tasks in the RASR support menu, then RASR reset the node. This nukes the IDSDM and copies the RASR software to it.
  7. Reboot and boot from the IDSDM. If the previous step was successful, you get a RASR menu.
  8. Run the factory reset. This wipes all disks in the node, also wiping the SATADOM which ESXi will be installed on. It copies ESXi images back to the device and preps for install.
  9. When the above finishes, reboot. ESXi installer kicks off and requires no intervention. After several reboots and about 60 minutes, the node is done.

With the above mostly non-taxing process completed on four nodes, I’ve got enough VxRail appliances ready to build my VCF management cluster. My VxRack VI workload domain is impacted to the tune of four hosts, but there’s plenty of spare capacity. Capacity planning and knowing exactly how many nodes you can free up to move the conversion & migration process forward is going to be a running theme throughout this entire exercise.

The steps above are prime candidates for automation. So it’s good news that this automation has already been done. I automated the full VxRail reset and rebuild process some time ago to take a lot of admin overhead off the almost daily rebuilds required for using several VxRail clusters in test environments. It’ll need a little work to make it useful for this project, but that’s at least part of the way toward answering “can it be automated?”. As I move through the conversion process on the VxRack, the ability to automate and essentially forget about node conversion is going to free up some much needed cognitive capacity.


Moving on with the build, I’ve already reserved some IP addresses and added a few DNS records; 

  1. ESXi management
  2. PSC x2 (1 will be deployed by VxRail, second by VCF)
  3. vCenter
  4. VxRail Manager

And some more I’ll need for Cloud Foundation later on;

  1. Cloud Builder VM
  2. SDDC manager
  3. PSC (as mentioned above)
  4. vRLI x4 (master, two workers and a load balancer)
  5. NSX manager
  6. NSX controllers

Let’s kick off the build. First, I need to make sure my top of rack switches are ready. As I haven’t physically moved these nodes, I’m going to be sharing the switches with the existing VxRack SDDC environment. Switch ports for decommissioned nodes are stripped back to a basic configuration by VxRack SDDC manager. Port channel is removed and previously trunked VLANs are disallowed. This is a good time to point out that I’ll also be reusing the existing IP subnets and VLANs, but I could just as easily have modified the final VxRail network design entirely. Different subnets, VLANs or even moving to a layer 3 topology using BGP or OSPF (or any other routing protocol, I just prefer either of those two).

I put a basic configuration on the ports for the four nodes I’m working with right now. Let’s call that ‘Networking Stage 1’. I’m piggybacking on the existing VxRack uplinks to the production network, but I’ll re-evaluate that once I’m further into the conversion. I’ve got some 40Gbit QSFP+ direct attach cables hanging around that are just begging to be used.

I also trunked some VLANs and enabled services required for VxRail discovery to happen. I created a few VLANs for things like vMotion and vSAN specific to the VxRail, because I’d like to have as little reuse of VxRack SDDC managed VLANs as possible. A VLAN for VXLAN VTEPs is also added, and it’s worth noting at this point that VCF requires DHCP on this VLAN to assign IP addresses during the VCF bring up. 

VxRack SDDC manager is still going to be managing the configurations on the switches, so I’m not going to go too crazy with the current configuration. All existing uplinks to the core network need to remain in place until VxRack SDDC is no more. It goes without saying that if this was real production infrastructure, I’d have already been through several meetings and ever-evolving Visio diagrams to figure out what the new VxRail network is going to look like and how to safely build it alongside the existing VxRack network. As with any production environment, you really don’t want to make any spur of the moment, potentially career limiting decisions during deployment.

The management cluster goes like any other VxRail build. Except not quite for me, as I’m remote. The time tested process I’ve adopted is to give each node a temporary IP address on the ESXi management subnet. I would then log in to the master node and also give the VxRail Manager a temporary IP address. With version 4.7.x, I also need to think about node discovery. It was moved onto a dedicated VLAN which I’ll need to change as that VLAN doesn’t exist on the network. With that setting changed on all four nodes, I can fire up the VxRail installer UI and run a standard install process. Be sure to change the logging option to none during the install. Cloud Builder will deploy it’s own log insight instance.

With the cluster built, I’ll log into vCenter and make sure everything looks as it should. Check out any alarms, etc. There are a couple of changes that need to be made before I can move any further.

  1. I need to change the management port group from static binding to ephemeral. This involves creating a temporary port group, migrating VMKernels on all hosts to that port group. Then modifying the original management port group and migrating everything back. Don’t forget to delete the temporary port group.
  2. I need to ‘externalise’ the vCenter. I was a little mystified by this one initially, but it boils down to running a script on the VxRail Manager VM that essentially forces the VxRail Manager to forget about the vCenter. In a normal cluster, you’d initiate a cluster shut down from VxRail Manager and it’d take down all the VMs in an orderly fashion, shut down hosts, etc. With an externalised vCenter, the VxRail Manager no longer has control over the vCenter. This is verified by attempting a cluster shutdown and confirming that validation fails (screenshot below).

With all that done, I grabbed a copy of the 3.7.1 Cloud Builder OVA and deployed it onto the VxRail cluster, using the necessary option to identify the installation target as a VxRail. With the deploy completed, I opened up Chrome and browsed to the IP I set during the deployment and logged in with the admin password I also set during deployment.

There is a not entirely insignificant checklist to work through and make sure everything is in place, but with all that sorted out I should be in a good state to get a working Cloud Foundation install at the other end.

To give Cloud Builder everything it needs to get Cloud Foundation installed, you need to either supply a JSON answer file or download a Microsoft Excel template from the UI, complete it and upload it. I didn’t have a JSON file unfortunately, so took the long route. It’s nothing out of the ordinary in the Excel template. Details about the VxRail cluster, the network, DNS, NTP, host names and IP addresses. Hit the upload button and provide it with the completed Excel template. 

The information in the template was validated successfully after a few attempts. I hit an issue with ‘JSON Spec Validations’ and then another one with license keys I’d entered. Mostly everything else was fine. Couple of warnings that (for my environment) could be safely ignored. I could then kick off the bring up process and begin watching the clock. 

A couple of cups of coffee later, SDDC dashboard!

Don’t look too closely or you’ll see I’ve been cheating. The above screenshot was taken after I’d already converted four more nodes and added a VI workload domain. Let’s call it a preview of ‘Stage 2’.

I’ve also got a whole load of new VMs in my VxRail cluster, neatly grouped within one of three new resource pools.

Yes, we’ve got a bit of a Norse mythology naming scheme going on in the environment. Aside from a shiny new dashboard, I’ve also now got NSX and Log Insight installed. So that’s pretty much stage 1 of the build completed. Four VxRack SDDC nodes decommissioned, converted to VxRail nodes, built, prepped and Cloud Foundation deployed. Going back to the questions at the start, how many can we tackle at this point?

  1. How long is it going to take? – Right now we’re at about a day to get to this point. 
  2. How much of it can be done remotely? – Given that this environment is remote to me, almost all of it. Everything except physical hardware swaps. So if you’ve got 13G nodes that were previously upgraded or 14G nodes, you can probably skip that bit.
  3. How much of it can be automated? – As I said above, I’ve already written automation for node RASR and VxRail cluster build. There’s no reason why everything else here can’t be automated, with a little effort of course. See the note on automation below. To make your life easier, you’ll want to have JSON answer files ready to go for VxRail build and Cloud Foundation deployment.
  4. How do we migrate our VMs? – We’re getting to that, but it’ll be a little while.

About the automation. With some awkward parts to automate, like driving a Java KVM session, I used a tool called Eggplant. It’s usually used for test automation, but suits this job pretty well. But it’s not terribly portable (as far as I’m aware). A nice, open source and more portable alternative is Jython and the Robot Framework. There are most likely dozens or dozens of dozens of ways to automate what I’m doing. Later stages could purely use API calls or SDKs. Right now I’m automating the low-hanging fruit. I’m sure it’ll evolve over time. That’s it, speech over.

Next up, I’ll be stealing a few more nodes from VxRack SDDC and building a VI workload domain on my new Cloud Foundation on VxRail deployment.