Tortoise and the hare



So it’s been a while since the last update so here’s what’s going on. The title of this little blog is a somewhat reflection of my current state in terms of mindset in getting Operation Genesis completed. My heart is saying just rush through all the documentation in the blue print and go for the DCA exam sooner rather than later. However and thankfully my brain is winning on this occasion as saying to me to take my time and actually learn, digest and remember what I’m learning.It is important to do this because I’ve no doubt any corner cutting now will ultimately come back to haunt me in the VCDX defense so it’s just not worth the risk.

Too often in the past have I geared up for exams by cramming in data into short term memory just to pass the exam and then forget afterwards. I’ve regretted this before as there have been the odd occasion in the past where I’ve really needed to remember a certain detail in the heat of battle but come up empty just because I’ve forgotten. I doubt I’m alone here though as companies can sometimes force exams on to you and expect you pass them first time in order to gain company kickbacks/rewards/discounts but ultimately it’s down to the individual to resist the pressure and do what is right long term.

Speaking of forgetting – In the process of putting together my lab I’ve found that I’m very rusty in certain what I consider basic operating knowledge of vSphere and that’s a reflection on what I’ve been doing for the last few years i.e. design work and not actual hands on. This further reinforces my belief that ALL professionals dealing with VMware be it in design or operations should have a home lab to keep the skills up to date and sharp. Admittedly vSphere 5.5 is a long way from what I’m used to i.e. vSphere 5.0 but I should still remember how to mooch around the esxcli and do basic tasks etc etc. Thankfully the last few days I’ve been brushing up those skills again and getting to grips with PowerCLI and ESXCli.

As of Sunday I’ve taken ownership of a QNAP Pro 500 series array to add to the lab environment courtesy of a former boss who’s supporting my journey so I’ve now got an awesome fit for purpose shared storage option so a special mention to Adam Courtney for his help.I’ve configured it with iSCSI and carved up two 512GB luns for VMware hosts to connect to and use as datastores. I’ve also allocated the HA heartbeats to one of these datastores and another from the FreeNAS to provide some level of resiliency.

vCenter Server Heartbeat

In other news it’s been announced the VMware are going to retire vCenter Heartbeat but still support it till 2018 as per this linky:

When I read this I thought this was a mistake on VMware’s side as they’ve not offered any real alternative other than to rely on HA. This seemed a little unusual for me as VMware normally give you a like for like replacement or alternative so it leads me to think that something is immanent to be released or they are working on something that will make the vCSH obsolete. I bloody well hope so as looking at all my customers and their requirements; we are going to need something pretty soon or I need to think about using other methods of protecting vCenter.

I did some googling to see what the reaction to this and was as well as check Twitter and was glad to read this article by a highly respected VCDX holder Michael Webster on this link:

As you’d expect from a VCDX he hits the nail on the head and echos what most of us are probably thinking. You shouldn’t retire a key critical feature to your solution and not give an alternative which will do the same if not better than the previous option.

My take on this is that ok – what’s done is done we can’t change it so adapt and overcome. So what are the options? Other than those in Michaels blog how about trying something different? How about (I’ll get killed for suggesting this) creating a HyperV server 2012R2 guess cluster and installing the virtual center on top of a Server 2012R2 OS and relying on the clustering mechanisms from HyperV? Just a thought really and will need some investigation as to the impact of this but could be doable. Then there’s other replication technologies like DoubleTake where you can replicate realtime to a shadow VM that’s ready to go at short notice. Again this has implications of additional traffic etc etc but still a possibility. VEEAM too also offer features where there’s possibility of “Instant Recovery” where the actual VEEAM backup of a VM can be literally powered on and put in to production.

Could this also be tackled using storage snapshots like NetAPPs offerings which can give you an option to revert back to former state? All of these can do with some R&D to ensure there’s no gotchyas but my aim here is to try and think out side of the box a little and see what’s on the market already.

I guess it’s down to what the requirements are and RTO/RPOs as to what method you’d employ. In most SMB I think HA will suffice but for the enterprise boys I’d suggest they’d be a lot more sensitive and critical towards getting the vCenter up and running.

NUTANIX and ATLANTISCOMPUTING Match made in heaven?

I’ve worked with a lot of Nutanix opportunities before and really love their approach to virtual architecture. I love new technology that turns convention on it’s head and Nutanix was the first real converged platform I’ve really related this to. For those that don’t know who or what Nutanix does or is check out this link and make sure you do as these guys are going to go big and shake things up – if not already!

In a nutshell these guys are offering hyper-converged storage and compute in a small 2U form factor known as a “Block”. Essentially you’ve got up to four servers each with SSD and HDD in a block dependent on what series model you go for. Underneath the hood these guys have a their own proprietary Nutanix Data File System (NDFS) which handles all the meta data as well as data. Think of it as software defined storage. I could go on and on about this platform but essentially what you need to know is that it really is fast due to the use of the SSD/HDD and the way it accesses the hot data and that it is a very good offering for VDI deployments and consolidation of old hardware requirements. There are some gotchyas like the controller virtual machines that are mandatory in order to provide the link between the hypervisor/virtual machines and the backend storage all required a minimum of 12GB-20GB dependent on if you want deduplication or not. I’ll be honest and say the price can be a turn off when you look at it alone but when you start scaling up in terms of the number of blocks deployed it will all start making some big sense in terms of cost savings.

So what am I driving at? Well those who are still awake reading this will have noticed that I’ve put AtlantisComputing into the subheading. Click on this linky for more info

These are another company I’m very excited about as their product USX is bound to be bought by a big player. The reason for this is that they can essentially form a new tier of storage but place into memory. This in turn gives you mega IO response and performance as you’d expect from say a Fusion IO card for example. The difference here is that allegedly this USX is agnostic in terms of platform and can create real SAN storage using almost any type of storge be it local, DAS, NFS etc

What this means is that you can create very fast SAN storage using older kit as long as you’ve got the RAM i.e. around 64GB+ to start with. This again is another software defined storage solution and what I was wondering is that, what would happen if you placed USX on a Nutanix platform configured with 128GB RAM??? Maybe there is a technical impediment but if you could do it, the Nutanix platform is already fast but to put USX on there it would piss all over anything out there in the market in terms of density/price/performance. I’d love to hear some thoughts and feedback on this from those who are closer to the product than I but either way USX is here and I’ve every belief it’s going to go through the roof and become very relevant in our virtual futures.

That is all for now.

Comme Je Fus


Posted in Operation Grandslam

Delayed action!

It’s been a few days since the last update and that’s for a few reasons. First of all over the weekend I had see through a previous commitment by attending a Rugby 7s tournament down in Exeter – Castle Cary Kay’s 7s which was “interesting” to say the least. Suffice to say I didn’t get too much study and testing done.It’s already hard to concentrate on study when the Isle of Man TT is on so I’m trying my best to block out those demons.

I do have to mention though I was totally gutted to hear that Karl Harris died yesterday doing what he loved so my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends at this terrible time may he forever have the throttle pinned up in the sky.

In addition to my extra curricular activities, I’ve been been nailing the lab with a nested HyperV deployment using Server 2012R2 and system centre 2012r2 (with VMM and DPM). The exam is tomorrow so I’m hoping that I’m ready but we’ll see in the afternoon!

As much as it pains me to say it I do actually like the HyperV offering now and can see why some people are going over it (other than perceived price). It’s easy to set up and has some pretty cool features in storage spaces and tiering. I still don’t think it offers as much features as VMware do but then again, who can honestly say they use the entire lot anyway? For most companies what HyperV offers should suffice to meet their needs but that’s my own opinion and I’ve no doubt people with have their own and rightly so.

I must say though that all the VMs I’ve deployed into the vSAN are performing very well so far and responding to IO requests quickly and thus giving me a good experience. I’m going to start running into CPU and RAM issues before long so need to think of possibly scaling up to a three node cluster or seriously consider getting larger servers with more RAM and CPU core counts. The bank balance however says no for now so will need to make do for now.

With a small update to the lab I’ve had a few issues with various storage devices going down. It appears that the “suspect” hard drives I mention are living up to their name and causing mirrors to break and other erroneous error messages in FreeNAS. Therefore I’ve had to revert to the vSAN entirely until I can get my paws on the QNAP device from the donor who sadly was having health issues at the time of pick-up and had to cancel. (Get well soon btw Adam). I’ve already had a near scare with my WD livebook with all my personal data on there going offline so recovered it and gave myself a bollocking for trusting in it. So needless to say I’ve got a few more backups now of key data on my network!

The lab now has full DHCP services, DNS and now a new shiny Domain with two DCs. Next I need to look at the steps require to get the vCenter and hosts into the domain with out making a major booboo and killing the environment. This will be good practice for the VCAP so actually looking forward to this. Just need to set up users/groups in AD first and think about how I want the OU structure to look.

Another headache I’m having is to do with networking. I’m not a networky kinda guy. Never have and was about to say never will, but I do need to get there for intended destination requires  me to have this skill up to a point. At the moment I’m on a flat network a typical and was thinking about making the network in to a more typical company topology and introducing VLANs using my Cisco SG300 switch. The hosts each have 3 nics – one onboard and one dual port. Combine this with the FreeNAS port, PC, WD Drive and the router I’m running thin on the ground for ports as I’ve only 10 1GBe on the switch.

Initially I was thinking about using the bog standard Netgear switch and placing one of the host NICs on to this but I can’t as I intended to use VLANs and this switch doesn’t support it. What I was aiming to achieve is some level of switch redundancy so I test failovers etc etc. I think I either have to get another layer 3 switch or get a larger 24 port switch I’m sure will be very quiet…not.

So in summary:

Need to buy another switch
Need to cough up for more new internal SATA drives for the freeNAS server
Look for another HP N40L and 16GB RAM to add to the cluster
Aquire NFR for VEEAM Backup and Recovery and install/test

That’s about it for now. Need to get back on the HyperV study but next time I want to convey some thoughts about certain emerging technologies which I’m excited about.

Comme Je Fus



Posted in Operation Genesis, Operation Grandslam

VCAP 5.5 DCA is here!

Like most military plans, sometimes things never go the way you want and therefore you need to be able to change and revisit the plan again. This applies here too!

It looks as though my focus now needs to shift from looking at 5.0 and 5.1 to the 5.5. And the reason if not obvious from the title is that I can now see that there is a new exam for the latest vSphere 5.5 available. I was warned via the nice people in the Twitter  community (thanks guys!) that it was coming soon but not given any particular date. Sure enough as I was just about to book it on the Pearson Vue Website this morning to get some target exam dates, there it was a nice shiny new exam for 5.5.

Now for me this is a bit of a ball ache. The reason is that my hands on experience for real world goes back to 5.0 and 5.1 but not 5.5. The good news is that my lab is 5.5 and I’ve been mooching through it, seeing what’s new and change and breaking things, learning how to fix them in the process so all good relevant stuff.

However the other ramifications of this is that looking a little further ahead, I will also need to revisit all that I’ve learned for the Data Center Design exam too to make sure that I’m up to date with the recommendations for designing here too. To be fair you could argue and quite rightly say I should be doing this anyway but I was hoping to be able to do this at “leisure”. I guess I’ve had metaphorical boot up the arse and reminder from VMware is that training is never finished and an endless cycle. I do feel for the existing VCDX guys and my peers as we all need to dedicate time to learn these new skills and sometimes it can and will take vast amounts of time be it personal or company time.

My other concern here is that looking forward even more still; is that my design for VCDX submission could be based on one version and by the time it’s finished and submitted a new version be released like a version 6 and I’d have to answer questions on that too in relation to my defence. I best get cracking otherwise the road will get longer harder and with more twists and turns so I’ve downloaded the new Blueprint and will start again. One thing I was surprised at was that you are allowed to look at documentation for the exam?! They actually are giving you the answers to the questions???? Sweeet! However does this mean they are going to chuck in some real nasty configuration questions remains to be seen…..I’ll be keeping a good look out Twitter seeing if people fed back to the community about their experiences…..unless I’m going to be one of the first????? – note to self. I really need to stop with the doing lots of ????? it’s doing my head in and I shall refrain in future. Maybe???

Noted moving on.



Editorial update!

Just been told by Josh Andrews on Twitter @SOSTech_WP that I’m a little behind the curve on this as this old news as it was released two months ago. Just goes to show how fast things can move on! Thanks Josh for the heads up and I urge you all to take a look at his post


Posted in Operation Grandslam

vSAN – Lab


Ohhhh yeah guess who’s happy now! Not on this but I’ve also been donated a QNAP TS-439 Pro with 4TB! This lab is going to rock! Thanks to all those who’ve helped thus far!

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Posted in Operation Grandslam

vInner Demons

So today’s progress has been somewhat limited in terms of study carried out – I’ve now got to pass a Microsoft exam for HyperV and System Center for company accreditation. End result means that Section 1 of the VCAP Blue print which I was hoping to nail tonight and tomorrow has been slightly delayed.

However I’ve learned some things today outside of technology, well ish they are still related to VCDX but still more to do with the human cost of doing it. I like many of you probably have looked up to people I see online who you consider to be vGods or people of extreme pools of experience who can breeze the VCDX. Well troops it would appear they are human after all and not just that, they actually have feelings and inner demons to conquer to get to the VCDX. I had a very personal chat about a future VCDX (He WILL get there!) and about some of his inner doubts and demons. This surprised me massively as I respect him and his experience even more so now that I can see that he’s “Got back on the horse” after nearly giving up on his dream.

This for me is a massive lesson and I would hope it will be to you too. We all know the VCDX is tough but we as applicants need to be mentally tough as well as knowledgeable in vast areas of an entire virtualisation stack. I can compare this to what the special forces guys have to go through in order to complete their training as they need to dig deep into their souls and maintain a deep rooted belief in that CAN pass and they CAN go further despite what their bodies are going through. They also maintain focus on the prize which for you and I could vary, but ultimately it’s your prize so don’t lose sight of it and believe that you can do it. Am I qualified to say this? Yeah I think so, I’ve had people tell me I can’t achieve this or will never pass that but every single time I’ve proved them wrong and it’s been done by that Infantry Sgt (Read Bio for info) who told me those words about having the will to survive and never giving up.

So back to inner demons. We all have them, we have doubts as to whether we can achieve what we want. The trick is to tell those demons to “Foxtrot Oscar” or words to that affect. Do it for you, do it for your family, do it because it will make you stronger not just for this venture, but for all things you apply yourself to.

I know full well there are going to be some pretty major lows in my attempt(s) in going for the VCDX but, I also know with some support of Social Media, vExperts and the community I will get there as long as I’ve got the will to survive.

That is all…..

Comme Je Fus

Don Ward

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Posted in Operation Grandslam

Lab update

Soooo the home lab is coming along nicely though I’m going to be running in to license expiry issues before long. Thanks to the power of social media and some extremely supportive and knowledgeable peers I’m hoping to over come this by getting my paws on NFR licenses. A big shout out to Paul Meehan and Craig Kilborn for getting the ball rolling

So the current state is that I’ve rummaged around my room and searched through the many boxes of PC bits n bobs I’ve accumulated over the years of many upgrades and chucked together a case, Mobo with a Pentium D CPU, 4GB RAM, PSU and a bunch of “suspect” SATA drives which are potentially on their way to silicon heaven (Not the playboy mansion) and configured an iSCSI/NFS storage server using FreeNAS.



NFS was a doddle to deploy but had a real headache trying to get the iSCSI targets seen by all ESX hosts. I’m clearly missing something obvious and pulling my hair out trying to trouble shoot – a few cups of tea and some Woosaaas are in order I reckon.

To be continued!

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Posted in Operation Genesis

Home Lab – hardware

Right a quick post to detail my lab hardware so far:


2x HP N40LMicroservers with:

  • AM Turon Dual core processors @ 2Ghz
  • 16GB RAM
  • 2x Intel 40GB SSD
  • 1x250GB SATA
  • 1x500GB SATA.
  • Single dual port half height 1GB NIC

Shared storage option so far is my WD external NAS 1TB drive


1x PC Spec:

  • Betfenix Colossus Case
  • ASUS Sabertooth P7 Motherboard
  • Intel I7 2600 CPU @ 4GHz
  • 8GB RAM
  • 3x SSD 120GB in RAID
  • 2x HDD 250GB
  • VMware workstation 8
  • Windows8

Networking: Cisco SG300-10MP layer 3 switch

I’ve intentions to put together an ISCI shared storage server from the many bits and bobs I have filling my drawers and cupboards and thinking of using FreeNAS to do the donkey work.

The lab at the moment is running ESXi 5.5 and vCenter on evaluation as I wanted to check out the new vSAN offering and 5.5 web interface. Considering trashing it and reverting to 5.0 but debating it in my mind as to whether or not I can still do the DCA study on this platform. Open to suggestions though!

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Posted in Uncategorized

Let’s make a start

So VCAP5-DCA is up first to complete. I’ve got a fair bit of experience from being involved with designing and implementing a new infrastructure as a service platform in a previous role and having to maintain it etc etc so I should have a good grip on on vSphere 5.0 but it’s been a while since I’ve been at the coal face so I have no doubt I’ve forgotten a few things.

So what’s involved then? Well let’s download the blue print and find out:

Here’s the linky!

I’m going to have a good mooch through this and will post my thoughts on areas I definitely need to work on. The next thing I’ll talk about is my home lab and what it currently consists of and planned further additions that are coming.

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Posted in Operation Genesis

It starts now! Operation Grandslam

For those of you that work in virtualisation specifically with VMware products there comes a time where you want and need to get qualified further. I’ve already got my VCP3.5, 4 and 5 but now’s the time to really kick the shit out of the exams and get some advanced certification. My motivations are simple, I want that  VCDX and I want people to know what I’m really capable of. I also want my Son to Max and wife Tammy to be proud of me and that’s more than enough motivation anyone should need.

As with all ex forces we sometimes like to plan these things like a proper military operation so I’ve calculated what sort of time I can dedicate to this quest which needs to be signed off by the long haired commander (my wife!)

The mission is simple. Achieve VCDX.


  1. Pass VCAP-DCA Exam
  2. Pass VCAP-DCD Exam
  3. Design selection
  4. Join VCDX study group and work with my peers
  5. Get a VCDX Mentor
  6. Design completion and review to send VMware
  7. Prepare defense
  8. Take Defense
  9. Take my wife and son on a nice warm holiday and drown my sorrows or celebrate.
  10. Go again if needs be and seek additional support and education

As in true spirit of an ex forces soldier all good missions or operations should have a good name associated with it.

So “Operation Grandslam” is the overall Operation name. It speaks for itself really!

There will be three sub-operation names to track progress which I’ll use in this blog for ease of reference.

The first Operation name which covers the VCAP5-DCA will be called “Operation Genesis”. It all starts somewhere!

Second Operation name to cover the VCAP5-DCD phase will be called “Operation Quick Sand” as it for me will mean that I’m truly stuck in to this now and will not be turning back till it’s done.

Last but not least “Operation Neptune’s Trident”. There are three parts to the VCDX, the first is the Design phase, the second is Defense prepartion and last is the day of days i.e. the day I actually crap my pants and go and do the defence.

So now that I’ve got a rough plan and order of battle together I need to see what sort of time I can dedicate to this in reality. I’ve recently been on a seminar and some of the commitment the guys had invested in to their designs were staggering so I’m expecting months and months of work ahead of me.

So lets assume I work a typical day of 0830hrs to 1730hrs and it takes me on average a hour to commute home. That means I get in the door of my house around 1830hrs. I will need to feed my fat head as well say hello to my family and spend a little time with them as a priority so an hour is being dedicated to doing that. Therefore from 1930hrs onward till 2300hrs is going to be allocated as “Blackout time” where my entire world is my lab, PC and design.

Weekends I will be allocating a typical 9-5 work day hours to Op Grandslam as this will give me a good eight hours and in the evening allow me some time with my family to try and balance things out, give the mind a rest and recharge the batteries for the upcoming onslaught of a working week and more study/work.

Let’s do some totting up then shall we?

Weekdays = 3.5 hours
5 working days in a week (normally) therefore 3.5 hours X 5 is 17.5 hours.

Now let’s add them to the two weekend days of 8 hours a piece so that’s (8×2) + 17.5 Hrs a total of 33.5hrs per week

Let’s say we have 4 weeks in a month and that will give me a final figure of around 134 Hrs per month of dedicated time to Op Grandslam of which I’ll never get back with my family so it’s nothing short of a massive sacrifice and one that I really appreciate my wife for allowing me to do.

There may be bonus time added if I can get some allowance in my role at my company to dedicate however this is never certain nor can be relied upon. All this needs to be done off my own back so I’ll be footing the bills for all things needed to get there which includes exams, travel, study material, labs you name it and it comes out of my ever decreasing fund pot!

So that’s it for now. I’ve got goals, I’ve got timings for my Ops now I just got to pull my thumb out and take those first baby steps and get that proverbial ball rolling.

I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be emotional but I hope you can share this journey with me complete with trials and tribulations.

Comme Je Fus



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Posted in Operation Grandslam
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