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VMware cluster: up and running in three hours

A few days ago I wanted to test some of the new networking features VMware introduced with the vShield product family. I almost started hacking together a few old servers (knowing I would have wasted countless hours with utmost stupidities like trying to get the DVDs to boot), but then realized that we already have the exact equipment I need: a UCS system with two Fabric Interconnects and a chassis with five blade servers – the lab for our Data Center training classes (the same lab has a few Nexus switches, but that’s another story).

I managed to book lab access for a few days, which was all I needed. Next step: get a VMware cluster installed on it. As I never touched the UCS system before, I asked Dejan Strmljan (one of our UCS gurus) to help me.

09:00 – if you want to experience an agile UCS deployment (@bradhedlund and @omarsultan should be so proud of me ;), Dejan is the guy you need. He’d been developing our UCS labs and had complete UCS configuration nicely split into templates. Twenty minutes of cut-and-paste and search-and-replace editing and our UCS configuration was ready to go ... but we still had to wait for our storage guy.

09:30 – Marko (our storage guy) arrives to create the LUNs I need for my servers. He has to deal with a “fantastic” GUI interface. Thousands of clicks (and a carpal tunnel syndrome) later he’s done. I could enjoy my morning coffee and a donut in the meantime. Luckily I only needed a few LUNs or I would have gotten fat while he was frantically clicking away.

10:00 – The LUNs are ready. Dejan copies the configs into UCS CLI, checks the configuration through the UCS manager, opens console windows to the servers and starts them. Total time spent: 5 minutes (mostly due to an unexpected change of context caused by the particular configuration sequence used in our UCS configuration). Not bad compared to the thousand-click storage experience.

The servers happily boot off Dejan’s local copy of the ESX ISO image (another UCS goodie – its Java console window applet allows you to mount a local ISO image as the server’s CD-ROM) and start the ESX install process.

Most of the time is spent transferring the ISO image – our UCS is in the demo part of the network, which is strictly isolated from the production (where we’re sitting) by a rate-limiting firewall (supposedly someone managed to spill a network meltdown from the demo network into the production one a while ago).

10:30 – ESX installs are done. Time to create a Windows VM and install vCenter. Yet again, most of the time is spent transferring the images to the shared VMFS file system. We have a decent library of prebuilt VM images and I could have used one of them (probably even with vCenter already installed), but I wanted to have a totally clean Windows install. I also wanted to use the latest SW release freshly downloaded from VMware. Sometimes you have to pay the price for your stubbornness.

11:30 – vCenter is up and running. Adding ESX servers to the cluster. Fighting with Fault Tolerance. Somehow it works better if you have a DNS server; we have none in the demo network. Giving up on FT; it will have to wait for better times. In the meantime, I managed to transfer Fedora 14 ISO image to the shared VMFS LUN. Creating the first client VMs installing Fedora.

12:00 – Fedora client VM is up and running.

I have zero hands-on experience with blade server platforms from other vendors, so it’s a bit hard to guess how good we were ... but I can tell you I was mightily impressed. Thanks again, Dejan!


  1. Well,

    I got two IBM servers, IBM DS3400 storage and VMware on top of it.

    Zero experience and still was able to install and configure all of it. I know that an experienced guy will find a few design mistakes!

    I love Vmotion :)

    I will get an UCS 200 in a few weeks, can't wait.
  2. Nice! Without DNS, you may be able to get things working by adding records into /etc/hosts. Or maybe you can download a virtual appliance to run DNS for you...
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