Archives For SMB Virtualisation Projects

In the previous two parts of this series I have discussed the following

  • Pre Project Planning
  • Finding a Virtualisation Partner
  • In the third part in this series I intend to discuss Solution Design, now this isn’t going to be an in-depth technical discussion on how your solution should be designed or configured. More what to expect during the design process some elements you may wish to look out for and questions to ask.

    Solution Design

    So by know you will have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, your shortlist of partners will also have understood these requirements, you may have discussed some ideas of the technologies you want to be looking at and you may have seen some of these technologies demonstrated to you.

    Data Collection

    A hugely important part of the design process is data collection. Without this the whole solution design will be finger in the air. Whilst the people you are dealing with are likely to have a lot of experience in the area, nothing will make up for doing proper performance analysis. This will ensure that a solution designed for you has been designed to your needs. There are numerous different ways this data will be collected an analysed, there maybe a cost for this process due to the amount of time this process can take.

    VMware partners will be able to offer you VMware Capacity Planning, this can be presented in two formats a Consolidation Estimate and the more in-depth analysis and report a Capacity Assessment. For more information about these please visit VMware’s Capacity Planner webpage. >> http://www.vmware.com/products/capacity-planner/overview.html

    Platespin Recon is also another tool that maybe used for capacity planning for more information visit their website here >> http://www.novell.com/products/recon/

    Finally sometimes nothing beats good old perfmon statistics, during the design stages you maybe asked to collect some key statistics from your servers, I particularly use this method for grabbing IOPS statics from physical servers that are due to be virtualised. This means that I am able to adequately size a customers SAN requirements for their current infrastructure and future growth.

    There are of course many more methods and products on the market that maybe used to gather these statistics.

    What is most important during the statistics collection is that for the period the data collection is ran, represents a the full range of use for your system. For example if your data collection is only ran for the first two weeks of a month and at the end of the month you run reports and payroll, these key areas of performance utilisation will have been missed from the analysis. For this reason data collection will often run for 4 – 5 weeks.

    The Design

    After the performance data has been analysed you will be presented with a report and a final design. In my opinion it is important that this is done face to face so you have an opportunity to discuss the design with the solution architect and raise any questions about the recommendations.

    Below are a few areas you may wish to check or discuss

    1. Levels of VMware licensing, understand the different levels of licensing and what you are and aren’t getting as part of you suggest solution >> http://www.vmware.com/products/vsphere/buy/editions_comparison.html
    2. Redundancy – A big reason for virtualising an environment is to improve the redundancy for the systems hosted on the environment. If this is an important aspect for you (And it usually is in a production environment) you want to ensure that all the elements contain high levels of redundancy. These include multiple hosts (with multiple PSU’s, HBA’s NICs etc) the use of VMware HA, multiple switches for path redundancy, multiple controllers in the SAN. In some environments if up time needs to be guaranteed this may also include multiple SANs with synchronous replication. I have seen too many times solutions by competitors trying to make a quote seems cheaper than the competition by leaving out these levels of redundancy particularly single controller SANs!
    3. How does the recommended solution meet the needs of the performance and capacity statistics
    4. Why have the different products / technologies been chosen and what do they offer you that other products / technologies don’t
    5. Has future expansion been taken into consideration and what is the upgrade path when the time comes to add more capacity
    6. What training is going to be involved for your IT administrators to be able to manage the solution in the future.
    7. What support levels have been included with the various products.
    8. If DR is part of the solution, how will it work, what is the recovery period and what is the scope for potential data loss in a DR solution.
    9. If DR isn’t included at this stage how could it work in the future?
    10. If backup is included how will it work, how many recovery points will you be able to keep online, is there means of archiving included if needed.
    11. Has the bigger picture been taken into consideration, what effect does this solution have with other systems, processes or elements within the company
    12. If monitoring is required has it been included and what levels of monitoring does the chosen product give you.
    13. What are the limitations of the recommened solution, are these an issue?

    Off course there are a infinite amout of details you may wish to cover, the above list is only meant to give you a starting point.

    Make sure that you are comparing designs from different partners on a like for like basis, ensure they have understood your requirements and that the designs reflect this. If there is a huge cost difference between partners find out why this is, what does the more expensive solution offer you and do you need those added features?

    At this point if you haven’t already seen demonstrations ask to see demonstrations of the various products. Ensure that you are completely comfortable with what has been recommended, if not tell the partners what is missing and ask for those elements to be included in the design.

    Again I am going to leave this post here and will add to it over time, if you have anything you wish to contribute please let me know barry (@) virtualisedreality.com

    During part 1 I laid out what it is I wanted to achieve with this series of blog posts, hopefully some of you have found the contents of Part 1’s Post Project Planning post useful. Don’t forget if there is anything you wish to add or if you have any comments please feel free to let me know. For those of you that missed part 1 it can be found here >> http://bit.ly/6Lk6Ry

    Finding a Virtualisation Partner

    For many small and some medium businesses the thought of undertaking a complete virtualisation project themselves is out of reach, as such a large majority will be looking to work with a virtualisation partner in some capacity. First of all hands up, I do work for a VMware Enterprise Partner but I intend to make this post as non biased as possible. I am not intending to point you in any particular direction, more give you a few questions you should be asking yourself when making this decision. I must also say that I haven’t covered the area of individual consultants or contractors, this isn’t an area I have much experience in, but a lot of the points below regarding qualifications, references etc will still be valid. If you are a virtualisation contractor or self employed consultant is there anything you would like to see added to this post? If so let me know.

    A good place to start looking for a VMware recognised partner is VMware’s partner locator

    http://partnerlocator.vmware.com/

    The description of the different levels of partner are listed below, it is worth noting that the levels of partner status are very much based on the size as well as the ability of the partner. As you go up the different levels within the VMware partner program the partners are required to have a certain number of VCP, VTSP as well as VSP’s there are also financial goals in terms of amount of VMware product sales required at the different levels. A premier partner requires a significant amount of VMware licences to be sold by the partner, this makes it a lot easier for a large software vendor to become a premier partner (possibly with not a huge amount of project experience) and much more difficult for a dedicated solutions provider to gain this level of accreditation. 

    It is important when deciding on the partner that you are happy with the level of response you get, answers to you questions, face to face meetings etc.

    Premier Partner Level – Premier level partners are VMware’s most qualified partners and have earned the highest partner designation by completing advanced sales and technical training while demonstrating over time repeated success in designing, planning, hosting and/or deploying across multiple VMware virtualization solution areas.
    Enterprise Partner Level – Enterprise level partners have demonstrated expertise in helping customers with their infrastructure virtualization solutions based on VMware technology and have completed sales and technical implementation training.

    Professional Partner Level – Professional level partners have achieved sales and high-level technical training on VMware infrastructure virtualization.

     

    Qualifications

    When speaking to perspective partners find out about the qualifications that there staff hold, these include.

    VSP – VMware Sales Professional

    Any sales professionals you are dealing with should be at least at the VSP level.

    VTSP – VMware Technical Sales Professional

    This is the minimum level you should expect anyone who is assisting from a technical point of view in the sales process.

    VCP – VMware Certified Professional

    This is the level you should expect the engineers working on your project to be at.

    VCDX – VMware Certified Design Expert

    This is a bit of a holy grail for virtualisation professional at the moment, there is a very stringent process to become a VCDX and there are very few of these worldwide. Most if not all will be working on large enterprise projects or working for VMware themselves.

    Out Sourced?

    Find out if the engineers that will be working on your project actually work for the partner you are dealing with or whether the work will actually be outsourced to another company. It is important that if this is the case that you are as happy with the company the work will be outsourced to as the partner you will be dealing directly with.

    References and Case Studies

    Just as if you were employing a new member of staff any good partner will be able to give you a list of reference sites where you can find out about the level of work a specific partner has given in the past. It is important that when looking at case studies and references that they are similar to your requirement, e.g. size of business, number of servers, storage products being used etc. If a partner is unable to give references or case studies similar to your project find out why this is, have they got enough experience in the area you are looking at and have their previous customers been happy with the final delivered solution.

    Demonstrations

    Whilst it maybe difficult for an individual consultant to be able to demonstrate the technologies to you, you should be able to expect most partners to have the ability one way or another to demonstrate the keys areas of the a solution to you in house. This will give you a good opportunities to ask questions and find out more details about your specific environment prior to a design.

    Different Technologies

    Whilst it is highly important that your partner knows VMware’s products inside out it is also important that they know the related technologies, networking, storage and backup etc. Even if you are going to be using the partner for one specific area of your virtualisation project, ensure that they are comfortable with the areas of interaction between the related technologies.

    The people and work methods

    One of the most important elements is to make sure that you are happy with the people you will be dealing with and ensure they will work in a way that you want. Find out what their process of installation will be? Are they willing for you to work alongside them so you or your staff can gain extra knowledge? What documentation will be made available at the end of the project? What support is available at the end of the project?

    Conclusion

    There are a lot of vendors out there that will be able to deliver your solution, there will also be a lot that will promise the world and not be able to deliver it. Be happy with your choice, ensure they have demonstrated their skill and knowledge in the relevant areas and are willing to share references and case studies so you can gain confidence. You are in the driving seat when making this decision and it is up to the partner to demonstrate they can deliver what you want. I am aware that is quite a deep subject and there is a lot more that could be said regarding this, if you have any personal experience of choosing a partner or you are a partner and think there is something I missed please let me know.

    Barry(at)virtualisedreality.com

    Also don’t forgot if you have found this or any other of my posts useful consider voting for me on Eric Sieberts Top 25 Bloggers >> http://vsphere-land.com/news/time-to-vote-for-your-favorite-bloggers.html

    This is my first post in a series that I am intending on writing regarding virtualisation projects aimed at small and medium businesses but a lot of the information may be relevant to larger companies as well. I am intending to cover all aspects from the start of the project, implementation, completion and monitoring.

    What I would like to achieve by the end of this series is to give an IT manager / Technical Project Leader some information to help them with decisions, to help them work intelligently with or without a partner and give them food for thought with regards to elements they should be considering throughout the whole project cycle.

    This series of blog posts is not aimed at your virtualisation professionals and isn’t aimed to be a in-depth technical article or how to guide. Saying that if there are any virtualisation professionals, IT Manager or Technical project manager reading this I would be happy for your input on the subject. DM me on twitter @virtualisedreal or email barry (at) virtualisedreality.com if you would like to assist with this series of blog posts.

    My background, I have worked for a VMware Enterprise partner for a number of years and prior to this I was sitting on the other side of the desk working in the IT department of a medium size business.

    I am going to start out with a few assumptions, I am going to be assuming that you have already decided on your virtualisation technology being VMware, although a lot of this is also transferable to Xen and Hyper-V I would imagine. I am going to assume the IT department is a small department with limited resources and no in house virtualisation specialists. I am going to assume you know the fundamentals of virtualisation.

    This series of blog posts will consist of the following 6 subjects. I am looking for any input throughout the series that you think maybe of use to others reading/

    1. Post Project Planning
    2. Finding a Virtualisation Partner
    3. Solution Design
    4. Solution Implementation
    5. Post Project
    6. On-Going Monitoring and Maintenance

    Pre Project Planning

    You have read all the press information and all the sales material and have decided that virtualisation is for you. You know the benefits and have decided that VMware is the product for you. You may have even completed some kind of toe dipping exercise with ESXi or VMware server. You are now contemplating starting a roll out and you are starting to plan your solution and more than likely working with a partner on some or all of your proposed project.

    Know what you want to achieve

    This sounds very obvious but knowing what it is that you want to achieve is something that is often overlooked, the project goal ends up being we want to be virtualised and not what you started out to achieve. The technology should help you reach your goal and not be your goal.

    A good place to start would be a mind map, white board session or list of what you want to achieve at the end of the project. This means you can ensure these goals are met and that you are heading in the right direction throughout the project. This will also help you dictate your requirement to your partner.

    Some common reasons for virtualisation are listed below, but by no means is this an extensive list, a lot of decisions will be business driven and not included with these common goals.

    Hardware Refresh / New servers required

    Your existing hardware is tired or about to become out of warranty or you have a new server requirement and you want to use this opportunity to move to a virtualised environment.

    Reduce Power Consumption

    You are looking to reduce the overall power consumption within your datacenter.

    Better Performance / Reliability

    Users are starting to complain that applications or services are running slowly or unreliably and you need to improve the performance / Reliability of applications / services.

    Lack of Space

    You are rapidly growing and are fast running out of space for more physical servers

    DR

    Your current DR strategy is lacking or non existent.

    Backup

    You backups regularly fail and you don’t have the time / resource to be able to test your backups regularly.

    Improved Monitoring

    You have no way of centrally monitoring your servers and need to improve the way you monitor performance and detect issues.

    Know your current enviroment

    This sounds even more obvious than the previous subject, but you would be amazed by the amount of people that don’t actually know what they currently have or what each server does.

    Your partner will be able to assist with this during a capacity planning exercise but before you even get to this stage it would be worth ensuring you have a good understanding of your environment.

    It would be worth starting a spreadsheet or similar document with the following information and anything else you think maybe useful.

    • Server Name
    • IP Address
    • Make and Model
    • Full Specification
    • Age
    • Remaining Warranty
    • Storage Utilisation
    • Roles
    • Available downtime (for the Virtualisation Project)
    • Responsible person

    This document will not only assist during the planning stages but will help you or a partner identify hardware that maybe re-utilised during the virtualisation project. It is also worth noting any Switches, SANS and UPS’s and Backup devices for this purpose as well. Alongside this information it would be worth noting performance characteristics such as “This server is currently struggling to meet it’s requirements” or “This server was recently purchased and is over specified”

    Also networking diagrams including speed and type of links between sites, to be used for DR and network layout including VLANs will be key in the design of your virtualised infrastructure.

    Know your budget

    It is important to know a rough idea of what budget you are working to. At the end of the day the requirement will in turn lead the needed solution but without any idea of budget it will be very difficult going forward to decide on the best solution for you.

     

    I will leave this post here for now as I am aware I have gone on a lot already, but keep checking back for the next update next week and feel free to ask any questions or send me an email if you can offer any assistance with this subject.