Top 5 vRealize Automation Resources to get you started

OK, so everyone loves a top 5 so here is a list of my top 5 resources for learning and deploying vRealize Automation.

1. VMware Hands on Labs.

Take ‘HOL-SDC-1633 vRealize Automation 7: What’s New‘. – Despite the name this is a really in depth tutorial and you will want to complete the entire lab. This will give you a good feel about what vRA is capable of and how you can extend the platform. There are some really good examples of how the event broker is used to integrate with ITSM CMDB software for change control (iTop is used). The lab also dives into vRO and gives you a taste of just how powerful this product really is.

Next, take ‘HOL-SDC-1632 vRealize Automation Advanced: Integration and Extensibility‘. – Yes, this lab is based on vRA 6.2 so is a little older but most of the fundamentals are there and again provides some good examples of how the platform can be extended with vRO. Examples of extensibility with Infoblox IPAM, Puppet Enterprise and NSX (although slightly depreciated) are used.

2. vRealize Automation Reference Architecture

Once you have had some experience and insight from doing the hands on Labs you will be eager to begin planning and designing your new vRA platform. This document will provide you with a lot of details such as all of the components that are involved and how best to deploy and scale these. Also included are firewall and load balancing requirements. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of planning your vRA deployment properly from the get go as this will ultimately determine the success of the project.

3. Open902.com

I am really happy that I discovered this site before starting my vRA 7 implementation. Michael Rudloff has done a fantastic job of documenting the enterprise installation and configuring the IaaS platform so that you get some decent functionality out of it. These guides really took away a lot of the pain during the installation and covers topics such as replacing certificates, configuring an endpoint, approval policies, business groups, fabric groups, etc and has an awesome guide on Custom Property Relationships. I also like how has turned his private archive public and reminds me a lot of my private Confluence site.

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What vRealize Automation is trying to solve

Before purchasing or installing the software one of the first things you need to understand is what vRA is trying to solve. Unlike what VMware has released previously, vRA is a very different and tries to solve the problems related to managing multiple cloud platforms and the end to end delivery of IT services. Yes, there are a lot of tools out there that can help in the delivery of these services but it very quickly starts to turn into a complex mismash of applications and processes. It’s also important to point out that vRA is not exclusive to vSphere but is designed to be platform agnostic. Think of vRA operating as the management plane in your data centre that plugs into all the services around it.

So when I talk about ‘end to end delivery of IT services’ what exactly am I referring to? Well, consider the example process below of bringing a new virtual server into service:

  • End user requests new virtual server, provides details and submits request to IT support services;
  • A change is raised on the ITSM CMDB platform;
  • Wait for change to be approved before provisioning starts (alternatively the request could be rejected and process cancelled);
  • When approved, begin the provisioning process;
    • Get the next available hostname (i.e. using a prefix and the next available number increment);
    • Request and reserve the next available IP address from the IPAM software and update the record to reflect the new server being provisioned;
    • Provision the virtual server with specific hardware configuration;
    • Add/update DNS records;
    • Add server to the Active Directory domain and place into the correct Organization Unit;
    • Update OS with latest security patches;
    • Add to existing firewall rules;
    • Generate SSL certificates;
    • Install software such as Anti-Virus and applications;
    • Add new Configuration Item with server details;
    • Update server inventory;
    • Add to monitoring system;
    • Mark change as complete;
  • Email End user that requested the virtual server that it is now ready;

You’ll agree, that this is a lot of steps for provisioning something like a virtual server and will involve multiple different teams (and think about doing this on many different cloud platforms). Most of the time, a lot of these steps are performed manually using run books but are sometimes overlooked and can cause delays in fulfilling the request or lead to problems later, like outdated information. We have tools like Puppet which help us with deployments, software installations, etc. but most of these are very Linux focused. They also do not address the other steps, or at least not in a very friendly way.

Finally, and more interestingly, think about when the virtual server is taken out of service or decommissioned. This is almost always where things get messy. I have seen really well laid out and robust commissioning procedures but nothing to support the decommissioning. Often, it’s a case of ‘best effort’ and items get missed and are usually discovered later, often after they have caused a problem or identified with routine audits of DNS or firewalls. In some cases this could even pose a security risk. When we think of all of this what we are actually referring to is ComplianceGovernance and Life Cycle Management.

My advise here is that even before you touch vRA, you need to think about how IT services are being provisioned within your organisation. This will involve engaging with the various operations or development teams and weed out every single process that is involved, how services are delivered, maintained, monitored and secured. You will need to fully understand the manual process and any automation that exists. Secondly, you will need to understand all of the applications that are being used to support these teams and how you will potentially interface with these during automated deployments.

vRealize Automation is designed to solve all of these problems. it is a fully extensible platform that allows Administrators to create policy driven processes for the provisioning of IT services. It does this whilst providing a catalog of available services that end users can simply request by providing some details and a couple of clicks of a button. Administrators are armed with a powerful Advanced Service Designer tool that allows items such as Virtual Servers or Software Components to be drag and dropped onto the design canvas and later submitted to the catalog. These ‘designs’ are what vRA refers to as blueprints.

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A Virtualization Engineer’s Journey into the World of DevOps with vRealize Automation

Before I start this post I want to put it into perspective. Up until now I have been working in infrastructure roles for a number of years, specialising in virtualization (mostly VMware), servers, storage and networking. A lot has changed recently and we can’t go a day without hearing or reading about “DevOps”. I don’t want to get into what DevOps is and isn’t as there is plenty on Google for that but what is clear is that the role of the system admin / virtual engineer / [insert infrastructure role here] is changing and fast.

I had actually planned for this to be just two paragraphs long and the post was meant to have a slightly different focus. However, that didn’t quite go as planned, so happy reading!

We are now at the age of ‘Cloud Computing’ and the need for applications that are cloud native and can be moved around cloud providers with ease. As we’re in a state of transition and it may take some time to get there but until then everything is moving towards a ‘hybrid’ cloud model. As part of this, as infrastructure engineers, we need to be able to deliver infrastructure and services quickly and efficiently. Doing things manually, following a run book or similar is no longer desirable and we need to find a way to automate the end to end delivery of these services. As engineers we need to bridge the gap between operations and development. I’m not suggesting that we need to be developers but we need to be more closely aligned and have a much better understanding of the development life cycle and delivery model.

The Virtualization model allowed us to deliver Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and so on. In the cloud model this has been extended to Everything as a Service (XaaS) and even serverless architectures! Now, the possibilities are endless and we need to start delivering hybrid IT services under this new model. Here are some examples (and no where near limited to):

  • Database as a Service;
  • Email as a Service;
  • Security as a Service;
  • Docker as a Service;
  • Operation services (user creation, mailbox creation, 3rd party application authorisation);
  • Enhancing IaaS and PaaS delivery with tighter integration into IPAM software (i.e. SolarWinds IPAM), ITSM CMDB (i.e. ServiceNow) and monitoring systems;

There are also a lot of tools out there today, typically referred to as ‘Continuous Delivery’ applications that can help us on our journey, such as (again not limited to):

  • Puppet
  • Chef
  • Ansible
  • Salt

These applications allow us to treat our infrastructure as code and automate the delivery of IT infrastructure with a touch of a button. Whilst these applications are extremely powerful and useful they do not by themselves solve all the problems of delivering hybrid IT services.

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