Nutanix Foundation 3.7

Here are some of the improvements in Nutanix Foundation 3.7 which was released on Feb 27, 2017.

Reorder of Blocks via Drag n Drop 

You can now reorder blocks so that they are in the desired positions whilst keeping the IP addressing sequence intact. This is especially useful for large deployments.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 4.28.53 PM.png

Clicking ‘Reorder Blocks’ will show a drag n drop popup

A demo video illustrating the effects of reordering blocks (thanks YJ for the video):

IP Sequencing

Instead of automatic increments of IP addresses by 1, you can use a ‘+’ operand to create the sequence you desire. See below for an example.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 4.33.40 PM.png

Using +2 to auto fill every 2nd IP address in the sequence

Timezone support

You can now optionally select the timezone for your cluster at the Global Configuration page.

Screenshot 2017-03-02 10.27.46.png

Timezone support

Image Selection Page Improvements

The Image Selection Page no longer forces you to upload a new images and instead use the ones already on the detected nodes.  You can also add/delete ISOs from the UI.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 4.39.45 PM.png

Image Selection Page Redesigned

Updating Foundation from UI

You can now use the UI to upload a Foundation tarball and update Foundation itself when new versions are available. It is highly recommended to always use the latest version, so it is easier to update. You can get the latest release notes and Foundation files from the Nutanix Support Portal.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 4.41.43 PM.png

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-4-42-10-pm

Summary

This is a great release by the Foundation Engineering team at Nutanix with over 70 bug fixes and improvements such as the above included. There are several exciting features coming in future releases (approximately every month) so always check the Nutanix Support Portal for the latest updates. If there is a feature you’d like so see, feel free to contact me.

Nutanix Power Loss and Self-Recovery Demo

Failures. They happen. When they do, it is usually stressful to get things back to normal. What if that stress of a complete failure of all your servers and storage could be avoided, with the added bonus of recovery being fast?

One of the benefits of going down the hyperconverged route is that your infrastructure becomes simplified. Complexity is the enemy of uptime – so keeping things simple will win every time when uptime matters.

The Setup:

A Nutanix NX-3450 block (essentially 4 ESXi hosts in a 2U appliance).
Nutanix Software AOS 4.5.1
ESXi 6.0 on the 4 hosts
vCenter 6.0 (vCSA) hosted on one of these hosts, with HA and DRS on.

This is a fully contained vSphere environment in a hyperconverged 2U package.

The Test:

Now I’m going to unexpectedly kill this 4-node cluster.

Hard.

That is, a complete power loss at the same time by killing the power to both power supplies in the Nutanix block.

All the Guest VMs get killed of course, including vCenter and including the Nutanix Controller VMs (CVMs).

How difficult will it be to get everything back up and running?

In the video below I power off the cluster hard, then power on and manually start a timer and see what happens and when.

(Keep reading below if you don’t want to watch the whole thing)

So what happened?

The video is posted above, but for those who don’t want to sit through here’s the summary timeline below. Note that the times below are from the laptop counter time shown in the video:

0m:00s – Timer is started once power is switched back on.

1m:11s – My VMware VIclient connection times out due to no response from vCenter.

2m:40s – First ESXi host responds to ping.

4m:18s – Disk lights start to respond, indicating that the Controller VMs are booting and the disks are passed through to them.

4m:49s – First CVM responds to ping.

6m:29s – Although not seen in on the screen, the NFS datastore was auto-restored to each ESXi host (allowing the Guest VMs to start, including vCenter). This means that the Nutanix cluster services have started.

9m:23s – vCenter, hosted on this failed cluster, has restarted and starts to respond to ping.

11m:50s – First successful attempt login to vCenter (hurry up vCenter! :)

12m:03s – vCenter login successful and things look good – all guest VMs have restarted.

…so it took just over 12 minutes for the infrastructure to recover…. without any human intervention at all. All the guest VMs are powered back on and are running. Sure, they will be going through their crash-recovery procedures and you probably need to fix up some applications, but the infrastructure is up and stable (which is of course a prerequisite before you can even start to troubleshoot the applications).

OK, so what?

You’ve just witnessed the power of treating your storage like any other application or VM in your environment.

You can see the Nutanix Controller VMs sitting next to the Windows Guest VMs on the vCenter screen. By remaining independent of the hypervisor, and independent of vCenter, your software-defined storage can self-recover from a complete power failure without any human intervention, no reliance on other technologies, and then your workloads can start as you’d expect (or want!) them to in a failure scenario.

There is no need for external “witnesses”, no mucking around, no hours/days of downtime while you speak to the vendor to help you recover…just get the job done and production back to normal ASAP.

The Nutanix software does the hard work for you. Software is where it’s at in 2016!

By contrast, what if you had “traditional” separate servers and storage, how long would it take to recover from a complete power outage of both? What about a failure of the SAN only? If you were to do the same with your SAN (pull the power hard) what would happen? How long would it take for you to recover it? Could you get away with not touching it at all and expect it to recover and VM workloads would be fine as well?

Remember, no one who pays the bills cares – they just want the applications UP.

In fact, this is how I normally move my Nutanix block around – I usually just pull the power. It saves me some time :)

Why do this test? (or “Whatever…my DC is designed to prevent power loss!”)

Things go wrong. Mains Power can die. UPS, Batteries, Generators can die. I’ve seen cases where someone has not refilled their backup diesel generator – and didn’t know until they needed it. I’ve seen a UPS firmware update kill power to a whole row of racks in the middle of the day. I’m sure many of you reading this are getting flashbacks from similar scenarios. It isn’t fun when it happens. I know of Nutanix customers who have had similar power issues and what I demo here is consistent with their experience.

I keep saying it, but ALWAYS test failure scenarios, especially in this new world of SDDC and hyperconvergence. You will find that not all hyperconverged players are created equal :)

Sure, you could perhaps auto-cutover to DR in this situation (depending on the length of outage) but isn’t it reassuring that you don’t have to worry about the infrastructure if you lost a whole cluster due to some unforeseen event?

How does Nutanix achieve this?

Writes are always to persistent storage on a Nutanix cluster, verified and checksummed before acknowledging that write back to the Guest VM making the request. Therefore, your data is always consistent from the Guest VM’s perspective. If the Guest VM thinks that a write has occurred, you can be assured that there are at least 2 copies of that write in a Nutanix cluster, across the nodes (the local node and one remote node at least).

You have a completely self-contained distributed file system that is designed from the ground up for handling failures and self-heal.

Other points:

Note that Nutanix can suffer a complete power loss of a block and your VMs can start on other blocks (normal HA) if you have a minimum of 3 blocks in your cluster. This is called Availability Domains (formerly ‘Block Awareness’) and it is inbuilt – you don’t have to configure anything. What this does is ensure data replicas are placed on different blocks from the source block. Cool.

Nutanix is simplifying the datacenter footprint, and more uptime is the result.

I often travel to remote locations and this demo has always had a positive response. Hopefully, I have shown you one of the many aspects in which Nutanix is unique in the hyperconverged and SDDC space.

Nutanix 4.5 Cross-Hypervisor VM Conversion

One of the reasons people stay with a particular type of hypervisor is that it is too hard (or too costly) to migrate to another type. All that drama of converting, testing and making sure all is right and then the risk of having to move back if something went wrong.

Sure, there are separate software tools you can buy to do the conversion for you . . . but what if the virtualisation infrastructure itself – the thing that is actually providing your servers and storage – could do it as an in-built function? What if that could be done just by clicking a few buttons?

So in the demo video below, I take a running Windows VM on a Nutanix Cluster “A” running vSphere and then take a snapshot of it and send it to a second Nutanix Cluster “B” running Nutanix’s own free Hypervisor (AHV) and then start the VM. Job done. Easy.

Here’s the setup:

clustersetup

Basic lab setup using a flat L2 network. Production and DR deployments would use L3 networks – which is fine of course

..and here’s the demo:

For brevity, I cut out the initial one-off processes to set up the Replication. The full process was below (check out the Nutanix Index for articles describing setting up Replication):

1. Setup a Data Protection Remote Site ‘pair’ of clusters (so that they can replicate to each other) and test the connection.

Site A (ESXi cluster)
Site B (AHV cluster)

2. Set up a Protection Domain policy, add the VM you want to be a part of the replication policy and set a schedule.

3. On the Windows VM on ESXi on site A that you want to snap to Site B running AHV, make sure you install the Nutanix VM Mobility drivers MSI from the my.nutanix.com support portal. (These will soon be included in Nutanix Guest Tools (NGT) post Nutanix AOS 4.6 release, so by installing the NGT you will automatically get the VM Mobility drivers). The Nutanix VM Mobility installer deploys the drivers that are required at the destination AHV cluster. After you prepare the source VMs, they can be exported (snapped) to the AHV cluster.

4. Run the snapshot and restore operation as per the video. That’s it!

Word on keyboard

Almost as easy as clicking this button

A few points to note:

In the video I am just taking a crash-consistent snapshot, if you want a clean snap then shut down the source VM first, then snap, then restore. Live app-consistent snapshots will be coming in 4.6 for ESXi and AHV.

Obviously if your VMs have static IPs or to avoid computer naming issues, you should take care of these before joining the newly created AHV VM to the network. When you restore the VM on AHV, by default there is no virtual nic connected (so the risk is minimal if you just want to test). If you wanted it to connect to the network you would attach a nic to the restored VM on via Prism on the AHV cluster (go to the VM page).

Only 64-bit guest operating systems are supported at the time of writing (Nutanix AOS 4.5).

For Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2 operating systems, you have to install SHA-2 code signing support patch before installing Nutanix VM Mobility installer. For more information, see https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/security/3033929.

More info can be found in the Nutanix Prism Web Console Guide under the “Nutanix VM Mobility for Windows” section – which can be found on the Nutanix Support Portal.

Use cases:

A lot of people are trying AHV for the first time, and larger customers usually have a test/dev set of Nutanix nodes for testing. This method would be perfect to try snapping production VMs on AHV for testing and verify all is OK.

Also, I can see a use case where DR clusters could now use the in-built AHV on Nutanix clusters and save some licensing dollars.

It would also be possible to use Nutanix Community Edition as the AHV target – in case you had some spare hardware and wanted to just try this out without the need for a full Nutanix set of nodes.

Future software plans:

In a few weeks (early 2016), Nutanix will release AOS 4.6. With it, two-way VM conversion (ESXi<->AHV in either direction) should be included. In a future release AOS is expected to add support for Hyper-V, delta disks, and volume groups.

Yes, Nutanix will enable the ability to leave AHV and migrate your VMs *back* to ESXi (for example) should you choose. Put simply, the onus is on Nutanix to keep innovating to maintain your loyalty, rather than any technical or license ‘lock-in’. At the end of the day your workloads are just virtual machines – you should be free to move them wherever you see fit (even away from Nutanix if you choose).

There will be lots of improvement and extra features coming in future releases of course, which you will get by simply doing a standard Nutanix non-disruptive upgrade.

Conclusion: 

In essence, you can see why going Hyper-converged makes doing things like this almost trivial compared trying to do the same in a traditional 3-tier infrastructure (separate servers and storage layers). As the Nutanix software improves, your life gets easier each time. With each Nutanix release, more and more features like this will continue to be added and improved. Being 100% in-software is going to be a necessity in the next decade and beyond.

Thanks to @danmoz for letting me borrow his Dell XC cluster… and I treated it badly too (eg. multiple times I hard powered it off with no care – and it self-recovered every time).

shackles

Hypervisor lock-in is sooo 2007 :)