Basic configuration of the Nutanix 2RU block

Winter is coming for the old SANThought I’d describe what you get when the shiny new 2RU Nutanix block gets to your door and how to get it configured to a basic level from the point of view as a new user of the Nutanix solution. Obviously, talk to your Nutanix partner before diving in, but this should give you a bit more of an idea on what you need to do to prepare.

In my case the block was comprised of four nodes and I ordered it with 192 GB RAM per node (768 GB total). I won’t go into the tech specs in detail as you can get that from their web site : http://www.nutanix.com/products.html#Specs

The rail kit is a snap-on type, easy to install, but don’t be a goose (like I was) and try to lift/install it into your rack by yourself. It isn’t light as the disks are pre-installed. After a short trip to the emergency room I continued with the config… :)

The next thing I did was send an email to Nutanix support to get registered as a customer when then allows you access to the knowledge base. Within about 10 minutes I had a reply and login to their support portal.  I searched for ‘setup’ and got the setup guide. If you aren’t sure what version to get, contact support – they are very fast to respond. In my case it was v2.6.2 (latest for Oct 2012).

Physical cabling was easy: 2 power cables (carve off to separate UPS power feeds); Each node has 1 x 10GigE network interface and 2 x 1 GigE interfaces for failover of the 10GigE as well one IPMI (lights out management) 1 GigE interface. That’s it. I assigned the IPMI as access ports and the 10Gig and 1Gig uplink-to-network ports as trunks.

The guide itself is pretty straight forward and easy to follow and the easiest method is to use IPv6 to configure the cluster. I used a Win7 laptop with IPv6 enabled, Bonjour for Windows, Google Chrome (with DNSSD extension) and your typical dumb gigabit switch to hook it all up in an isolated environment initially (if you want to isolate it). The cluster uses the 1 gig interfaces as a failover to the 10 gig nics, so that’s why it works on a basic 1 GigE switch. The setup process assigns IPv4 addresses to the cluster components so don’t worry about needing to be an IPv6 guru – you don’t. You don’t have to use Win7, other OS options are ok too. I didn’t try any other OS/browser combo so YMMV.

In my case I’ve assigned a complete /24 subnet in the DC for Nutanix infrastructure. It is recommended that all the components are in the same L2 domain but it is not mandatory. Addresses will be split out between the ESXi hosts, IPMI adapters and Nutanix controller virtual machines. Do not use 192.168.5.x/24 as this is reserved for the cluster’s internal communication.

I reserved addresses in segments so that when I get more Nutanix blocks, the expansion is contiguous. You don’t have to follow my example of course, but here it is:

Block/ Node ID  ESXi host   Controller VM    IPMI interface
Block 1 Node A     10.1.1.21     10.1.1.121          10.1.1.201
Block 1 Node B     10.1.1.22     10.1.1.122          10.1.1.202
Block 1 Node C     10.1.1.23     10.1.1.123          10.1.1.203
Block 1 Node D     10.1.1.24     10.1.1.124          10.1.1.204

As you can see, any future blocks can continue the sequence. eg:

Block 2 Node A     10.1.1.25     10.1.1.125          10.1.1.205  … and so on for any future nodes.

I don’t think I’ll ever have 54 nodes so that sequencing should be ok :) The controller virtual machine is where all the magic happens. There is one of these per node and the key to the whole Nutanix solution is the software and processes that run within the Controller vm; keeping everything in check and optimised; even in the event of failure.

The block ships with evaluation versions of vSphere ESXi hypervisor, vCenter server, Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise (for vCenter), MS SQL 2008 Enterprise (for the vCenter database). You can apply your own licenses as appropriate. Each host has its own local datastore (stored on the SATA SSD) and the distributed NFS datastore is comprised of the FusionIO drive (PCIe SSD) and the SATA disks. There are also ‘diagnostic’ vm’s pre-deployed which are used to benchmark the performance of the cluster.

You do not have to use the vCenter and you can decide to use your pre-existing one (it will save you a license). At this stage I’ll probably keep a separate vCenter for the VDI deployment but that is up to your own individual deployment scenario.

Once the cluster is ‘up’ you can then follow the guide and configure NTP and DNS from the CLI, configure the vMA, configure the cluster and hosts in vCenter, install the VAAI plugin and the NFS storage.

I also added an external non-Nutanix NFS datastore to all ESXi hosts so that I could use it as a transfer mechanism to get vm’s and templates from existing vSphere infrastructure to the Nutanix block should I want to. Note that there is a way to allow external-to-Nutanix ESXi hosts to connect to the internal Nutanix NFS datastore, however I think it is easier and better to keep the only hosts that can write to the Nutanix NFS datastore as the Nutanix nodes themselves.

When you take into account picking up the box from the loading dock, unpacking, lifting/racking, cabling, getting your Win7 laptop ready, cluster and vSphere configuration, DC network configuration, moving from isolated to production, installing the VAAI plugin, configuring NFS storage and final checks I’d say you were looking at a few hours in total to complete. Obviously adding any more blocks will take significantly less time given most of the clustering components are already done.

The ease of configuration and administration of the Nutanix block has been great. The other thing to keep in mind is that the support team from Nutanix (and their partners) can assist you with the above deployment process if you like.

So, at the end, you have a complete storage and compute modular building block that is easy to deploy and scale out when you require. In the coming weeks I’ll provide updates on the experience on using the block for our VDI project, as well as going into some detail on how the block has been designed from the ground up to handle a lot of different failure scenarios.

Be sure to check out some of the Nutanix YouTube videos as well if you haven’t done so: http://www.youtube.com/user/Nutanix and get ready for a life without a SAN in your DC.

The Nutanix box arrives in Australia

2 thoughts on “Basic configuration of the Nutanix 2RU block

  1. Neugier

    Can you explain, what and how did connect the win7 laptop to the nutanix 1 Gigabit Port of the nutanix server to configure it through the UI? If I power on the 4 nutanix servers, than the installed esxi is booted and comes up with dynamic ip address 169.254.0.1 , 169.254.0.2 , 169.254.0.3, 169.254.0.4 which the esxi dhcp server generated. I saw that IPV6 is disabled in esxi 5.0. Must this be enabled? Then I connected the win7 laptop with bonjour installed and IE Modified and give the laptop the ip address 169.254.0.50. So they are in the same subnet. I tried to ping esxi1 169.254.0.1 but dont get a rely. Any hint?

    Reply
    1. Cameron Stockwell Post author

      Sure. I usually use a standalone “dumb layer 2” switch to configure the nodes when possible just to make the process quick and easy.

      Plug each Nutanix node’s 1 Gig ports into the switch. Then plug your laptop into the same switch. The nodes are just plain ESXi servers remember – so treat them like you would any other server.

      Once you power on the nodes, ESXi will boot and then auto-start the Nutanix controller VMs. This takes about 5 minutes. It is the Nutanix Controller VMs (or CVMs) that are talking ipv6 along with your laptop. The idea here is that when you connect to one of the CVMs IPv6 cluster_init html page, you type in the ipv4 addresses for all the components (CVM, ESXi and IPMI) and the cluster_init scripts will apply the ipv4 address to all those components. Then you can access the cluster components via normal ipv4 addresses.

      Make sure you follow the setup guide PDFs from Nutanix too. It explains how to find the ipv6 address of the CVMs to therefore load up the cluster_init html page (using the Nutanix block’s serial number). You can also use a browser plug-in like DNSSD (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/dnssd/) on your laptop.

      Reply

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