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5Oct/12Off

HP Releases new 3PAR vCenter Plugin

TechOps Guy: Nate

[I haven't written a story about 3PAR in the past five minutes so I suppose I'm due..]

Well it's not that new, to be honest I don't know how old it is(maybe it's 6 months old!). I was complaining to 3PAR recently about the lack of functionality in their vCenter plugin and was told that they had a newer version that had some good stuff in it.

The only caveat is this version couldn't be downloaded from the HP website (no versions can, I looked as recently as yesterday afternoon). It's only available in the media kit, aka CDROM. I didn't remember which version was the newer one and when I was told about the newer one I didn't know which version I had. So I asked the Seattle account team what the current version is because the version I was handed with our array which was installed in December was 2.2.0. It had some marginal improvements in the VMware Recovery Manager (I don't need the recovery manager), but the vCenter plugin itself was sorely lacking, it felt like it had gone nowhere since it was first released what seems like three years ago (maybe it was two).

I track 3PAR pretty closely as you might imagine, and if I had absolutely no idea there was a new version then I suspect there are a lot of customers out there that have no idea. I never noticed any notifications, there's no "upgrade checker" on the software side etc.

Anyways, sure enough they get back to me and say 2.2.3 is the latest and sent me a electronic copy of the ISO, and I installed it. I can't say it's massively better but it does address two basic sets of functionality that was lacking previously:

  • Ability to cache user credentials to the array in vCenter itself (before you had to re-login to the array every time you loaded the vCenter client)
  • Ability to provision storage from vCenter (tried this - it said I had to configure a storage template before it would function - I've never needed templates on 3PAR before so not sure why i do now - I suppose it just makes it more simple, though it'd be nice if there was an advanced check box to continue without a template)

There may be other things too that I haven't noticed. I don't think it is top notch yet, I'm fairly certain both EMC and NetApp's integration packages are much more in depth. Though it wouldn't surprise me if 3PAR now has the resources to fix the situation on their end, client side software was never really a strong point of theirs. For all I know they are busy re-writing it in a better language - to run on the new vCenter web console.

HP 3PAR vCenter Plugin

Based on the UI, I didn't get the impression that the plugin could export storage to the whole cluster, since the provision storage option was available under each server but wasn't visible in the cluster. But who knows, maybe if I took the time to make a template I'd see that it could export to the whole cluster at once..

Not that I needed to provision storage from vCenter, for me it's much simpler to just ssh in and do it -

  • Create the volume of whatever size I want
  • Export the volume to the cluster (all servers with 1 command)

It really is just two commands. Well three if you count the ssh command line itself to login to the system. I can see the value for less technical folks though so I think it's important functionality to have. I can accomplish that in a fraction of the amount of time it takes me to login to vCenter, fire up silver light and go through a wizard.

Something I have wanted to see is more integration from the performance monitoring/management standpoint. I don't know what all hooks are available in vCenter for this sort of thing.

The 3PAR plugin is built using Microsoft Silverlight which was another thorn in my side earlier this year - because Silverlight did not support 64-bit windows. So I couldn't run the plugin from the vCenter server itself (normally I just remote desktop to the vCenter server and run the client locally - the latency running it over the WAN can get annoying). But to my surprise Microsoft released an update at some point in the past several months and Silverlight now works in 64bit!

So if you happen to want this newer version of software (the plugin is free), contact your HP account team or file a support ticket to get it. Be sure to tell them to make that available for download, there's no reason to not make it available to download. The VMware Recovery Manager is not free by contrast (both are distributed together), however the Recovery manager checks the license status on the array, so you can install it, but it won't work unless the array has the license key.

On a somewhat related note I installed a Qlogic management plugin in vCenter a couple of months back, among other things it allows you to upgrade the firmware of their cards from vCenter itself. The plugin isn't really high quality though, the documentation is poor and it was not too easy to get up and going(unlike the 3PAR plugin the Qlogic plugin cannot be installed on the vCenter server - I tried a dozen times). But it is sort of neat to see what it has, it shows all of the NICs and HBAs and what they are connected to. I think I have so many paths and connections that it seems to make the plugin go unresponsive and hang the vCenter client much of the time (eventually it unfreezes). Because of that I have not trusted it to do firmware upgrades.

Qlogic vCenter Plugin

The Qlogic plugin requires software to be installed on each physical server that you want Qlogic information for(which also requires a reboot). The host software, from what I remember, is also not compatible with VMware Update Manager, so at least I had to install it from the CLI. You can download the Qlogic plugin from their website, here is one link.

Both plugins need a lot of work, Qlogic's is pretty much unusable, I have a small environment here and it's dog slow. 3PAR's well it is more usable now, performance is fine, and at least the two new features above bring it out of the unusable territory for myself (I probably still won't use it but it provides at least some value now for less technical folks where before it did not).

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11Oct/10Off

Qlogic answers my call for help

TechOps Guy: Nate

THANK YOU QLOGIC. I have been a long time user of Qlogic stuff and like them a lot. If you have been reading this blog for a while you may of noticed earlier in the year I was criticizing the network switch industry (includes my favorite manufacturers as well) for going down the route of trying to "reclaim the network" by working on standards that would move the inter-VM switching traffic out of the host and back into the network switches. I really think the whole concept is really stupid, and a desperate attempt to hold onto what will be a dramatically declining ports market in the coming years. Look no further than my recent post on testing the limits of virtualization.

My answer to the dilemma ? Put a layer 2 hardware switching fabric into the server, less latency, faster performance.

And Qlogic has done just that. I will refrain from using colorful metaphors to describe my glee, but I certainly hope this is a trend going forward.

According to our friends at The Register, Qlogic has released new Converged Network Adapters (CNA) that includes an integrated layer 2 switch for virtual machines.

EMEA Marketing head for QLogic, Henrik Hansen, said: "Within the ASIC we have embedded a layer 2 Ethernet switch [and] can carve up the two physical ports into 4 NIC partitions or NPARs, which can each be assigned to a specific VM. There can be eight of them with dual-port product."An Ethernet message from one VM to another in the same server goes to the QLogic ASIC and is switched back to the target VM. This is reminiscent of Emulex' VNIC feature.

From the specs:

  • PCI Express Gen2 x8
  • Dual 10Gbps and quad 1Gbps ports on a single controller
  • Integrated 10GBase-KR and 10GBase-T PHYs
  • Concurrent TCP/IP, FCoE, and iSCSI protocol support with full hardware offload
  • Industry standard SR-IOV and QLogic's switch-agnostic NIC Partitioning (NPAR)
  • Wake-on-LAN including Magic Packet recognition
  • Common drivers and API’s with existing QLogic NIC, FCoE, and iSCSI products

Side note: I love that they have 10GbaseT too!!

I think the ASIC functionality needs more work as it seems limited to supporting only a couple VMs rather than being a more generic switching fabric but we gotta start somewhere!

The higher end 8200 CNA looks like it has much of the same technology available in the HP FlexFabric (which I know at least part of is already based on Qlogic technology though might not be these specific ASICs I don't know)

VMflex. With QLogic’s new VMflex technology, one Converged Network Adapter is viewed by the server operating system (OS) as a flexible mix (up to  four per physical port) of standalone NICs, FCoE adapters, and iSCSI adapters, with the ability to allocate guaranteed bandwidth to each virtual adapter.  This unique feature can be switch dependent or switch agnostic— it is not necessary to pair an 8200 Series adapter with any specific 10GbE switch model to enable partitioning.

I would love to see more technical information on the VMFlex and the layer 2 switching fabric, I tried poking around on Qlogic's site but didn't come up with anything too useful.

So I say again, thank you Qlogic, and I hope you have started a trend here. I firmly believe that offloading the switching functionality to an ASIC rather than performing it in software is critical, and when you have several hundred VMs running on a single server not wasting your uplink bandwidth to talk between them is just as critical. The functionality of the ASIC need not offer too much, for me I think the main things would be vlan tagging and sFlow, some folks may want QoS as well.

My other request, I don't know if it is already possible or not is to be able to run a mix of jumbo frames and standard frame sizes on different virtual NICs riding on the same physical network adapter, without configuring everything for jumbo frames, because that causes compatibility issues (especially for anything using UDP!).

The networking industry has it backwards in my opinion, but I can certainly understand the problem they face.

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