Cisco Live Europe – Day 2

Ok, the day 2 here has been a slightly better one for me than the 1st, and I aim to provide a brief summary of my day below.

I attended the morning keynote presentation which was about a new video conferencing and collaborating platform Cisco has introduced alongside WebEx called Project Squared which looked pretty awesome and I can see myself using this to do video conferences with my customers. you can sign up free here.

I had 2 events I had specifically planned to attend on day 2 both of which I managed to do. First one was a 1-on-1 meeting with a Cisco engineer to have a pure techie discussion without marketing BS about ACI. It was Bradley Wong from the Insieme Network business unit (ACI) I met up with and the meeting was very useful for me to understand the underlying architecture of ACI without having to put up with marketing / presales buzzwords. We also discussed about key features on the roadmap and the below key additions (due out soon apparently) would be worth mentioning I think.

  • Stateful packet inspection with the AVS (Appliance virtual switch) – AVS is a kernel module that sits on the hypervisor, similar to a nexus 1000v or a VMware distributed switch (or a logical switch if you are talking VMware NSX). One thing NSX has today, (marketing buzzword is “Micro Segmentation”) is the ability to do packet inspection at vmnic driver level and any packets that are bloked based on firewall rules are blocked at the vmnic driver level (packet never enters the virtual wire). This is achieved through the distributed firewall, which effectively relies on a special kernel module, which is a VIB added to the ESXi kernel during the host preparation stage. This is not something available today on ACI but with the above update due soon, that is going to be available within ACI also apparently.

Another thing we discussed was the co-existence of Cisco ACI along with VMware NSX (which I think would be a very common use case going forward and would be quite complementary of each other). While this was something Cisco internally anticipated too, not much testing had been done internally early on. However they are now testing this deployment internally and soon, we should start seeing more contents from Cisco, such as validated design guides, best practise guidance…etc. This should be really cool as I personally see places in the enterprise for both.

After the meeting with Bradley, I spent some time at the Cisco DevZone in the north wing and came across some really, really cool development projects, some of which are in the making within Cisco, and some 3rd party startups using Cisco development tools. Given below are couple of the ones I really liked

  • Relayr – Relayr is a small startup that has manufactured this awesome piece of circuit boards called a Wunderbar as a practical way of creating IOT (Internet of Things). It includes 2 modules, a master module and 6 independent mini modules (A tiny Light/Color/Proximity censor, Accelerometer/Gyroscope, Bridge/Grove censor, Sound censor, IR transmitter and a temperature/Humidity censor) each with an integrated Bluetooth chip and is powered by a small replaceable battery. The master module as a Bluetooth to WIFI bridge. You can buy this online and create an app on any supported API (Android, Windows, IOS…etc) using the free SDK (guidance available on their site) to capture the readings off of those mini units and do something with them or event post them on to the cloud via the master module. For example, there was another startup who had made a baby monitor using these circuit boards with an App on your phone to monitor readings which was awesome. Innovation is aplenty with these guys…. (I might even buy a one and try my own little project)

See the master board and mini board below (all come attached together which you can easily snap off,



  •  VIRL (Virtual Internet Routing Lab) – Again, a pretty awesome virtual network design & simulation platform that include VM’s running Cisco’s core network operating systems. You can use this platform to design, model and simulate a complete enterprise network, consisting of virtual version of the same physical Cisco networking kit such as routers that run the same code base. A potentially good dev and test platform. Apparently this could even be plugged in to your actual network and say, you had a VMware virtual network infrastructure with virtual switches, that it can discover those too to allow you to map and validate your entire network. Sounds pretty useful to the Networking folks (not so much for me being a Server, Storage & a Virtualisation guy). However the coolest part at Cisco live was that they had a modelled network on VIRL hooked up to a virtual reality system where you can, virtually enter the network and inspect each and every device (even interrogate them for information such as traceroute, ifconfig…etc. This required you to put these huge pair of goggles on and control your virtual walk using an Xbox controller but it was great fun, being able to walk from one router to another router in this virtual world and be able to run commands locally at each device. Fun aside though, I can see the real potential use of VIRL platform in the enterprise (doesn’t ship with the virtual reality bit of course :-))

After the DevZone experience, I attended my last planned session of the day which was a lecture by Ramses Smeyers from the Cisco Technical services center about Hypervisor Networking – Best practise for Interconnecting with Cisco switches. This was more of a refresher for me as I’ve done quite of integrating VMware systems with Cisco switches most my life, but a useful refresher nevertheless and it also covered other Hypervisors such as Hyper-V and Xen.

Al in all, it was a good day and having seen some interesting tech & Internet Of Things concepts being pioneered by Cisco on show, it was obvious that innovation is thriving at Cisco which is very good to see.



Stratoscale – A true Hyper-converged solution similar to VMware Evo:RAIL?

I’ve been exploring the partner solution offerings during Cisco Live 2015 in Milan, and came across this stand from Stratoscale which I found quite interesting. So I had a chat with the guys and thought it would be worth  mentioning a little bit about what I learnt of them.

Stratoscale is a small Israel IT start up (offices in Israel, USA and expanding out globally), with funding from Cisco investments (understandably) that provides a true, large scale hyper converged infrastructure software that can run on BYOH (Bring your Own Hardware). I’ve had a lengthy (technical) chat with one of the founders of the company,  Etay Bognar ( and they seems to have a very interesting proposition at hand. Unlike other popular converged infrastructures vendors such as Nutanix, Simplivity….etc. Stratoscale seem to offer just the software elements that can work with commodity hardware from any server vendor. But the key here is that they actually own and provide all the software elements including the hypervisor which is a customised version of KVM which is optimized to work based on their hyper converged offering. For example, as a part of this customisation, they claimed that they’ve completely re-written the memory management module within KVM to optimise it and as a result of such optimisations, that they could migrate a running VM from one host to another within a second, regardless of the size of the VM which sounds very interesting (though I haven’t seen it in action myself, but kind of make sense as they claim to use post copy operation unlike VMware VMotion that uses pre-copy).

As a part of the software solution offering, they are also providing a fully customiseable management platform (similar to VMware vCenter in an ESXi cluster), something that seems to be lacking in a generic KVM based hypervisor cluster deployment without heavy scripting…etc. This management platform apparently also offer intelligent algorythms managing and maintaining VM placements within the cluster (similar to VMware DRS). According to what I was told, they key here is that the level of control & visibility they have within the compute and storage layer is very granular & limitless, as they own the hypervisor too, much like VMware in their Evo:RAIL offering.  This is very different to, say a Simplivity or a Nutanix solution that don’t have their own hypervisor, therefor having to rely on vCenter / ESXi API to interact with compute platform and therefore be restricted to what you can see and do to the contents of the API. To me it make sense that Nutanix and Simplivity are more like aggregators rather than true Hyper-Converged solutions where as VMware Evo:RAIL is probably the only other true Hyper Converged solution that truly converge everything.

So these guys at Stratoscale looks like a direct competitor to VMware’s Evo:RAIL solution going forward from what I could see as they too have true Hyper-Convergence in that they own the whole software stack in their offering and all aspects of the solution, compute and storage are all baked in directly to the hypervisor, much like VMware Evo:RAIL. Their solution at present appear to scale out to 64 nodes at present with distributed storage in all nodes (SSD backed, similar to VMware Evo:RAIL) and to be honest I quite liked their pitch. It sounds like a very powerful offering which could potentially be a very good solution for some of those non VMware customers, that are more Linux orientated that do not want to spend too much money for a VMware solution (I do not know how expensive it is compared to a VMware solution but I was assured that its a lot cheaper in comparison). Being a start up, there’s no doubt that things would need improving, and its probably no match right now, for the almost fully complete VMware offering with all its eco system, but it would be interesting to see how they fare, especially given the fact that owning their own hypervisor giving them somewhat similar capability to VMware to produce an optimised Hyper-Converged solution. If they do well, I can see naturally, they could end up being a very good acquisition target for the likes of Cisco, Intel who may want to strategically enter the Hypervisor play (current Cisco funding is pretty self explanatory here I think). Worth keeping a close eye out, I know I will.

Comments are welcome, especially from existing Hyper-Converged solutions users



My first Cisco Live experience – Cisco Live 2015 Europe – Day 1

So, I’ve had the chance to attend Cisco Live for the first time this year and as a result, I’m now in Milan-Italy, attending the Cisco live Europe edition  during this week. Cisco live is an enterprise gathering for all Cisco enthusiastic, from across the Europe, be that you are a Cisco customer, partner, distributor…etc.

I’m usually a regular attendee at similar events from VMware (VMworld) and NetApp (Insight), and Cisco being another key vendor I often work with, when I was asked to attend Cisco Live this year, I was quite excited and was looking forward to a similar experience to that of  VMworld and NetApp Insight. I arrived at the venue for the first time on Monday evening through the Linate airport (closest airport to the venue in Milan) and unfortunately, there were no coach transportation from the airport to the venue provided by Cisco, unlike both VMworld or NetApp Insight. Once you arrive at the venue, you collect your badge from the registration desk which you need throughout the event for gaining access to the venue and everything else inside. Upon collecting your badge, you then collect a little back pack from the gift desk which seems to be customery for all such events (same with VMworld and Insight) which is semi filled with marketing leaflets (yeah…. mine usually go straight out of the bag to the bin 🙂 )

So Tuesday being my first full day at the venue, first event of the day was a general, opening key note speech from Carlos Dominguez and Jeremy Bevan from Cisco. I didn’t really sit through all of their speech as usually these key notes tend to have a bit of a marketing / salesy tone to them. I did listen in to some parts though and the general message seems to be Internet of things and software defined, application centric networking which is nothing new.

My first formal session was not due till 2:15 so I took the opportunity to browse around the World of Solutions  exhibition floor where Cisco and 3rd party Cisco partners were showcasing their products.  I’ve obviously been around the whole floor to see who’s out there with a view to go look at every solution stand in more detail during the course of the event, a notable absentee was Microsoft, which was suprising given that Cisco and Microsoft seem to have gotten a lot closer lately with their work together on areas such as FlexPod for Hyper-V…etc. There was a small (ish) EMC stand also highlighting the joint VCE alliance they have with Cisco and VMware and a NetApp stand highlighting their joint Flexpod solution which were probably the 2 key stands along with, Hitachi, Citrix and F5. There were lots of different Cisco stands, presumably from each different business unit within Cisco showcasing their technology offering which was good. however I was a little disappointed with the number of partner stands available as there weren’t many, at least not as many as I’ve seen at VMworld or NetApp Insight which was suprising. I expected the Cisco partner echosystem to be a lot bigger, especially with Cisco’s entry in to Unified Computing and SDN but most of the partner stands available were focused on traditional LAN, WAN and Switching products of Cisco and adding value around those products. I would have liked to have seen few more partner oferrings in the SDN (software Defined Networking-ACI) side of things such as Palo Alto networks and UCS (Unified Computing Systems) side of things (which, in all honesty are the areas of Cisco I am interested in rather than old school LAN, WAN, Switching and routing products)…. So overall, to me, it was little disspointing.

However, out  of the few 3rd party vendor solution stands I have explored closely so far, I did find this really interesting solution from Stratoscale, which I thought was a very interesting technology in what is supposed to be a true hyper-Converged Infrastructure software offering. (See my article about them here for more info)

As I had few hours to kill before my next session, I decided to attend the Cisco DevNet zone area and do some self phased labs. I had a go at one of the labs on REST API which was good. I’d encourage you to have a look at them online, they are kind of similar to VMware hands on labs if you are in to Development or DevOps side of things involving Cisco kit.

I attended the “Introduction to Application Centric Infrastructure” session (BRKAPP-9000) in the afternoon which was interesting and had quite a lot of content packed to a 2 hour session to give a good overview of the Cisco’s own SDN offering – ACI. I’m not going to mentioned everything mentioned in that lecture here, but one of the key messages was that ACI is a very good solution to co-exist with VMware NSX, contrary to popular belief that Cisco ACI and VMware NSX are always competing technologies, both technologies complement one another and its very much copete NOT compete which is good to hear. The content was very technical and not salesy or markettingy at all which was very good and I hope the other technical sessions I’ve planned to attend during the course of the next few are also as good.

After the ACI session, I headed straight back to the hotel (so I could put this article up) but there was a Welcome reception – a food and drinks filled gathering at the World of Solutions exhibition floor which I decided to take a rain check on.

All in all, day 1 has been a bit of a mixed day with the event so far as not being well organised as compared to VMworld or NetApp insight, not as well attended as those two events, lacked sufficient sessions or 3rd party solutions focused on areas outside of traditional LAN, WAN, Switching and Routing (which may not be an issue for the old school, traditional networking folks), but on the positive side, there were some interesting partner solutions on display along with good, technical lectures from Cisco engineers to attend.

Hopefully day 2 tomorrow would be more interesting…!!




vRA – Deployment Highlights

This article aim to provide key deployment highlights during a typical deployment of VMware vRealize Automation, also known as vRA / vCAC for quick reference. Note that this is NOT an in depth, step by step guide but only a summary of key points to remember, in a hierarchical format based on the order of deployment.

  1. Deploy the SSO appliance that ships with vRA or use the existing vCenter SSO server (as long as the version is =>5.5)
    • I’d prefer to use the existing SSO server from vCenter, especially if its already deployed in a scaled out deployment model (dedicated SSO server / cluster that is separate from vCenter server itself) which is more scalable and provide single SSO infrastructure which I believe is better and neater than having multiple SSO servers everywhere.
    • There are arguments for deploying the vCAC SSO also, especially since its release cycle is the same as vCAC appliance itself where as vCenter SSO is on a different release cycle which can cause feature mismatches…etc
  2. Deploy the vRA/vCAC appliance itself
    1. Once deployed go to the administrative page (https://<fqdn of the vRA appliance>:5480) and configure the settings
    2. If using vCenter SSO, note the below during the vRA configuration (SSO tab within the vCAC settings tab of the vRA configuration page)
      1. SSO Host & Port: SSO server name should have the same case as what’s been registered in the vCenter SSO (if unsure, browse to https://ssoserver:7444/websso/SAML2/Metadata/vsphere.local and save the file when prompted. Open the file in notepad or some text editor. Locate the entityID attribute of the EntityDescriptor element. That is the name and case you need to use here)******** This will save you lot of troubleshooting time*********
      2. SSO Port: 7444 for the vCenter SSO
  3. Deploy the IAAS server component
    1. Pre-requisites:
      1. Ensure that the IAAS server has the W2k8R2 SP1 applied…..!!
      2. Download the latest pre-req automation script “vCAC61-PreReq-Automation.ps1” on to the IAAS server host (Windows). (vRA 6.2 version of the script here)
      3. Run the above powershell script on the IAAS host. When run, this will download all the missing pre-requisite components including DontNet 4.5.1 & JRE 7 on to the IAAS server automatically.
    2. Install IAAS components:
      1. Download the IAAS install components specific to your vCAC deployment from the vCAC appliance deployed in step and install (from https://<vRA Apliance FQDN>:5480/#iaas)
      2. Run the installation of IAAS components
        • Accept the EULA


        • Provide the vRA/vCAC username to connect to vRA appliance


        • Select complete / custom install – for this example, I’m selecting the complete install assuming that this is the first IAAS server being installed.


        • Select Database and click bypass in the below screen (Installer will provide the option to enter DB server details afterwards)


        • Provide the DB server details as follows – This is where you can provide the SQL server details for a separate, resilient / clustered SQL server instance. (recommended). Note the points below
          • Don’t type the SQL server instance name (if you have one). Use just the DB server name.
          • If using Windows authentication, the vRA service account (i.e. domain\svc_vcac) needs to be a sysadmin on the SQL box during the installation phase (sysadmin role can later be revoked). There will be no need to pre create an empty SQL database files on the server or even a prepolated DB using the DBCreate script provided with the installer (used to be the case before 6.1). vRA IAAS database will automatically be created during the installation using the specified service account. Note that the domain service account need to be mapped to SQL instance as shown below (MSDB as the default database & with sysadmin rights. These are required only during the installation and can be revoked afterwards)



Without the red highlight below, the DB setup script will fail. (Just assigning the sysadmin rights alone is NOT enough)


If not using windows authentication (i.e. using SQL authentication), the SQL DB can be pre-created by SQL / sys admin using the install scripts (install guide page 63) and an SQL account with DBO permission granted to the database need to be manually created. Installer can create the DB – Need Sysadmin privileges for the SQL account credentials specified in the below screen

Now proceed with the IAAS install


Provide the names for the 1st DEM orchestrator and worker. Note that while multiple DEM orchestrator deployment is recommended for a resilient deployment, only 1 DEM orchestrator can ever be active at one time. Note that when creating the end point (as the Inf-admin later on during the post deployment configuration), the name of the end point provided SHOULD match the endpoint name defined in this screen. (make a note of the endpoint name)


Test the credentials and make sure they pass for the installation to proceed.


Click install to begin the 1st IAAS server installation