Initial thoughts: VMware vSphere 5.x Datacenter Design Cookbook


I was recentDatacenterDesignly given the privilege to review Packt Publishing’s recent book about vSphere design.  I was immediately pleased to see that recent VCDX (graduate? achiever?) Hersey Cartwright of #vBrownbag fame was the sole author.  I always appreciate knowing what I’m about to put in my brain came from a trustworthy source.  I see in his author bio, though, early in the book, that he’s “only” recognized as a VCAP, not a VCDX (VCAPs are all-stars to begin with, dont’ get me wrong).  So he must have at least started working on this before he achieved rock-star status.  I couldn’t help but think as I read on how much writing this book must have helped his VCDX attempt. 

I’ve read a lot, I mean a lot, of VMware books and articles and blog posts – just about everything I can get my hands on – and everything in this book I kept nodding along with. There were many times Hersey would broach a subject and I’d immediately look for him to cover those oh-so-important caveats.  Sure enough, he covered them.  I was very happy to see that we were on the same page.

So with respect to design books, this is essentially the 3rd of its kind I’ve read.  The first, of course, was the Sybex vSphere Design (both editions), then I was very pleased to read VMware Press’s Managing and Optimizing VMware vSphere Deployments, which, while not strictly design-focused, hit on many design features nonetheless.  Each is excellent and I recommend them.  What makes Hersey’s different is that it’s short and to the point (vSphere Design is over 500 pages).  This book is under 250 pages but packs in the relevant information you need be a good architect or designer.  Most importantly, let me emphasize this

Hersey doesn’t give you a fish in this book.  He teaches you to fish.

What I mean by that is in each section, he’s not simply listing the answers you’re looking for to design a redundant virtual network or to build reliable storage – he couldn’t possibly.  What I feel he does throughout is explain the concepts and then teaches you to ask better questions that lead to a good design.  That’s not quite anything like what I’ve read in any other VMware book.  I don’t feel Hersey wastes a sentence.  An additional feature of this book, that also makes it unique from others I’ve read, is that it discusses how to build documentation to support a vSphere design.  It’s not coincidence that Hersey mentioned each type of document that is likely needed in a successful VCDX defense.  Congratulations, Hersey – you’ve made a one-of-a-kind book. Thanks for sharing.

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There are a several good points made my new blogging buddy, Miguel. Number one, you don’t include in your design features for the sake of features. This may seem obvious, but perhaps for a passionate (maybe overzealous!) VMware Architect, implementing features on which on-site staff are not proficient or can’t manage is not a benefit. As Miguel shares in this “palm-to-face” anecdote, such features in the hands of untrained staff can have the opposite effect for which they’re designed. So take into account the staff’s abilities before including advanced features in your design. Number two, communication is key in any environment. Communicating to the customer the gravity of the decisions they make in regards to what’s included in the design and certainly sharing planned maintenance times with all stakeholders. A communication strategy and change control process are key to making this work. Number three, as Miguel shared with me, if an admin is looking at his virtual infrastructure like a hog looks at a wristwatch, well, things are pretty bad. And finally, always remember: VMware’s easy.

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I had a long-term project at a customer site where I was to analyze, design, and architect a solution based on the equipment, environment, and requirements. Before I rolled in to the customer site as the new VMware SME, there had been a recommendation by a junior and recent VCP to implement distributed switching, linked vCenters and a few other feature sets of VMware and NetApp. There was not any experience with distributed switching by the on-site staff and their exposure to VMware was minimal, although many thought themselves as experts after a few weeks with the product. I kept hearing the comment that VMware was easy. I recommended a hybrid solution with the MC using standard switching, and VM network\storage on distributed switching as a compromise to a fully distributed solution. They decided against this even after I presented them with the advantages.
A few weeks later they had…

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