Cloud Native Apps: the VMware platform (third part)

In the previous articles (Part 1 and Part 2) we’ve talked about Photon and Docker are a new way to developed and put new generation applications into production. Indeed, containers and “microservice” development techniques are the architectural and cultural elements that determine a significant shift in the way of managing cloud-native applications within their life cycle. As cloud-native applications is a very hot topic in the IT world, it’s easy to find on the Web new announces and information that can make obsolete some elements covered in the previous articles.
As a matter of fact, the announcement of the devbox based on Photon Controller and the implementation of new clustering mechanisms in containers are now available to the community world by means of the technology preview channel of VMware.

01 cna progress

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Virtual backup gets easy with Nakivo

Backup & Replication allows to protect VMware infrastructures, it integrates with Amazon and vCloud and is ready for multi-tenancy

avangate webinareng

The most innovative backup and disaster recovery solutions of the last years are all related to the virtual sphere, also because nowadays the use of hypervisor is implied in the construction of whatever server infrastructure or server. Nakivo is certainly one of the youngest players in this sector and only offers -at the moment- a backup solution for the VMware platform, but in the last few years it has showed a dramatic growth in terms of available features.

We tried version 5.9 that goes well beyond the idea of simple backup of virtual machines, and offers a quite sophisticated infrastructure based on distinctive elements that can integrate on the local network or to connect different offices, branches or datacenters.
These elements are Director, Transporter and Backup Repository; they can talk amongst them also from distinct geographical positions.


structure

Flexible installation

Nakivo Backup offer the best flexibility in terms of installation: indeed it’s available as Windows or Linux installer, but it can be deployed also as a virtual appliance. In this case the choice is vast: the Full Solution appliance is suitable for smaller installations and offers all the elements of the architecture, while bigger and more demanding installations can leverage single components or a combination of them. The Director is also available in a multi-tenant version for those who provide Backup, Recovery or Disaster Recovery services to different clients.

Nakivo offers a complete scheduling of backup jobs
There are several advanced options available
Tenant configuration is immeadiate using the dedicated panel
You can manage several accounts from the dedicated dashboard
The dashboard shows the main information of backups status
Data traffic monitoring is available as well
You can also monitor the status of the storage devices used as repository

Appliances, which can be installed in a few minutes using the OVF deployment procedure in vSphere, are based on Ubuntu Linux and, by default, have 4 Gbyte of RAM, 2 vCPU and the disk takes a couple of Gbyte if configured in thin mode (almost 550 Gbyte if thick mode, 30 are for Director Multitenant). Nakivo’s official requirements ask of at least 4 Gbyte or RAM for Director and Transporter and 350 Mbyte for each additional job to execute simultaneously. Talking about operating systems, Nakivo Backup & Replication supports Windows Server 2008 R2, 2012 and 2012 R2 in addition to Windows 7 Professional and 8 Pro. Supported Linux platforms are Ubuntu 12.04 Server, Suse Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP3 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.3..

Nakivo Backup & Replication also allow to retrieve single files inside VMs: supported file systems are Ntfs and Fat32 for Windows machines, Ntfs, Fat32, Ext3, Ext4 and Xfs for Linux machines. You can also restore single objects in Microsoft Exchange (versions 2007 and 2010) and Microsoft Active Directory (on Windows 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, 2012 R2).

A software for everybody

Despite the complexities at the basis of Nakivo naturally grew with the growth of its features, the product still remains one of the easiest to use on the market. The interface of the program is accessible via Web at the IP address assigned to the VM (port 4443, HTTPS of course).
The initial configuration procedure can set the vSphere server (or servers) to protect indicating the vCenter credentials, decide whether to use the integrated or an external transporter and specifically defined repositories to store backups.

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Once completed this step you can create the first jobs, or switch to the advanced configuration to complete the system configuration. It’s a good habit to set the SMTP server to send reports, for instance: server with SSL certs with or without authentication are supported, and different email addresses can be set to send report abouts jobs, error or warnings and an overview report.


In the global configuration section you can modify the Web interface with a custom logo and background: resellers that want to offer the product with their brand can easily do that, they can also change the support email address and the name of the company. From the same section you can access to the Licensing management and to an useful Events section with the log of all the systems event, from complete backups to modified parameters.

Backup or Replication

Nakivo allows to create backup and replication jobs. The first step in the creation of a backup is to select the VM (or the VMs) to save, then select the backup repository: obviously the available ones are the ones defined according to the configuration of the program. If some backups are already present on the selected repository, you can choose whether to use the existing archive as destination or to create a new one. The third step is scheduling the time and the frequency of the backup, while the advanced options are specified in the final phase.

01 backup destination

To identify modifications, Nakivo leverages VMware’s CBT (Changed Block Tracking) technologies or its own. VMware’ technology is the default and suggested one, but in the job it’s possible to define a behaviour to adopt if vSphere notices an error: the proprietary solution is a possible choice, alternatively a reset of the CBT configuration can be tried, or simply let the backup fail. In case of error you can also enable the “Double check changed blocks provided by CBT” option that performs a double check in order to prevent CBT from creating backups with an exaggerate dimension due to some problem. The technology by Nakivo to check changed blocks is used even if the VM is powered off: in this case VMware CBT is not available.

If the backup destination is not local, you can enable the network acceleration feature so that you can save traffic by using data compression and reducing the needed bandwidth. In these cases it’s useful to enable ciphering during transfers.

04 backup verification

On Windows VMs that are being backed up, you can enable the application-aware mode that leverages VMware’s quiescing systems (based, on its turn, on Microsoft’s VSS) in order to avoid suspended writings, thus guaranteeing a consistent backup even if the operating system is still running.

Automated backups check

Nakivo Backup can automatically test backups immediately after the execution and provide as “evidence” of the test a screenshot of the restored VM. You just check the Run screenshot verification flag and compile the form that appears after the selection is active to define the test environment parameters: hosts or clusters and datastores on which perform it and number of VMs to test together, wait time before screenshot and RTO (Recovery Time Objective), that is, greatest time needed to restore that can be considered sufficient in order to talk about efficient restore.

03 backup advanced

Data retention options

As all backup softwares, Nakivo too allows to define a number of recovery points that establish the data retention level. You can keep only the last -nth recovery points and at least a point for each number of days, week, months and years defined in the options.
Repository backups of Nakivo store restore points in a single central archive, organized according to jobs, VMs and date.

Nakivo Backup & Replication can also run scripts before and after backups: it supports Windows scripts (if using a Windows VM) and Linux scripts (only if run in a Linux environment). It cans also wait until the end of scripts in the starting phase and mark the job as failed or successful according to the status of the script. If the machine to backup has Exchange running, Nakivo can truncate the logs of the Microsoft application to limit the dimension of the VM after the backup has been successful. Obviously, it requires a Windows user with administrative permissions.

Always ready replication

replica retiThe procedure to create a replication is similar to a backup one: the main difference is, obviously, the choice of the destination. You don’t need to select just a repository, instead you need to specify the destination host or cluster for replication and the datastore and network configuration for the VM to be created. Replication too can be scheduled to be executed at certain times, and the same considerations about Block Tracking technologies, recovery points and screenshot verification still hold, as we’ve talked about backups. Among the specific options it’s worth to note you can use a different name for the created VM (for instance, appending “-replica” to the original name) and enable the use of only Thin disks.

Repository: internal or external

Nakivo Backup supports two kinds of backup repository: Windows network shares (based on CIFS, therefore compatible with Linux or dedicated NAS) and its proprietary repository based on a machine or an appliance with Transporter installed. Naturally the storage of such VMs can be then placed on any datastore supported by VMware.

The max limit of available space on a Nakivo repository is 128 Tbyte: the software itself compresses and deduplicates VMs on a block level. Data is then natively stored in terms of incremental data with respect to the first, complete backup: you don’t need a periodic “full” backup. Deduplication is enabled by default but is can be disabled should you use a storage that automatically deduplicates data. Storing backup on tapes is supported, but this operation must be performed with third-party software or with a simple script-based copy: the repository however must be “detached” in the copy towards tape by Nakivo using the scheduled linking and unlinking capabilities available.

Independent NAS

A completely innovative feature introduced with Nakivo 5.9 is the chance of using the software itself inside a compatible NAS. This allows to make the backup procedures completely autonomous and independent from the main VMware infrastructure, thus saving precious VMware host resources. Naturally not every NAS is supported, but the list is ever growing and includes more than 20 different products by Synology and 2 models by Western Digital. The software can be easily uploaded using the Windows and Linux installer made available by Nakivo and it allows to leverage supported NAS as a complete backup solution that cover all the elements of an infrastructure. Nakivo can, indeed, run on a quite low-end NAS, as it requires just 2 cores (Intel CPU) and 1 Gbyte of RAM to work properly.

Easy recovery in the Cloud

Amongst the most advanced available features there’s the direct integration with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and vCloud director cloud. You can enter, in the configuration section, the credentials of AWS and define the region and initial space to allocate. This way you can directly take advantage of the EBS (Elastic Block Cloud) space to store backups and replications, and be ready to restore a VM in Amazon’s cloud.

Backup in Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) is not supported at the moment, while you can use a service like vCloud Director setting the remote server in the Inventory of Nakivo Backup & Replication.

Ready to be multi-tenant

multitenant intro

Those who have a cloud infrastructure, or even a small datacenter, and wants to provide backup service for clients will find in Nakivo a system easy to configure and capable of running with limited resources. The Director appliance for multi-tenant solutions indeed allows to create completely distinct environments for each client by directly associating licences for each of them, starting from at least one socket. The selection of host, backup repository and Transporter is set by the system administrator and can be hidden to single clients: each client can create and administer his/her own backups, replications and restore procedure if he/she is an administrative user. If needed, guest credentials can be created to see reports and dashboard and, optionally, restore files and objects from Exchange or Active Directory.

Licensing for everybody

Nakivo is sold in 4 different versions: the first one and cheapest (169 $ per socket, VAT excluded) is Pro Essentials, available in packages for 2, 4 and 6 sockets; it includes the backup and replication capabilities, including restore on Amazon, restore files and objects from Exchange and Active Directory. The only things missing are the Multi-tenancy features, Branding and License delegation and the local administration of remote branches. The Enterprise Essentials version (249€/socket) maintains only the purchase constraint of 2, 4 or 6 sockets packages, while the Pro (329€/socket) and Enterprise (509€/socket) have the features of the relative Essentials versions, but they can be also sold starting from a single socket, without any limitation, not even upper limits.

Conclusions

Nakivo Backup & Replication performed very well in our tests, proving to be reliable and quick, both as an integrated solution and using the separate architecture with Director, Transporter and Repository. The software is easy to manage and configure, the documentation (available in English language) is complete and easy to consult. Who would like a documentation in Italian can look at Avangate Italia (Nakivo Gold Partner), which also organizes Webinars periodically (like this one) to explain features.
We haven’t experienced any difficulties at all even in the most complex operations, like preparing a multi-tenant architecture: the use of the Web interface then allows you to easily interact with the system even if being out of the office or doing a remote intervention for a client.

Reporting features are good too, and we appreciated the notification messages via email that are clear and handy to keep under control the situation also when clients are many and infrastructures heterogeneous.

While not being one of the most complete solutions -in terms of features- available on the market yet, Nakivo Backup & Replication has a flexible and cheap licensing, thus making extremely interesting in an SMB sphere, where a light product, easy to configure and quite cheap guarantees a good level of protection even when resources are limited.

Cloud Native Apps: the VMware platform (second part)

The evolution of applications development methods towards the Cloud are the real driving force that leads the creation of new generation services that are encapsulated into software structures called containers.

As we saw in the last article, Photon, Docker and containers represent the architectural objects that were born from a revolution in the way of developing cloud-native applications.
After analyzing shortly the matter from a systems perspective, it’s now the time to focus from a “DevOps” point of view, that is, starting with the creation of container images and concluding with their execution.

Developing in the “Datacenter-in-a-box”

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The latest news from the vSphere world - ESXi Embedded Host Client and ESXi nested Virtual Appliance

One of the main limits with the free version of vSphere is not being able to manage the host from a Web interface. This lack is remarkable in particular for those who use a Linux or Mac platform where the classic Windows vSphere Client can’t be installed.

The ESXi Embedded Host Client is a very interesting and recent solutions, published as a VMware Fling in 2015, to fill the lack of a universal client: it’s indeed a Web client developed in HTML and JavaScript that allows to access to and manage an ESXi host.
At the moment the release to download is v 4.0, which is available as a .vib file ready to be installed via shell or as a package containing the Open Source code.
The first vSphere that is natively supported is 6.0, although the client works with vSphere 5.5 onwards, but with some identified and documented limits and bugs.

Read more ...

HA, clusters and Containers for free with Proxmox VE 4.0

When someone talks about server virtualization, one immediately thinks to VMware vSphere and, perhaps, to Microsoft Hyper-V or to Citrix XenServer or Red Hat Virtualization (KVM).
Proxmox Virtual Environment (VE) is an less known and titled alternative, but still valid and original.

proxmox logo 2

UPDATE: on the 12th of December 2015, after our test, the version 4.1 has been released, based on the latest Debian Jessie with Kernel 4.2.6, LXC and QEMU 2.4.1. Some bugs have been solved as well as the integration with ZFS, several functions about LXC containers.

Proxmox is an open source project based on KVM and -starting from the new 4.0 version- on LXC (Linux Containers): it’s free but the company that develops it offers a paid commercial support.
It’s a Debian-based hypervisor that uses a modified version of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) kernel and it’s available as an ISO image to be bare-metal installed on a physical host.
The management interface is Web based only and doesn’t require a server or a VM dedicated to the management. As the vast majority of Linux-based products, sometimes the use of the command line is needed to perform some advanced operations. The available documentation is scarce but there are some detailed guides with all the main operations on the dedicated Wiki, however the levels is quite far from those of projects like vSphere or Hyper-V.

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VMware Virtual SAN 6.1 and hyperconvergent storage

Everybody is talking about Hyperconvergence and Software Defined Datacenter (SDDC), but what are the pros and cons of these architectures? We’ve tried for you the solution proposed by VMware for storage hyperconvergence: Virtual SAN 6.1, announced during the recent VMworld. Let’s take a look at its peaks and troughs.

The basic concept is quite simple: after spending so much money to make your infrastructure reliable, maybe with the purchase of 2 or more higher tier hosts, why can’t directly leverage them to manage storage too in a redundant way? Perhaps without spending several thousands of euros in additional dedicated storage? Behind this simple thought lies the core of the advantages brought by hyperconvergence in the storage sphere. Many solutions are available on the market, but VMware’s one has an hidden beauty: a system designed and developed by the very same people who designed the hypervisor.

Virtual SAN has been introduced with vSphere 5.5 and has been enhanced with vsphere 6.0. The recent 6.1 release, which is here reviewed, has been re-designed profoundly to enhance the performances and satisfy the needs displayed by the users of the previous releases.

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VMware vSphere 6.0: are you ready to upgrade?

VMware vSphere, the leading virtualization platform in the market, has come to version 6.0, which was released in February 2015.
In this article we will provide an overview of the main innovations with some considerations based on use experience and an analysis of the set of problems that can arise with un upgrade from previous versions

UPDATE: vSphere 6.0 U1 here's the news

 

The new numbers

Improvements are naturally of computational nature, as we expect in every upgrade to a new version. New number indicate that a single instance of VMware vCenter can host as much as 1.000 ESXi hosts, 15.000 registered VMs and 10.000 simultaneously powered on VMs. Each host can support up to 1024 VMs, can handle up to 480 CPU (from which 4096 vCPU can be exploited) and 6TB of RAM, which can get up to 12TB with certified hardware. Host clusters’ numbers are akin to that increase: it is possible to have 64 hosts and 8.000 VMs per cluster.

Like every release of vSphere, this one introduces an higher virtual hardware level with version 11, which allows each VM to handle up to 128 vCPU and 4TB of memory.

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VMware vSphere: ready for 6? Custom Image and Backup

Some months have been through since the release of VMware vSphere 6 and the first little update has been released (U1), but has really come the time to upgrade for those who have an infrastructure built upon vSphere? In order to help you with the decision, in addition to the considerations that you can find in this article, we present you all the news; we took in consideration both the availability of custom ESXi images for the various manufacturers machine and the support of the main backup software products. It is quite hard to think about switching to a new system if the backup software that is currently being used is not compatible yet.

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