Cleaning up after the VMware Cloud Foundation 3.5 update

When a VMware Cloud Foundation deployment was updated to the current version, as described previously, a few tasks should be done afterwards.
First the vSAN datastore disk format version might need an upgrade. To check this head to the “Configure” tab of your DC in vCenter and click on “vSAN /Disk Management”:


vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5

Of course you should run the pre-check by clicking on the right button. If everything is working as it should it would look like this:

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN upgrade pre-check)

Now you can click the “Upgrade” button, which informs you this can take a while. Also you should backup your data/VMs elsewhere, especially if you select “Allow Reduced Redundancy”, which speeds up the process:

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN upgrade)

As you can see now the disk format version has changed from “5” to “7”:

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN upgraded)

However still some vSAN issues are displayed:

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN issues)

As this deployment is a “dark site”, meaning no internet access is available, the HCL database and Release catalog have to be updated manually.

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN Update)

The URL to download the 14.7 MB file can be found in a post from William Lam from 2015 or in this KB article. The release catalog’s URL is taken from another KB article. This file is less than 8 KB in size.
After uploading both using the corresponding “Update from file” buttons the screen should look like this:

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN updated)

The last remaining issue in this case was the firmware version of the host bus adapter connecting the vSAN datastore devices could not be retrieved (“N/A”):

vCenter cluster overview after VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 (vSAN Health)

Since the firmware version listed in the hosts iDRAC (see next screenshot) matches one of the “Recommended firmwares” from above I decided to rather hit “Silence alert”. Eventually one could look for an updated VIB file allowing the ESXi host to retrieve the firmware version from the controller.

iDRAC overview of storage controllers

One more effect of the upgrade from 3.0.1.1 to 3.5 is the appearance of three more VMs in vCenter. These are the old (6.5.x) instances of the platform service controllers and the vCenter. New instances with version 6.7.x have been deployed during the upgrade. After all settings had been imported from the old ones, these were apparently powered off and kept in case something would have gone wrong.
After a period of time and confirming everything works as expected those three VMs may be deleted from the datastore:

vCenter VM overview showing old PSCs and vCenter instances

Updating VMware Cloud Foundation from 3.0.1.1 to 3.5

In this post I would like to show you the process of updating a VCF deployment at a customer site to the current version which was released in mid december.
The pictures show only the update of the management workload domain, as that is the only one currently available there. If you have multiple VI/VDI workload domain still you have to update the management domain first, and then individual workload domains.

The steps necessary are the same as in previous updates. E.g. if you are located at an environment isolated from the internet you can use a laptop to download the bundle files based on a delta file provided by the SDDC manager and import these afterwards, as described in one of my previous posts.
The update itself can be scheduled or started immediately. The process is the same as before, but consists of multiple phases.

The first phase updates the VCF services itself, including domain manager, SDDC manager UI and LCM:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 1

Afterwards the NSX components are updated to version 6.4.4 as shown in below screenshot:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 2

In the next phase the platform service controllers (for the management domain typically two) and the vCenter are updated to version 6.7. Sadly in the first release of the VCF 3.5 update bundles there was a but resulting in an error in the stage “vCenter upgrade create input spec”:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3 (error)

The SDDC manager’s log file “/var/log/vmware/vcf/lcm/lcm-debug.log” only showed a “java.lang.NullPointerException
error at the component “com.vmware.evo.sddc.lcm.orch.PrimitiveService“, which didn’t help me much, so after a unlucky Google search I contacted VMware’s support. Upon opening a support case on my.vmware.com a very friendly Senior Technical Support Engineer got back to me within minutes and pointed my attention to this knowledge base article. Apparently the issue cannot be fixed in place, but a new update bundle is available replacing the buggy one. If your SDDC manager has internet access it can download the bundle automatically, but if you are at a “dark site” you first need to get rid of the faulty bundle’s id by running the following python script:

/opt/vmware/vcf/lcm/lcm-app/bin/bundle_cleanup.py 0864d5b4-2901-4198-83b8-457985af2ff8

Afterwards a new marker file has to be created and transferred to a workstation with internet access where the updated bundles are downloaded: (same procedure as described before)

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3 – Download fixed bundles

This screen shows the new successful import of the previously downloaded bundles after copying it back to the SDDC manager:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3 – Imported fixed bundles

Finally we can retry the phase 3. As you can see here a new screen appears now:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3, fixed – Step 1

As vCenter appliances can not be upgraded from 6.5 to 6.7 directly a new appliance has to be deployed which then imports all settings from the old one. To be able to complete this process the SDDC manager needs a temporary IP address for that new appliance in the same range as the vCenter/PSC:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3, fixed – Step 2

Check the review screen to confirm the temporary IP settings and hit “Finish” to start the update:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3, fixed – Step 3

Hooray! The update process did not fail at the stage it did before:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3, fixed – Update in progress

After a little more than an hour all three appliances are up-to-date:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 phase 3, fixed – Finished

As we can see in the overview screen of the domain all components are updated, except for the ESXi hosts:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 – Version overview after phase 3

This means the fourth and final phase can be started: the update of the ESXi hosts to build 1076412:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 – Phase 4

This concludes the update to VCF 3.5 as all components now have the current build numbers:

VMware Cloud Foundation Update 3.5 – Version overview after phase 4

The next screenshot of the Update history section shows the update from 3.0.1 to 3.0.1.1 and the four updates from above:

VMware Cloud Foundation – Update history

Deploying VMware Cloud Foundation 3.0.1 on EoL servers

In my company’s lab I found a couple of quite old x86 servers, which were not in use anymore. The rack servers are in fact so old, that the original manufacturer (Sun) doesn’t exist anymore. The model is named “X4270 M2” and labeled end-of-life by Oracle for a while now. They are equipped with Intel Xeon processors released in 2011 (!), code name Westmere EP. That is in fact the oldest dual socket CPU generation by Intel which is supported by ESXi 6.7 (needed soon for VCF 3.5 upgrade).
I found some more servers, but those are equipped with Nehalem CPUs, so not hypervisor material; One possibility to give them a new purpose could be as a baremetal NSX-T edge

The main concerns whether VCF could be successfully deployed on old hardware
like that (when vSAN Ready Nodes, as required by VCF, were not even a thing yet) were compatibility with VMware’s HCL (especially HDDs, SSDs & raid controller), lack of 10 GbE adapters and not enough RAM.
Preparing the five servers (four for the management domain and another for the Cloud Builder VM) with ESXi was by the book, except for a well known workaround needed on old Sun servers.
For NTP, DNS and DHCP the OPNsense distribution was used once more.
After uploading the filled-out Deployment Parameter Sheet the Cloud Builder VM started its validation, resulting only in one warning/error regarding cache/capacity tier ratio which can be acknowledged. In fact the same message was displayed at a customer´s site with Dell PowerEdge R640 nodes with 4TB/800GB SSDs. This seems to be related with a known issue

VCF Configuration File Validation

However after hitting Retry another error was displayed saying that no SSDs available for vSAN were found. This could be confirmed when logging into any of the hosts ESXi interface.
The Intel SSDs were marked as hard disks and could not be marked as Flash via the GUI. The reason for this is the RAID controller by LSI which does not have a SATA bypass mode, meaning you have to create a RAID 0 virtual disk for each pass-through drive, so that the hypervisor has no clue about which hardware device lies underneath.
Upon investigating further in VMware´s KB a storage filter for local devices can be added via the CLI so that after a reboot that device will be marked correctly as SSD:

esxcli storage core device list
[Find the SSD which is supposed to be marked as such, e.g. "naa.600605b00411be5021404f8240529589"]
esxcli storage nmp satp rule add --satp=VMW_SATP_LOCAL --device naa.600605b00411be5021404f8240529589 --option "enable_local enable_ssd"

Finally the Cloud Foundation Bring-Up Process could be initiated.
Still no luck however, as an error deploying the NSX manager was displayed:

SDDC Bring Up

As the error was in that stage meant that the platform services controllers, SDDC controller and vCenter were already successfully deployed and reachable. After logging into the latter it was clear all VMs were put on the first host and so no more RAM space was available for the NSX manager. 

The first attempt to fix this problem was to migrate all VMs which were deployed so far onto the other three hosts. Afterwards the Bring Up process could be picked up by hitting Retry, but eventually the same error came up again.
It became apparent, that the four hosts were not equipped with a sufficient amount of RAM (24 GB) after all.
After  shutting down the hosts in the correct order more RAM was added (however still less than the amount described as required minimum: 72 GB vs. 192 GB) and then started up again.

Now the Bring Up went through, resulting in an up-to-date private cloud SDDC automated deployment on >8 year old hardware…

Of course this setup is only valid for lab tests as not respecting VMware’s minimum requirements and design recommendations is not supported and not  suited for production.

Manually downloading the VMware Cloud Foundation Update Bundle 3.0.1.1

If your VCF SDDC deployment does not have Internet connectivity you can manually download update bundles on another machine and import it afterwards.
Here are the necessary steps on a Windows workstation.

Password fields for SDDC Manager “vcf” and “root” users.

First use Putty to connect to the SDDC manager as user “vcf” and the password set in the cloud foundation deployment parameter spreadsheet (red circle in the image above) and run the following commands:

cd /opt/vmware/vcf/lcm/
su
[enter root password; see green circle in top image]
mkdir bundleimport
chown vcf:vcf bundleimport
exit
cd lcm-tools/bin/
./lcm-bundle-transfer-util --generateMarker

Create a folder on your windows machine (e.g. “C:\…\bundleupdate”) and copy the remote files “markerFile” and “markerFile.md5” from “/home/vcf/”, as well as the entire “/opt/vmware/vcf/lcm/lcm-tools/” directory structure using WinSCP. In that folder create another subfolder; In my case I called it “downloadedBundles”.
Make sure you have a current version of Java (JRE) installed.
Open a command prompt and run the following the commands: (when asked enter your my.vmware.com password)

cd C:\...\bundleupdate
./lcm-bundle-transfer-util -download -outputDirectory C:\...\
bundleupdate\downloadedBundles -depotUser {your my.vmware.com username} -markerFile C:\...\bundleupdate\markerFile
-markerMd5File C:\...\bundleupdate\markerFile.md5
WinSCP (above) and lcm-bundle-transfer-util (below)

After the download is completed unplug your internet cord and connect to your VCF deployment once more. Using WinSCP copy the content of your local folder “C:…\
bundleupdate\downloadedBundles” to “/opt/vmware/vcf/lcm/bundleimport”. Then use Putty again to run these commands:

cd /opt/vmware/vcf/lcm/lcm-tools/bin
chmod -R 777 ../../bundleimport
./lcm-bundle-transfer-util -upload -bundleDirectory /opt/vmware/vcf/lcm/bundleimport
Successfully imported update bundle listed in the Repository section.

Updating VMware Cloud Foundation 3.0.1 to 3.0.1.1

Here are a couple of screenshots of the SDDC Manager GUI showing the update process of a VCF deployment at a customer site (hostnames are edited out)…

Successfully downloaded update bundles listed in the Repository section.
Available updates for the Management Domain in the “Update/Patches” pane after completing the Precheck.
Starting the update by clicking “Update now” or “Schedule Update”.
Update in progress…
Detailed update steps in Progress / Queued.
ESX build number 10175896 shown in vCenter before update
ESX build number 1079125 shown in vCenter after update
The date on which the update completed is shown under “Update History”.

Keeping up with the Cloud Foundations

I am currently helping a customer build a infrastructure platform to run a couple of
virtualized applications. The decision to use VMware products was already made before I joined the project, but at that stage (middle of the year) it was still uncertain whether the deployment / networking would both be “old school” (setting up everything by hand / VLANs seperated by physical firewalls) or if new approaches should be applied.
My experience with NSX and some articles I read about a new way of deploying VMware based SDDCs, namely the VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF), layed out the foundation (see what I did there…) for our new private cloud.

After continuing to dive into the VCF stack and its ideas (this free fundamentals course is great for starters) it quickly became clear that this could help reduce resources spent on deploying and operating the project’s infrastructure
drastically and also prevent human errors, as entire batches of tasks are automated, following the VMware Validated Designs

While planning the environment the latest VMware Cloud Foundation version available was 2.3.2. For this version the hardware compatibility list (both compute and networking equipment) was rather short, so for hardware selection Dell components were chosen. Until some more workshops were conducted an the boxes finally arrived some time passed, so a lot happened in the mean time…

During the VMworld US 2018 the new version 3.0 was announced and was released shortly after. The big difference introduced in this mayor update was focusing on VMware’s own products. When pre-3.0 versions also included the networking stack, supporting only certain models from a handful of vendors (Cisco, Juniper, QCT, Dell), now any underlay network supporting 1600 byte MTUs and 10 Gbps ethernet and all vSAN Ready Nodes (> 20 vendors) meeting the required/supported minimums could be used, making even brown-field scenarios possible.

More than a test deployment of the 3.0 Cloud Builder VM to download the deployment parameter spreadsheet and prerequisite checklist didn’t see the light of the day in the project, as by the time the hardware was installed 3.0.1 was already available to download. This minor version jump featured some bug fixes and improvements. For example it was no longer necessary to convert the Excel spreadsheet containing the 
deployment parameters (IP addresses/networks, license details, passwords) into JSON format with the included Python script on your own. The 3.0.1 Cloud Builder VM web GUI accepts the Excel file directly. Very nice!

The entire VCF 3.0.1 deployment took less than two hours from uploading the parameter spreadsheet to finishing the bring up, leaving us with a ready to use environment with vCenter, two Platform Service Controllers, vSAN, NSX, vRealize Log Insight cluster and, of course, the new SDDC manager.
The preparation of our hosts (Dell PowerEdge vSAN ReadyNodes) with ESX 6.5 was pretty easy. For DHCP (VXLAN transport VLAN), DNS & NTP I set up a HA cluster of OPNsense gateways. Some pictures from the deployment process will follow in a separate post.

Shortly after this another new version came out (3.0.1.1). As that only contains the current security patches for ESX 6.5 there only is a update bundle, not an OVA download.

Last week the next long awaited mayor release was published: 3.5. Again being available via upgrade or fresh OVA deployment it includes a log of changes. These were already announced at this year’s VMworld Europe, which I had the fortune to attend for the first time. Besides more bug fixes the jump to the current 6.7 releases of ESX, vCenter & vSAN is the biggest news (finally no need for Flash client – long live HTML5!), along with NSX 6.4.4 and updated version of vRLI, SDDC Manager and so on. Now also included is NSX-T 2.3.0, but only for workload domains – the management domain continues to rely on NSX(-V). This is supposed to pave the road for container based workloads like PKS/Kubernetes.

After the holidays I will continue the story with both results from upgrading the customer’s 3.0.1.1 site to 3.5 and also deploying 3.5 at my company’s lab on older hardware, so stay tuned…