Posts Tagged ‘Hardware’

Microsoft Windows x64 (64-bit) and the VI

November 4th, 2008

32-bit computing is still very much alive, well, and very much supported today which may be one of the primary reasons you have not investigated 64-bit yet or invested the time it takes to migrate your software and/or servers to 64-bit architecture.  Part of the adaptation process is learning and understanding the underlying mechanics behind a technology to be sure it makes good sense from an economical, roadmap strategy, and business need standpoint.  I think 64-bit is one of those technologies that is so deep and covers so much territory that there is a chance for the spread of misinformation. 

As VMware Administrators, at one point or another our careers intersect with Microsoft Windows technologies.  For some like myself, the Windows experience is a daily tradition.  Everyone who is running VirtualCenter is using Microsoft Windows as both the server and client platform.  VMware Update Manager users are using Windows.  License Manager runs on Windows.  Even those without VirtualCenter are probably using the Virtual Infrastructure Client which runs on Windows.  My point is that although this is mainly a VMware virtualization centric blog, we can’t completely ignore Windows.  Understanding the benefits that 64-bit Windows technologies provides might help our virtual infrastructures run faster and more efficiently.  In the long term, I think it’s going to allow our VI to scale up.

Fortunately for those who have not yet rolled up their sleeves and gotten dirty with 64-bit, there’s an IT Architect by the name of Helge Klein who has written an absolutely fantastic seven part series entitled “Windows x64 – All the Same Yet Very Different” in terms that I think most of us can understand.  Even if you’re not a big fan of Windows, some of the content is universal and applies to many platforms.  If you maintain a 3-ring binder of good stuff you’ve found on the internet, I think this series would belong there.

N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) and VMware Virtual Infrastructure

October 28th, 2008

A few weeks ago, an associate got me curious about N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV for short) and what could be done with it in VMware’s current Virtual Infrastructure offerings (VC 2.5u3, ESX 3.5u2).  Most of my SAN equipment is a little on the older side so I haven’t had much chance to play with NPIV or investigate its benefits.  I decided to head into the lab and kick the tires.

To the best of my knowledge, I thought NPIV was somewhat of a newer technolgoy so the first thing was to inventory my hardware for NPIV capability.

  • VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3.5 – check!
  • Compaq StorageWorks 4/8 SAN switch – bzzz!
  • Preferably 4Gb SFPs but 2Gb should work also – check!
  • QLogic 2Gb HBAs – bzzz!

Right off the bat, I’ve got some obstacles to overcome.  My SAN switch doesn’t support NPIV in the current firmware version but the fact that it’s a 4GB switch leads me to believe there may be hope in a newer firmware version.  The SAN switch needs to support NPIV in any NPIV implementation, VMware or otherwise.  The good news is that there’s newer firmware available for the SAN switch.  I upgraded the SAN switch firmware and see that I now have NPIV configuration options on my SAN switch.  One issue resolved.

To validate whether or not a Brocade switch port supports NPIV, check the Port Admin in the GUI console or run the following command from the switch CLI via telnet:

portcfgshow 1  (where 1 is the switch port number)

If NPIV is disabled, it can easily be enabled via the Port Admin GUI or by using the following command from the switch CLI via telnet:

portCfgNPIVPort 5 1  (where 5 is the port number and 1 is the mode 1=enable, 0=disable)

I don’t have a compatible HBA.  That’s a tough one.  VMware’s documentation explains “Currently, the following vendors and types of HBA provide [NPIV] support”

  • QLogic – any 4GB HBA
  • Emulex – 4GB HBAs that have NPIV-compatible firmware

A quick look online at Ebay reveals that 4Gb HBAs are outside of my lab’s budget range (most of the lab budget this year was reallocated for a new deck and sprinkler system for the house – funny how things at home tend to mimic the politics in the office).  Fortunately, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  A few emails later and I have a 60 day demo HBA coming from Hewlett Packard (HP’s OEM part number: FC1243 4GB PCI-X 2.0 DC, QLogic’s part number QLA2462). 

To validate whether or not your current HBA supports NPIV, open up the ESX console and run the following command:

cat /proc/scsi/qla2300/1 |grep NPIV  (where qla2300 is the HBA type and 1 is the HBA number)

For Emulex, it’s going to be something like cat /proc/scsi/lpfc/1 |grep NPIV

Obviously, browse your /proc/scsi/ directory to see what HBAs are in use by ESX.

npiv4

In addition to the hardware issues, VMware sparsely distributes key NPIV information across several different documents in their library.   This is a pet peeve of mine.  Nonetheless, these are the VMware documents you need to pay attention to (but like me, you can choose to save the reading until AFTER you run into issues):

After a few days, the demo HBA from HP arrives.  I notice the firmware is from 2005 so I upgrade the firmware to current.  I then begin my testing.  I connected the fibre beteen the HBA and the SAN switch and powered on the ESX host.  Before allowing the ESX host to boot up, I entered the <CTRL + Q> BIOS configuration of the HBA to see if any new NPIV options had been added with the firmware upgrade.  None.  No mention of NPIV anywhere in the BIOS.  I proceeded to allow ESX to boot up.  Now that the fibre port is hot, I opened the management interface of the Brocade SAN switch and configured the port for the correct speed and NPIV support (this is configured on a port by port basis).  Unfortunately, I’m not seeing that NPIV is in use from the SAN switch point of view.  I decide to create a VM and see if I need to enable NPIV inside the VM first.  Another roadblock as shown below – the NPIV configuration is essentially all gray’d out and I see a hint at the bottom saying I need RDM storage.  I’m not sure why I need RDM.  Seems like an odd requirement, but I’ll find out why a little later.

npiv1

In the lab I have swiSCSI shared storage suitable enough for testing with RDMs.  A few mouse clicks later and I have myself a VM with an RDM.  I head back to the VM configuration and I’m greeted with the success of being able to add WWNs.  Although I could create the WWNs myself by editing the .vmx file by hand, it’s much easier to let ESX assign them for me.  ESX generates exactly five WWNs:  1x Node WWN and 4x Port WWNs (the Port WWNs are what you should zone to).  It goes without saying that once these WWNs are generated, they should remain static in zoned fabrics (you do zone your fabric don’t you?!).

npiv2     npiv3

The entries in the .vmx file look like this (really, that’s it):

wwn.node = “25bb000c29000ba5”
wwn.port = “25bb000c29000da5,25bb000c29000ca5,25bb000c29000ea5,25bb000c29000fa5”
wwn.type = “vc”
 
Two steps forward, one step back.  I power cycled the VM a few times and I’m still not seeing any sign of NPIV kicking in on the SAN switch.  I should be seeing the virtual WWNs coming online so that I can zone them to something.  Referring to the sparse VMware documentation on NPIV, I discovered how VMware’s implementation of NPIV (version 1.0) works and I also learned I was missing a critical hardware component:  a SAN.  This ties back to my previous questioning of why an RDM is required for NPIV.  So quickly, here’s how NPIV works on VMware Virtual Infrastructure when NPIV is enabled (I obtained access to a SAN to work all of this out):
  1. When the VM is powered on, before the virtual hardware POSTs, it scans the physical HBAs of the ESX host for the RDM mapping to SAN storage.  SAN storage connected to HBAs is a hard requirement.  If an HBA doesn’t support NPIV, it is skipped in the detection process.  If ESX cannot see the zoned RDM LUN through an NPIV aware HBA, the HBA is skipped in the detection process.
  2. If and when an RDM SAN LUN is discovered through the detection process via an NPIV aware HBA through an NPIV capable SAN switch, fireworks go off and magic happens.  One of the four virtual Port WWN s (in the order as they appear in the .vmx file) are assigned to the phsyical HBA and the NPIV virtual Port WWN is activated on the SAN switch.
  3. ESX will assign a maximum of four NPIV Port WWNs during the detection process.  What this means is that if you have four NPIV HBAs connected to four NPIV aware SAN switch ports which are in turn zoned to four SAN LUNs, all four will be NPIV activated.  If you have only one NPIV HBA, you’ll only use one of the virtual Port WWNs.  If you have six NPIV HBAs, only the first four will be activated with NPIV Port WWNs in the discovery process.
  4. Zoning and storage presentation.  Here’s the catch 22 in this contraption and it’s a big one.
    1. I can’t get the ESX generated NPIV Port WWNs to activate on the switch until the VM can see RDM SAN LUN storage targets!
    2. I can’t easily zone RDM SAN storage processors to NPIV Port WWNs until the SAN switch can see the NPIV Port WWNs come online (I use soft zoning by WWN, not hard zoning by physical switch port)!!
    3. I can’t configure selective storage presentation (easily) on the SAN until the SAN can see the NPIV Port WWNs!!!
    4. The detection process at VM POST literally takes less than five seconds total to be successful or to fail and one second or less per HBA scan so to coordinate the correct GUI screens in the SAN switch management console, the selective storage presentation SAN console, and the VM console to toggle power state, takes incredible hand/eye coordination and timing.  It’s literally lining up all the screens, powering on the VM and hitting the refresh button in each of the SAN management consoles to capture the NPIV Port WWN that briefly comes online during the detection process, then goes away after failing to find an RDM SAN LUN.
    5. The only way to make this all work easily in my favor is to disable zoning on the SAN switch and disable selective storage presentation on the SAN.
  5. At any time during the initial detection process or while the VM is already online in operation, should an NPIV hardware or zoning requirement fail to be met for the RDM raw storage on SAN, the VM will fall back to using the Port WWN of the physical HBA it was traversing through it’s NPIV Port WWN assignment.

Once I met all of the requirements above and got NPIV working, the result was rather anticlimactic for the amount of effort that was involved.  Here’s what NPIV looks like from Port Admin on a Brocade switch (blue is the physical HBA, green in is the NPIV Port WWN that VMware generated): 

 npiv5  (Zoom in using the Flickr toolbar)

 I asked myself the questions “Why would anyone even do this?  What are the benefits?”.  There aren’t many, at least not right now with this implementation.  By far, I think the largest benefit is going to be for the SAN administrator.  Maybe a SAN switch port or storage controller is running hot.  Without NPIV, we have many VMs communicating with back end SAN storage over a shared HBA which to the SAN administrator appears as a single Port WWN in his/her SAN admin tools.  However, with NPIV, the SAN admin tools can now monitor the individual virtualized streams of I/O traffic that tie back to individual VMs.  I liken it much to the unique channels in the Citrix ICA protocol that is carried over TCP/IP.  Each of those channels can be monitored and in some cases be throttled or given priority.  The same concept applies to virtualized channels of VM disk I/O traffic through a physical HBA.  Another analogy would be VLANs for disk I/O traffic, but in a very primatave stage.

Another thought for this is to provide a layer of security if we could zone a SAN storage controller solely to an NPIV Port WWN, however, right now this is impossible because as was explained in #5 above, any time the physical HBA is removed from the NPIV visibility chain, NPIV shuts down and falls back to the physical HBA for traffic, and at that point you’ve zoned out your phyiscal HBA and disk I/O traffic would quickly queue and then halt, sending your VM into obvious distress.

A few tips that I’ve personally come up with in this exploration process:

  1. Don’t remove and then readd NPIV WWNs in the VM once it has all initially been zoned because ESX will assign a completely new set of WWNs.
  2. If you’ve done the above, you can modify the WWNs by hand in the .vmx file.  Remove the VM from inventory first, then modify the .vmx, then readd the VM back to inventory because VirtualCenter (or the VIC) likes to hold on to the generated WWNs if you don’t.
  3. Adding or removing phsyical HBAs on the host or RDMs on the VM causes the discovery process to mismatch different NPIV Port WWNs with physical HBAs thus throwing off the zoning and causing the whole thing to bomb to the point all NPIV discovery fails.
  4. If the above happens, you can change the order of the NPIV Port WWN assignment discovery in the .vmx file.
  5. You can VMotion with NPIV, however, make sure the RDM file is located on the same datastore where the VM configuration file resides.  Storage VMotion or VMotion between datastores isn’t allowed with NPIV enabled.
  6. The location of the RDM metadata (pointer) file can be on SAN or local VMFS storage
  7. On an HP MSA SAN, the hosts and corresponding Port WWNs can manually be created in the CLI (or temporarily disable SSP to ease the zoning process)
  8. Removing/adding RDMs can throw off the NPIV Port WWN assignments which in turn throws off zoning
  9. Discovery order of NPIV Port WWNs is tied to physical HBAs.  Adding or removing HBAs throws off the NPIV Port WWN assignments which in turn throws off zoning

Conclusion:  This is version 1.0 of VMware NPIV and it functions as such.  We need much more flexibility in future versions from all facets:  discovery process, better interface for management, editing of the WWNs in the VIC, pinning of WWNs to physcial HBAs, monitoring of NPIV Port WWN disk I/O traffic in VIC performance graphs, guaranteed isolation for security, etc.

Connect a fibre attached tape device to a VM on ESX

October 27th, 2008

Have you ever considered virtualizing your tape backup server? Maybe you’ve thought about it in the past but reasoning produced drawbacks that were too compelling to go forth and virtualize. For instance, pinning a VM to a clustered ESX host which is connected with a SCSI cable attached tape device hanging off of it. Pinning a VM to a clustered host means you lose the benefit of a VM portability, you lose the flexibility of host maintenance during production cycles, and you lose the use of valuable dollars spent on VMotion, DRS, HA, shared storage, and FT (future).

What if you had the hardware to make it possible? Would you do it? If I had to purchase hardware to specifically make this happen, cost effectiveness would need to be researched. Everything else being equal, if I had the hardware infrastructure in place already, yes I would. I had access to the hardware, so I headed into my lab to give it a shot.

What’s required?

  • Hardware
    • One or more ESX hosts
    • At least one fibre HBA in each ESX host that supportes fibre tape devices (enabled in the HBA BIOS typically at POST)
    • A fibre attached tape device (the fibre HBA in a tape device is called an NSR or Network Storage Router)
    • At least one fibre SAN switch
      • If using more than one in a single fabric, be sure they are ISL’d together
      • If multipathing in separate fabrics, at least two HBAs per host will be required and at least two NSRs in the tape device (although this is really going overboard and would be quite expensive)
    • Fibre cable between ESX host and SAN switch
    • Fibre cable between NSR and SAN switch
    • Optional components: shared storage
  • Software
    • VMware ESX or ESXi
    • Virtual Infrastructure Client
    • Latest firmware on HBA(s), NSR(s), and SAN switch(es)
    • Appropriate zoning created and enabled on SAN switch for all ESX host HBAs and NSR
    • Optional components: VirtualCenter, VMotion, DRS, HA

The steps to setting this up aren’t incredibly difficult.

  1. Attach fibre cables between HBAs and SAN switch
  2. Attach fibre cable between NSR and SAN switch
  3. On the fibre SAN switch, zone the NSR to all HBAs in all ESX hosts that will participate. Be sure to enable the active zone configuration. On Brocade SAN switches this is a two step process.
  4. Perform a scan on the fibre HBA cards (on all ESX hosts) to discover the fibre tape device. In this case, I’ve got an HP MSL5026 autoloader containing a robotic library and two tape drives:
    fctape1
  5. Once each ESX host can “see” the tape device, add the tape device to the VM as a SCSI passthru device. In the drop down selection box, the two tape drives are seen as “tape” and the robotic library is seen as “media”. Take a look at the .vmx file and see how the SCSI passthru device maps back to VMHBA1:1:2 and ultimately the tape drive as a symbolic link:
    fctape2 fctape3 fctape9 fctape10 fctape11
  6. The VM can now see the tape device. Notice it is SCSI and not fibre. At this time, VMs only see SCSI devices. Fibre is not virtualized within the VMware virtual machines to the extent that a VM can see virtual fibre or a virtual HBA. The current implementation of NPIV support in VMware is something different and will be explored in an upcoming blog:
    fctape4

Good news! The fibre attached tape drive works perfectly using Windows ntbackup.exe. Effective throughput rate of many smaller files to tape is 389MB/minute or 6.5MB/second. As expected, running a second backup job with less files but larger sizes, I saw an increased throughput rate of 590MB/minute or nearly 10MB/second. These speeds are not bad:
fctape5 fctape6 fctape8

Now for the bad news. When trying to migrate the VM while it was powered on (VMotion) or powered off (cold migration), I ran into a snag. VMware sees the fibre tape device as a raw disk with an LSI Logic SCSI controller which is not supported for migration (I tried changing the LSI Logic bus to use Physical bus sharing, but that did not work):
fctape7 fctape9

The VM migration component of my test was a failure, but the fibre connectivity was a success. Perhaps we’ll have SCSI passthru migration ability in a future version of VMware Virtual Infrastructure. Maybe v-SCSI passthru is the answer (v-* seems to be the next generation answer to many datacenter needs). What this experiment all boils down to is that I can’t do much more with a fibre attached tape device than I can with a SCSI attached tape device. In addition, a VM with an attached SCSI passthru device remains pinned to an ESX host and therefore doesn’t belong on a clustered host.  However, I can think of a few potential advantages of a fibre attached tape device which may still be of interest:

  1. Fibre cabling offers better throughput speed and more bandwidth than SCSI.
  2. Fibre cabling offers much longer cable run distances in the datacenter.
  3. A failed SCSI card on the host often means a motherboard replacement. A failed HBA on the host means replacing an HBA.
  4. Fibre cabling allows multipathing while SCSI cabling along with the required bus termination does not.
  5. Fibre cabling leverages a SAN fabric infrastructure which can be used to gather detailed reports using native and robust SAN fabric tools such as SAN switch performance monitor, SANsurfer, HBAnywhere, etc.
  6. VMs with fibre attached tape can still be migrated to other zoned hosts by simply removing the tape device in virtual hardware, performing the migration, then re-adding the tape device, all without leaving my chair. A SCSI attached tape device would actually need to be re-cabled behind the rack.

The Lab – Then and Now

October 19th, 2008

I’ve completed a new blog page:

The Lab – Then and Now
A gallery documenting its evolution using VMware

To visit, just click the “Lab” menu item at the top of the page.