Section 2 – VMware Products and Solutions
Objective 2.1 – Describe vSphere integration with other VMware products
VMware has just a few products on the market (/sarcasm), and they show no letup in acquiring other companies and expanding to new technologies. One thing I appreciate about them is their ability to take what they buy, make it uniquely theirs, and integrate it with their current solutions. While this is not always done quickly and it make take a few versions, it usually pays dividends. Other products such as their Software Defined Networking product, NSX-V and T, and vSAN (SDS storage) and more, round out their offerings making it a complete solution for their customers. While definitely not altruistic, having a single place to get a complete solution can make life easier. Let’s look at some of the VMware products that are commonly used with vSphere core products.
If you look at products grouped together on VMware’s download site, you’ll see the core vSphere products of ESXi and vCenter. You also see Log Insight, NSX, Operations, and Orchestrator. I will try to give you a high-level of each of those products and how they fit into the vSphere world.
vRealize Log Insight
vRealize Log Insight is a syslog server on steroids. It is described as a Log Management and Analytics Tool by VMware. It integrates with vCenter Server and vRealize Operations. Log Insight can be used as a regular syslog server for other solutions not in VMware. Using it as a single logging repository and being able to search across your entire company’s infrastructure is its true superpower. But wait… there’s more.
You can also load content packs to manage specific solutions. One example of this is I am using a specially created Rubrik content pack that allows me to create specific dashboards to monitor my backups. Log Insight has the ability to have multiple users and assign them separate permissions to create their own dashboards and metrics. You can see my walkthrough on Log Insight (albeit 4.3 instead of 4.6) here. I also have a few videos to show you how you might customize dashboards here and how you can track a error in the logs here.
What VMware did for Server hardware they did with Networking as well. While ESXi and vCenter Server already have VSS and VDS, this is the next step in networking evolution. Using NSX you can implement normally difficult configurations such as micro-segmentation in your datacenter with ease. Being able to do this all from a single UI makes it easy and saves time. Once the initial configuration of the physical networking is done, everything thereafter can be accomplished in VMware’s HTML5 client. Creating switches, routers, load balancers, firewalling, you name it.
Because NSX’s technology, ESXi essentially believes it is on a large L2 network allowing you to do things impossible before, such as vMotion over large geographic distances. NSX brings a lot to the table. There is a lot to learn about it, however and it has its own certification track.
vRealize Operations is a tool used to facilitate performance optimization, capacity management, forecasting, remediation, and compliance. It integrates right into the HTML5 client and keeps you constantly aware of how your environment is performing. Not only does vRealize Operations integrate with ESXi and vCenter, it also integrates with NSX and Log Insight. Here is a pic of what it looks like in the HTML5 client
I also have a few videos on how to perform actions in vSphere Operations here. While this is an old version it serves well to show you some of the things you can use vRealize Operations for.
You have a large number of dashboards to choose from and monitor. You can see things like disk usage and capacity graphically making it easy to pick out potential problems at a quick glance. Doing this paper vRealize notified I’ve been running my Plex Server on a snapshot for a long period of time… I didn’t have any idea until it told me. (Snapshot was created by Update Manager upgrade). Short story, you need this in your life.
Most people know about the app IFTTT for your phone. This is kind of like that but way more powerful. Using vRealize Orchestrator you can create workflows that can perform a plethora of different tasks. It also integrates with vRealize Automation to create even more complex jobs. Using vRealize Orchestrator, you can:
- Configure software or virtual hardware
- Update databases
- Generate work order tickets
- Initiate system backups
And much more. This integrates with all of VMware’s other products and is a drag and drop worklflow solution.
Objective 2.2 – Describe HA solutions for vSphere
We already went over this, but we’ll touch on it again. The main High Availability solutions VMware provides are vMotion, svMotion and HA using clusters. I will include both HA parts so that you can read about HA in one fell swoop.
HA works by pooling hosts and VMs into a single resource group. Hosts are monitored and in the event of a failure, VMs are re-started on another host. When you create a HA cluster, an election is held and one of the hosts is elected master. All others are slaves. The master host has the job of keeping track of all the VMs that are protected and communication with the vCenter Server. It also needs to determine when a host fails and distinguish that from when a host no longer has network access. HA has other important jobs. One is determining priority and order that VMs will be restarted when an event occurs. HA also has VM and Application Monitoring. Using this prompts HA to restart a VM if it doesn’t detect a heartbeat received from VM Tools. Application Monitoring will do the same with heartbeats from an application. VM Component Monitoring or VMCP allows vSphere to detect datastore accessibility and restart the VM if a datastore is unavailable. One last thing to note. In the past, VMware tried to trick people by using the old name for HA which was FDM or Fault Domain Manager
There are a several configuration options to configure. Most defaults work without drama and don’t need to be changed unless you have a specific use case. They are:
- Proactive HA – This feature receives messages from a provider like Dell’s Open Manage Integration plugin. Based on those messages HA will migrate VMs to a different host due to possible impending doom of the original host. It makes recommendations in Manual mode or automatically moves them in Automatic mode. After VMs are off the host, you can choose how to remediate the sick host. You can place it in maintenance mode, which prevents running any future workloads on it. Or you could put it in Quarantine mode which allows it to run some workloads if performance is low. Or a mix of those with…. Mixed Mode.
- Failure Conditions and responses – This is a list of possible host failure scenarios and how you want vSphere to respond to them. This is better and gives you way more control then in the past.
- Admission Control – What good is a feature to restart VMs if you don’t have enough resources to do so? Not very. Admission Control is the gatekeeper that makes sure you have enough resources to restart your VMs in the case of host failure. You can ensure this a couple of ways. Dedicated failover hosts, cluster resource percentage, slot policy, or you can disable it (not good unless you have a specific reason). Dedicated hosts are dedicated hot spares. They do no work or run VMs unless there is a host failure. This is the most expensive (other than a failure itself). Slot policy takes the largest VM’s CPU and the largest VM’s memory (can be two different VMs) and makes that into a “slot” then it determines how many slots your cluster can satisfy. Then it looks at how many hosts can fail and still keep all VMs powered on based off that base slot size. Cluster Resources Percentage looks at total resources needed and total available and tries to keep enough resources to permit you to lose the number of hosts you specify (subtracting amount of resources of those hosts). You can also override this and set aside a specific percentage. For any of these policies, if the cluster can’t satisfy resources for more than existing VMs in the case of a failure, it prevents new VMs from turning on.
- Heartbeat Datastores – Used to monitor hosts and VMs when the HA network as failed. It determines if the host is still running or if a VM is still running by looking for lock files. This automatically uses at least 2 datastores that all the hosts are connected to. You can specify more or specific datastores to use.
- Advanced Options – You can use this to set advanced options for the HA Cluster. One might be setting a second gateway to determine host isolation. To use this you will need to set two options. 1) das.usedefaultisolationaddress and 2) das.isolationaddress[…] The first specifies not to use the default gateway and the second sets additional addresses.
There are a few other solutions that touch more on Fault Tolerance and Disaster Recovery.
Fault Tolerance or FT creates a second live shadow copy of a VM. In the even the primary goes down, the secondary kicks in and it then creates a new shadow VM.
Disaster Recovery options include vSphere Replication and Site Recovery Manager. Both of these can be used in conjunction to replicate a site or individual VMs to another site in case of failure or disaster.
Objective 2.3 – Describe the options for securing a vSphere environment
There are a number of options available to secure your vSphere environment. We will start with ESXi and move on to a few others.
- Limit access to ESXi – this goes for both the physical box but also any other way of accessing it. SSH, DCUI, or remote console via IPMI or iDRAC/iLO etc. You can also take advantage of lockdown modes to limit access to just vCenter.
- Use named users and least privilege – If everyone is root than no one is special. Only give users that need it, access. Even then only give them the access and rights they need to do their job. Make sure they all log in as the user you give them. This allows for tracking and accounting.
- Minimize open ports – your ESXi host has a stateless firewall but if all the ports are open, it’s not providing any protection for you.
- Smart Card authentication – ESXi now supports smart cards for logging on instead of user name and passwords.
- Account lockouts – After a number of incorrect tries to log in, have the account lock.
- Manage ESXi certificates – While there is a Certificate Authority in vCenter, you might want look into using third-party or enterprise CA certificates.
- VIB Integrity – try to use and only allow your ESXi hosts to accept VMware accepted or VMware Certified VIBs.
vCenter Server Security
- Harden all vCenter host machines – make sure all security patches and the host machines are up to date.
- Assign roles to users or groups – This allows you to better keep track of what users are allowed to do if they are part of a role.
- Setup NTP – time stamps will be accurate and allow you to better track what is going on in your environment.
- Configure Single Sign On – Keep track of the identity sources you allow to authenticate to your vSphere environment.
- vCenter Certificates – remove expired or revoked certificates and failed installations.
- Protect the guest operating system – Keep your OS up to date with patches and any anti-malware or anti-spyware. Most OSs also have a firewall built-in. Use that to keep only necessary ports open.
- Disable unnecessary functionality – Turn off and disable any services not needed. Turn off things like HGFS (host-guest filesystem) that allows you to copy and paste between the VM and remote console.
- Use templates and scripted installations – After you spend all the time making an OS secure, use that as a template so that you don’t have to perform the same on the next machine. This also makes sure you don’t forget settings or configurations that may end up being disastrous. Script management of machines and installations for the same reason.
- Minimize use of the virtual machine console – Just like you would secure access to the physical machine, you should secure access and use sparingly the console.
- Use UEFI secure boot when possible – If the OS supports it, you can use this to prevent changes to the VM.
- Isolate network traffic – Separation of network traffic into segments allows you to isolate important networks. A prime example of this is creating a management network that is separate from regular VM traffic. You can perform this easily using VMware NSX or even as simple as creating a separate subnet and locking that down virtually or physically to ports.
- Use firewalls – Again using NSX this becomes really simple to create firewall and micro-segmentation. Mentioned above, you can also utilize firewalls in the OS but that can get unwieldy with 1,000s of VMs. Physical firewalls are a staple as well.
- Consider Network Policies – Switches in your virtual environment have security policies you can implement to prevent malicious attacks. These are promiscuous mode, MAC address changes, and forged transmits.
- Secure VM networking – same as above with securing OSs and firewalling.
- VLANs – These can be used to segment your network and provide additional security. This also breaks up your broadcast domain which can cut down on unwanted broadcast traffic.
- Secure connection to your Storage – Usually companies setup separate networks for their storage. This is for security but also performance. You can also implement authentication on your storage array such as CHAP. Fibre Channel is particularly secure as it is difficult to tap a fibre cable.