VCSA - vCenter Server Appliance

Submitted by jbredehoeft on Tue, 12/27/2011 - 23:38

I have to admit that I was very excited to hear the announcement of the VCSA. I've been working with this for a few months, and as a consultant I'm still excited about the VCSA, but not in an enterprise. The VCSA is great for getting your feet wet, doing proof of concepts and lab environments. It has several limitations that make it less than ideal for anything else:

  • No Update Manager, this doesn't mean you can't have it, you just have to install VUM in a Windows system, and not on your VCSA.
  • No Linked-Mode - requires ADAM.
  • No support for the VSA (vSphere Storage Appliance)
  • Only support for Oracle as the external database, you can use this to run a larger enterprise.
  • Embedded database - DB2 - supports 5 hosts and 50 VMs
  • No support for vCenter Heartbeat - requires Windows.
  • IPv6.
  • VMware View Composer (Linked Clones) – installed on Windows vCenter Server only.
  • vSphere Storage Appliance – VSA Manager & VSA Cluster Server installed on Windows vCenter Server.
  • VIX Plugin for vCenter Orchestrator – VMware Tools API only works with Windows vCenter Server.

If you tie this to Oracle and don't need any of the features that are limited you could definately use this in the Enterprise. So don't just rule it out. Look at your Enterprise and see if it fits. I'm already using Linked-Mode so that rules it out, and I'm architecting a solution that requires Heartbeat. So for us this won't work to manage everything.

Now from a resource point of view you will need to run this with 8GB RAM initially, and 2 vCPU. Especially if you are using the embedded DB2 database. The database will fail to initialize with less than this - this is important if you looking at using this for a lab. Reduce the sizing later. Since this is now an appliance and it doesn't support Heartbeat you will have to give serious consideration to following the best practices for running your the VC as a VM, read VMwares recommendations for this and build a management cluster with standard switches with ESX installed on disk. You won't want AutoDeploy for these hosts, or you will need to know how to bring everything backup manually in the event of a HW failure.

The requirements for the VCSA also mean that you won't really have any performance savings over Virtual Center on Windows 2008 R2 -64bit. In my lab though the VCSA is a great solution and I have tweaked it to use less memory and CPU. When I to test or demonstrate Update Manager, Linked-Mode or Heartbeat I have Windows VCs in VMs. I don't mind doing my ESX build from hand or script, I'm not using linked-mode regulary and I don't run Oracle in the lab. This does limit what I do, and as a consultant I find myself wanting to test the VMware tools and suite, not my Windows Architectures so I have full vCenters. I'm not ruling out the VCSA, and I'm going to use it for our isolated-lab to test out other solutions and architectures and as a training tool for new VM admins.

And for what it's worth these VMware products all work with the VCSA:

  • vCenter Operations.
  • vCenter Orchestrator.
  • vCenter CapacityIQ.
  • SRM5.
  • VMware View 5 (no Linked Clones).
  • Auto Deploy.
  • vMA.
  • vSphere Client.
  • vSphere Web Client.
  • VMware vCloud Director.
  • PowerCLI.
  • vSphere Client for iPad & VCMA.

Update Manager and AutoDeploy

Yes, there is no Update Manager in VCSA and you can't install it. Some of the features are there with AutoDeploy but not everything and it takes work to do ESXi updates. One of the key features of Update Manager was it's ability to patch both ESX/ESXi and Virtual Machines. With Update Manager 5.0 patching VMs appears to be gone, (this is antedotal until I get it up and running) and is really only for patching and upgrading of Hosts and tools. We will see what this really means. AutoDeploy (which is in VCSA) however allows you to automatically deploy the ESXi image to a host and configure that host with host profiles. This is close to the Update Manager function. The VCSA internally has the ability to perform an update to itself. It is not upgraded in the same manner as its Windows counterpart. Instead you’ll have to deploy the new version and use the upgrade section to establish a trusted connection between the new and old VCSAs. The new appliance will import all data, shutdown the old one and finally take control of its inventory. What is missing, is the Update Manager Download Service to get the patches and files necessary for updates of the host, there is no way to automatically get bulletins, patches, rollups and VIBs. For this you will still need UMDS.

AutoDeploy is not a replacement for Update Manager, yet! I can see it happening as more of this functionality starts coming together. I can however also see VM patching going away. especially in the VCSA. The functionality is not all there for updates but I can see it happening.

I'm looking to VMware to fix some of the short-comings in future releases. And this is definitely a step in the right direction. We haven't had a linux-based VC for years, now we do.