From the Beginning, Getting Started with SolarWinds

SolarWinds has hit my radar a couple of times, both as an exhibitor at Tech Field Day events and as a management tool that I see deployed at customer sites. After a briefing  and Tech Field Day 13 I decided that it was high time that I gave the tires a kick. One of the first questions is what products do you want to test? SolarWinds have about twenty products just in their on-premises IT and network management category. They also have a service provider category and a SaaS category, which I won’t be looking at today.

Being a virtualization guy I most wanted to see how the Virtualization Manager (VMAN) product works and what it could show me. As I read the getting started guide for VMAN  it became clear that VMAN was not intended to be the first product you deploy, it requires a working Orion deployment. Orion is the integration framework that ties the various SolarWinds management products together. The Orion installer is not included with VMAN, so you need another SolarWinds product before you can deploy VMAN.

Happily, I am also interested in what is going on inside my VMs and the applications that they run. My first SolarWinds product is Server and Application Monitor (SAM), which does include Orion. Deploying a new Windows Server 2012 VM reminded me why I love having all SSD, far less of the interminable waiting. SAM has its own Getting started guide page I chose to follow the directions on installing an evaluation copy of SAM as my lab is tiny and a real production-scale deployment would be overkill. At this stage, I am much more interested in what the product does than the details of how to fit it into a specific scale of customer. I did take a look at the planning document for a production deployment. I was disappointed to see that it has recommendations about using a physical SQL server and that all the hardware recommendations are based on physical servers and hard disk based storage. The installer process was pretty smooth, noting that I failed to meet the minimum 2CPU count and that I’d forgotten to install IIS. The Orion first run wizard sorted IIS and let me use my existing SQL server, including setting up a new SQL account on the database for the application.

A nice little wizard took me through scanning my network and providing credentials for discovered device types. SAM identified ESXi and vCentre on the network and recommended I install VMAN! SAM still wanted credentials for vCentre and ESXi, so I shall see how much virtualization SAM is aware of without VMAN, then add VMAN and see what changes.

The discovery process took a while to run, so I spent some time watching TV with my wife. I highly recommend spending the waiting time with your family. It makes the world a happier place, at least it does for me.

After discovery, I was unsurprised to find a few issues highlighted. The first was that my one domain controller, that also runs SQL, was short of memory. It seems that I did not increase its RAM when I upgraded my physical hardware last year. That was a quick fix, with a restart. I was surprised to see alerts for high packet loss on a couple of VMs. They are in the same port group on the same ESXi server as the SolarWinds server, so packet loss would be a surprise. It turns out that the packets were pings, the two VMs both have the Windows firewall active and blocking ICMP. It does seem that discovery uses different mechanisms to ongoing monitoring. The result is that not everything that is discovered can be automatically monitored. I have a few applications that were discovered but which are not monitored due to configuration issues.

I did make a strategic error. I turned on email alerting. When I restart that domain controller to increase its RAM I got a slew of notifications about components on the server. I needed to get was one notification that the machine was being shutdown intentionally and another that it was started again. What I didn’t need were notifications that components on the server were in an unknown state because the server was down. I quickly setup a new folder and inbox rule to stop these notifications obscuring important emails in my inbox. I also made a note to look into optimizing these email notifications, pushing them out of sight makes the notifications almost useless.

Poking around in the alerts lead me to my domain controller’s SQL and realizing that there were a few databases that could be removed. I have migrated my vCentre to the VCSA, so all the vCentre related databases were redundant, deleting them freed up a few GB of disk space and some RAM for SQL Express. Well, that is enough for my first few hours with SolarWinds. It is still telling me that SQL Express on my domain controller has problems and there are those unmonitored services too. I’m sure there is far more to find out about my lab and SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor. That will need to be another day, as will installing Virtualization Manager.


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Removing Orphaned VMs from the vSphere 6.5 Web Client

As you probably know, vSphere 6.5 has removed the vSphere Client Windows application. Now all vSphere management is through the web client or the new HTML client, confusingly also called vSphere Client. My lab has been vSphere 6.5 for a few months and running the vCenter appliance since there is now an upgrade process from the Windows vCnter 6.0 to VCSA 6.5. Naturally, my lab is a messy place, I try things that end up breaking and leaving a mess around. I ended up with a few orphaned VMs. Orphaned VMs are when vCenter has a VM registered but the ESXi server does not have the same VM. Happily, my orphaned VMs were disposable and I did not loose anything when they went away dues to a VSAN experiment. But I was left with three orphaned VMs in my inventory, making it look messy. In the Windows vSphere client, you can simply right click on the VMs and remove them from the inventory.

In the Windows vSphere client, you can simply right click on the VMs and remove them from the inventory. In the web client, the right click menu is much shorter and does not include Remove from Inventory. After a little poking around through all the sub-menus, I did locate the right option and was able to remove the orphans. It is quite deep in the submenus, rightly so as you will seldom need to remove VMs without deleting the files (Delete from Disk action). The web client is not a direct replacement for the old vSphere client, expect to take some time to learn new ways to do old tasks.

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My Writing in January

January is summer here in New Zealand, our holiday season starts with Christmas and school is out until early February. Traditionally almost nothing happens in New Zealand during January. Certainly nothing business related. Despite this, I wrote a few articles here in January, a sure sign that I wasn’t traveling. In addition, I wrote on TechTarget and TVP, as usual.

I wrote about preparing to deploy HCI in Streamline your implementation of hyper-converged technologies. This is about things that happen after you commit to HCI.

I also wrote about some of the changes in positioning that VMware is doing with its cloud architectures in Is Hybrid DMZ Reference Designs for vCloud Air what it claims to be?

I am a  little cynical about IT as a science in enterprises, I thin it is more of a craft. No Matter How Many Tools You Have, IT Is Practised by People.

I also had some thoughts on HPE buying SimpliVity. HPE’s HCI Just Got Real: It Bought SimpliVity. I really hope that my friends are treated well by HPE, they worked hard to make SimpliVity what it was before it was acquired.

Today I wrapped up my first training course fo O’Reilly media. It was two half days of live online training and was all about operating in a vSphere environment. I will be teaching the course again every couple of months for a while. The next one is in April and is starting to fill up. These courses are free to attend for subscribers to Safari Books. I am also planning to develop some more courses. Maybe a performance tuning course or some deep dives into VMware technologies.

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Fitting My Application in a Container

I wrote before about why I decided to put an application into a Docker container. Today I’m going to cover a bit more of the how. I originally wrote the application fast and dirty. It was my first serious use of Python and my first distributed system application. Like many coders, I used what I knew rather than losing time learning lots of new things at the same time.

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Training for VM Operators

I am back at the front of the classroom, although in this case, it is an online classroom. Starting in February I will be teaching a course on “Operations with VMware vSphere” for Safari Books Online. If you are a Safari subscriber then you can register here on the site  The course is included in the Safari subscription, no additional fee to attend.

Of course, if you read this blog you are unlikely to be the audience for this course. I will be covering using VMs for applications rather than building and operating the vSphere infrastructure. The course is scheduled to run every two months, provided there is audience demand. So please promote the course to your application teams, it will help them to be better citizens of your virtual infrastructure.

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Who Is Going to Tech Field Day 13? These People, plus Me.

Next week is another great Tech Field Day event for me. This time it is Tech Field Day 13 in Austin. It seems that I only attend odd numbered TFD events, TFD9, VFD3, VFD5, TFD11, SFD11, and now TFD13. I don’t think that here is any conspiracy here, just seems to be how it works out.

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Vendor Briefing SimpliVity

It has been a few months since I last got an update for SimpliVity, so the launch of their OmniStack V3.61 was a good reason for an update.
• There are some nice manageability updates in this version. You can now take an existing SimpliVity cluster and convert it into a stretch cluster. The SimpliVity Data Virtualization Platform will redistribute the VM data copies across the nodes. Then advise you when it is safe to relocate half the nodes to another datacenter.
• The deployment and upgrade processes have been simplified and made more robust. They now use what I call a “Trust and Validate” approach to verify all the configuration settings provided by the customer.
• I wasn’t surprised to hear that VDI has been a huge growth area for SimpliVity. Their first VDI Reference Architecture had some amazing numbers for user density, which lead to great cost per user desktop. In this release, they have a VDI license model for OmniStack. A discounted license cost that disables the backup and replication features. These features are seldom used in VDI deployments. SimpliVity has also published (or are about to publish) Reference Architectures for a few VDI platforms: Epic healthcare, Workspot, and Citrix XenDesktop 7.11.
• One aspect of SimpliVity that I like is the use of compute nodes. There are hypervisor hosts that consume the SimpliVity datastores. Essentially delivering more compute capacity to the cluster. SimpliVity support compute nodes as a normal part of a deployment, rather than just as a migration process.
• The other news from SimpliVity is that their partnership with Huawei has been very successful. This Chinese company’s name is not well accepted in the US. The rest of the world has a lot of Huawei equipment, particularly in telco businesses. Expect to see more models of Huawei servers supported as OmniStack nodes in the future.
Disclosure: in 2015 & 2016 SimpliVity was a customer of mine. I have written training materials and white papers for them, I also have many friends at SimpliVity. SimpliVity did not solicit or have any control over this blog post (or any other on

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Writing in December

Each month I write articles that are published on other sites, which is a large reason why I don’t write so much on this blog. It looks like I only got one blog post here in December, but had at least 7 more articles published. I write most weeks on TVP strategy, this writing is fun as there is minimal editorial control of the content, I write about what interests me.

Over on TechTarget the content is more controlled. I work with TechTarget editors to agree topics. Most of my editors are happy if I go somewhere a little different with topics, so I still get some control.

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My First Docker Container

I’ve been reading and writing about Docker for a while. Recently I started using Docker for a project, getting hands-on to solve real problems is my favorite way to learn. Like most infrastructure people I don’t consider myself a developer. Sure, I write a lot of scripts. But I know almost nothing about proper software development. For my workload generator project, I was using Ansible to manage the build of a bunch of Ubuntu machines. These machines exist simply to run some workload scripts. My first workload is a script written in Python; it does some file server access and emailing.

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Vendor Briefing: SolarWinds

I last talked to SolarWinds at my first TechField Day event, way back in 2013. I remember being impressed with the depth of geekiness at the company. Their people have deep math skills to help the product analyze the data that it gathers. Today’s briefing was with my friend Gina. She recently joined SolarWinds as part of the Server & Application Monitoring (SAM) product marketing team. The first thing is that SolarWinds have a suite of products, in fact, three suites. The product set that we looked at was the one for deployment inside enterprises, with an overarching name of Orion. The Orion part is a unified management console for the main enterprise products, of which SAM is one. SAM looks like a pretty good tool. It delivers lots of actionable information without getting too stuck in the mire of metrics. There is an application template concept. A pre-built set of configuration for monitoring common applications. The templates allow customization but are based on a set of standard monitoring best practice for each application. Even better, in the SolarWinds Thwack community, you can share templates. I also like monitoring tools that make it easy to take corrective action. Rather than just informing you they allow you to fix issues from within the monitoring tool. Simple actions like restarting services are built in, as are more complex actions like resizing VMs. Some actions can also be scheduled, so a VM can be resized during the maintenance window. I would like to see this closing of the loop more automated. Having the monitoring system restart services or migrate VMs automatically will speed up fault resolution or avoidance. Naturally, there will need to be rules around automated changes to VMs and applications. But in the end, we must accept that machines can follow rules better than people. People still need to set the rules to suit the business needs.
The whole SolarWinds Orion suit looks really nice. I hope to make time to get some of the products deployed into my lab this week and may have more to say soon.

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