Q&A with Greg Shields: Top VMware vSphere Tips

Dive deep into the world of vSphere with noted virtualization expert Greg Shields.

You're experienced with VMware vSphere. You've built an ESXi server or three, and more than a few VMs over the years. Your vSphere environment is meeting your needs. Or is it? Have you paid licensing fees for vSphere features you aren't using? Do you know exactly what happens when you turn on HA and DRS?

In his upcoming TechMentor workshop, "67 VMware vSphere Tricks That'll Pay for This Conference," Greg does exactly what the title says -- and in this Q&A, he gives you a preview: 

What is it about VMware vSphere that has people wondering if they're truly getting the most out of it? Is it there's so much it can do they don't even realize?
Actually, vSphere is a complex, enterprise-ready, expensive product that's matured to fit a wide range of use cases. In layman's terms, that means there are a ridiculous number of knobs to turn and switches to flip. Add to this the multiple ways in which you simply can manage the platform, and what results is a beast that you can easily implement incorrectly. More specifically, it's easy to set up in ways that won't enjoy all the benefits in the best ways possible.  You spent the cash. Are you getting the most out of it?

OK, Greg, give us the #1 tip from your session.
My #1 tip with vSphere is, "Don't be afraid to mess around." All too often, I see environments set up years ago living out their lives without ever being reconfigured or fine tuned. Yes, it's scary to make changes to a working environment, but sometimes changes are necessary if you're trying to eke more performance/security/density/whatever out of it. Using tools like VMware Workstation to simulate your actual environment indeed takes time to set up, but it's absolutely worth its weight in having a safe space to play around.

What about your top tip for dealing with storage policies and/or VVOLs?
Consider not using them -- or do indeed give them a shot. Storage policies and VVOLs are both still bleeding-edge technologies that might not necessarily be needed in all environments. Thankfully, these days there are tools to simulate their use so you don't have to test out their implementation on live equipment. In the technology world, there are always new technologies to check out. Sometimes, the best sign of a good IT professional is one who knows when to not implement something.

What is the biggest mistake you see people make when implementing vSphere?
That's easy -- thinking that setting it up and building a few VM templates is equivalent to "automation." This actually makes me chuckle a bit. Think for a minute about the last time you got a work order to "build a VM." Just that -- build a VM.  Probably never. These days, the work orders are for building entire environments, whole series of highly available, fully redundant services that accomplish the real work. Back in the old days, we spent all kinds of time getting servers racked, stacked, and OSs installed, followed by all the other custom configurations that made those services. Virtualization was supposed to change all that. In reality, what it essentially did was remove the racking, stacking and OS installs. All the real work still comes after deploying the OS.  If "deploying a VM from a template" is your picture of automation, well then you don't know automation.

Is there anything with vSphere that you've run across recently that surprised you?
Not recently, no. And, that's not a bad thing. VMware is and has been doing some smart things, and at the same time making obvious improvements to the "operating system" that is vSphere. We're at a point of maturity where we should be seeing incremental improvements over more revolutionary changes. What hasn't yet caught up is the embrace -- the actual use of plenty of those sometimes really cool capabilities by the every day IT environment.  I hope to help those attending figure out what they can implement immediately to get more out of their investment, and maybe even pay back the cost of their visit to Orlando.

What would be the 68th tip on the list?
Make absolutely sure you implement Tip #67. If you don't, you could destroy your entire environment. Just come to TechMentor. It's a small, quiet, intimate experience you don't get anywhere else. My workshop might be a "seven hour session on vSphere," and that might seem a little overwhelming. It's actually more like seven hours of roundtable; a relatively small group learning from each other. I'm just the one that has to stand up the whole time .

Find out more about TechMentor conferences.

About the Author

Lafe Low is the editorial liaison for ECG Events.


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