Standardizing ESXi Configurations

Maish over at Technodrone posted a great article yesterday titled: Host Profiles Should Become a Standard Feature. In the article he states:

Having your hosts configured exactly the same should be a standard feature. It is in VMware’s best interests. It means less support calls, less anguish from customers, better customer adoption there are more than enough reasons.

I absolutely agree! The problem is in order to achieve host standardization given how vSphere is currently architected you need to abstract the configuration out of the host and into vCenter Server. Today, that is where Host Profiles come into play. The problem with Host Profiles are two-fold:

  1. Requires vSphere Enterprise Plus edition. This is the highest tier license VMware offers today and it has the price tag to prove it!
  2. The do not always work. Maish put it “Host profiles works almost all of the time”, but I prefer to be more blunt. Host profiles do not always work and do not fully support everything within a host.

So basically you have to pay a lot of money to get a feature that does not always work. Maish goes on to say:

Before Autodeploy was introduced, we used other tools, like Ultimate Deployment Appliance or the ESX Deployment Appliance (to ensure standard host configurations). They were great solutions for their time, but I suppose since Autodeploy was released they are not really used for ESXi deployment that much any more.

Wait, Autodeploy is used in a majority of ESXi deployments today? I find that hard to believe for several reasons:

  • Requires the vSphere Enterprise Plus edition
  • Requires Windows to function unless you are running VCSA
  • Requires PowerShell/PowerCLI to configure
  • Requires management servers that are not configured by Autodeploy for failure scenarios (i.e. chicken and egg problem)

But the real proof is what people are actually doing today. Two great examples that come to mind:

  1. Nick Weaver – uses Razor and not AutoDeploy to deploy systems
  2. VCE – Only supports boot from SAN (AutoDeploy may be officially supported now, but was not for quite a while)

In any case, I believe the problem of host standardization during deployment can be solved with a variety of tools available today including: boot from SAN, Autodeploy, Razor, and UDA/EDA. The hard part is solving the issue of compliance. Compliance can mean a variety of things including regulatory, change management, and security. Whatever the reason compliance is important in many environments. So how do you ensure compliance? The answer from VMware is Host Profiles, third parties have come up with solutions (e.g. HyTrust), and you could write your own tools.
I am a big proponent of standardized deployments and configurations whenever possible. Today, VMware offers Autodeploy and Host Profiles to perform these functions. The problem is that both of these features require a vSphere Enterprise Plus license and both have limitations that prevent them from being widely adopted. As VMware environments get larger and more products get added to the VMware portfolio it is crucial that VMware ensures standardization of environments. This means it is crucial that the tools they provide to ensure standardization work well and are required (thus are included by default) to be used.

© 2013, Steve Flanders. All rights reserved.

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