Cisco Nexus 1000v Free-mium Pricing Model Release Reaction/Commentary

Alright… so Cisco announced a Q4 2012 availability of a new version of the Nexus 1000v virtual switch in September. Of course, the release is going to have so many features and functions that there is no way we could not justify paying the $695/CPU that they charged (plus support) for the virtual switch.

A mere 4 hours into October, a blog post was published from Cisco ( dramatically reducing the cost of playing with their toys to a big fat $0 (plus support). Check out the break down of the features:


[Note: the graphic above was taken from the blog post and can be found by following the link above]

I have three very differing reactions to the announcement that I am struggling with determining which one wins out:

1. Nice move Cisco

This was a very smart move on Cisco’s part. The adoption of the Cisco 1000v has been anything but spectacular. Functionality sounds great from a high level. However, when compared with the price and availability of the VMware Distributed Virtual Switch that is available out of the box, why make the jump to a per CPU solution?!

Plus, with the up and coming virtual network changes coming our way, getting customers to buy in to the Cisco ecosystem before will get them locked in for whatever the future holds. Nicira has the potential to shake up the virtual switching in upcoming releases.

2. Great… more people using Nexus 1000v

My experiences in $CurrentJob involve using an environment with 1000v deployments all over the place… and the results have been less than spectacular. All too often, a networking issue arises that we lose visibility to, ports being blocked with no explanation, VSM upgrade failures, VEM upgrade failures, etc… To say I am a fan of the 1000v would be pretty far fetched. Probably better stated: To say I am a fan of our 1000v implementation would be pretty far fetched. I am sure 1000v implementations out there are more successful. I just have a hard time recommending to people to implement the 1000v in their environments when the provided distributed virtual switch is good enough.


3. Great! More people using Nexus 1000v

See what I did there?! (“…” vs “!”)

In my self-admitted limited times with the Nexus 1000v, it really seems like there is a lack of people that know ANYTHING about the 1000v. Understanding the NX-OS side of the switch is critical (obviously). But, so is understanding the nature of a virtual environment (especially with vCloud Director making more of a play in datacenters) and the virtual environment implemented (1000v will support VMware, Microsoft, Xen, and KVM hypervisors) is equally as important. The nature of the workloads and behaviors change.

So, by having more people using the Nexus 1000v, there will be more and more people available as “experts’ or at least legitimately “experienced” with the product than before. This can bode well for future implementations for sure.


Ultimately, I think this is a good move. Cisco is acknowledging that getting another “advanced” product into the ecosystem a gratis helps drive purchasing for other Cisco products in the datacenter. Plus, at a much higher level, it is an acknowledgement in the direction that the market is moving… and they’re trying to get a toe-hold before the SDN wave takes hold. Will this fix what I am working with? Not one bit. Will this fix what I will be working with in the future? With more people having experience, it may for sure.


Scale Computing – HC3 Product Launch

Scale Computing… the company with a name that never really made sense… until today. You see, Scale Computing began in 2007 as a storage company. Their most recent product lines, the M Series and S Series products, utilized HGFS (licensed through IBM) to provide a clustered filesystem for data consumption. Need more space… just add a new node and let the cluster work its magic. Combine the simplicity of the cluster filesystem with the creation of a highly usable web-based management utility, and you get a simple and powerful storage system.

But… isn’t that storage? Not really compute? Perhaps the “Computing” was foreshadowing for the most recent Scale Computing product release: HC3 Hyperconvergence system.

HC3 represents a significant change to the direction and focus of the company. Scale is utilizing IP and existing products in the storage realm and enhancing the storage experience with server virtualization functionality.

Let’s dig into some of the nitty gritty technical details we all want to see:

Technical low-down

The virtualization functionality is provided via the highly powerful and versatile KVM hypervisor. The use of KVM in a system like this always raises an eyebrow, or two. More often than not, KVM is relegated to the “Linux/UNIX geek” realm. The hypervisor is highly functional, feature rich, and has a very solid following in the Open Source community. New functionality, enhancements, and maintenance is constantly ongoing. Plus, with KVM in the OpenStack development line, KVM is just the beginning of where the Scale Computing layer could go in the future. Additionally, as a consumer of Open Source software in its solution, Scale contributes back to the community. Scale has slightly modified KVM to allow for better caching and has released that code back to the community for consumption elsewhere.

As mentioned above, Scale is building the HC3 on their existing HGFS filesystem. KVM is a natural hypervisor selection based on the fact that it operates at the same level in the OS as the filesystem… just another service installed in the OS.

Many of the expected virtual machine management functionality is present in the HC3 product:

  • Live Migration
  • Resource Balancing
  • Thin Provisioning
  • VM Failover/Restart On Node Failure
  • Storage Replication
  • etc…

As far as hardware is concerned, the HC3 product is built on the same hardware as the M Series storage line. You can see more details here: Heck, existing Scale Computing customers can install a firmware upgrade on the M Series hardware to get HC3 functionality… gratis too.

Management of the environment, like the storage, is handled in a clustered fashion. Connection to any of the node management IP addresses results in the ability to control the entire cluster. No need for a centralized controller for management services. The connection for management is handled by any HTML5 compliant browser. I guess this means an iPhone browser could be used (although, I question the usefulness of such a form factor… but, it should work nonetheless).

Once logged into the management interface, a number of components can easily be managed: Virtualization, Storage, General, etc… If you have used the interface before, the only major difference between the pre-HC3 and post-HC3 interfaces is the addition of the Virtualization option. The interface is very simplistic with very few options available. Navigation is logical and easy to use.

Target Market

Scale computing has made a very conscious decision to focus on the SMB/SME markets. These markets tend to employ a small number of IT personnel with limited knowledge and high expectations placed upon them. For the business, selecting a product that performs a role, is easy to use, and provides high levels of availability is extremely desired.

Scale has identified the market and designed HC3 to reflect what their customers want:

  • Easy administration
  • Few configuration options
  • Expandability
  • Small form factor (1U servers)
  • Support for common operating systems
  • Resiliency
  • Performance
A solution like HC3 fits really well for the SMB/SME markets. If the business does not have a need for a highly customizable environment, HC3 may be exactly what they are looking for. Leveraging HC3 may result in IT administrators having extra time on their hands to work on other projects.

What makes Scale Computing HC3 different?

One of the most significant differentiators for the HC3 product is their starting point. While it makes sense for THIS company, starting with a solid storage foundation, followed by a virtualization plan is really a different path to get to a converged infrastructure product. Scale has developed a solid storage product and decided to make a hypervisor decision that compliments existing efforts while providing the functionality customers are looking for.

The ability to scale compute and storage resources is becoming an expectation and the norm in virtual environments. HC3 allows for two major ways to scale:

  1. Addition of a new HC3 node – This adds additional footprint for executing virtual machine workloads… plus additional storage.
  2. Addition of a new M Series node – This adds additional storage without the compute functionality.

Scaling by adding an M Series node, while possible, just does not make sense at this time. The possibility to add additional compute resources to the HC3 cluster holds so much more potential benefit to a consumer that I find it hard to believe this would be used. But, for what it is worth, that is an option.

Simple is better. For the target market, removal of complexity results in a predictable and, hopefully, low-touch compute environment. There is less of a need to have deep knowledge just to keep the compute environment functional. Scale has made a number of configuration decisions behind the scenes to reduce the load on customers.

What is missing?

With all the hotness that HC3 provides, a number of notable features are missing from this release:

  • Solid reporting – Aside from some “sparkline”-esque performance graphs (on a per VM basis), the ability to look back on a number of statistics for any number of reasons (Ex: troubleshooting performance issues) just is not there. For the target market, this may be an acceptable risk. I do not necessarily agree, though.
  • VM Snapshotting – At this time, the snapshotting functionality is achieved by snapshotting the entire filesystem.
  • Crash Consistent Snapshots – The snapshots of the volumes are crash consistent — in the event a VM is restored from a snapshot, it is in a state that mimics a sudden loss of power… the server has crashed. So, reliance on OS and application recovery is necessary. Probably a good idea to have backups. Pausing the VM, if possible in your environment, prior to taking a snapshot would help in stability… but, that is a stretch.

Virtual Bill’s Take

I absolutely love the focus on the SMB/SME markets. They need some TLC, for sure. By focusing on creation of a utility virtualization device, the IT resources in the business can focus on moving the business forward rather than messing with complicated details. Howard Marks made a comment during a briefing from Scale: “Do you care if your car has rack and pinion steering? I just want to get in and drive”. This solution addresses the need to get in and drive. I can see this as being very appealing to quite a number of companies out there.

Scale Computing is an up and comer in the converged infrastructure game going on now. Converged infrastructure is making a play in the corporate IT ecosystem that challenges traditional thinking… and that is always a good thing. Selection of KVM as the hypervisor is logical, but it is going to be a hurdle to overcome. KVM just does not have the household recognition as other vendors. So, getting support from many directions is going to be challenging. But, after speaking with Scale Computing, they’re up for the challenge.

If they play their cards right, HC3 could help usher in a flood of new customers to Scale and a change in how SMB/SMEs operate server environments.

Taking The Next Step

For the past 9 years, I have had the privilege of working for a fast growing, dynamic, and fun environment. I started as a summer intern and worked hard to assume full design and implementation for all IT infrastructure. I was provided with experiences I never would have thought possible… including significant travels in Asia. Management fostered an environment in which I could grow personally, as an IT professional, and in my blogging/social media life. 

However, sometime earlier this year, I was approached with another opportunity by an outside group. The opportunity provided was significant and very appealing… tugging at my virtualization heart-strings. Suddenly, I was put into a position where I really needed to decide which direction I wanted to take my IT career. Continue on the IT generalist route (broad and deep in a handful of areas) or specialize more in virtualization (narrow but significantly deeper in the virtualization core pillars). 

After much debate, list making, and lost sleep, I decided to take a risk and accept the offer for the new position. 

Leaving my post at a company I have grown with and that has grown with me was tremendously difficult. The company fostered a family-like environment and I genuinely like everyone I work with. The company is full of rock stars and growing like a weed (but, a good weed that will turn into something cool in the future). But, I would be remiss to not take advantage of this new opportunity. 

The new opportunity puts me into a Senior role working with a truly enterprise-level environment… at a scale that is just mind boggling (almost 2 physical servers for every 1 employee at my former employer) The prospect of the position is exciting and I cannot wait to start there. Plus, I am going to be working in close proximity to some VMware/virtualization rock stars (a couple blocks apart) and one of my fellow PDX VMUG leaders. 

I am really going to miss my former employer and opportunities there, though. This is just a blip on their radar. I am positive the IT department is going to step up and make the infrastructure their own, just like I feel I was able to while there. But, I look forward to meeting everyone at the new job and getting deeper and dirtier into VMware virtualization!


PS – I apologize for the vague-ness of the post. However, I try and make a point of not calling out my employer on my blog… which the old company and new company appreciate. So, I hope you were able to follow along. 🙂

Tech Field Day 5–Delegate!

You know, I have to believe I am driving my friends a little crazy. All too often, the usual “Hey… what’s new?!” question is posed. The usual canned responses include “same ol’, same ol’” or "Not a whole lot”. However, the for the past couple of weeks, that response has changed. Now, it has morphed into:

  • Friend: What’s new?!
  • Me: Getting ready for San Jose…
  • Friend: San Jose? What’s going on in San Jose?
  • Me: Tech Field Day. I have this blog online…
  • Friend: <Interrupting> You… have a blog? What do you write about?
  • Me: Geeky tech/worky stuff. Just search for “Virtual Bill” online. Anyways… this group, Gestalt IT, seems to like what I am doing and invited me to San Jose last year for the same event. Tech Field Day gathers various Enterprise Technology companies together and present information to a small group of fellow delegates.
  • Friend: Delegates? That sounds pretty elite.
  • Me: Elite? Not quite. Super cool? Absolutely!
  • Me: For whatever reason, they asked me back for Tech Field Day #5. How cool is that?

I cannot state enough how honored I am to be selected to be a delegate for Tech Field Day #5. The group of people I am included with is just amazing. I have been an avid reader and consumer of the content these people create and influence. Now, I am included in a group with them. Talk about setting the bar high!

This go-around includes:

Sean Clark @vSeanClark
Jeff Fry FryGuy’s Blog @FryGuy_PA
Robin Harris StorageMojo @StorageMojo
Tom Hollingsworth The Networking Nerd @NetworkingNerd
Matthew Norwood Network Therapy @MatthewNorwood
Devang Panchigar StorageNerve @StorageNerve
W. Curtis Preston Backup Central @WCPreston
Maish Saidel-Keesing Technodrone @MaishSK
Eric Seibert vSphere-Land @EricSeibert
Greg Stuart vDestination  
Chris Wells vSamurai @wygtya
Stephen Foskett Pack Rat
Claire Chaplais   @cchaplais

I just finished a book last evening, The Lost Symbol (by Dan Brown). Towards the end of the book, I read a great passage that is very applicable:

… two heads are better than one… and yet two heads are not twice better, they are many, many time better. Multiple minds working in unison magnify a thought’s effect…”

– The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown

The thoughts that come from Tech Field Day groups are incredible. I was absolutely in awe at what I took from Tech Field Day #4 and I expect as much this time.

To the Tech Field Day #5 delegates: I look forward to meeting all of you! This is a fantastic group of people to be included with. This is going to be awesome!

Tech Field Day is going to be very accessible for people outside of the delegate group. You can stay up to date with what is going on by living on the Tech Field Day #5 page. This will be your home for everything Tech Field Day, including links to blogs, vendor sites, and the live video stream. Additionally, you can follow along in with Twitter: @TechFieldDay  #TechFieldDay and a list of delegates at:

Update–What Have I Been Up To!

Alright. I realize that it has been upwards of 1 week since I last posted. A couple of really cool things have popped up that have demanded some attention in addition to the usual work-y related stuff.


The corporate environment I work in has a desperate need for some mass storage… especially in the VM environment. We had tried using some fairly low-level storage devices (names of which I will not bring up on this post) for about 1 year. But, the fact of the matter is that they could not keep up with the demand we needed from them. Plus, their feature set was massively lacking. So, making future investments in these products did not really make sense.

So, now that we had the admission that the previous direction was not preferred, we were able to go down the road and look for more Enterprise SAN vendors. Enter EMC. Of the vendors we spoke with, EMC provided the best options for us (feature set, capacity, and integrations with our vSphere environment). The check was signed and submitted, and about 3 weeks later, I was at our datacenter unpacking the SAN!

This is my first experience with a true enterprise storage solution… and man, how crazy is this!? I love this device, but the learning curve is fairly high. The most frustrating part to contend with is organization of the data. Now, we have a device that is so smart that we need to smarten up how we organize our data!

Guest Lecture

Get this… I am going to be a guest lecturer at my alma mater! In about 1.5 weeks, I will be presenting a primer/intro on virtualization! With virtualization becoming as massive and important as it has been, I felt that the students needed some sneek-peak into the real world. So, I reached out to the department chair of the University and asked if I could come and talk. Sure enough, he said ‘Yes’. So, now I am spending my quality time trying to come up with the presentation, content, and examples to show to the attendees. I am super excited about it… and super nervous. Talk about butterflies!

So, that is what I have been up to. I am hoping to have a posting on enterprise storage, Celerra plugin to vSphere Client, or something else nice, juicy, and ripe for the eating/reading.

Personal Environment Awareness and Responsibility With Modern Devices

Recently, a number of higher profile stories have made their way around the media world. Some stories are more local while other stories make national news outlets. Plus, quite literally, as I am typing this introduction to the blog posting, a user came up to me with a funky spyware application that had mysteriously made it onto her machine and it was not allowing her to start applications.

There is no question that computing devices are converging in almost every aspect of our lives. What was once a fairly straight forward object is now “Internet Enabled” and “Smart”. While phones seem like a logical extensions of the “smart” devices, we are seeing more and more “smart” devices. Smart refrigerators that tell us when we are running low on milk or cheese. GPS enabled vehicles. Even consumer level devices that ‘tweet’ when your plants need some human assistance (watering, no sun, etc…).

While these devices seem to be kitschy right now, they are becoming more and more common in our environment.

How many stories have popped up over the past year regarding a driver driving off the beaten path because their GPS device told them to? Countless. “My GPS told me I could go that way…” Never mind the lack of paved roads and the lack of traffic. All too often, this happens during the winter months, when the mountain passes and forest service roads are snowed in.

You see… these devices are enabling people to stop using their common sense and, instead, rely upon the infallible “smart” devices that are everywhere. The onus on making any kind of decision is being passed off onto “smart” devices that are really stupid. We, as humans, have possession of the most powerful computing devices ever created… our brains. While it may seem very obvious, we should be making decisions based on information provided to us. Perhaps it is from the Internet, talking to a friend, or just plain logic.

For example, a horrible story was released last week in our local news outlets. A girl from a high school was walking home from school when she was tragically hit by a freight train and killed. The story details that the girl was wearing her iPod and listening to music while crossing the tracks… and spent more time discussing how the train company was ensuring that the train blew the horns, hit the breaks, and did everything possible to stop from hitting the girl. In reality, the onus should have been on the girl to pay attention to her environment and notice a big train coming down the tracks, the vibration of the ground caused by the impending train, and the horn blasting. The investigators believe that this was accidental and could have been avoided.

The girl was using the iPod to listen to music when, in fact, there were other things going on around her that were more important and fairly obvious. This is not a problem that Apple needs to address with their products. Rather, it is the responsibility of the user to use them in a fashion that is responsible for their every day lives.

We are allowing new devices to interfere with what should be normal, day-to-day operations. We are relying upon these devices to make decisions for us and augment (or replace) what we perceive to be reality. GPS devices have no way to know when a road is shutdown due to an accident, refrigerators have no way to know that we have milk, but it has expired, and the plant-tweet-devices are just plain ridiculous.

I believe that these devices are actually tools that we can use to enhance our lives and our brains. We should be able to use these devices to learn more about our environment and allow us to act smarter, and not pass on the decision making to the devices.

  • GPS: learn about where you are going. Look for alternate routes ahead of time. Use Google Maps, Thomas Guide, or any other location utilities to show where you are trying to get to. Short cuts are usually bad ideas… otherwise, they would be the regular path. If you end up visiting the same area often, you will know more about the area and will be better off. Using GPS in your hometown is an awful idea.
  • Refrigerator: Only rely on the temperature and the light being on/off from any refrigerator information devices. Plus, use your eyes and brain to figure out if you need anything else.
  • Plant-Tweet device: Botany is an amazing activity. Understanding the needs of your plants is an important skill, especially if you wish to keep them alive. Otherwise, water them every day, get Cacti, or get a service to maintain them for you.

When it comes down to it, WE are responsible for our own lives… not our devices.

Welcome Home!

Good <insert time of day> everyone!

For those who have faithfully followed my musings on my old blog (still a goodie, though), welcome to my new home on the Internets.

My old blog was dedicated to VMware usage in SMB environments. However, I found that with my increasing need to blog about non-SMB related topics, that I was going to be alienating my readers and venturing off-topic.

So… enter ‘VirtualBill’!

Please feel free to check out my other blog for some awesome information… especially if you like PXE booting ESXi installations! I am going to try and move some of the content to this blog… but, you can still manually click this link (just 1 click… it won’t hurt… all the cool kids are doing it).