VMware vRealize Automation 7

Motor for the Cloud

Easy Management of Cloud Resources

The main task of any cloud management platform is to bind the underlying cloud resources to the cloud platform and thus allow consumers to provision services. vRealize Automation allows all of this. It is not only possible to integrate VMware resources, such as vCenter clusters, but also resources from other vendors. For example, administrators can easily integrate Microsoft Hyper-V, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), KVM, Citrix, vCloud Director, vCloud Air, or Amazon Web Services. It is not for nothing that VMware positions vRealize Automation as multiplatform cloud management. Nevertheless, the tool plays out its full strength in VMware environments, not least because of the good integration with other VMware products, such as NSX (for virtualization and security automation), vRealize Operations (for monitoring and capacity planning) or vRealize Log Insight (for log analysis).

To be able to manage cloud resources and make them accessible to users on the self-service portal, vRealize Automation implements a kind of logical layer model abstraction. The lowest layer is where the hypervisors or cloud providers reside. For vRealize Automation to be able to access them, admins need to configure end points. The discovered resources then form the fabric. Cloud administrators can then group fabric resources by specific criteria. For example, it would be possible to pool all resources at one location in a fabric group. Many other criteria are also possible, however. Fabric groups can be used to isolate hardware resources, create service tiers, for licensing reasons (e.g., when creating a fabric group for Microsoft SQL Server), or they can be created based on other criteria.

Tenants are in turn divided into business groups. These are typically organizational units such as departments or customer projects that require dedicated user management and resource allocation. Reservations give business groups the ability to leverage the underlying resources when provisioning of infrastructure services. A reservation is a one-to-one mapping between an underlying resource and a business group. Reservations are also important because administrators use them to control what operating resources vRealize Automation can provide to the individual business groups. Computing resources, memory, storage or available networks are considered operating resources. Once the resources configured in the reservation for a business group are exhausted, no further provisioning is possible with the reservation.

All told, the model implemented by vRealize Automation is impressive. It abstracts the underlying virtualization and cloud platforms and thus enables broad support for a wide range of hypervisors and cloud providers as advertised by VMware. At the same time, the approach is sufficiently flexible to make it easy to implement a wide range of customer requirements and extensions.

Simple Provisioning of Complex Services

Before the service catalog can be populated, administrators first need to define the services to be published in vRealize Automation. The central element of publication in vRealize Automation is the "blueprint," which handles all aspects of a service. In the case of VMs, this includes the actual hardware resources (CPU, memory, disk space), but also the deployment procedure. For example, vRealize Automation can produce a machine by means of (linked) cloning, but also supports techniques such as booting from ISO images, Linux Kickstart, SCCM, or Windows Imaging (WIM) file format.

VMware has given special attention to the process of creating computer networks and applications in the most recent version. The new Blueprint Designer (Figure 4) stands out here; it lets admins create complex design templates for application environments using drag-and-drop techniques. Thanks to integration with VMware NSX, admins can also provision applications along with a dynamically generated network stack and various network tiers.

Figure 4: Blueprints let admins manage all aspects of complex installations. The figure shows an example of an application consisting of three nodes – a load balancer, an application server, and a database node.

The latest version of the intuitive Blueprint Designer sees VMware keen to deploy VMs as well as install or configure software. This is achieved with the new software components, reusable modules for running cmd, PowerShell, and Bash scripts on VMs that can be easily applied to VMs using drag-and-drop in Blueprint Designer. To avoid the need for cloud operators to reimplement all software components, VMware provides a range of ready-made components (e.g., for Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, JBoss application server, or MySQL) on its Solution Exchange Marketplace. If this is not enough, you can easily build a configuration management tool like Chef or Puppet into the provisioning process.

The ability to save blueprints as Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is also new. This means that admins can export or import any blueprint as a YAML file using a command-line tool. This is especially interesting, as this approach lets admins create different versions of a blueprint in a software management tool, such as GitHub, integrate them with other installations, or revert to an older blueprint version.

Creating Additional Features

Although vRealize Automation already contains many features out of the box, in most corporations, the need arises to implement additional features or at least adapt the product such that corporate policies can be observed. The list of possible adaptations is long.

Simple changes only relate to the forms in the service catalog where you might need to add additional fields or to introduce restrictions for existing fields. It is often necessary to customize the life cycle of a VM. For example, it might be necessary to integrate a machine into an enterprise-wide IP address management tool, to ensure a valid IP address and hostname, or define which network to use, before actually provisioning the machine. After the deployment is complete, it is customary to create an entry in a configuration management database (CMDB) in many companies. It may also be necessary to archive the data before you delete a machine. vRealize Orchestrator handles such changes in the life cycle of a service (Figure 5).

Figure 5: vRealize Orchestrator lets administrators set up workflows that also take third-party plugins into account, if necessary.

Extensions may also be required for previously provisioned resources. Users may conceivably want another button in the user interface, for example, to perform a fully automated backup or install a virus scanner on demand. VMware refers to such operations as Day 2 Operations, because their execution time does not coincide with the original deployment of the resource.

VMware generally recommends the use of its own Orchestrator to implement workflows in a VMware-centric ecosystem. The vRealize Automation service catalog is precisely designed to publish developed workflows in Orchestrator. Companies do not need to develop such workflows from scratch; instead a powerful ecosystem has now formed around Orchestrator. Many manufacturers already offer prebuilt plugins for Orchestra whose workflows can in turn be published in the self-service catalog. As an example, consider the plugins by various storage vendors that support automated building and mounting of additional logical unit numbers (LUNs). Because such services can include virtually any functionality, VMware also refers to this as Anything as a Service (XaaS) in contrast to infrastructure services.

Although it was already possible to make such adjustments in previous versions, VMware has tried to make development work as simple as possible in the most recent version. This means a further simplification of the API as well as centralized administration and linking of events with workflows. The final result was the Event Broker, which allows centralized triggering of Orchestrator workflows. In addition to the life cycle events of a VM (e.g., requesting or deploying a VM), this also includes approval workflows, configuration changes, Day 2 Operations, or event logging. It's also still worth noting that the product has a well-documented REST interface and its own CLI.

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