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HC380 Build Day Wrap Up

What an amazing week. My first time getting out of the airport in Houston. The first vBrownBag Build Day. Also, my first hands-on time with HC380. We used YouTube live streaming for the first time and even used FaceBook live video too. I was reminded how long it has been since I was in a datacenter after midnight. I also had Fuzzies tacos for the first time and went to the NASA space center Houston.

What is HC380?

HPE has a huge portfolio of products, even with the consumer products and the HP Software parts gone. HC380 is their in-house developed HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI) platform. It uses DL380 servers, StoreVirtual software, and some specially developed software. An important characteristic is that HC380 is a vSphere based HCI, ESXi for the hypervisor and vCenter as one of the management tools. The StoreVirtual software runs as a Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) on each HC380 node, consuming all the local storage and contributing it to a storage cluster.  The StoreVirtual cluster presents the storage back to the vSphere hosts as iSCSI shared storage. The HC380 nodes have a combination of solid state disks and spinning hard drives which are used by StoreVirtual as tiered storage. The vSphere and StoreVirtual interfaces are available for the virtualization administrators and there is integration between the two. These infrastructure components and management tools are important to the infrastructure owner.

For VM owners, the HC380 provides a different user interface. The HC380 management UI provides a VM centered view without showing any of the virtualization infrastructure. This UI allows VM operations: creating VMs, monitoring their resource usage, VM power control, and even VM console access. This UI is usually integrated with Active Directory, or another LDAP directory, to allow administrators to devolve operational tasks to VM owners. There is quite a lot of functionality in this console, without the complexity and risk of devolving control in the vSphere client.

What did we do on the live stream?

We started with a functioning vSphere environment that represented a real customer environment. A vCenter Server Appliance and a single ESXi server with half a dozen workload VMs. We treated all the existing environment as if it were a real customer, not a disposable lab environment. When the deployment got difficult we needed to protect the existing vSphere and VMs, just like in a real deployment. Then we deployed an HPE HC380 hyperconverged platform into this customer environment. The challenges of integrating with an existing customer are an important part of the Build Day. We spent an hour troubleshooting a deployment problem that turned out to be due to the existing customer environment. It was a lot like the real world of IT projects, we even called on HPE’s HC380 support team. Once the platform was deployed we created new VMs using the HC380 management user interface. Then we migrated the existing customers VMs into the HC380 cluster. Over the course of the live stream, we used both the infrastructure tools and the VM owner console. You can watch the entire build process in this playlist on YouTube.

What else did we do?

We did spend a week in Houston with HPE and the live stream was only four hours long. We spent some of the time getting all the video gear setup. We had about four cameras as well as screen capture for my administration workstation. We also pre-recorded some segments. We did interviews with product management as well as field engineering. These segments served two purposes, they provided context for the actions we took in the live stream and the filled any time when the live stream would simply have been watching progress bars. All the pre-recorded segments are in the playlist on YouTube.

What impressed me?

One of the big things I learned was that HPE gets what hyperconverged is all about, simplification. One perspective of HCI is that you need to build a whole new product that has VMs as the central unit. This tends to be the message from the HCI startups who followed that path. But HCI can be built using pre-existing products and still deliver simplification. This is the sort of advanced simplicity I have been talking about. The HC380 management user interface is simple and all the complexity managed with clever software. The HC380 management UI is all about VMs, for staff who only care about what is inside the VM.

The virtualization and storage administrators care mostly about what is underneath the VMs. All their usual management tools still work as normal. I could manage the HC380 cluster and VMs through vSphere. When I needed to access the StoreVirtual side I simply launched the CMC. I hadn’t managed a StoreVirtual system since they were called LeftHand but could still attach an additional ESXi server to the storage to migrate VMs onto the cluster. I liked that the VMs created in vSphere appeared in the HC380 user interface. Even better the VMs created in the simplified HC380 user interface had the same name in vSphere.

What did we learn?

One painful lesson we learned was to save router configuration changes. The lab where we did the whole build day had a power outage about four hours before we went live. We lost the route between the management and storage networks. As a result, the HC380 deployment hung when the StoreVirtual cluster needed to talk to vCenter. Happily, the logs revealed the issue to our HPE support team and when we re-added the route the install completed.

Resources we used

As you build out an HC380 cluster there are a few things you will need along the way. First off is the HC380 product home page, from there you can get a lot of product information. I always like to have a look over the installation guide, the HC380 installation guide is full of prescriptive guidance on deploying HC380. You may also need to download a couple of tools. If you haven’t already deployed One View for vCentre, then grab that and install it first. You will also want to run the HC380 validation tool on the seed host before you start the One View Instant On deployment wizard for the HC380.

For more of a look at the next version of the HC380 management user interface take a look at this video from HPE Discover