One of the major features that came out of the vSphere release 16 months ago was the rebuild of the IP stack and iSCSI initiators. With this change was the introduction of the concept of multiple vmkernel ports on the same network, allowing for multipathing your iSCSI connections. Shortly after this change, Dell released a tech paper describing how to create a dedicated iSCSI vSwitch, multiple vmkernel ports, assigning IPs to those ports, setting all of them to use Jumbo Frames, and finally enabling the iSCSI initiator to use the ports concurrently. This became the standard for multipath I/O with iSCSI in general and EqualLogic specifically. Within your vSphere infrastructure, you could now set your datastore connections to use Round Robin pathing and increase both your bandwidth and redundancy on SAN connections. Fast-Forward another year, and VMware releases their latest version, vSphere 4.1 on us last summer. Again, there is major changes to the way that vSphere handles storage. With the release of the vStorage APIs, VMware allowed storage vendors to write hooks directly between their products and vSphere. Some new features introduced to vSphere include offloading storage transactions, faster backups, direct cloning and copying support. However, to get these new features you need three things: Enterprise Plus licensing on your ESX hosts, vSphere 4.1, and the software from your 3rd party vendor. With EqualLogic, this is not necessarily the case. EqualLogic released their vSphere API software, the “MEM”, in September 2010 for use by their customers in virtual infrastructure. If you are currently at vSphere 4.1 and at Firmware v4.3.5 (?), preferably 5.0.2, you can install and use the EqualLogic MEM today regardless of your ESX licensing level. You will see some performance increase, automatically configure all EqualLogic datastores for MultiPathing, and set the Datastore Pathing to a new “Dell_PSP_EQL_ROUTED” option. This pathing option is optimized for EqualLogic storage, and some of our customers have seen up to a 15% increase in performance over the previous manual multipathing and Round Robin connections. Additionally, when installing and configuring the MEM, the setup script automatically builds, configures, and connects your vNICs and IPs, vSwitches, and vmkernel ports. What is important to know is that the MEM works at ANY vSphere licensing level. What doesn’t work is the higher level vStorage API hooks into EqualLogic. If you are at the Enterprise Plus licensing level, you can now leverage those APIs within vSphere for your day to day operations. In a traditional sense, every time you copy files from one datastore to another, such as moving VMs, cloning, snapshots, and such were resource intensive on the ESX hosts. Data would need to move from the Datastore to the ESX host and then back to the new Datastore location even if it was on the same datastore. With the MEM in place and Enterprise Plus, the vStorage APIs allow for those transactions to happen directly on the array without traversing up the line to the ESX host. This change can significantly decrease the back end load on your ESX hosts, increasing availability for supporting your VMs and overall efficiency. What is needed to install the MEM? First of all, install the CLI tools on a management host or your vCenter server or download and install the VIM appliance to allow CLI access to your vSphere infrastructure. You need to have a current support contract with Dell and download the MEM to your vCenter server, or CLI/VIM host. For simplicity, we will go with CLI from here on. Download and unzip the MEM and open up the vSphere CLI interface. Set your ESX host into Maintenance Mode, browse to the MEM folder and run ‘setup.pl –install –server=”192.168.xxx.xxx”‘ and watch the magic happen. Actually, there isn’t much magic. The script will ask for a username and password, and after a few minutes it completes. Reboot your ESX host, and once it comes online again, open up the CLI, browse to the folder, and run ‘setup.pl –configure –server=”192.168.xxx.xxx”‘ This time, there is actual magic happening. The script asks several questions as part of the configuration, such as ‘vSwitch name’, ‘vmNICs to use’, ‘IPs for the vmNICs’, ‘Frame Length’, and ‘Group IP’. At the end of the conversation, it will show the actual configuration script being run, and once you hit ‘YES’, it will build the vSwitch as indicated, rescan the iSCSI bus, and set the connections to the new “Dell_PSP_EQL_ROUTED” option. With additional software available for free (as long as you are on maintenance) from Dell|EqualLogic, why wouldn’t you use this to increase performance and available resources within your existing infrastructure?
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