Although creating new hosts is a common server virtualization task, it is also a tedious process. Solution providers can use VMware Auto Deploy for vSphere 5 to do it much more efficiently.
Installing single hosts isn't hard for solution providers but configuring multiple hosts can be time consuming. A VAR that has to create a new vSphere host without VMware Auto Deploy typically has to do the following:
1. Locate the installation media for ESX or ESXi and boot the server from it.
2. Follow the setup prompt to set configuration information.
3. Complete the installation and then reboot the server.
4. Verify that management console networking works properly.
5. Add the host to vCenter Server.
6. Configure networking, storage, security and other settings.
In doing all this, you risk making mistakes during the build process and could configure hosts inconsistently. Consistency is very important in a virtual environment both from a security and operational perspective. Once you’ve built and configured a host, another challenge is to back up host configuration data so if a problem occurs and you need to rebuild the host, you don’t have to restart from scratch.
Inside the hood of VMware Auto Deploy
VMware recognized that a more efficient mechanism was needed to automate new host installation and added Auto Deploy, which allows you to automate stateless ESXi host provisioning and re-provisioning. This is a big change from traditional ESXi installation because ESXi hypervisor files and state are not stored on the host disk at all.
Auto Deploy loads an ESXi image file directly into the host’s memory from vCenter Server whenever the host is booted. The vCenter Server stores the image files and profiles for each host and handles all updates and patching. While images can be preconfigured with certain settings, solution providers can also use enhanced host profiles to further configure images.
Auto Deploy consists of the following components:
- Auto Deploy Server – The main component of Auto Deploy that serves image files and host profiles to ESXi hosts.
- Rules engine - Maps software and configuration settings to hosts based on the attributes of the host.
- Image builder command line interface (CLI) – Allows you to manage software depots, image profiles and ESXi software packages that are called vSphere Installation Bundles (VIBs).
- Image profiles – Define which VIBs a host should load.
- Host profiles – Created from within vCenter Server, host profiles define host-specific configuration information such as networking or storage setup.
- Answer files - Stores information that is user-provided during the boot process.
Auto Deploy benefits
Here are some specific advantages for solution providers using VMware Auto Deploy:
- The feature decouples the host from the physical hardware and eliminates the need for a local disk in a host. This makes it easier to replace failed hardware because restoring data to new hardware is no longer a concern; you can simply boot the host from any server hardware.
- Reduces the cost of physical host hardware for your customers since you no longer need to purchase local storage in hosts.
- Deploys new hosts is quickly and easily, so you don’t have to find installation media to install on each host. Ensures that your host builds are consistent because builds and configuration are centrally controlled from images and host profiles.
- Prevents hosts from getting littered with old files and the remnants of previous builds as a fresh image loads every time the host is restarted.
- Simplifies patching, which consists of updating the image using image builder and rebooting the host, and updating. Solution providers can also just update the central image instead of updating each host individually.
VMware Auto Deploy will help shift the way that solution providers deploy vSphere 5 for customers. Because of the financial and practical benefits to using Auto Deploy and having stateless hosts in your customer’s environment, this feature may be a key selling point for vSphere 5.
About the expert
Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran whose primary focus is VMware virtualization and Windows server administration. He is one of the 300 vExperts named by VMware Inc. for 2009. He is the author of the book VI3 Implementation and Administration and a frequent TechTarget contributor. In addition, he maintains vSphere-land.com, a VMware information site.