VMware Cloud Foundation—It’s Not Just a Licensing Bundle

Heather Eakin

What is VMware Cloud Foundation? It’s more than just an innovative way to bundle licensing together: it’s also a product that helps you manage the compatible versions of several different functional elements that you would otherwise have to manage separately.

Version control is hard enough as it is with just a couple of differing solutions. In a VMware environment that is only running ESXi and vCenter, you might run into problems by upgrading a host before you upgrade the vCenter. Oops—now the vCenter can’t manage that host. This is just one example where it is simple enough to gather all the necessary compatibility information and determine the order of operations for upgrade, potentially avoiding the above situation. Now imagine you are also running vSAN, NSX, and vRealize Operations (vROPS) in this same environment. You will have to validate that all components work with each other before every upgrade. 

The Complexity of the Upgrade Timeline

Traditionally, VMware starts product update releases focusing on vSphere and ESXi first, and then rolls out updates to other products in a staggered timeline. Based on this, it would be entirely possible that applying a new release of vCenter/ESXi would be compatible with vSAN and vROPS, but not yet with NSX. There is always a chance that performing a rolling upgrade of your environment without checking compatibility could break the cross-product compatibility and cause reduced functionality—or worse, a network wide outage. Not to mention that vendor support will have you roll back any unsupported updates before any troubleshooting could happen.

Imagine that you use more stand-alone products. The interoperability will become increasingly more complex with each addition. vRealize Automation, Log Insight, Site Recovery Manager (SRM), and Workspace ONE are all examples of multiple software deployments that must be compared to each other to ensure continued, correct operation. With all these different products, it quickly stops being simple to ensure that you are moving to a compatible version. 

The examples described are just applicable to single data center environments. If you are using SRM or vSphere replication as part of your Disaster Recovery plan to a separate location, you also need to make sure you don’t upgrade the primary data center beyond what the DR site will be capable of receiving.

VMware Cloud Foundation Components

Luckily, VMware is on top of this problem. The first piece of the answer is Lifecycle Manager. This product is part of the vRealize Suite, which helps you support the deployment, upgrade, and patching phases of all other vRealize solutions, including Log Insight, Automation, and Operations Manager. If you have nothing currently handling these functions, this would be a good standalone option to consider. However, if you are like many other companies, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. This is where the second piece of the puzzle comes in—VMware Cloud Foundation licensing (VCF).

VCF is a bundled suite that, depending on the licensing model you choose, includes the following components:

  • SDDC Manager
  • vSphere (with Tanzu)
  • vCenter
  • vSAN
  • vRealize Suite, which is Log Insight, vRealize Operations, vRealize Automation, vRealize Lifecycle Manager
  • NSX-T
  • Workspace ONE Access

SDDC Manager will automate the installation, configuration, upgrades, and patching of vSphere, vSAN, NSX, and the vRealize suite components, using Lifecycle Manager. There is automatic, constant communication between the SDDC Manager and the Lifecycle Manager, so VCF is aware of which vRealize components are installed—eliminating any chance of attempting to deploy conflicting software releases. Critically, SDDC Manager will not let you upgrade any component to an unsupported version; it will instead notify you when compatible patches or upgrades are available, and then let you schedule them.

No solution is perfect, but both solutions described will go a long way to easing the initial configuration and the ongoing updating and patching of your VMware environment.  To learn more about either of these solutions to maintaining your VMware environment, contact us today.

Heather is Senior Manager of the Data Center Practice at Connection with more than 24 years of experience in data center, virtualization, and networking technologies. She holds a Master of Science in Information Technology Management, as well as certifications from the ITIL Foundation and Security+.