Saturday, October 16, 2010

Which ESX version am I running on ?

(An update of an older post: now with vSphere 4.1 info. Further updated in 2011 with vSphere 5 info.)
Your Linux runs on a VMware VM, but which ESX version is it ? You can see for yourself (as already explained in an earlier post on this blog). Run "dmidecode" and look at lines 10, 11 and 12. The list has been updated with current info:
ESX 2.5 - BIOS Release Date: 04/21/2004 - Address 0xE8480 - Size 97152 bytes
ESX 3.0 - BIOS Release Date: 04/17/2006 - Address 0xE7C70 - Size 99216 bytes
ESX 3.5 - BIOS Release Date: 01/30/2008 - Address 0xE7910 - Size 100080 bytes
ESX 4 - BIOS Release Date: 08/15/2008 - Address 0xEA6C0 - Size 88384 bytes
ESX 4U1 - BIOS Release Date: 09/22/2009 - Address 0xEA550 - Size 88752 bytes
ESX 4.1 - BIOS Release Date: 10/13/2009 - Address 0xEA2E0 - Size 89376 bytes
ESX 5 - BIOS Release Date: 01/07/2011 - Address 0xE72C0 - Size 101696 bytes

Friday, October 15, 2010

USB-over-IP goes mainstream


I've been into virtualization for a long, long time, so I was familiar with the USB-over-IP concept. It has always been the preferred way to bring USB into a virtual machine, because it doesn't limit the flexibility of virtualization: live migration (vMotion), failover (HA), fault tolerance, ... can all handle USB-over-IP.
But I was still surprised to find a cheap USB-over-IP device in a local computer store: the Belkin Network USB Hub, NUH for short. 100 USD list price, became EUR 90 retail price here in Belgium. Not the greatest deal around, but no reason to feel grumpy.
Now let's see what this baby can do: the test setup consists of the Belkin NUH and two clients: a Windows Vista 32-bit laptop connected over WiFI and a Windows 2008 R2 64-bit VM on VMware vSphere connected over wired GigE. Then I gathered a diverse set of USB devices: USB memory sticks, USB hard drives, a USB smartcard reader, and a USB CD/DVD writer.
The NUH gets a DHCP address by default (can be changed to a fixed IP). The Belkin software on each client detects the NUH on the LAN, shows you which USB devices are plugged in, and which system name is using each USB device.
Claiming a device is easy, and after installing a suitable driver, the device is ready to use. I didn't encounter problems using any device I tested !
So all in all, it works very well, and as easy as can be. However, as a virtualization user, I've got to consider home use as well. And I have to be honest: this device is probably not for production use. Why ? Let's look at both sides of the medal:
Pro's:
  • 5 USB ports can each be used by a different system
  • Easy setup
  • Wide compatibility. Every USB device that I tested worked. Even a webcam worked, even though Belkin says they don't guarantee the functionality of webcams and some other devices
  • Relatively cheap. I've seen solutions 3 to 5 times more expensive, including some with less functionality.
Cons:
  • Windows only. That's a pity. The NUH runs an embedded OS (doesn't seem to be Linux however), and the protocol is probably Belkin-specific (I guess?).
  • Security aimed at home use: no passwords, no authentication. Every computer on the network can connect, see which USB devices are there, see who's using them, and connect to unused devices. True, the NUH can firewall (allow or deny) a couple of IP ranges, but anyone who can reprogram his own IP address on the LAN, can circumvent that. Using one NUH per OS and allowing just that one single IP address is the most secure option, but not the cheapest, nor the most manageable one.
  • Not that fast. I saw a sustained 3MBps from a client to the NUH, which is not the peak performance a USB disk can do.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

QNAP to support VLAN tagging in firmware 3.4

Good news for those of us with QNAP units in our environments. On the VMworld partner exhibition floor, my sources confirmed that VLAN tagging support has been implemented, and will be released in firmware 3.4. QNAP has release 3.3.3 recently, and it's unknown when 3.4 will be released.

Monday, October 11, 2010

ESX home lab upgrade

My original home lab, three years old now, included two PC's running virtualization software, with Intel core 2 quad CPU's and 8 GB RAM each. While browsing for a replacement, I found Didier's Shuttle SX58J3 review. I researched some alternatives, but decided to go for the SX58J3 as well, fitted with 12 GB RAM and i7-970 CPUs, hexacores with hyperthreading.
  • shallow: depth is critical in my telco rack.
  • reduced height: I might get 4 shuttles in the same space as 2 minitowers earlier. They're actually slightly wider, but not by much.
  • 12 GB per server is 50% more than the old lab (16 GB is supported but slower)
  • the Intel core i7-970 CPU gives 100% more MHz than the old Q6600. They are much more expensive, truth be told. But being Westmere generation, they support vSphere4.1 features like DirectPath I/O and Fault Tolerance.
  • I can re-use the PCIe dual gigabit adapters I had in the old lab.
One real problem so far: in BIOS v100, I couldn't change any setting without rendering the machine unbootable (hanging on "checking NVRAM"). With default settings, I could install Vista and update to BIOS v102. Booting problems were then solved, and the machines now boot ESXi 4.1 from a USB stick.
A minor issue I still have to resolve: putting ESXi in standby mode works, reviving them via Wake-On-LAN doesn't (yet).