If you’re a person that is using VMware or interested in starting, you should be a member of the VMware User Group (VMUG). This organization is focused on providing a local group that talks about all manner of virtualization-related topics. It can be a learning resource for you to pick up new techniques or technologies. It can also serve as a sounding board for those that want to discuss in-depth design challenges or project ideas. The various regional VMUGs have quite a following, with many quarterly meetings encompassing a full day of breakout sessions and keynote addresses.
I signed up for the Oklahoma City VMUG about six months ago shortly after confirmation that I had been selected as vExpert for 2012. I wanted to gauge interest in VMware locally and hopefully get some ideas about where people were taking it outside my own experiences. I work mostly with primary education institutions in my day job, and many of them are just now starting to realize the advantages of virtualizing their systems. In fact, my previous virtualization primer was directed at this group of individuals. However, I know there are many more organizations that are making effective use of this technology and I hoped that many of them would be involved in the VMUG.
What I found after I joined was a bit disjointed. There didn’t seem to be a lot of activity on the discussion boards. I couldn’t really find the leadership group that was in charge of meetings and such. As it turned out, there hadn’t even been a VMUG meeting for almost two years. There were a lot of people that wanted to be involved in some capacity, but no real direction. Thankfully, that changed at VMWorld this year thanks to Joey Ware. Joey is an admin at the University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center. He jumped in the driver’s seat and started planning a new meeting to allow everyone to circle back up and catch up with what had been going on recently.
When I arrived at the meeting on Nov. 12th, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I know that organizations like the New England VMUG and the UK VMUG are rather large. I didn’t know if the OKC VMUG was going to attract a crowd or a basketball team. Imagine my surprise when there were upwards of 50 people in the room! There were university administrators, energy company architects, and corporate developers. There were VMware employees and even an EMC vSpecialist. After a welcome back introduction, we got a nice overview of the new things in vSphere 5.1. Much of this was review for me, having been tuned in during the launch at VMWorld this year and reading great blog articles released thereafter (check out the massive archive here courtesy of Eric Seibert). It was great to see so many people looking at moving to vSphere 5.1. Of course, I couldn’t let the whole briefing go without injecting a bit of commentary about one of my least-liked features, VMware Storage Appliance (VSA). VSA, to me at least, is a half-baked idea designed to give cost conscious customers access to advanced VMware features without buying a SAN or even take the time to roll their own NAS from a Linux distro. It really feels like something someone threw together right before a code freeze deadline and got it on the checklist of Cool Things You Can Do In vSphere. If you are at all seriously considering using VSA, save your time and money and just buy a SAN. Now, during the VMUG session, there were several people that mentioned that VSA does have a place, but purely as a last ditch option. I’d tend to agree with this assessment, but again save your resources and get something useful.
We got a good discussion about vCenter Operations Manager (vCOps) from Sean O’Dell (@CloudyChance). VMware is really pusing vCOps in 5.1 as a way to increase your productivity and reduce the chance for human error in your configuration. They are really trying to push it by making the Foundation edition free in vSphere 5.1. The Foundation edition helps you get started with some of the alert capabilities and health monitoring pieces that many admins would find useful. Once you find that you like what vCOps is telling you and you want to start using the more advanced features to start managing your environment, you’re ready to move up to the Standard edition, which does cost around $125/VM in packs of 25. If you’re managing that many VMs today without some kind of automation, you should really look at investing in vCOps. I promise that it’s going to end up saving you more than 25 hours worth of work over the course of a year, which will more than pay for itself in the long run.
My first VMUG was well worth it. I was really happy that there were that many people in my area that want to learn more about VMware and want to talk to people that work with it. Just when I think that I’m the only one trying to do awesome things with virtualization, my peers go out and show me that I don’t really live in a vacuum. I really hope that Joey can keep the OKC VMUG going far into the future and keep spreading the word about virtualization to anyone that will listen. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get brave enough to give a presentation sometime soon.
If you are interested in joining your local VMUG, head over to http://www.vmug.com/l/pw/rs and sign up. It’s totally free and open to anyone. For those reading my post that are in the Oklahoma City area, the link to the OKC VMUG workspace is here. We’re going to try to have quarterly meetings, so I look forward to seeing more new faces after the first of the year.