Host Deployments in a Software Defined Data Center (SDDC)

Host deployments in a Software Defined Data Center (SDDC):  How do you deploy the hypervisors in your company?  There are several different choices: installing from a CD, installing over the network, and/or Pre eXecution Environment (PXE), to name a few methods currently available. When there are not too many physical hypervisors to worry about, CD installation works just fine; the need for automated installation grows in direct correlation to the number of hosts.

Once you have reached the point where automation is needed, PXE has been the tried and true method for hands-off automation installation and is what is still used to this point, but if we are going to have a true SDDC, shouldn’t installation be software-defined within the management of the SDDC?

VMware and Red Hat both have used Kickstart as the method to install and configure the hosts. Using the %pre and %post settings, there was nothing you could not get done during installation. VMware has moved forward with the auto deploy service in conjunction with host profiles to automate installation with centralized management. Auto deploy is not complete, in my opinion; there remains the final hurdle of tying it all together with an interface for the service inside of vCenter Server, thus getting away from having to use PowerCLI to configure the service.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has had a solid solution, called Windows Deployment Services (WDS), in place since around 2003. WDS isn’t really a deployment solution in itself; rather, it’s a critical infrastructure component used by real deployment solutions such as Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and System Center Configuration Manager. Using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit with Microsoft System Center has provided the most robust tool for configuring deployment options, in addition to tying it in to Microsoft System Center.

So where am I going with this? Simply that automation and installation should be a configured part of the cloud infrastructure. Microsoft, in this case, is way ahead of the pack, with one big catch—its services will only work with Microsoft products. This is not a big deal if you are a Microsoft shop to begin with, but the solution is designed not to focus on just a specific technology, like virtualization, but rather to address all systems, physical and virtual, in the datacenter.  Microsoft has spent the last decade or more enhancing its offering, and it elected to make virtualization and/or its cloud servers an additional part of the whole Microsoft ecosystem, not a separate entity. Without this separation, Microsoft will struggle to have a complete version of SDDC.

VMware, on the other hand, may be lagging behind Microsoft in the robustness of auto deploy and host profiles, but they are moving in what I think is the right direction for VMware’s push to the SDDC. It will not be too much longer before all deployment options will be able to be configured inside vCenter Server, making it another step closer to a SDDC.

The rest of the pack seems to use the tried and true methods of install and configuration, and I have not seen anything recently that would point to a change in direction. I believe that at some point they are going to need to take a look at changing the methods of and options for installation to bring them on par with Microsoft and VMware offerings.

In a Software Defined Data Center, automation is king, and the complete automated installation and configuration needs to be a part of that process, built into the management of the cloud as a first step. After that is fully complete, then the next step that I would really like to see is cross-platform installation options built in, to deploy the different hypervisor technologies for true heterogeneous environments. I believe that the only way this will happen is via third parties, but one can hope.

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