vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) automated/unattended deployment

Installing the vCenter Server Aplliance (vCSA) automatically using an unattended deployment can be done by command line (CLI) in combination with a JSON config file.  In this example an embedded vCenter Server Appliance with the Platform Service Controller (PSC) and vCenter Server role will be deployed.

Prerequisites:

  • This example is based on a Windows Operating System. Using a Linux or MAC OS is also possible but not highlighted in this blog.
  • Make sure the FQDN of the vCSA is resolvable by a DNS server and check if reverse lookup works.

Steps to perform:

  • Download the vCenter Server Appiance (VCSA) ISO (version 6.5 or 6.7)
  • Mount the ISO
  • The CLI installer for Windows requires a Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable version 14.0. This requirement can be checked with the following command:
\vcsa-cli-installer\win32\check_windows_vc_redist.bat
  • Navigate to the JSON templates. The vCSA ISO contains template JSON files that can be used for deploying the vCSA. The templates can be found on the ISO in the following map:
 \vcsa-cli-installer\templates\install

The types of templates are avalable:

           embedded_vCSA_on_*.json: Platform Services Controller (PSC) and vCSA
                                     together on one system
            PSC_on_*.json:           Only a PSC
            vCSA_on_*.json:          Only a vCSA
            *_on_ESXi.json:          Install onto the ESXi host specified in the JSON
                                     file
            *_on_VC.json:            Install onto a host managed by the vCenter
                                     instance specified in the JSON file
  • Edit a template “embedded_vCSA_on_ESXi.json or use the example below with you’re favorite editor (I use Notepad ++) and save it to a writable location (in the CLI syntax you need to point to this modified JSON file). The template contains the minimal parameters needed to deploy the embedded vCSA. The vCSA will deployed as tiny (2 vCPU, 10 GB memory, 300 GB storage). An overview of all parameters that can be used are found here, link.

Example JSON file to deploy an embedded vCenter Server Appliance with the PSC and vCenter components:

{
    "__version": "2.13.0",
    "__comments": "Sample template to deploy a vCenter Server Appliance with an embedded Platform Services Controller on an ESXi host.",
    "new_vcsa": {
        "esxi": {
            "hostname": "192.168.11.10",
            "username": "root",
            "password": "VMwaaare01!",
            "deployment_network": "vlan13-srv",
            "datastore": "SSD-M2-01"
        },
        "appliance": {
            "__comments": [
                "You must provide the 'deployment_option' key with a value, which will affect the VCSA's configuration parameters, such as the VCSA's number of vCPUs, the memory size, the storage size, and the maximum numbers of ESXi hosts and VMs which can be managed. For a list of acceptable values, run the supported deployment sizes help, i.e. vcsa-deploy --supported-deployment-sizes"
            ],
            "thin_disk_mode": true,
            "deployment_option": "tiny",
            "name": "vcsa03.lab.local"
        },
        "network": {
            "ip_family": "ipv4",
            "mode": "static",
            "ip": "192.168.13.13",
            "dns_servers": [
                "192.168.13.101"
            ],
            "prefix": "24",
            "gateway": "192.168.13.254",
            "system_name": "vcsa03.lab.local"
        },
        "os": {
            "password": "VMware01!",
            "ntp_servers": "pool.ntp.org",
            "ssh_enable": true
        },
        "sso": {
            "password": "VMware01!",
            "domain_name": "vsphere.local"
        }
    },
    "ceip": {
        "description": {
            "__comments": [
                "++++VMware Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP)++++",
                "VMware's Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) ",
                "provides VMware with information that enables VMware to ",
                "improve its products and services, to fix problems, ",
                "and to advise you on how best to deploy and use our ",
                "products. As part of CEIP, VMware collects technical ",
                "information about your organization's use of VMware ",
                "products and services on a regular basis in association ",
                "with your organization's VMware license key(s). This ",
                "information does not personally identify any individual. ",
                "",
                "Additional information regarding the data collected ",
                "through CEIP and the purposes for which it is used by ",
                "VMware is set forth in the Trust & Assurance Center at ",
                "http://www.vmware.com/trustvmware/ceip.html . If you ",
                "prefer not to participate in VMware's CEIP for this ",
                "product, you should disable CEIP by setting ",
                "'ceip_enabled': false. You may join or leave VMware's ",
                "CEIP for this product at any time. Please confirm your ",
                "acknowledgement by passing in the parameter ",
                "--acknowledge-ceip in the command line.",
                "++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++"
            ]
        },
        "settings": {
            "ceip_enabled": true
        }
    }
}

The first deployments failed when using the FQDN ESXi hostname in the JSON file, with the following error:

OVF Tool: Transfer Failed

OVF Tool: Error: Failed to send http data

Deployment failed. OVF Tool return error code: 1

I checked the logs but didn’t find any clue. The FQDN of the ESXi host was revolvable by DNS but after changing the ESXi FQDN to the IP address of the ESXi  host in the JSON file the deployment finished without errors.

  • Perform a template JSON verification without installing:
vcsa-deploy install --accept-eula --verify-template-only <JSON file path>
  • Perform the actually deployment
vcsa-deploy.exe install --accept-eula --acknowledge-ceip --terse --no-ssl-certificate-verification <JSON file path>

When the unattended deployment finished, an embedded vCenter Server Appliance with the Platform Service Controller (PSC) and vCenter Server role is ready to rumble.

I created a GitHub repository for the deployment and parameters, link.

VMware documentation about the CLI deployment can be found here, link.

Review NAKIVO Backup & Replication v7.5 – Backup and Recovery

In this part of the NAKIVO Backup & Replication review the backup and recovery options will be highlighted.

Backup

To begin with backup and recovery we first need a backup job. Configuring a backup job contains the following five steps:

  • 1. VMs: Select the VMs to backup from the inventory of the vCenter Server or ESXi host.

  • 2. Destination: Select the destination to store the VMs. Select the onboard repository with deduplication and compression enabled for storage space savings.

  • 3. Schedule: Create one or more backup schedules

  • 4. Retention: Define the retention period for each Virtual Machine (VM). Each VM will have one or more recovery points were individual files, application object or the the entire VM can be recovered. A Grandfather-Father-Son (GFS) backup rotation scheme can be used.

  • 5. Options: Select the options for the backup job:
    • App-aware mode: Use this option for applications that require that the data is consistent such as Microsoft SQL and Exchange.
    • Change tracking: Only the blocks that are changed since the last backup will be backup ed. This will increase the backup speed.
    • Screenshot verification: After the backup of each VM it will be recovered (with the network disconnected) and a screenshot will be made after the OS is started. The screenshot will be included in the email notification or in the job report.
    • Email notifications: When the job completes the status is send by Email.
    • Transport Mode: Hot Add, SAN, LAN or automatic can be selected
    • Bandwith throttling: With bandwidth throttling you can control the amount of bandwidth that is consumed by NAKIVO Backup and Replication.

The are more options to configure, refer to the following link for all the options to configure.

In 5 easy wizzard based steps a backup job is be configured.

Reports

There are several reporting functions available such as:

  • Last run report.  Provides the status of the last run backup.
  • Point-in-time report. Provides data on a particular job run.
  • Job history report. Provides data on job runs that occurred during a specified time period.
  • Protection coverage report. Contains information about all VMs and instances protected by backup and/or replication jobs, as well as about all unprotected VMs and instances.

The “last run” report is includes information about the backup such as:

  • Summary
  • Virtual Machines
  • Target Storage
  • Alarms & Notifications

This report can be created manually or in the backup job you can specify the email address of one or more recipient(s) were the report will be send to.

When screenshot verification is used, the screenshot is also included in the report.

Restore / Recover

Appliance backup

The configuration of the NAKIVO Backup & Replication server /appliance can be secured by using the Self-backup feature. When something happen with the NAKIVO Backup & Replication server the configuration can be quickly restored on another server.

After the first backup job is finished there a multiple ways to recover VM data. The following options are available to recover data from the backups:

  • Individual files. You can recover files or folders directly from compressed and deduplicated repository.
  • Microsoft SQL Server objects. Enables browsing, searching, and recovering Microsoft SQL Server objects.
  • Microsoft Active Directory objects. Enables browsing, searching, and recovering Microsoft Active Directory objects.
  • Microsoft Exchange objects. Enables browsing, searching, and recovering Microsoft Exchange emails.
  • Export Backups. This is called “Cross-Platform Recovery” and will be handled in the next paragraph.
  • Flash VM boot. Enables to run VMware and Hyper-V VMs directly from repository without the need to recover the VMs first.
  • VM recovery from backup. Full VM recovery. When you recover a VM, a new VM is created and the “old” VM is retained.

I tested several recover options:

  • Individual files. Individual files per VM can be restored. The files can be recovered on a server (for example on the same location as deleted), downloaded to the browser or emailed. I tested to recover two PowerShell files from a VM and selected the download to browser option. The files recovery is performed in seconds.

  • VM recovery from backup. With this option one or more full VMs are recovered.  The original VM will be retained so the recovering VM will not overwrite the original VM.  The recovering VM name will append “-recovered” in the end. The recovery is fast.

  • VM Flash boot. With the VM Flash boot option it’s possible to boot VMs directly from the compressed and deduplicated repository without recovering the VMs first. This saves time and can be used for example for testing software updates. VM Flash boot uses iSCSI technology to connect VM disks stored in the backup to a target to the ESXi host. In this test I recovered two VMs in isolated network and performed a software update for testing. The changes are not written to the recovery point that i’m using. When i’m finished with testing i can discard the VMs with a single click so that all the changes are lost.

  • Cross-Platform Recovery. Cross-Platform Recovery allows exporting virtual disks to other formats such as:
    • VMDKs for VMware
    • VHD for Hyper-V
    • VDHX for Hyper-V

This allows you to recover VMs in different environments (VMware to Hyper-V and Hyper-V to VMware). In this testI exported a VMware Virtual Machine with two VMDK disks to VHDX disks with the Backup Export Wizard. The “Export backups” wizzard is used and by selecting the VM and recovery point, disks and options to start the export job.

When the export completed, I created a new VM in Hyper-V Manager and pointed to the restored VDHX disks. Then i was able to start a Hyper-V VM with the exported disks attached. Cross-Platform Recovery can be used for recover VM disks from between hypervisor such as VMware vSphere to Hyper-V and to VMware Workstation and VirtualBox.

In this part of the NAKIVO Backup & Replication review I highlighted the backup and recovery features. It was a pleasure to test the backup and recovery features because they were easy, quick and they worked out of the box without any troubleshooting skills needed. In the next review I will highlight the replication feature.

 

Review NAKIVO Backup & Replication v7.5 – Installation

In this part of the NAKIVO Backup & Replication review I highlight the installation and basic configuration.

For the installation of NAKIVO Backup & Replication you have several options. NAKIVO Backup & Replication can be installed as:

  • Windows or Linux installation package
  • Virtual Appliance for VMware (OVF)
  • In the Amazon AWS cloud
  • Directly installed on NAS devices such as QNAP, Synology and NETGEAR

In my test environment I installed NAKIVO Backup & Replication as Virtual Appliance (VA) on my VMware vSphere 6.7 environment. This is the latest available version of VMware vSphere when writing this blog. The installation of the virtual appliance can be deployed using the vSphere Client (HTML5) or the vSphere Web Interface.

After specifying the name, ESXi host/cluster, storage and selecting the right network, the VA is ready to be deployed. The appliance uses the following resources as VM:

OSUbuntu Linux (64-bit) Virtual Appliance
CPU2 vCPU
Memory4 GB
Hard Disk 130 GB
Hard Disk 2520 GB (repository)
Network Adapter1

After the deployment the appliance is ready to start. In the console of the Virtual Appliance several settings can be adjusted such as: networking, security (SSH and root password), time and services using a menu interface.

The next step is the basic configuration.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) Support

Another test i did is to install NAKIVO Backup & Replication directly on my QNAP NAS. The installation is straight forward. Download the NAKIVO QNAP package and install this using QNAP AppCenter. After the installation you’re ready to perform the basic configuration.

Basic config

After the installation is complete, you can log into NAKIVO Backup & Replication by opening the following URL:

https://<IP_address_of_QNAP_NAS>:4443

The fist time create an user and you’re able to log in. In a three step wizard the following is configured:

  • Inventory: On what virtual/cloud environment are my VMs running (VMware, Hyper-V or AWS)?
  • Transporter: That’s the component that performs the actual backup, replication and recovery as well the data compression, deduplication and encryption of the data.
  • Repository: Where will the data stored.

Inventory

Because I have a VMware vSphere environment, I connect to an ESXi or vCenter Server in the inventory tab.

Transporter

The Virtual Appliance acts as transporter. The maximum load is default 6 concurrent tasks. It’s always possible to add extra transporters when needed.

Repository

For the repository I use the onboard repository (uses hard disk 2) that is attached to the Virtual Appliance. The onboard repository compression and deduplication is configured by default.

Other repositories options are: CIFS, NFS and Amazon EBS.

Updating

When new updates are available they are displayed in the web interface.

For the Virtual Appliance (VA) download the updated installer and upload it the VA (/opt/nakivo/updates) folder. Open the console of the VA and select “Software Update” in the menu. It would be great when the upgrade process of the VA can be automated without any manually actions in feature releases.

This was the last step of the 3 step wizard. After approximately 15 minutes i’m ready with the installation and basic configuration of the Virtual Appliance.  I can conclude the following after the installation and basic configuration of NAKIVO Backup & Replication test:

  • The installation of the Virtual Appliance and NAS option are simple and can be deployed very fast (minutes) without the need of a extra Windows licensing costs.
  • When installing NAKIVO Backup & Replication on a NAS device. there is no need for VM resources or physical hosts which saves money
  • Management via done by Web Browser, no software installation is needed