For years I’ve been meaning to get out to a VMUG (VMware User Group) meeting. I came really close to going a couple years ago but things came up with work and making time was tough – my team was extremely, um, lean. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of distraction at my current job, but my current place is really cool about getting people out there and picking up new things which is always good and we have a great, diverse team. I’ve been a vSphere user since my first deployment of ESXi 4.0 in 2009 yet it wasn’t until April 2014 that I worked at a company where I wasn’t the sole “VMware guy”. So, it may come as a surprise to some that it took me almost 5 years of using the platform before joining a user group. So, at last, I finally went to a VMUG in Philadelphia!
So where does one start? I think first I’ll talk about who was there. The nice part about this specific VMUG (and I am sure others) was that you had people from all industries and career tracks. In chatting with people I found that there were system administrators, engineers, storage administrators, architects, and developers. I also found that there were people who may be engineers but come from all different levels of VMware familiarity. This was refreshing as I honestly did expect that everyone there would VCP’s/VCAPS and know everything and I’d be trying to keep up with the discussions of vSphere 6.0 kernel revision code and … it wasn’t that at all. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of VCPs there because there was, but there were people from all levels. I guess I carried this concern with me from a user group (Infor Visual if you must know) I used to attend somewhat regularly and 15-year veterans of the software/system would talk about how they missed the old v3.6 days and were intimately familiar with the development of the product and would talk in what I would refer to as “obvious ambiguity”.
Homelabs are important!
One of the coolest references I heard time and again though was to homelabs. I am a huge advocate of homelabs and I don’t think you can learn/tinker nearly as much in a test environment at your employer as you can in your own homelab. There’s a certain aspect of letting your guard down when you know that no one is watching you blow out your RAID configuration by accident or slip VIBs into an image that completely hose your installation all while in the confines of your own home. Doing that at work, though innocent and benign in a test lab, will surely get feedback from others and may prevent you from trying things. There was maybe three different speakers that referenced their “home lab” and they hold titles like “Chief Technologist” at significant virtualization system development companies. Very cool.
Anyway, the format was pretty standard. You have a breakfast/introduction session and then smaller rooms covering varying topics with some breaks mixed in between, some lunch, and then more smaller sessions, some breaks, and then the closing, all while the exhibition hall is open with vendors. All in all it was very effective, but I did have a couple suggestions. First, I’ll list the events I attended and a quick review:
- Taking the Next Step in Personal Growth and Professional Development – Somewhat of a required/built-in non-elective session. The speaker did a good job of being motivational in explaining how he got to where he was and things to consider when trying to grow you career.
- Break 1
- Exhibit Hall to check out vendors – Fun stuff to see here – lots of giveaways, vendors not too pressing, saw some old faces from vendors we already deal with, some brief product demos and explanations and met some new people.
- Break 2 (I stayed in Exhibit Hall)
- Virtual SAN 6.0 What’s New – Technical Walkthrough – Very good overview of what’s new in VSAN 6.0 and the presenter did a great job of focusing on new features and not old features and how to implement.
- Lunch – good sandwiches and stuff to eat
- Evolutions of Flash-Based Storage in Virtualized Data Centers – super cool presentation, good presenter, cool touch on technology and the struggle to increase speed and where flash storage will be (and is) going.
- Break 3
- Pairing vCenter Site Recovery Manager with Virtual SAN – practical integration of SRM and Virtual SAN 6.0 and how easy it is to setup a DR scenario. Several do’s and do not’s also.
- Break 4 (though I did demos below)
- Performance: Decoupled demo with PernixData – interesting software that kind of seems to do what the entire Nutanix solution does. Moves the VMs to hosts with local flash storage while still replicating the data. Software solution from the kernel level – definitely interesting.
- The Pure Storage Benefit to Virtual Volumes demo with Pure Storage – high level touch on VVOLs and Pure Storage integration (though surprisingly not totally vendor specific and broad spectrum which I liked)
- Palo Alto product demo with Palo Alto
- Break 5
- Performance Best Practices for vSphere 6 – Not a whole lot in this one. Not a ton of new information but for statistics of performance benchmarks on physical versus virtualized servers. Biggest highlight was that vSphere 6 lowers latency a lot and offers “latency sensitive” modes to VMs. This one left a little to be desired honestly.
- VCDX Panel – words of wisdom from vExperts/etc. and was pretty insightful – motivated me to investigate vExpert with VMware.
- Closing Reception – giveaways from vendors, and the more grand-prizes of a homelab and VMworld, expenses paid trip!
Whew, that’s a lot of stuff. I think I gave a enough blurbage on each to convey what they were about. It was a pretty packed day. All of the presenters did a great job of filling everyone in on new content in vSphere 6 and talking, as best they could in ~50 mins, about how to leverage the new features. This was great.
There were, though, three areas that I would suggest improvement on. One may or may not be something the VMUG could have done anything about but the issue was the layout. I live within 30 mins of the location that the VMUG was held at but had never been there before. It was completely confusing as to where to go in order to actually get to these talks/events. That may seem pedantic, but the thing is, you’ve got like 500+ people all trying to get to events that they think pertain to their interests and they’re all trying to find a conference room called “New Jersey 2”. So, really, what it came down to was “did I see a sign for New Jersey anywhere in my travels today?” and if not “who looks like they work here?” Not a huge deal, but it meant getting to the rooms on time was tricky considering the facility is 3+ floors deep and pretty high in square footage. This is more an issue with the venue than VMUG but it’s worth mentioning that maybe having more signs between locations would have helped. There were times where I thought I was actually in the venue’s office portion.
The second suggestion I have is a little less easy to remedy: the events I was interested in conflicted – always. For instance, there were three talks on DR/backups/recovery in the 10:10AM – 10:50AM slot. Yet, in the next slot, 11:00AM – 12:00PM, there were two sessions I’d like to have attended but obviously couldn’t. One was on Virtual SAN 6.0 which I did attend and the other was on vSphere with Operations Management. It happened again in the 1:40PM – 2:20PM slot where I went to the SRM and Virtual SAN session but also wanted to attend “Virtual Volumes for Everyone” but couldn’t. Finally, there was the “Performance Best Practices for vSphere 6” at the same time as “vCenter 6.0: Deep Dive on Deployment” in the 4:00PM – 5:00PM slot – both things that go hand in hand and yet were conflicting.
Finally, and I may be alone on this one: enough breaks! I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t need 60+ minutes of dedicated “break” time in addition to a 40 minute lunch. I would much rather have had the option to attend the sessions that conflicted at this time. Again, maybe I am alone, but maybe figure out a way to run some sessions as a repeat during the break time.
I know it’s hard to schedule all these sessions within the confines of a single day and I am sure much thought went into the schedule, but I can’t help but wonder why vSphere best practices and vCenter deployment deep dives were in the same slot. If you’re concerned about one, you’re concerned about the other too!
“You never forget your first kiss, car, or vMotion.” – @
All in all, though, it was a great experience. I picked up tons of free stuff, the vendors were cool as always, I learned things about vSphere 6 that I didn’t know yet (and I am running it, more on that in another post), and it was a great way to network. I came out of the event motivated to do more with VMware both from a technological standpoint as well as a social standpoint. I would recommend anyone go to this event. It’s costs you nothing and you’re sure to gain plenty. I left this event with names and faces who I now follow on Twitter which leads to more and more thought provoking conversations on technology.