Getting started with vCheck

If you use vSphere and particularly vCenter, you’re probably at least familiar in passing with PowerCLI, a package of snap-ins and modules for PowerShell. This is my preferred language for interacting with the vSphere/vCenter APIs, since it has (IMO) the best documentation of the available languages and API SDKs. If not, I recommend downloading it and playing with it, it can really help you automate many of your repetitive tasks with less Flash and less right clicking.

One of the most popular tools built with PowerCLI is vCheck. It’s a framework for running a number of checks against your vSphere infrastructure and determining what operational issues are present – something every Ops team needs. It won’t replace a monitoring system such as vROps or even Nagios, but it augments such systems very well. For example, it can report on VMs that have ISOs attached, or where snapshots have been present for more than 7 days – issues that probably aren’t worth paging anyone out for, but need to be dealt with eventually. Many of us have built some homegrown solutions for this, maybe even with PowerCLI, but it is difficult to beat a tool designed to meet the needs of a large percentage of vSphere users, is actively developed by VMware employees, and is a framework that you can extend with instance-specific needs. You can always run your tools and vCheck together, too.

Let’s take a look at vCheck and how to get started with it today. We’ll download it, configure it, schedule it as a daily task, review how to enable and disable checks, and store your configuration in version control. This provides a solid base that you can tweak until it fits your specific needs just right.

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Tag-based Veeam Backups

As I teased in Using vCenter tags with PowerCLI, I want to explore how to use tags  in a practical application. To refresh our memory, we looked at creating an Ownership category with individual tags in it, and limited VMs to having just one of the tags. We created a little script that defines our schema, in case we need to re-create it. We are going to work on a new category today for our backups. Specifically, Veeam backups, based on SDDC6282-SPO, Using vSphere tags for advanced policy-driven data protection as presented at VMworld 2015.

Defining Policy and Tags

To create our backup jobs, we need to know a few things that will translate into our tag schema. Our backup policies are defined by a combination of ownership, recovery point objective (RPO), and the retention period. For example, our Development group is okay with a 24 hour RPO and backups that are retained for a week. Operations may require a 4 or 8 hour RPO and require 30 days of backups. Each of those combinations will require a separate backup job. We can combine these tuples of information into individual tags so that Veeam can make use of them. We also need one more tag for VMs that do not need any backup at all. We can put all of this in a tag category called VeeamPolicy. Here’s what that might look like, again in PowerShell:

New-TagCategory -Name VeeamPolicy -Description "Veeam Backup Policy" -Cardinality Single -EntityType VirtualMachine
New-Tag -Name "NoRPO" -Category VeeamPolicy -Description "This VM has no backups"
New-Tag -Name "Development24h7d" -Category VeeamPolicy -Description "Development VMs with 24 hour RPO, 7 days retention"
New-Tag -Name "Operations8h30d" -Category VeeamPolicy -Description "Operations VM with 8 hour RPO, 30 day retention"
New-Tag -Name "Sales48h30d" -Category VeeamPolicy -Description "Sales VM with 48 hour RPO, 30 day retention"

This creates the category for the VeeamPolicy tags, a single tag for VMs that explicitly do NOT require backups, and three group/RPO/retention tuples. Go ahead and place this in revision control, so that over time, you can track the tags you are using. Tags are part of vCenter, so if you migrate to another or recreate your vCenter, you’ll need this! It also makes it easy to see what you’ve defined vs what’s actually in vCenter.

Next, we want to tag some VMs. There’s a number of ways this can be done, depending on how your VMs are organized. If we assume a simple VM and Templates folder structure where VMs are grouped by the owning organization (Development, Operations, Sales, Marketing, etc), we can tag all the VMs with NoRPO, then tag VMs in the relevant folders with the relevant tag. That would look like this:

# Default policy is NoPRO
Get-VM | % {
  New-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Tag "NoRPO"
}

# Find Development VMs by Location
@(Get-VM -Location "Development") +
@(Get-Template -Location "Development") | % {
  Remove-TagAssignment -TagAssignment (Get-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Category VeeamPolicy) -Confirm:$false
  New-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Tag Development24h7d
}

It’s important to look for VMs and templates. The @() structure creates arrays, which can be added together. We then have to remove the previous assignment before placing the new one, since our category is Single cardinality (Unfortunately you cannot overwrite the current tag assignment, boo!).

Note: The Location parameter takes a string, and it finds ALL folders that match the string. If you have a VM and Templates folder named Operations and a Datastore folder called Operations, All the VMs in BOTH will be discovered. I recommend adding ” DS” to the end of datastore folders, ” VDS” or ” VSS” to the end of Network folders, etc., to ensure there’s no conflict here.

You could also look for VMs by datastore folders:

# Find Development VMs by Datastore Location
$DevelopmentDatastores = Get-Datastore -Location "Development Datastores"
@(Get-Template -Datastore $DevelopmentDatastores) +
@(Get-VM -Datastore $DevelopmentDatastores) | % {
  Remove-TagAssignment -TagAssignment (Get-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Category VeeamPolicy) -Confirm:$false
  New-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Tag Development24h7d
}

You may also have a more complicated layout for groups, such as Operations, where you do not want all the VMs underneath a top level folder to receive the same tag. We can instead combine some individual folders underneath and list some VMs in them that we want to be left as NoRPO by adding some selection criteria and skip the individual VMs:

# Find Operations VMs
$OperationsExemptVMs = 'veeamproxy1', 'veeamproxy2'
@(Get-VM -Location "Domain Controllers", "Management", "vSphere", "Templates for patching", "Veeam") +
@(Get-Template | ? { (Get-TagAssignment -Entity $_) -eq $null } ) | % {
  # Skip these VMs which will not be backed up
  if ( $OperationsExemptVMs -contains $_.Name.ToString() ) {
    return
  }

  Remove-TagAssignment -TagAssignment (Get-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Category VeeamPolicy) -Confirm:$false
  New-TagAssignment -Entity $_ -Tag Operations24h30d
}

There’s a ton of other ways to select your VMs, this is just a sampling. If your organization could best be described as “Chaotic”, then you might have to assign Tags individually. However your tagging happens, when you’re done, you probably want a report so you can ensure everything was tagged properly. We can do that, too!

# Report on the current tag status
@(Get-VM) + @(Get-Template) | Get-TagAssignment -Category VeeamPolicy | Select Entity, Tag | Export-CSV -Path $env:USERPROFILE\Downloads\Tags.csv -NoTypeInformation

Open the resulting CSV file and we’ll have all our VMs and Templates and the Tag they were assigned. Print it out, red pen it, and tweak our categorizations. You can re-run the Find GROUP VMs sections, or if you want to start over, just delete the tag category and run the whole file again:

Remove-TagCategory VeeamPolicy

Tweak it till you get it right, and commit it to version control again. One last set of statements you may want to use is to find non-tagged VMs, either as part of your script (if you do not assign everything NoRPO) or on an intermittent basis to ensure every VM and Template is tagged:

@(Get-VM) + @(Get-Template) | ? { (Get-TagAssignment -Category "VeeamPolicy" -Entity $_) -eq $null }

Creating Veeam Backup Jobs

Now that we have our policy defined and tags applied, let’s create some jobs. We will be creating three jobs, one each for Development, Operations, and Sales. We will assume that automatic proxy selection will work and that there is only one repository, as those details aren’t important to the use of tags. This article was written using Veeam Backup & Replication v9, so if you’re reading this in the future, things may look different!

One last thing to note, and you may have figured this out already, is that when using Tags for our selection process, it’s an OR operation, not an AND operation. This means that if you select two tags, Veeam will find all VMs that match either tag, rather than VMs that much all the tags. That’s why we have three pieces of information in our tag! There’s a request to support logical AND – please comment in that thread if you think you’d find this interesting as well! If this is delivered in the future, it could really change how this is done!

Create a new backup job for Development:

Veeam Tag Based Backups fig 1

On the next page, click Add, then click on the right-most icon (Tags) and expand and select the Development24h7d tag and hit Add then Next.

Veeam Tag Based Backups fig 2

On the storage page, change the Retention Policy 7 days. This is also where we can hit Advanced and modify Quiesce settings, Notifications, and most other backup settings. Click Next when done.

Veeam Tag Based Backups fig 3

Make any selections we need to on the Guest Processing screen (not shown) and click Next. Now set up our schedule (not shown). Since this is a 24h RPO, this should run at least once a day (more is okay, if we’d like). Click Create to finish the job setup. We should end up with something like this:

Veeam Tag Based Backups fig 4

Now, every day at 10:00:00PM, the Development job runs. Veeam will contact the vCenter server and enumerate every VM with the Development24h7d tag, add them to the job, and then start backing them up. If the Development team deletes a VM, it’s automatically no longer part of the job. If they add a VM, and they tag it properly, it’s automatically part of the job. All we need to do is teach or coworkers how to tag their new VMs, hopefully with the assistance of automation, and use our PowerShell command from above to run a report every days to find any untagged VMs. It’s okay to tag a VM with NoRPO, because it’s explicit acknowledgement that a VM does not require backups, but the lack of a tag does not mean that backups are not needed.

We can also use combine the use of tags with exclusions. For example, if we have some “close” VMs and some “remote” VMs on a slower link, they probably do not use the same repository at HQ. In the “close” job, we exclude the remote site’s clusters or datastores, and on the “remote” job, we exclude HQ’s clusters or datastores. If we have two or three sites, this is probably pretty easy. If we have multiple sites, we may want to revisit our tag scheme and add a fourth item to the tags – Location – and re-align our jobs. Of course, if the “AND” selection criteria is added in the future, this will change, as individual tags won’t need to carry EVERY piece of information.

Summary

Today, we created a tag schema oriented around our backup policies. We also built some reports showing how VMs are tagged and which VMs are not tagged. This script was commited to version control for accurate tracking over time and re-creation of the schema if needed. We then created some simple but dynamic Veeam backup jobs based on the tags, and showed our coworkers how to leverage the tags. This is a great start for simplifying your Veeam backup jobs and to see the practical power of vCenter Tags. There’s a lot more you can do with Tags, and with your Veeam jobs. I’d love to hear how you’re using Tags in the real world in the comments or on twitter. Thanks!

Using vCenter tags with PowerCLI

I was recently introduced to some practical usage of vCenter tags. I used tags to build a fairly easy and dynamic set of sources for Veeam backup jobs, but before I get into that, I want to explain tags a little bit for those who are not familiar with them.

Tags are something that are pretty easy to understand conceptually. You create a category which contains a few tags. An object can receive one or multiple tags from a given category. Tags are managed by vCenter, not by vSphere, so require a license that provides vCenter for management. That’s a pretty simple explanation and list of requirements.

A Tag Category has a collection of Tags available within it. If the Category is “single cardinality”, it means that an object can only be assigned one tag in the category. This might be good for a category associated with ownership or recovery point objective (RPO). A Category can also be “multiple cardinality”, where a single object can be assigned multiple tags in a category. This would be helpful to associate applications with a VM, or a list of support teams that need notified if there is a planned impact or outage.

I’m going to show you how to manage Tags and Tag Categories with PowerCLI (Specifically with the PowerShell ISE and a profile to load PowerCLI), but you can manually create and manage them through the vSphere Web Client, under the Tags item on the left hand menu. You can create and delete and rename tags and categories there all day long, and you can right click on an object almost anywhere else and select Edit Tags to edit the assigned tags on it. When you view most objects, you’ll see an area in the Summary tab labeled Tags that will display and let you manage assignments.

vCenter Tags fig 1vCenter Tags fig 2

Let’s look at how to automate this with PowerCLI. Don’t forget to Connect-VIServer <vCenter name> before continuing. Use the cmdlets *-TagCategory, *-Tag, and *-TagAssignment to manage Categories, Tags, and the assignment of tags to objects, respectively. We start by creating a category using New-TagCategory. This accepts the parameters Name*, Cardinality, Description, EntityType, and Server. A new tag is created with New-Tag, as you’d expect, with parameters Category*, Name*, Description, and Server. Asterisks denote required parameters. Both accept the optional Confirm and WhatIf arguments, the latter of which is extremely helpful while you plan out your tag schemes.

As an example, let’s create an Ownership tag category. This will be a single cardinality for most, as most objects will be owned by a single group, but if some objects share ownership, be sure to create it as a multiple-cardinality category. We can restrict the type of entities it applies to with a comma separated list of any of the valid types: Cluster, Datacenter, Datastore, DatastoreCluster, DistributedPortGroup, DistributedSwitch, Folder, ResourcePool, VApp, VirtualPortGroup, VirtualMachine, VM, VMHost (you can see this list any time by reading the New-TagCategory help pages). Many can probably restrict this to VMs and maybe Datastores, as everything else is likely owned by the same single team. WhatIf is helpful to make sure we have the syntax we want before we apply it. We can put these values into the Command add-on and click Insert to see what the PowerCLI looks like:

vCenter Tags fig 3

C:\> New-TagCategory -Name Ownership -Cardinality Single -Description "Group ownership for VMs" -EntityType VirtualMachine -WhatIf

Select New-Tag in the command add-on and add a tag for a group called Development in the new category, then click Insert:

vCenter Tags fig 4

C:\> New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Development -Description "We put the Dev in DevOps" -WhatIf

You can now create a script with a few more groups, copy and pasting the above line as a start, and plan out your tag scheme:

vCenter Tags fig 5

Run the commands (F5 in ISE) and make sure there are no errors, but unfortunately there will be:

C:\> New-TagCategory -Name Ownership -Cardinality Single -Description "Group ownership for VMs" -EntityType VirtualMachine -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Development -Description "We put the Dev in DevOps" -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Operations -Description "We put the Ops in DevOps" -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Sales -Description "We sell what doesn't exist" -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Financial -Description "We make sure your paycheck shows up" -WhatIf

What if: Create tag category 'Ownership' on server 'vcsa'
New-Tag : 6/27/2016 4:16:02 PM    New-Tag        Could not find TagCategory with name 'Ownership'.    
At line:2 char:1
+ New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Development -Description "We put the Dev in De ...
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unfortunately, each command in WhatIf mode is run without knowledge of the previous or following statements, so the first New-Tag statement is unaware that a new tag category would have been created. Remove the WhatIf from the first line and run it again:

C:\> New-TagCategory -Name Ownership -Cardinality Single -Description "Group ownership for VMs" -EntityType VirtualMachine
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Development -Description "We put the Dev in DevOps" -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Operations -Description "We put the Ops in DevOps" -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Sales -Description "We sell what doesn't exist" -WhatIf
New-Tag -Category Ownership -Name Financial -Description "We make sure your paycheck shows up" -WhatIf


Name                                     Cardinality Description                                                        
----                                     ----------- -----------                                                        
Ownership                                Single      Group ownership for VMs                                            
What if: Create tag 'Development' in category 'Ownership'
What if: Create tag 'Operations' in category 'Ownership'
What if: Create tag 'Sales' in category 'Ownership'
What if: Create tag 'Financial' in category 'Ownership'

You can delete or edit the Tags and Categories using Remove-TagCategory, Remove-Tag, SetTagCategory, and Set-Tag. These cmdlets use mostly the same parameters; use the Command Add-On or Get-Help for more details. You can inspect the Tags and Categories that exist with Get-Tag and Get-TagCategory.

C:\> Set-TagCategory -Category Ownership -Description "Organizational ownership for VMs"

Name                                     Cardinality Description
----                                     ----------- -----------
Ownership                                Single      Organizational ownership for VMs



C:\> Get-TagCategory

Name                                     Cardinality Description
----                                     ----------- -----------
Ownership                                Single      Organizational ownership for VMs

I recommend saving your Tag scripts in version control, so you can recreate or adjust them as needed. Next time, we’ll look at how to assign tags to objects in order to solve a specific problem: backups!

PowerShell Command Add-On

Many of us use PowerCLI, which relies on PowerShell. The default PowerCLI environment is pretty plain, but you can also use the PowerShell ISE  and load the PowerCLI snap-ins in your profile. The ISE, or Integrated Scripting Environment, offers a lot of advantages to the regular PowerCLI or PowerShell interfaces: Intellitype, lots of keyboard shorts, and something called the Command Add-On.

First, let’s look at how to turn it on. Fire up the ISE. If you have Powershell pinned on your taskbar, you can right click and choose the ISE, or just hit the windows key and type ‘ISE’. You want the regular version of PowerShell ISE, not the “(x86)” version. Now that it’s open, go to View -> Show Command Add-On and select it:

fig 1

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Use existing definitions as a baseline

Sometimes we spend way too long trying to define things in our head when we can get existing configurations from the system. It’s vital to have a full service definition or any promotion of the service through environments will turn up missing components and make your life hell. If you’re building a new service that looks similar to an old one, or evolves the old service, steal the old service’s definition and then modify it.

vSphere

There are a number of ways to gather existing service definitions. If you’re building a new host and you have Enterprise Plus licenses, use Host Profiles. Export an existing host’s config to a host profile, uncheck the irrelevant portions, change what’s relevant but different, and apply to the new host. It might take a few tweaks, but you’ll get it right soon. Then export the new host’s config to a host profile and you’re good to go.

If you don’t have Enterprise Plus, take a look at PowerCLI. It will take more legwork, but there are a ton of cmdlets available to capture networking, storage, and other service definitions from existing hosts which you can then apply elsewhere.

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Snapshots and Automated Emails

A common problem in virtualization is snapshots. The name “snapshot” makes us (novice or otherwise!) think of a picture in time, which sometimes leads to the belief that the snapshot is “taken” and then stored somewhere, though that’s not how snapshots really work.

In reality, snapshots create a psuedo-consistent state of the virtual disk at that point in time. Subsequent writes in a snapshotted state are redirected to delta files. If you are performing an upgrade, a snapshot is helpful, allowing you to restore the prior system state if there are problems. After a few days, the snapshot loses its value as a restore becomes increasingly unlikely because you would lose the application changes as well. Snapshots also play a role in backups, where they are used temporarily to provide the psuedo-consistent state for the backup utility before the snapshot is deleted.

When a snapshot is deleted, that delta is applied to the base virtual disk(s), playing back through the transactions. Large snapshots take a long time to delete and affect system performance until the consolidation is complete. They can also affect the VM during normal operation as the delta file size increases.
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PowerShell Profile

In an earlier article, I described how to create a PowerShell Profile, specifically so that you could access PowerCLI snapins in the regular PowerShell or PowerShell ISE programs where you get tab completion and intellitype. However, it was buried in the midst of another article where it was hard to find.

The below PoSH will create a new profile if it doesn’t exist and add the VMware snapins, then it will open the profile file for editing. PowerShell and PowerShell ISE each have their own profile file, so run it in both if you need to.

Run the suggested commands below for the correct version of PowerCLI. If you have statements in your profile from a previous version of PowerCLI, clean them up by hand, or delete your profile and re-run the script to start with a blank profile. Note: This would wipe out any non-PowerCLI commands in your profile as well, such as those added by Chocolatey.

PowerCLI 6.5

Download. If you encounter errors after upgrading from a previous version, check the value of $env:PSModulePath. It should contain the path C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\Infrastructure\PowerCLI\Modules rather than the older C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\Infrastructure\vSphere PowerCLI\Modules. If it is incorrect, try a reboot, though the installer does not suggest one is required; that fixed the problem for me.

if (! (Test-Path $profile)) {
  New-Item -Path $profile -Type file -Force
}
''                                                        | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
'# Import PowerCLI modules'                               | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
'Get-Module -Name VMware* -ListAvailable | Import-Module' | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
notepad $profile

PowerCLI 6.0-6.3

if (! (Test-Path $profile)) {
    New-Item -Path $profile -Type file -Force
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.VimAutomation.Core -ea "SilentlyContinue"' | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.DeployAutomation -ea "SilentlyContinue"'   | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.ImageBuilder -ea "SilentlyContinue"'       | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Import-Module VMware.VimAutomation.Core'                       | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Import-Module VMware.VimAutomation.Vds'                        | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Import-Module VMware.VimAutomation.License'                    | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
}
notepad $profile

PowerCLI 5.5 and Below

if (! (Test-Path $profile)) {
    New-Item -Path $profile -Type file -Force
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.VimAutomation.Core -ea "SilentlyContinue"'    | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.VimAutomation.Vds -ea "SilentlyContinue"'     | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.VimAutomation.License -ea "SilentlyContinue"' | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.VimAutomation.Cloud -ea "SilentlyContinue"'   | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.DeployAutomation -ea "SilentlyContinue"'      | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append 
    'Add-PSSnapin VMware.ImageBuilder -ea "SilentlyContinue"'          | Out-File -FilePath $profile -Append
}
notepad $profile

Verify the profile contents are correct (this should preserve existing profiles, but check that new content didn’t merge at the end of the previous content). You can add any additional PoSH commands, such as aliases, to your profile, then save the file. Restart Powershell (ISE). Your startup will take a little longer now, but you end up with tab completion, intellitype AND PowerCLI. If you messed anything up, you should still have notepad open, just edit what’s needed and restart the PoSH shell till you get it right.