Good Gigs Trek: Cambodia Week 1

vmware-foundationAs some of you may know, I was currently halfway around the world in Siem Reap, Cambodia for two weeks taking part in VMware's Good Gigs Trek hosted by the VMware Foundation. Earlier this year, the first official Good Gigs Trek took place in Vietnam which several of my colleagues: Duncan Epping and Kamau Wanguhu attended and have written about their experiences here and here. I am very honored and humbled to have been selected among 8 other VMware employees (Melina McLarty, Steve Schwarze, Mike DiPetrillo, Ina Dala, Anne Holler, Uta Haller, Chirag Aurora and our fearless leader Laura Bellamy) to have been given the opportunity and privilege to help serve those in need.

This year, VMware has once again partnered up with Team4Tech which is an amazing organization that helps improve education in developing countries through innovative technology solutions. Our team was also very fortunate to have Julie Clugage, from Team4Tech join us again on this trek. For this trek, we worked with the JWOC (Journeys Within The Community) foundation to help strengthen English-language learning, digital literacy and STEM programs for underserved youth and adults in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We have been working extensively for the past 6 weeks to gather requirements and try to better understand the needs of the JWOC foundation. Of course, no amount of preparation will prepare you for the journey we were about to embark on. In fact, we were told several dozen times to expect the unexpected and embrace and be flexible in all ways, shapes and forms.

The past two weeks has really been an amazing once and a life time opportunity. For those of you interested in the Trek, below is a small recap of our first week in Cambodia. I will also be following up with another blog post recapping our second week in Cambodia. I will also post a link to all the pictures I took during this trip.

Day 1 ( Wedesday 11/11)

The team had just arrived into Cambodia late Tuesday evening after spending more than 18hrs+ traveling, some even longer. I probably only got a couple of hours of sleep before waking up in the middle of the warm and humid night. Luckily, our first day in Cambodia was not hitting the floor and running due to JWOC being closed on a Wednesday (open 6 other days). This provided us with an opportunity to learn more about the local community and it's people through cultural orientation and sightseeing. Our itinerary for the day was to visit the Floating Village, Angkor Silk Farm, Old Market and the Killing Fields Memorial.

Before we had even left our hotel, I already had my first memorable moment when we first met our tour guide Reath Kanha who was also a previous student at JWOC. She was so happy and welcoming to everyone and had even brought each of us a gift which was a beautiful plaided colored scarf (which you can see in the picture below). She said she really enjoys wearing colorful scarfs and that it made her very happy and she wanted to share in that experience with all of us. We were complete strangers to her, yet she treated us like family and I was just completely blown away by her generosity and friendliness. This really was my first impression of the Cambodian people.

Throughout the day, I continued to witness the friendliness of the Cambodian people who actively said hello or waved from a distance, especially from the young children. This was especially surprising to me, after seeing some of the living conditions in the Floating Village and learning about their tragic history of the Khmer Rouge, which was really not that long ago. You never would have expected to see so many kids smiling and playing in such conditions, yet it was completely the opposite. At the end of that day, I felt a sense of hope and perseverance from people of Cambodia.

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Day 2 (Thursday 11/12)

After the many weeks of preparations and conference calls, we finally arrived at JWOC! We got to learn more about the JWOC teachers and the staff through an orientation they provided us. Sitting there, listening to the staff talk about their background and experiences, the only words that came to mind was inspirational and selflessness. It was clear to me that the teachers and staff understood the importance of a good education and that they truly cared for their countries well being, especially the children. To improve the current economic conditions and strengthen their country, they must start with the children and ensure that they have a good education. However, just having a good education would not be enough. In addition to their Free Classes Program being offered at JWOC which includes English, Art, Science & Computer Literacy, there is also the Clean Water, Microfiance, Scholarship and The Community Liaison and Assistance programs. By providing these additional crucial services, the hope is that it should remove any barriers that would prevent the children from getting a complete education. I now understand why they named their organization Journeys Within Our Community which is quite fitting as they are doing everything they can to improve their community, which is the country of Cambodia.

My most memorable moment of the day was when we had just returned from the computer store picking up all the new hardware. We had just finished packing everything in the van before it started to rain while heading back to JWOC. We needed to unload the hardware into the office which was towards the back of the campus and the only way in was through the front. Due to the amount of rain, we needed a way to get the van closer to office without getting the new equipment wet. However, we had an obstacle as the motorcycles and bikes were blocking the main path and not to mention vehicles normally do not go into campus. While both myself and Mike was waiting in the van, we had noticed Alex, the managing director of JWOC run straight out into the pouring rain and started to move the motorcycles to make a path for the van to drive in. This was such a selfless act and just showed how much she cared for the kids at JWOC and that no obstacle could get in her way. This just reaffirms the passion and dedication the JWOC staff have for their students.

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Day 3 (Friday 11/13)

Fortunately, the next day the weather was back to its normal and humid self which was good thing because we had a huge task ahead of us that day. The computer lab at JWOC was located on the second floor and before we could bring the new equipment up, we had to take apart the old systems and move them downstairs. This would have been a pretty daunting task if it was just between myself, Mike and Chunlay who managed the computer lab at JWOC. Luckily, we got some help from both the JWOC staff and the rest of the VMware team and everyone just started pitching in and helping us disassemble the old lab and we took everything down in a matter no time. It was quite impressive to see this organic collaboration happen so seamlessly without much discussion between the two groups. Together, we also came up with the idea of creating a human conveyor belt to help reduce the inefficiencies of walking up and down the stairs carrying the new computers. I thought this was a very cool moment and everyone just had big smiles on their face, all working towards a common goal.

day3 day3b
day3a

Day 4 (Saturday 11/15)

Everything seemed to be progressing quite well, the new computer lab was taking shape and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and English teams have been working hard with the teachers and training them on the new course material and curriculum that was developed. A portion of the team was in a meeting with some of the JWOC staff and all of sudden, the power just went out! This was the first of many challenges ahead of us, however everyone persevere through and Mike who was leading the presentation did not even skip a beat and continued on as he was just using his laptop which was luckily fully charged.

day4
Power outages is something the JWOC staff must deal with on regular basis and other than the computer lab, the other classes do not stop because of the lack of power. The teachers continue to teach and students continue exactly where they left off. This is the reality that many Cambodians must live with and our team rose to the challenge and got creative in light of the situation. We found out we needed to re-image some of the older systems to be re-purposed and that meant we required power and access to the Internet. Chirag, who was on the English team came up with a creative idea of leveraging his mobile phone which had a data plan and great LTE connectivity. We just needed to head into town to re-charge his data plan and start the download of the Windows 7 image which JWOC was migrating to from Windows XP. Even though the team could not get anything done while the power was out at JWOC, we could at least be prepared when the power did return.

day4a
As you can see from the above picture, Mike is using his laptop to connect to Chirag's iPhone 6 and we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to get up to 20Mbps for download. Sadly, the power did not return that day but at least we were able to embrace the challenge that we were presented. Hopefully the next day we will be more productive!

Day 5 (Sunday 11/16)

Electricity returned the next day and having lost part of Saturday, the team was eager to get an early start and arrived roughly around 8am at JWOC. Everyone knew what they needed to work on and we just hammered out the work. For the SIMS (Student Information Management Systems) and Lab team, which both myself and Mike was part of, having only two people on this team meant that we had to divide and conquer. Mike primarily focused on upgrading their network infrastructure and improved their LAN connectivity by migrating their old 100Mbit switch to a new gigabit switch as well as replacing their old wireless access point with a newer unit that supported more clients and stronger signal strength.

network-infra1 network-infra2
I mainly focused on getting the computer lab up and running and getting all the new software installed both on the new desktop workstations as well as couple of new laptops that were purchased. We had the computer lab up and running by mid-afternoon with the majority of the software installed which allowed the other teams to start working with the teachers on their solutions in preparation for their first classes early next week . Here is a picture of the lab with Chirag and Uta demo'ing their solutions, British Council to a couple of the teachers at JWOC. It was very excited to see everyone's engagement and curiosity!

day5a
While we made some good progress that day, there was still a ton of work to be done, especially with one piece of software which both Anne Holler and myself was still troubleshooting, more on that later. The highlight of the day for me was not so much getting the lab setup, which everyone was definitely excited about, but It was actually while taking a break downstairs that I got an opportunity to learn about one of the solutions the STEAM team had developed using Lego's Education WeDo. Melina was just about to set up one of the kits and she was kind enough to allow me to help beta test the process that included building a Lego alligator that uses levers and pulleys along with a light sensor unit to open and close the alligator's mouth. Once the Lego alligator was built, there was a simple drag/drop program (think a simplified version of vCenter Orchestrator) that the students would need to build that activated the Lego alligator. I thought this was a really cool solution that provided some basic computer literacy as well as demonstrating basic programming and best of all, it was quite fun! I hope the kids will enjoy the Lego WeDo as much as I did later in the week when it will be used in the Science classes.

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Overall, I thought we had an amazing first week! The teachers and staff at JWOC were super friendly and eager to learn from us as we did from them. Every corner of the campus, we saw kids running around and playing with big smiles on their face. How could you not be happy working in such an environment? I know everyone was definitely looking forward to the following week and stay tune for a summary of Good Gigs Week #2.

How to quickly deploy new CoreOS Image w/VMware Tools on ESXi?

deploy-coreos-with-vmware-tools-on-esxi Thanks to a conversation I had this morning with a Twitter user @BOK, I learned that CoreOS has just recently published a new CoreOS Alpha Image (v490.0.0) that now includes the Open VMware Tools package. In addition, the new image also now uses the optimized VMXNET3 network adapter. From our chat, it looks like this update is not available in the insecure or VMware Fusion image and I can only guess that these images may eventually get deprecated or removed completely in favor for the newer VMware image which can both run on ESXi as well as hosted products like VMware Fusion/Workstation.

@BOK also shared with me a modified version of my script that I initially created to automate the deployment of CoreOS onto ESXi. The original workflow had to be slightly modified as the new image is only available as bz2 (bunzip2) and ESXi does not contain the bunzip2 utility. This means there are now two steps: first is to extract the VMDK and upload to ESXi datastore which is going to be done manually and you can run the script which will automatically convert the VMDK to the proper format and register the VM in ESXi.

I was thinking about how I could simplify this process, even though it is just a couple of extra commands, I always like to see how I can make something easier to consume and reducing the complexity if possible. I of course decided to create a new script called deploy_coreos_on_esxi2.sh which now runs outside of the ESXi Shell. The script requires a UNIX/Linux system that has the bunzip2 utility and will automatically download both the VMX and VMDK file, perform the extraction and then upload it to ESXi host using an HTTP API provided through the vSphere Datastore. Lastly, it auto-generates the configuration shell script that will run over SSH to the ESXi host (SSH is still required) which will perform the same set of operations as my previous script did.

Note: You will be prompted to enter the ESXi root password when it tries to run the script remotely on the ESXi Shell, there is a timeout for 120seconds in case you step away from the console.

Prior to running the script, you will need to edit the following 7 variables:

  • ESXi_HOST
  • ESXI_USERNAME
  • ESXI_PASSWORD
  • ESXI_DATASTORE
  • VM_NETWORK
  • VM_NAME

Here is a screenshot of running the script from my Mac OS X desktop:

install-core-os-with-vmware-tools-on-esxi-0
Once the CoreOS VM has fully booted, we can take a look at our vSphere Client and we should see that VMware Tools is in fact running and we can see the IP Address automatically being displayed in the UI:

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The really nice thing about having VMware Tools running in the CoreOS image, is that you can use VMware's Guest Operations API to be able to perform operations within the guest which are proxied through VMware Tools and can be quite handy, especially if networking is not available or you want to go through a single management interface such as using the vSphere API.

How to get notifications when a component on the VMware HCL changes?

Last night, I received a pleasant and surprising email, you can see the details in the screenshot below:

email-notification-from vmware-hcl-0
This was a surprise because it was something I was tinkering around with back in March (8months ago!) to see if I could some how generate notifications when changes were being made to a specific component/device on the VMware HCL also known as the VCG (VMware Compatibility Guide). I suspect many of you have used the VMware HCL at least once if not many more times and as you can imagine, it would be nice to be able to get notifications or alerts when something has changed for a particular component or device that you might care about.

I was thinking about this problem because at the time I was interested in receiving updates on a particular VSAN disk controller. While browsing through the HCL, I had noticed there was an RSS feed icon located on the upper right hand corner for each component/device as shown in the screenshot below.

email-notification-from vmware-hcl-1
I thought maybe I could do something interesting with that? I decided to use one of my favorite SaaS services IFTTT (If This, Then That) which I have blogged about in the past on how to send SMS notifications using vCenter Server Alarms. I found an RSS to Email IFTTT recipe and created a notification based off of one of the Intel RAID Controllers by specifying the RSS feed URL.

email-notification-from vmware-hcl-2
I knew this was going to be a bit difficult to test given the HCL does not get updated that frequently and even if it does, I have to be monitoring the right device that received the update. I completely forgot about this recipe until yesterday when I had received the email stating an update had been made to this device. I guess it worked after all :D If there specific things you care about on the VMware HCL and you want to be able to receive notifications for any updates, you can create several IFTTT recipes that can either send you an email or notify you through some other method. I think this is a pretty nifty trick instead of continuously checking the VMware HCL every so often for changes, unless you are looking for brand new component/device that has not been added to the HCL.

Want to run ESXi on an Apple MacBook Pro, MacBook Air & iMac? #YesYouCan!

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We all know that ESXi runs pretty flawlessly (for the most part) on Apple Mac Pro's (5,1 & 6,1) and Apple Mac Mini's (5,x & 6,x), but what about when it comes to consumer laptops/desktops like a MacBook Pro/Air and even the iMacs? As you probably have guessed from the the title, you can run ESXi on any of these systems (which has been made easier with the latest ESXi release), in fact over the weekend I had some fun with some of the Apple hardware I had at my disposal.

  • 27" iMac 12,1
  • 13" MacBook Pro 7,1
  • 15" MacBook Pro 8,2
  • 13" MacBook Air 6,2

One of the issues I have encountered in the past when trying to install ESXi on my 15" MacBook Pro 8,2 (shown in the center of the picture) is that the keyboard (both the on-board and USB) would stop functioning once the ESXi installer started up. I could never figure out why and to be honest, I never really looked into the problem. I recently found out this issue has been resolved with the latest ESXi 5.5 Update Patch03 which also enables support for the new Mac Pro 6,1 and other bug fixes. It was good to learn from one of my readers, that the keyboard issue has been fixed using the latest 5.5u2 Patch03 image. If you look below, I actually went through and installed the latest ESXi release on each of these platforms which were all straight forward using a bootable USB key except for MacBook Air 6,2 which required adding the iovDisableIR=true boot option which I have blogged about here.

Whether you need to run ESXi on server grade hardware like an Apple Mac Pro or a tiny and lower power platform like the Apple Mac Mini or a consumer laptop/desktop like MacBook Pro/Air or an iMac where ESXi can be available wherever you go which is great for frequent travelers. As you can see, you have plenty of options for running ESXi on Apple hardware!

MacBook Pro 7,1
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MacBook Pro 8,2
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MacBook Air 6,2
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iMac 12,1
imac-121

Automating VCSA 5.5 Configurations including SSO Administrator password

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the VCSA (vCenter Server Appliance), not only for its ease of deployment and setup but also the fact that I can easily automate the entire deployment in just under a couple of minutes. I have written about this topic in the past using the vpxd_servicecfg command to automate both VCSA 5.0 and VCSA 5.1. I figured it was probably a good idea to update this for latest VCSA 5.5 which includes several new enhancements to vpxd_servicecfg command such as the VMware Customer Experience Improve Program configuration (vTelemtry) among other options that you can explore by simply running the vpxd_servicecfg on the VCSA.

The other reason I wanted to update this for the latest VCSA 5.5 is that I was working with Engineering last week on a project and several of them did not know about this capability of being able to automate the VCSA configuration. Instead of providing them with the raw commands, I thought I would create an updated script that can be shared with the community so that others could also benefit from it. Lastly, I also did this for myself as I deploy a large amount of VCSA for all sorts of testing that I am doing on a regular basis and this would allow me to quickly speed up my deployment by simply going to my own blog :)

Below is a shell script that contains several variables that can be edited based on your environment setup and you can run this script over SSH using something like: ssh root@[VCSA-IP] < configureVCSA.sh