Managing ESXi host configurations can be challenging and the potential risk for configuration drift between the running environment and the set of configuration scripts or worse, manual configuration is quite high. On top of that, how do you ensure proper compliance of all your ESXi host configurations in your environment and easily prove that in an internal or security audit?

This is where VMware Host Profile can help which allows administrators to capture the running configurations of an ESXi host and automatically creating a template (Host Profile) that can then be applied across new or existing ESXi hosts. By leveraging Host Profile, administrators can ensure that all their ESXi host configurations are always consistent and configuration drifts can easily be prevented through automatic compliance checks.

Recently, while searching for something on VMware's HCL website, I accidentally stumbled onto what appears to be 3rd party Host Profiles? There were only two listed, one from Brocade for managing and configuring Brocade storage adapters and the other from Dell for managing and configuring Dell's EqualLogic MEM (Multipathing Extension Module). I was actually quite surprise to learn about these custom 3rd party Host Profiles. In doing a bit of digging and research it turns out that VMware Host Profile are in fact extensible by design, which was something new to me.

Note: For a technical overview of Host Profile, you can take a look at this whitepaper here

Host Profile Architecture

Host Profile was first introduced with the release of vSphere 4.1 and the brain of the system is known as the Host Profile Engine which was part of the vCenter Server. In vSphere 5.0, Host Profile was re-architected and the Host Profile Engine was moved into the ESXi host which allowed for Host Profile Plugins to be added to an ESXi Image and expose new Host Profiles through the Host Profile Engine.

A Host Profile is actually a hierarchical composition of multiple sub-profiles and policies. Each policy defines a set of parameters that a user can select from and apply to an ESXi host. For instance, the default VMware Host Profile is composed up of 12 individual sub-profiles: authentication, datetime, firewall, memory, network, option, security, service, storage, userAccount and userGroupAccount.

With this new re-architecutre, Host Profile can be extended by 3rd party partners/vendors to create custom Host Profile Plugins to expose vendor specific hardware or software configurations and made available through a common Host Profile API/UI for customers to consume.

Host Profile Extensibility Options

To build a Host Profile Plugin, you will need to use the Host Profile SDK which is only available as part of VMware TAP (Technology Alliance Partner) Program. A Host Profile Plugin basically wraps the actual configuration work and can be backed by one of three ways:

  1. CIM Provider using the CIM SDK
  2. ESXCLI plugins
  3. Userworld binaries

As you can see, creating a Host Profile Plugin is quite flexible and can be exposed through several mechanisms. The most shocking discovery that I found was the lack of 3rd party vendor Host Profiles that exists today, especially from the big server hardware vendors. Coming from a Systems Administrator background, I would loved to have been able to configure and manage my server's firmware, BIOS, out-of-band management (iLO/DRAC), etc. through either a custom ESXCLI plugin or Host Profile Plugin. This would really benefit customers from having to manage configurations using multiple tools and allowing them centralize their management including compliance capabilities all from a single interface.

Hopefully this was an educational post for everyone and if you are a customer and would like to see certain functionality exposed by our 3rd party partners, feel free to leave a message and perhaps one of them may consider adding a custom Host Profile Plugin 🙂

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