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How the VMware community can benefit from running nested ESXi lab environments on AWS or Google cloud

VMware has a vibrant ecosystem comprising technology partners, resellers, enterprise customers and the end-user community. This ecosystem needs VMware ESXi™ lab environments for development and testing, demos, PoCs/evaluations and training. There are several options for VMware labs, but they all have significant drawbacks. Running nested ESXi on AWS or Google cloud with Ravello offers an alternative approach with which the community can spin up small or large, simple or complex, ESXi environments – on demand.

Existing alternatives for VMware ESXi lab environments

The ecosystem currently has primarily 3 options for ESXi labs. ESXi on physical hardware, ESXi on ESXi on physical hardware and VMware provided hands-on-labs.

AlternativesProsCons
Hardware lab: Install ESXi on physical hardwareHigh performance
  • Expensive server, networking and storage hardware, hosting etc.
  • Limited by hardware capacity – cannot accommodate peak demand
  • Difficult to manage
Nested ESXi on ESXi on physical hardware
  • Moderate performance
  • Less expensive than pure physical infrastructure
  • Complex set up
  • Difficult to manage
  • Still limited by hardware capacity
VMware hands-on-labs (HOL)
  • Pre-configured and easy to use
  • Available on-demand
  • Limited set of labs
  • Cannot be used for development, test or PoCs
  • Does not support partner or competitor products

Another option – ESXi on AWS or Google cloud with Ravello

Ravello has implemented Intel VT/ AMD-V functionality in software in HVX which now enables enterprises to run hypervisors like ESXi in AWS or Google Cloud. This provides the VMware ecosystem with an attractive alternative for lab environments.

A. Low cost/ usage based pricing

For example, a 4 node environment comprising 2 ESXi nodes, 1 vCenter appliance and 1 shared storage appliance costs as little as $0.59/hr. Whereas a 500-node environment with each ESXi node having 4 CPUs, 16GB RAM and multiple VLANs costs $530/hr.

B. Small to large scale lab environments

The ecosystem is no longer constrained due to hardware expenses. With Ravello, enterprises can spin up small clusters for training all the way up to large clusters with thousands of nodes to simulate a real data center with complex networking and partner products for upgrade testing, and new feature testing.

C. Blueprint/snapshot entire environments

Enterprises can snapshot entire multi-node ESXi clusters along with their networking topology and spin up isolated clusters in minutes – without any scripting or automation. This greatly simplifies deployments for demos, training and PoC environments. It also helps enterprises “version control” their infrastructure for easier management.

Why run an ESXi lab environment in the public cloud?

Different constituents of the ecosystem need lab environments for relatively short durations of time – for testing, demos, training, PoCs and evals, etc. For these purposes, there is no need to build out expensive hardware labs that sit idle most of the time.

Development and testSales demosTrainingPoCs/ evalsDeployment testing
Technology partnersXXXX
Resellers and SIsXXX
Training providersX
EnterprisesXXX

1. VMware Technology Alliance Partner (TAP) and OEM Partner use-cases

VMware technology partners (ISVs) provide a suite of complementary products – backup, disaster recovery, networking, security etc. that are often tied to the ESXi hypervisor. These ISVs need:

Development/test environments for everything ranging from manual testing, to automated testing/continuous integration and scale testing. Developers and test engineers can spin up their own environments in the cloud on-demand for testing different builds in a full representative environment. Complex customer deployments can also be added to automated testing frameworks making it easier to isolate and fix issues/bugs before it impacts customers.

Sales enablement (SE demo and customer PoC) environments: to showcase the ISVs products interoperating with ESXi. These ISVs can prepare a blueprint once, and then have all their SEs spin up environments as needed – improving the quality and consistency of their demos. ISVs can also turn these environments over to prospective customers for a further, in-depth customized PoC/evaluation.

Training environments: to help train their mutual partners and customers on their products that interoperate with ESXi. The ISV training department would prepare a blueprint for training, and then simply spin up isolated environments for each student for the duration of the class.

2. VMware Reseller and Solution Provider use-cases

VMware resellers design, plan and deploy complex virtualization solutions for enterprise customers. These resellers and solution providers need lab environments for:

Demos: Solution providers can build ESXi based blueprints in Ravello around specific competency areas like business continuity, management automation and network virtualization with other VMware partner products. Now solution provider system engineers can spin up complex demo environments on-demand in AWS or Google cloud and demonstrate the breadth and depth of their expertise – thereby allowing them to differentiate themselves vs competitors.

Customer PoCs: Solution providers can customize a specific ESXi demo environment in AWS or Google cloud – and simulate exactly what the enterprise customer is looking for – and then turn it over to the enterprise for a PoC. The resellers system engineers can easily collaborate with the customers IT engineers during the PoC and iterate on the blueprint. Once ready, the solution provider can do the actual ESXi deployment on the customers physical hardware in their data center.

3. VMware Training Provider use-cases

Instructor led or virtual training occurs for a maximum of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. As such, utilization of training hardware is often less than 25%. Instead of owning and operating hardware data centers for instructor-led or virtual training, training partners can spin up ESXi environments in AWS or Google cloud on-demand for each student – and substantially lower their cost structure.

Training providers can also benefit in terms of lower operations costs. Instead of having instructors constantly provision multiple ESXi environments for students, they can create a blueprint once, and then spin up as many isolated ESXi environments as they need in AWS or Google on-demand for each of their students. These environments can run in any AWS or Google cloud region – anywhere in the world – making the student experience a lot better.

4. VMware customer use-cases

VMware has more than 400,000 customers around the world. Most of these customers need ESXi lab environments:

Training IT staff: Each IT staff member managing ESXi infrastructure can have their own personal ESXi sandbox environment in AWS or Google cloud to practice and learn new management methodologies, automation scripts etc. and better learn their organizations specific virtualization deployment.

Experimenting with new products and features: VMware themselves have a dizzying array of more than 50 products with different releases and feature streams. Couple that with all major partner products and it becomes evident that enterprises need a more robust and cost effective lab infrastructure. By spinning up ESXi labs in AWS or Google cloud with Ravello, enterprises can test and evaluate new features in the context of their specific ESXi deployment.

Deployment testing: Enterprises can spin up ESXi labs on AWS or Google cloud to simulate backup and disaster recovery plans, new network topologies, upgrade testing, infrastructure security testing and entire data center rollouts.

Conclusion

The ability to run VMware ESXi in AWS along with proper L2 data center networking opens up new approaches for labs for the VMware community. The ability to snapshot/blueprint entire multi-node environments along with networking definitions – and then spin up isolated lab environments in the cloud enables more favourable economics for a whole host of use-cases around development and test, demos, PoCs and training.

You can already set up your ESXi Smart Labs on AWS and Google Cloud. Please join the ESXi beta to start your ESXi lab. We’d appreciate your feedback.

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About Ravello Systems

Ravello is the industry’s leading nested virtualization and software-defined networking SaaS. It enables enterprises to create cloud-based development, test, UAT, integration and staging environments by automatically cloning their VMware-based applications in AWS. Ravello is built by the same team that developed the KVM hypervisor in Linux.

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How the VMware community can benefit from running nested ESXi lab environments on AWS or Google cloud