Crill datacenter 3.0 - Nutanix CE everywhere




If you know me, you know I love having my own personal lab. I love to be able to tinker around, learn new things, break things, and then fix them. You never learn more than by breaking something and then fixing it. When I was a consultant, having a lab gave me a great advantage by being able to replicate a customer situation, solving it, and coming back to them with the solution. This certainly beats sitting on a call with people waiting on you or being the person on the other end waiting for the consultant to figure it out.


My first lab consisted of a couple of HP pizza box servers connected to an HP LeftHand SAN. I ran vSphere on my servers and had about 2TB of storage connected via iSCSI. The look on the face of a project manager from my customer when I said, 'I replicated everything in your environment, except the specific SAN version, and came up with a solution.' She shook her head and asked me 'you have a SAN in your basement?' Apparently, that isn't normal?


After a while the servers wore out their welcome and had some hardware issues. They were 5-6 years old each so in IT years that's well past retirement age. The next rebuild of my lab consisted of Nutanix CE running on Intel NUCs (see previous blog: https://www.icrill.com/post/nutanix-ce-a-truly-community-edition). This was a slick demo environment that was easily portable and self-contained. I could pack up the whole environment into a backpack, have a fully functional domain environment, various EUC solutions in place, and automation tools to build new solutions on demand. Alas, I had to move on from my position and the demo kit remained with my previous employer for them to continue to use with customers.


Ever since then I've been itching to get another lab going. This would be a totally different scenario then previously. This time I needed to be a little more cost conscience because it was all out of pocket, all new hardware, and being acquired all at once. Previously I had help funding parts or all the lab equipment or had been gifted some components. So, price was a major consideration. I also knew from my last lab that Nutanix CE was going to be the basis for it. While I loved SANs in the past, I no longer enjoy the 'extraness' of them (extra management point, extra expense, extra troubleshooting point, extra expansion point, etc). I was also hoping to be able to have a lab but simulate at some level a disaster recovery scenario. Based on my previous lab I knew I needed about 3 TB of storage, at least 64 GB of memory per node and I was going to need 4 nodes.


I looked at many different scenarios. I looked at NUCs again. They are very nice and very portable. However, because of their size there are some limitations. The two main limiting factors is that the only support a maximum of 64GB of memory and space for components. It is nice that NUCs now officially support 64GB of memory, but if I need to go beyond that in the future, I'm out of luck. With the space constraints, only certain components will fit within the chassis and those components are usually more expensive given their smaller size.


Next I looked at SuperMicro devices. I looked at the E300-8D and E200-8D chassis options. Both are great options and many in the EUC community use them. They are also compact, support up to 128GB of memory, and you have options for a few different storage configurations. I had two major problems. The first was cost. It was going to be a stretch financially as just the chassis costs either 700-850. Multiply that by four and the costs go up quickly as I would still need memory and storage. The second problem was availability. Trying to find four units I could get proved to be difficult. I imagine that the COVID pandemic put a bottleneck on supply.


What did I end up going with you may ask? Well here's the unveil. I was able to find a vendor that was able to build me four custom HP Z440 workstations. Each workstation would have a six core processor, 64GB of memory (can support up to 128GB) and would have two 1TB SSD drives. Add four USB thumb drives I already had for boot drives and I had a three node primary Nutanix CE cluster and a 'DR' one node Nutanix CE cluster.


Creating a Nutanix CE cluster is about as easy as it gets. I won't go into the details here as that can be easily found elsewhere. Once the clusters were built, I built out Active Directory, some application servers, and Prism Central.


Once I had Prism Central up and running, I was quickly impressed with several updated workflows even from when I worked with it six months prior. Playbooks are new, at least to me, and a welcome addition. The built-in playbooks are not a massive library of actions, however, remember that the product is free, and it can be customized. It's a great launching point to develop your own.


The other item that I found particularly nice was the ease of setting up replication. Datacenter to datacenter replication now leverages the same tooling as on-prem to cloud DRaaS Nutanix offering Xi Leap. So now you setup Xi Leap for datacenter to datacenter replication. The configuration could not have been easier. Within ten minutes I had a test application server configured in a protection policy and replicated to the 'DR' cluster. The longest part was increasing the memory to the Prism services and rebooting in order to meet the requirements of activating Xi Leap within the cluster.


Over the next few weeks I look forward to adding additional services and automation workflows to my environment. I plan to connect it to Citrix Cloud, leverage a barebones Horizon View environment (yes Horizon can be run on Nutanix), and even look at connecting my clusters to Nutanix Xi Frame.


I'm excited to build out my own cloud in my basement. I say cloud because I firmly believe that cloud is not a hosting paradigm, but an operational paradigm. Just because something is in Azure does not make it cloud and just because something is on-prem does not mean it cannot be cloud. It's how you use it, leverage it, and most importantly, how the business consumes it.


Have questions or curious about what I have done or am doing? Please feel free to reach out to me. Make comments to this or reach out to me at benjamin.crill@icrill.com.



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