Nutanix and VMware vSphere Host Profiles

Host profiles seem like a great idea… Make sure that all of your hosts are configured consistently and enforce compliance. However, when it comes to actually applying a host profile the caveat is that you need to put the host in maintenance mode to apply it. This means that you have to vMotion any running VMs to another host and then enter maintenance mode… A process that could take quite a while depending on the number of VMs you have running.

On Nutanix there is the pesky issue that there is one VM that you can not vMotion to another host… the CVM! The CVM (Controller Virtual Machine) is the storage controller that lives on the host. The physical disks are presented to the VM through VMDirectPath. Since Virtual Machines that are tied to physical devices on the host can not be vMotioned the host will fail to enter maintenance mode. It is possible to shut down a CVM on one node, then put that host into maintenance mode, apply the host profile, exit maintenance mode, power on the CVM, then SSH into the CVM to make sure it is back into the storage cluster before you rinse and repeat for all of your hosts. However, that is a very manual process! It would be bearable to perform on one block (four Nutanix hosts), but if you have hundreds of hosts it will take weeks and a small army of dedicated sys admins to complete the task.

It’s too bad that VMware couldn’t have host profiles distinguish between minor and major changes when dealing with applying host profiles. For example adding a port group would be a minor change, not requiring entering into maintenance mode, while attaching a vSwitch to a vNIC would be a major change requiring maintenance mode because of its potential to disrupt traffic for all of the VMs on that host.

Do we really need host profiles? Nutanix is trying to market the idea that infrastructure should be web-scale. I don’t really like the term web-scale because I think it implies that you’re trying to build some kind of internet service, but that’s beside the point… What they are trying to say is that it should be easy to massively scale infrastructure. This includes having to manually configure a bunch of settings. Putting all of the hosts in your environment into maintenance mode just to apply some settings definitely isn’t scalable. There is no reason to do it!

Every change that a host profile makes can be accomplished through PowerCLI without putting your host into maintenance mode. My recommendation for Nutanix hosts is to use PowerCLI to make any changes to your hosts that you want to be consistent throughout your environment, and then maintain your PowerCLI script and apply it to new hosts that you add to your environment.

You could also make a script that checks the settings on the hosts to monitor for compliance, for example to make sure that no one has added a vLAN to just one host. If you are using vCloud in your environment VMware includes VCM (vCenter Configuration Manager) which accomplishes the same task, with the added component of generating automated compliance reports.

Of course I’m implying that your hosts are running VMware, Nutanix also supports running Hyper-V and KVM where it’s almost inherently implied that you are going to need scripts to maintain consistency in the environment.

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