1. Get the basics right
A solid infrastructure foundation is essential. As vSphere deployments grow, both in terms of number of VMs and complexity of applications provisioned, the need to ensure best practices for storage, networks and vSphere configurations is a pre-requisite of any new projects. This can be accomplished through the following of vendor white papers and policy management tools such as Host Profiles.
However, a pragmatic approach needs to be taken to balance any performance gains against operational complexity. For example, while it may be possible to tweak the round robin path selection parameter, or implement jumbo frames on storage switches, the additional complexity can introduce additional management problems later on. So, while tuning the number of IOPS per path may result in a performance improvement for a small number of VMs, the benefit may be negligible when dealing with a large number of hosts, datastores and VMs. Similarly, jumbo frames may provide a minor throughput improvement, but if a new switch is added later, the system administration team must remember to apply the same settings to the new switch or else experience frame fragmentation.
In other words, keep it simple.
2. Learn to automate
VMware vCenter Orchestrator is moving from being a peripheral product to a core part of a complex cloud infrastructure. Therefore, I'd consider it a must-have skill to acquire in the coming year. The knock on requirement is that vSphere admins will need to have a basic understanding of programming languages and development methodologies.
What about other scripting approaches such as PowerCLI? In many ways, Orchestrator and PowerCLI are complimentary. PowerCLI scripts can be used to make repetitive individual tasks easier to perform, while Orchestrator is more about enabling workflow (of larger tasks). It's probable that PowerCLI (or other PowerShell) scripts will be called as part of an Orchestrator workflow.
Bottom line: Learn both.
3. Virtualise more
VMware's "Software Defined Data Center" (SDDC) strategy extends the existing virtual infrastructure and introduces the automation and orchestration of edge devices. If implemented well, this means that provisioning new services should be faster and less error prone. The opportunity to upgrade Enterprise Plus to vCloud Suite Standard enables the rollout of vCNS and vCloud Director, thereby forming the first step in moving to this new "agile" data centre, and also provides the foundations to build a private cloud on top of vSphere.
In order to ensure that a private cloud implementation is "done right", the VMware vCloud Architecture Toolkit will be followed. This will dictate some changes to the existing infrastructure, further extending the use of a dedicated management cluster and separate production clusters.
There is one challenge to consider: The added complexity that comes with the additional functionality makes the learning curve significantly steeper. Today, it is possible for the IT generalist to work with VMware in addition to their regular day job (which may involve supporting everything else in the IT estate). At first glance, the SDDC makes this a lot more difficult. There are more virtual devices to manage and more places to configure more settings.
The responsibility is therefore on the VMware senior administrators/architects to design using clear principles, document and create the orchestration workflows to ensure that complex tasks are well managed so that the IT staff responsible for operations can do their job without needing to fully understand the complexity of the environment.
IT architects: Be prepared to invest time learning how all this fits together.
4. Make it easier for users
The truth is that today, end users have to jump through too many hoops to get their VMs provisioned and the cost model is still unclear.
Although VMware have demonstrated vCloud Automation Manager, capable of handling the provision request/approval process, by limiting it to customers running vCloud Suite Enterprise, the rest of us are left with no ability to provide a request/approval mechanism for VM creation. It is likely that something will need to be written in-house, perhaps using something like WaveMaker Studio front-ending a series of Orchestrator workflows.
There are other ways to make life easier for our users. As admins, we currently use vSphere templates to make VM deployments simple, but this should be extended to create a full vCloud Director application catalogue for our end users. For example, if our end users want a Red Hat Enterprise Linux server with Apache Tomcat already installed, we should be in a position to make a catalogue item available for this purpose.
Using the vFabric suite to deploy these applications is probably overkill, but there are alternatives. It would be a useful exercise to do some work with Puppet to look into the provisioning of applications.
5. Monitor and plan
Finally, as things get more abstracted and complex, there is a real need to manage this infrastructure and proactively plan for future growth. VCOPS Foundation will be the starting point for this, but it's possible (probable?) that a fuller featured edition may be required over time.
There is going to be a real need to perform capacity planning to ensure that existing infrastructure resources are utilised properly, and that additional hardware is available when required.
The above needs to be done in order to allow IT to keep up with the business demands of our users. We need to stop being a stumbling block and instead come up with ways to deliver services faster.
The amount of servers and applications we now manage is greater than ever before and there is no sign that this will change in the near future (probably the opposite, and demand will continue to increase!).
We can't keep doing things the same way (it doesn't scale and it's too slow). We need to be smarter and more proactive about managing our infrastructure and providing the applications and environments our users need.