In the past couple of years, the term “cloud services” has become very fashionable. Every company wants to be on it. So, even if your day-to-day job is not virtualization, it still makes sense to know about it. Now, even though a cloud service is just a platform outside your own private environment, to someone who hasn’t worked with it, the concept seems alien. There is also a mental hurdle in going to a cloud service provider and entering your financial details, even to get free resources for a period.
Fortunately, VMware has just made its “VMware Hybrid Cloud” available for evaluation. Like every other VMware enthusiast, I felt compelled to try it out and see how it works. This service is great as it’s completely free for 90 days and there is no requirement for payment details. So, if you want to play with cloud services to see its potential, I would strongly suggest having an account set up today and start playing. Aim of this article is to document the steps required so that you can get up and running quickly. So here goes:
The first step is to go to the “Evaluate vCloud” page and click on the “Free Trial” button. It takes you to the “VMware Hybrid Cloud Evaluation” page, where you need to provide your Name, Company Name, Business Email and Phone number. You also need to read and accept the terms and conditions.
Once done, the next page presents you with contact details for phone activation. However, if the phone number you’ve provided is a mobile number, you also get an option to have a verification code sent to your mobile. Once chosen, you should receive a code within a few seconds, which if you enter on the page, you’ll have your request approved immediately. The result is a mail in your mailbox, with login, password and a link to the service. While you can try going to the site immediately, it tells you that you might need 15 minutes or so before you can log in. In my case, it was a few hours but that could be due to the enormous load that they must be experiencing immediately after the announcement. Eventually, you will be able to log in and see this page:
That’s where the fun begins. I would recommend using Firefox with this as I’ve found it to be more responsive but Internet Explorer is also a good choice. Chrome users will be a bit disappointed as the vCloud Director environment won’t work with it. Notice the “How do I create a Virtual Machine?” link. Click that for an excellent introduction to the process. The process lets you create machines using pre-built templates i.e. you don’t even need the media and the machines are ready in a few minutes. As long as you remain within the resource limits and have no more than two machines, it’s all free for 90 days! You can also install “Applications” e.g. a WordPress Server.
Let’s create a server then! The next tab in the interface is “My Cloud”. Clicking on it, displays the following options:
Clicking on “Add a new server” should bring up the interface that allows you to build a new server. As a test, let’s build a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine, with minimum resources. Choose the following options:
Click “Add New” and the process of building the server starts. It’s as simple as that! Wait for a few minutes and it’s done. At the end of it, the screen looks similar to this:
One thing the process forgets to mention is the password for the machine you’ve just built. Not to worry. To see that and other details, you need to click the small button on the right (highlighted). With that, the details are displayed, along with the password:
Of course, you can’t see the password here as I’ve erased it :-). It should be where I’ve indicated in the picture above. Also, you should have IP Addresses listed, assigned to you depending on your selections. You can use the same process to create any of the machines listed in the OS menu or even build application machines.
Now you can click on the screen shown and “Run Console”, which should display the console screen, after installing a plug-in and allowing a pop-up in your browser if required. You could also click on “View in vCloud Director” to open a new tab where a proper vCloud Director style window will open and present you will all the familiar options.
This is where Chrome users will feel disappointed as the option doesn’t work with it. That said, you don’t have to use vCloud Director and you can interact with the machine while remaining in the “View my Public Cloud” screen. The machine needs to be powered-on to connect ISO etc. and if the plug-in is installed, the console will also run fine.
Please note: If your browser has just been upgraded by Microsoft to Internet Explorer 10 recently, then the console will still throw up a warning but click on “Continue Anyway” and it works (correct at the time of writing 16/03/2013 12:15 GMT).
If you’ve followed the process so far, clicking on “View my Virtual Networks” reveals the following screen:
The red boxes mark the areas where you’ll have IP addresses assigned to your machine. As you can see, you can control what talks to the machine you’ve just created.
It’s all well and good to create machines that already have templates but what if you want something not available up there. Again, there is an option for that. Not very obvious but if you click on “Administration”, you can find:
Click on the link “Upload New Media”. I won’t repeat what is mentioned there as it’s a well-documented process and does exactly what it says on the tin! Essentially, an MSI package gets installed and once done, you can upload your own media and templates to use as you please. Remember: It’s your responsibility to ensure that all licensing requirements are in place for the media you upload and use.
Once uploaded, you can use that media with another option that is available while creating your machines: The “bare-metal” option. Here are the options I selected to create a custom machine:
At the end of the creation process, you might see this error:
This is nothing to worry about. The process tries to apply a customization process to the machine but with no OS present, it doesn’t make sense. VMware will probably fix this later. Click “OK” to continue but I would strongly suggest editing the machine’s configuration (in vCloud Director) to untick “Enable Guest customization” as having it enabled, might interfere with booting up of the machine later.
At this point, you may find that your newly created machine disappears from the list. If that happens, click “Reload” on the right-hand side on the menu bar above and the machine should return to the list.
Now the eagle-eyed reader will have noticed by now that I am trying to create an ESXi server in the cloud. Granted, this might not have much use up there but it would have been quite simple to create any Windows or Linux machine and I needed a challenge :-). Note that the machine gets created as a “CentOS 4/5/6 64-bit)” machine and as ESXi requires 2 CPUs and 2 GB RAM, that will allow just one machine for me.
Power-on the machine, attach the ESXi ISO and you will probably need to reboot the machine to boot from that ISO. Alternatively, you can fire up vCloud Director with either Firefox or IE and attach the ISO before booting up the machine. Either way, the machine successfully boots up and arrives at the ESX Installer welcome screen.
Rest of the process follows as normal. The only thing to report is the issue with Hardware Virtualization not being enabled but hey, this was just a test to prove a point. I tried ticking the box that is available in the “Hardware” tab (while editing the machine in vCloud Director) but it can’t be ticked on my set up as either the underlying architecture either doesn’t allow it or the free version doesn’t.
I hope this quick run-through will prove to be useful as a starter. Next step would be to link up a couple of servers to my internal set up to make it truly hybrid but that would be a post for later. I would highly recommend anyone to have a go at this free service. Idea: Maybe you can place an external mail server to cleanse and discard unwanted mail before it hits your network? Will save a lot of bandwidth! 🙂
I am glad that VMware has finally decided to enter this arena as a bit of competition between the big guns, can only be a good thing for consumers like us 🙂
Hope this helps!