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VMware Cloud Foundation Overview

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VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) offers immense advantage to datacenter professionals in terms of simplifying Day 0 through Day 2 activities, streamlining management operations and providing agility in deploying and decommissioning new environments within the vSphere ecosystem.  Administrators simply provide imaged ESXi hosts and a few DNS/IP address entries as the input and receive a fully functional vCenter domain backed by NSX-T or NSX-V as the output.  This domain is immediately ready for whatever use case or use cases needed by the tenant organization.  Additional hosts can be dynamically added or removed as requirements change and other VMware products like Horizon or PKS can be simply layered on top of the initial deployment through the common SDDC Manager control plane.  Native deployment, integration and connectivity are also provided with members of the vRealize suite, also via SDDC Manager.

VCF consists of a few basic constructs and principles that we will outline in the remainder of this section.

Management and Workload Domains

The Management Domain supports the control plane for VMware Cloud Foundation.  It consists of a minimum of four (or more) vSAN-enabled ESXi hosts and it is where core infrastructure components such as vCenter, NSX, NSX Edge Gateways and SDDC Manager are deployed.  SDDC Manager functions as the brain of the entire environment - not only are Workload Domains spun up or spun down through it but it also orchestrates and tracks all upgrades of existing infrastructure as well.

VMware Cloud Foundation deployments all begin in the same way:  Building a Management Domain with vSAN via the CloudBuilder OVA, which takes a VMware Validated Design (VVD) as input.  This methodology ensures consistency in the critical first phase of a greenfield deployment by requiring users to input a predefined set of values into an excel spreadsheet or json file.  This, in turn, minimizes the chance of a mistake and directs users to correct errors before deployment kicks off.

Workload Domains represent three or more ESXi hosts aggregated together in one or more clusters under a single vCenter instance.  They are deployed then managed by VMware Cloud Foundation administrators within SDDC Manager.  These are units of compute, network, memory and storage that can be rapidly expanded and contracted, upgraded, and orchestrated via integrated connectivity to the vRealize suite.  Once deployed, Workload Domains can be assigned to one or more groups of tenant organizations who can then deploy, manage, and use the VMs and applications required for their respective use case(s).  A key differentiator between Management Domains and Workload Domains is that Workload Domains allow for other types of Principal Storage besides vSAN.  

vSAN with VMware Cloud Foundation

One of the primary benefits of vSAN is that you can aggregate together compute, memory and storage for simplified management.  However, aggregation also includes several challenges within the VMware Cloud Foundation framework, particularly at scale.  We believe the FlashArray is perfectly suited to resolve these shortcomings.

The first vSAN trade-off is fairly obvious but it deserves to be mentioned:  a vSAN node can only be assigned to a single Workload or Management Domain; automatically limiting its utility to that single domain instance.  Meanwhile, a single Pure FlashArray can be connected to one or many Workload Domains - providing density and coverage for use cases of many different types - even potentially across multiple federated VCF instances.  Going further, two FlashArrays can be set up with ActiveCluster and provide your Workload (and Management) Domains with transparent and automatic failover in the event of an outage. 

The other important vSAN trade-off is that as VCF Workload Domains demand additional resources due to growth, new initiatives or even as the hosts themselves are refreshed - it’s very possible that only more compute, memory or storage by itself may be required rather than all three.  However, because of the aggregated nature of vSAN, a customer is potentially stuck adding all of those or more of which will go unused; creating a resource silo and wasting valuable data center resources.

Pure Storage provides an undeniable advantage for VCF Workload Domain clusters at scale:  superior data reduction to minimize datacenter footprint, all NVMe performance allowing for VMs and applications to achieve results faster and 99.9999% of availability to make sure that those most critical workloads stay online where they belong