So what is EVO:RAIL?

I guess the first thing someone is going to ask is what is EVO:RAIL and what are the benefits of having an EVO:RAIL appliance?

EVO:RAIL is a hyper-converged infrastrucure appliance and one of the great benefits of having an EVO:RAIL appliance is that you can have it up and running in your datacenter in a matter of minutes. From the time you plug in your EVO:RAIL appliance to the time you create your first VM should be very quick indeed. I know that sounds crazy however you can go and see it being done using the VMware Hands on Labs.

When it comes to VM’s you can configure amd manage VM’s from inside EVO:RAIL and also patch and upgrade in a very simple manner. If you have 1 EVO:RAIL appliance you can scale out very quickly and simply. In my opinion the scalability of this product is going to be huge and we will discuss this in more depth when I write posts about scalability.

What hardware is in an EVO:RAIL appliance?

EVO:RAIL is a 2U 4 node system. The first node is probably the most important one because that is the one that houses the EVO:RAIL Config and Management Engine.

EVORAIL

The hardware comes in the following config:

  • 4 Independent nodes for compute, networking and storage
  • Each node has dual processors & 192GB of Memory
  • Total of 16TB of Flash and HDD Storage using Virtual SAN
  • Phone and in-field HW & SW Support & Services (SnS)

Each independent node consists of the following:

  • Two Intel E5-2620v2 six-core CPUs
  • 192GB of memory
  • One SLC SATADOM or SAS HDD for the ESXi™ boot device
  • Three SAS 10K RPM 1.2TB HDD for the VMware Virtual SAN™ datastore
  • One 400GB MLC enterprise-grade SSD for read/write cache
  • One Virtual SAN-certified pass-through disk controller
  • Two 10GbE NIC ports (configured for either 10GBase-T or SFP+ connections)
  • One 1GbE IPMI port for remote (out-of-band) management

Does this mean that VMware are now a hardware vendor?

No, basically EVO:RAIL partners will be eligible to avail of the software bundle and the partner will then sell the appliance with EVO:RAIL software integrated into the appliance. The partner will also provide the hardware and software support to customers.

What if I need more storage or more compute?

In EVO:RAIL 1.0 you can scale out to four appliances which gives you a total of 16 ESXi hosts, in this config you would still be using 1 Virtual SAN Datastore. In EVO:RAIL 1.1 we introduce scalability to allow for 8 appliances and 32 nodes.This does not mean that you need to use 4 or 8 vCenter Servers, you only need one VC and the same goes for the EVO:RAIL instance. When you want to scale out, the EVO:RAIL engine will take care of the deploy, config and management and in doing this your new compute capacity can be added to your Virtual SAN Datastore automatically. When you add your new appliance to your datacenter it will be automatically discovered and can be easily added.

What software comes with the appliance?

  • EVO: RAIL Deployment, Configuration, and Management
  • VMware vSphere® Enterprise Plus, including ESXi for compute
  • Virtual SAN for storage
  • vCenter Server
  • vCenter Log Insight

The main idea here is that you do not need to be an extrememly seasoned VMware professional to configure and install an EVO:RAIL appliance. Even though under the covers it is using VMwares core products, at the EVO:RAIL engine level things are highly simplified.

So what can i build on an EVO:RAIL appliance?

Compute

EVO:RAIL has been sized to run approx 100 average sized general purpose VMs. Obviously this can change depending on workload, A general purpose VM is sized at 2 vCPU, 4GB vMEM, 60GB of vDisk, with redundancy

From a Horizon View point of view you should be able to configure up to 250 View VM’s on a single EVO:RAIL appliance, again this can change depending on workload however the profile we mention here is 2vCPU, 2GB vMEM, 32GB vDisk linked clones.

Networking

Please note that the EVO:RAIL appliance does not come with a Top of Rack switch and there are certain configurations that need to be adhered to when configuring the EVO:RAIL appliance from a networking perspective. Each node in the appliance has two 10Gb network ports (8 ports per appliance) and each of these need to be connected to the switch along with IPv4 and IPv6 multicast enabled.

Storage

When using EVO:RAIL, it creates a single Virtual SAN Datastore using all of the HDDs on the ESXi hosts, It then performs read and write caching by utilizing the SSD disks. The total capacity per EVO:RAIL appliance is 16TB.

The Virtual SAN datastore consists of the following capacities:

  • 14.4TB HDD capacity (approx 13TB usable) for storing VMs
  • 1.6TB SSD capacity for read/write cache
  • Size of pre-provisioned management VM: 30GB

So how do i actually deploy an EVO:RAIL appliance?

Its actually not that difficult to install these appliances however I am sure we will learn of new tips and tricks to consider as we start to install more and more and come across more issues. You should be able to install one in 4 quick steps 🙂

1. Ensure you understand your EVO:RAIL network topology (VLANs and top of rack switch). There is info about configuring the top of rack switch contained in the EVO:RAIL User Guide.

2. Rack and cable:  connect the 10GbE adapters on EVO: RAIL to the 10GbE top-of-rack switch.

3. Power it on

TOR

4. Point your laptop to the top of rack switch and configure the network address to talk to the EVO:RAIL Appliance. Once this is complete point your browser to the IP Address of the EVO:RAL engine, which will be https://192.168.0.200:7443. This IP Address is set at factory default however it can be different if requested.

From here you should see the following screen

Hello EVORAIL

 What about configuration?

There are 3 options available to you when you start your EVO:RAIL appliance, Just Go, Customize Me or Upload Configuration.

VM Creation

After installing the EVO:RAIL appliance you can start creating your first VM’s. In here you will be able to select GuestOS, networking options and VM size. From the sizing point of view it will ask you what size VM you want and you can specify small, meduim or large.

Opinion

I believe that the EVO:RAIL appliance is something that can be integrated into a datacenter quiet easily and is really user friendly. Make sure you have your networking set up correctly and install should be a breeze.

How often you will use the EVO:RAIL GUI after initial deployment remains to be seen, I can see VMware admins just going back and using VC because at the end of the day the EVO:RAIL engine cannot perform the same amount of tasks as VC can. This is deliberate, VMware’s intention is not to duplicate all of the settings in vCenter – but to expose the most popular and most commonly used, so its not intended as ‘power-user’ UI. Also there are some process that can only be executed using the EVO:RAIL UI (admittedly these won’t be daily events) such as adding a second appliance, patch management, and serviceability including hardware replacement (introduce 1.1 for HHD/SSD/NIC replacement) and node replacement (available since 1.0)

So this is a very basic introduction to EVO:RAIL, I will create some more posts on EVO:RAIL where we will go into more detail over the coming weeks so please check back.