Perfect 2020 Vision with VMware Skyline

Perfect 2020 Vision with VMware Skyline

Recently the VMware Skyline team announced a raft of new features and improvements to the VMware Skyline service.  Building improvements into Log Assist, adding support for IPv6, new options within findings and recommendations, optional additional checks for https connections and UX improvements.  The full release notes can be found here.  I’d written a little about VMware Skyline last year, I thought it was time to revisit.

This post is going to cover the following:

Remind me what is VMware Skyline?

You know how your storage arrays report back to the vendor? Imagine if you could do that for your entire SDDC?  Now imagine adding proactive health checks that loop in world class support function to augment your operational teams. That is Skyline.

“VMware Skyline proactive support helps you avoid problems before they occur and reduces the time spent on resolving active support requests. With just a few clicks you can increase team productivity and the overall reliability of your VMware environments. And, it’s included in your active Production Support or Premier Services subscription. With Skyline, you’ve got control, and we’ve got your back. Take the Pressure Off IT: Download a free white paper to learn more about using proactive IT to help speed digital transformation.”

What data is being collected?

You can view information about the data being collected, how it’s stored and processed from VMware’s Customer Experience Improvement Program, Trust and Assurance and the VMware Cloud Trust Center.  I’ve captured some of the information and presented it below, for the most up to date information, use the previous links to the source.

  • Configuration Data: Technical data about how a customer’s organisation has configured VMware products and related environment information. Examples include version information, configuration settings and technical data relating to the devices accessing those products or third party applications or systems used in connection with the VMware product.
  • Feature Usage Data: Data about how a customer organisation uses the VMware product. Examples include details about which features the customer organisation uses and metrics of user interface activity.
  • Performance Data: Data about the performance of VMware products. Examples include metrics of the performance and scale of VMware products, response times for user interfaces, and details about customer API calls.
  • Product Logs: These are logs that are generated during the active deployment of VMware products. Typically, product logs record systems events and state during product operations in a semi-structured or unstructured form. This data is only collected under the Enhanced participation level.
How is that data being used?

In the context of VMware Skyline this data is being used for the following purposes.

  • Customer Support: VMware uses information to provide proactive and reactive support to our customer regarding their use of the products such as:
    • To provide support recommendations to our customers to improve the general health of a customer’s use of the product.
    • To understand a customer’s product configuration, events and issues in order to resolve a specific support request.
    • To understand a customer’s product configuration, events and issues in order to improve how VMware support resolves an issue.
    • To help customers use our products and offerings in more effective ways.

VMware Skyline Simplified Architecture

Pictures tell a thousand words, so here is a drawing outlining the simplified architecture of VMware Skyline;

VMware Skyline

 

The below table captures the source, destination and ports that VMware Skyline requires.

SourceDestinationTypeProtocolPort
Collectorvcsa.vmware.comHTTPSTCP443
Collectorvapp-updates.vmware.comHTTPSTCP443
CollectorvCenter ServerHTTPSTCP443
CollectorPSC/SSO Service provider 5.5HTTPSTCP443
CollectorPSC/SSO Service provider 6.* / 7HTTPSTCP7443
CollectorNSX Manager

vRealize Operations

Horizon View Connection Server

HTTPSTCP443
Web browserVMware Skyline Collector user interfaceHTTPSTCP443
Web browserVMware Skyline Collector (VAMI)HTTPSTCP5480

VMware Skyline Installation

First steps are to log on to the VMware Cloud portal and request access to VMware Skyline.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

Requesting access will send you to the VMware Skyline cloud service pages, to get started.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

A VMware cloud organisation is a mechanism to create a logical grouping of cloud assets for an entire company, line of business, function or a department within a company.  VMware Skyline will need to be linked to an organisation.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

With an organisation created, VMware Skyline needs to be linked to a support entitlement.  To use Skyline either production or premier support services are required, and that’s the entitlement that needs to be linked to.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

The VMware Skyline installations will then walk you through and link to the resources required to download and install the VMware Skyline Collector OVA in the local DC.  Deploying an OVA should be old hat for most folks by now, but if you do fancy something to read whilst you are downloading the OVA the installation and configuration guide seems appropriate.

When the VMware Skyline Collector is deployed you can log on to it via ‘https://skyline_collector_FQDN/IP’ using the initial username of ‘admin’ and password of ‘default’, when first logging in you are going to be prompted to reset this password.  The password that was set during the deployment of the OVA is for the root account, this can be used to update and manage the appliance via the VAMI on port tcp5480.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

I mentioned above one of the new features was additional checks for https connections, this is the first option we’re prompted with when logging on for the first time proper.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

VMware Skyline is part of the VMware Enhanced Customer Experience Improvement Program.  To quote the installer “By configuring VMware products to participate in the Skyline service, each product will be enabled to send product usage data to the Skyline services as part of the Enhanced Customer Experience Improvement Program. You may add, remove or modify your product configurations at any time.”

At this point we’ve got dual installations in progress, the cloud aspect and the local collector aspect, and here is where they join up.  We need to generate a token in the cloud installation and provide the local collector installation.

Getting Started with VMware Skyline

I love the internet, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me not showing the token string here!

If these steps have been completed successfully and communications are in place, then you’ll be prompted with the following;

Which is then also reflected in the VMware Skyline cloud.

Before moving on to configure the Skyline collector to communicate with SDDC components, create credentials for the collector to use.  Follow this guide to create the required permissions across the various SDDC components that you want VMware Skyline to monitor.  To keep things simple I’m just going to target my vSphere environment.

Another improvement that has made it into the latest version is the simplification of using customer SSO domains, as evidenced by the handy ‘Custom SSO domain toggle’, if you do slide the toggle across you’ll be asked to configure the following options;

When the configuration is complete and collections have started you’ll see the following;

After the collectors are deployed you might be expecting to see data straight away, However, it can take 24 hours for the first full synchronisation when you deploy and connect a collector, for the data to show in VMware Skyline Advisor.

VMware Skyline Advisor

With the collectors deployed the skyline advisor cloud service can start to perform analysis and recommendations from the data being collected.  This information is replayed back to you in the form of Dashboards, Lists and Reports.

Above is an example of a dashboard, this collates information about the environment that it is collecting data from and a summary of the findings broken down by VMware classified severity and category.

More information is available from the findings and recommendations tab, including a Finding ID and the risk impact area if nothing is done to address the finding.  Further this list can be downloaded as a *.CSV file and if an alert is not appropriate for the environment due to operational requirements or is mitigated elsewhere in the estate there is the option to mute findings.

As you would expect from VMware they don’t just provide information about what might be wrong, information is also provided on why the finding might be a problem and how to resolve.  Excellent stuff.

Reports are autogenerated and made available for download from the OSR Library, OSR in this instance meaning ‘Operational Summary Report’.  With VMware being alligned to Dell there is also the capability to link the Skyline with the Dell EMC Support Assist solution.  Which if you are leveraging Dell hardware to run the VMware SDDC provides you with a one stop shop of proactive support.  IF you don’t want to integrate then you can of course opt-in or out.

On of the final elements that I’ve not touched upon is the capability to use VMware Skyline as a mechanism to capture and upload logs to VMware via Log Assist.  This can work in two ways, through yourself selecting the targets for log generation and uploading them manually within the system. Or also, aligned to either manual or proactively raised VMware support ticket, a support engineer can request specific logs from the system, which will be made available when approved by you.

By default actions within the system are logged locally on the collector.  To capture these logs outside the system I would suggest following the guide from the VVD to link VMware Skyline to LogInsight.  Alternate methods might be possible.  However, as this is a solution delivered via an appliance I would shy away from any changes not backed by VMware documentation.

Summary

VMware Skyline is certainly evolving rapidly into a must have component in the data centre.  If you are a VMware administrator you really owe it to yourself and your team to explore getting VMware Skyline installed into your estate.

Still got questions?  Be sure to check back as I’ll be exploring this topic further, you can also read more about VMware Skyline from the FAQ page.

If you’ve any questions about VMware skyline feel free to @ me on twitter

Thanks

Simon