Failed labs are a cost of doing business in learning new stuff. Microsoft’s tech preview for Azure Stack created a new opportunity for my lab efforts. It’s rare when I have a lab that’s too big to run in either my home VMware Workstation setup with 32GB of RAM or the 1000 vCPU hours I get monthly with Ravello Systems. The Azure Stack is a big lab. It requires 96GB of RAM and 16 CPU cores. It’s larger than any single host that I’ve needed to create. In this post, I document how I came to try to use vCloud Air and how I eventually gave up.
My first thought was to go with a bare metal cloud service. The obvious choice is Baremetalcloud.com, which I’ve used before. My hesitation is that the biggest single node is 96GB. I’ve already read that the hardware requirements for Azure Stack were strict. Jon Hildebrand had already had some frustrating experiences with bare metal in his lab. I didn’t want to waste the money.
My next option was Ravello Systems. I already have free hours but Ravello Systems doesn’t support Hyper-V. Obviously, Hyper-V is required for Azure Stack. Then I remembered that I have $300 in vCloud Air credit that I’ve never used. The current version of vCloud Air, based on vSphere 5.5 is technically capable of running Hyper-V.
My initial challenges were around Windows Server 2016. I initially tried to start with a Windows 2012 image. I quickly discovered that pre-built OS images weren’t going to work. The primary challenge is the size of the system drive. It needed to be a minimum of 200GB. If I were going to get the lab to work, I’d need to create an OS from scratch.
My first thought was to leverage the latest versions of VMware Fusion or VMware Workstation. Both products support direct upload to vCloud Air. After building the initial OS image, I attempted to upload them via the each platform. Both just flat out failed. I didn’t want to attempt to export to OVF so; I set my sites on uploading the Windows Server 2016 ISO to my vCloud Catalog. I had challenges bug I eventually figured out the problem which I documented.
Once I had the ISO uploaded, I had no problems creating a custom image. VMware Fusion even came in handy. The mouse doesn’t work in the console for Windows Server 2016 until after you install VMware tools. Alternatively, I was able to use Fusion to remote to my installation.
Fast forwarding to the Azure Stack install, I discovered that Hyper-V wasn’t starting. This wasn’t obvious. My installation script didn’t error out. The script just remained on task 8 of 124. Thanks to help from Jon, I was able to determine Hyper-V wasn’t starting. I knew exactly what the problem was as I encountered it way back in VMware Workstation 8 when I ran a nested Windows 8 VM.
The problem is that vCloud Air doesn’t expose the .VMX file in any obvious way. My solution? Go back to my VMware Workstation image and export it to an OVF and upload it. Based on my previous experience with VMware Workstation upload and the OVFTOOL for uploading the image, I dreaded the task. I swallowed my pride and gave VMware Workstation one more try. It didn’t work.
So, I went back to the OVFTOOL. The upload would start and fail between 1 and 5 percent completion. William Lam had directions for logging errors, but the tool didn’t generate a log file. After attempting to upload the OVF about ten times, I just finally gave up.
Like every lab, I learned a ton. I received more exposure to vCloud Air than ever before. I have about as much hands on keyboard time with vCloud as I do AWS. There’s some stuff to like about both.
I don’t know what much else to say. I’m a beaten man.