VMworld 2021 is right around the corner! Here are my top 10 sessions!

VMworld 2021 is online this year

I'll really miss some of the sessions and exploration we've had in past years in person, but I think VMware made the right call this year. We can expect to see a fundamental shift with online conventions - and this will need some unique strategy compared to previous years.

The Basics

I attended my first VMworld in 2016, and to describe it as information overload would be an understatement. It's only been a few years, but here's what I have to say to new VMworld attendees:

  • Give yourself time between sessions: it's too easy to switch between video streams at home - but it's a trap. Your brain needs time to process new information, and normally stretching your legs and walking around would help with that. After a particularly heavy session, get away from your keyboard and give yourself time to think. It's like college, if you take too many classes you will perform less effectively than if you capped out your class time.
  • Talk to people: The Orbital Jigsaw Discord server can serve as a water cooler of sorts here - remember that you always can learn more with others than on your own.
  • Be kind to your mind: I'm mentioning it twice, and I don't care. trying to absorb everything will be stressful, the single most important thing you can do is take care of yourself. Don't skip meals, don't skip time with the kids, don't skip out on rest.

VMware has provided a lot more content in the breakout sessions this year, and it's because we can't do stuff like the fun run. Here are my sessions of interest:

Fundamentally Important Sessions

At its core - I'd like to break out sessions that would be of critical importance, aforementioned biases notwithstanding:

  • Enhance Data Center Network Design with NSX and VMware Cloud Foundation [NET1789]

  • Nimish Desai is an extremely colorful presenter. In my first VMworld, I was actually wandering around the halls and heard yelling from one of the auditoriums, and decided to wander in and take a look. It turns out he was asking some questions about OSPF and I answered one right and ended up with some trucker cap he'd glued a marketing-noncompliant NSX logo onto and didn't leave the auditorium for about 3 hours. This was on NSX-V Fundamentals - for a director he is an extremely capable teacher and presenter.

  • I consider this (other names before it, it's basically NSX fundamentals) session every year a foundation for just about everything VMware and SDN.

  • NSX-T Design, Performance and Sizing for Stateful Services [NET1212]

  • This one has to be good. My other favorite presenter on NSX has always been Samuel Kommu, he specializes in flaying whatever SDN platform crosses his desk within an inch of its life, and then squeezing a little bit more than that out of it. He was the first engineer to get NSX-V past 40 Gigabits/s. Nicolas Michel is a capable engineer in the newer NSX-T team, they appear to be based out of EMEA, and is a total Linux and Open Source guy too. NSX-T is based almost completely on open source software and his team is working to recreate the old NSX functionality with F/OSS.

  • In this case, we're visiting how to build out the stateful back-end (Tier-1) services, essentially the bits that make a network "smart". NSX-T has some highly unique next-gen scaling capabilities for these service types. Packet inspection devices are the bottleneck in nearly all modern enterprise networks, this will present a fresh perspective on solving this problem!

  • Extreme Performance Series: vSphere Advanced Performance Boot Camp [MCL2033]

  • This class every year is basically required for anyone interested in their VCAP (DCV) as it handles the most important subject for virtualization - getting the absolute most value out of your equipment. It is a Tech+ pass session but probably justifies it by itself. If you're having trouble putting together the in-book subjects while studying for VCAP/VCP, this is where you want to go.

Interesting Sessions

  • Apply SRE’s Golden Signals for Monitoring Toward Network Operations [NET1088]

  • The title more or less says it all, this would be step 4 after a round-trip of fundamentals. The first thing I try to do when encountering a new technology is to make it reliable, and this is a logical progression.

  • (Tech+)Future-Proof Your Network with IPv6, Platform Security and Compliance [EDG1024]

  • If you haven't guessed, IPv6 is coming and you can't avoid it. With that out of the way, VMware's Networking and Security Business Unit (NSBU) has covered significant ground getting the rest of the company IPv6-ready. This is a Tech+ session primarily focused on SD-WAN, so if you're interested in how an enterprise can become IPv6-ready, this is where to start.

  • (Tech+)NSX-T Reference Designs for vSphere with Tanzu [NET1426]

  • NSX-T's hidden superpower is actually container networking. It's designed from the ground up with two Container Plugins - Antrea and NCP - that support container networking without complex Flannel/IPTables configurations simply to get stuff to work.

  • Getting Started with NSX Infrastructure as Code [NET2272]

  • I'll be blunt here, I've made several series of blog posts on this already, but NSX-T is a complicated animal, and it's important to build it right. In my opinion, the best way to do this is to prototype your deployment repeatedly until it's as close to perfect as you can get it.

  • There are two major paths to automate NSX-T here:

  • The platform: Ansible/Terraform helps us here to maintain configured state. In a previous life I crushed concrete cylinders to see if they're strong enough, this is like that but digital (and safer!)

  • The services: vRealize Automation / vCloud Director provides services on top of the base networking we provide, it is important to understand how people consume networks we build.

  • NSX-T and Infrastructure as Code [CODE2741]

  • Yes, this will take more than one session to absorb. VMware understands that - Nicolas Michel is front-ending this one too, he's working on a YouTube channel called vPackets to capture some of this automation knowledge.

Telecom Sessions

I'm breaking this out because "there are dozens of us!"

Apparently, VMware thinks there are more of us than that - and is diving head-first into the breach. VMware has developed a robust hosting and automation suite of services to help accelerate telecommunication delivery.

I'm hoping this will possibly transform smaller ISPs into more of an Edge model, where the telecom provides the pipe and "stuff" on top of it as an additional revenue source. It'd be pretty exciting - even if you don't have a 4-post rack and some cooling, you could loan some cycles from a colocation space as needed. Despite most complaints, telecommunications companies have a few strengths here, namely:

  • Drive. Telecom engineers do what they do to connect people to information - regardless of how one will often complain about how their internet sucks, these guys are out there working nonstop to help make things just that little bit better.
  • Connectivity. While this ought to be a given, do you as a customer want to deal with the stress of relocating your server farm while down-sizing offices due to COVID?
  • Connectivity (people) believe it or not, running cable in every major city will build up quite the Rolodex. If anyone can find a viable physical space to fit your equipment/services, it'd be the telecom company.

Before I go too far, there is a ton of sensationalism on "The Edge!(tm)" All this really means is what I've explained here - your telecommunications provider would be empowered to deploy distributed compute stacks regionally to fit your (low latency? more like cost-effective!) workload needs. This is especially important in Alaska, where reaching out to the data center the "next town over" is a microwave relay system reaching hundreds of miles.

There's also quite a bit of misinformation on 5G, which fits into my top priority session in this category:

  • A Tour of the Heart of the 5G Network with Nokia and VMware [EDG1935]
  • You probably haven't heard of this Nokia Networks. It doesn't matter, attend this session if you're interested in 5G - the architecture changes from 4G to 5G are myriad, the organization maintaining the standards (3GPP) made dramatic improvements in terms of technical design, and this will give you a bird's eye view.
  • Nokia Networks is a name to track in the future, VMware's NSX-T platform and Nokia's new SR-Linux platform are going to take the data center by storm. Nokia's recent interest in Open Source has culminated in a telecommunication grade workload based on Linux - and they seem to have thought of everything, model-based configuration, automated testing in a container pipeline, the sky is the limit!
  • Demystifying Performance: Meeting Stringent Latency Requirements for RAN [EDG2872]
  • I still groan every time someone states that it's "impossible to virtualize x because of latency!" We wouldn't have a connected Alaska today if we felt that wasn't a good enough reason to try. These guys succeeded.

I look forward to seeing you all there! I'll try my best to be reachable via Twitter @engyak907 and in the Orbital Jigsaw server when I can.