dipping my toes in vRA 8

re-visiting an old friend ?

I’ve been quite on my blog for the last half year. That is what moving to a new house, seeing my son growing up, renovating a bathroom, setting up my home automation etc… will do…
So at the last day of 2021, looking to the morning sky from my office at home, I decided to blog about my reintroduction experience with vRA 8

view from my attic

Yeah, reintroduction.

A few years ago I followed the VMware ICM (installation, configuration and management) course for vRA 7. Five days of learing about fabric groups, blueprints, orchestrator, the several VMs needed to build a vRealize Automation platform. By trade I’m a developer / automation engineer. The course was more a meaning to an end. But that end never happened. Yeah I’ve been building a vRA 7 platform. And on another assignment, rescuing a vRA 7 platform ( it was falling apart)… But really developing automation with vRA.. Never happened.
And my warm feelings for vRA 7 went away. A complex platform, a memory game in finding the correct terminology and links in the vRA portal… and that awfull java client for orchestrator. No succes stories for me.

Until

Until this year…
I’m working with a customer who has already a vRealize platform in place, but needs support in developing. In helping their administrators developing a developer mindset. And they have vRA 8

vRealize automation 8

Of course I had seen VMware’s presentation about vRA 8. And to be honest I started to become positive about vRA. No mix of appliances and windows VMs, no MS SQL VM… just one type of appliance, running kubernetes and distributed the several services over kubernetes pods.
vRA8 is underneath the hood a completely different than its predecessor. And no java client. And the principe that everything should be code…

In the last two weeks I’ve (with some help) deployed a new vRA 8 platform, and developed some automation, using the exisiting vRA 7 platform. We decided not to use the migration tool. But to rebuild the functionality. The main reason for this is the different approaches between vRA 7 and 8.
vRA 8 is focused on tag policy driven placement. Meaning you tag resources with several kind of metadata, like enviroment (DMZ,Dev,Production,Test) , OS, storage SLA, backup SLA. And you use constraints in blueprints and projects to guide the deployment.
You use vRO actions as external sources for option values, default values in the vRA request forms to help the end user in making selections.
You don’t develop one big monolithic automation, but need to slice it up in smaller parts. Thinking of ‘can I reuse it’, ‘can I make it more task general and dynamic’, etc.
And in the end you have some simple workflows and blueprints, but build a catalog with dynamic items, helping the administrator and/or developers in deploying VMs

My experience with developing in vRA 8 is a positive one. As for any language or automation platform, the main points to take away are:

  • find out how some programming constructs should be set up, like if…then…else, for..loop, regular expressions etc…
  • learn to code structured. Use readable names for variables, constants, objects etc… Use comments in your code to highlight, explain what the next line of instructions do.
  • The more high level your code is, the more you should use comments to explain what that code, workflow should do.
  • Learn by failing… take one function you are trying to use, build a new workflow around it, and test it… yes it can be time consuming… but you’ll learn
  • work with other developers, learn from their way of structure code. From their approach to automation
  • First try to get a picture of what needs to be automated, describe it in manual actions, how would an administrator solve this task by hand ?
    Try to get a broader sence of how the administrators are working , and ask about why things are as they are, what is the reason / decision for the way of working…..
    This is one of the hard parts of automation. Don’t start right away on the keyboard, but try to understand what is being asked to automate

Final

As you can tell, my experiences with vRA8 are positive. You need to invest time to understand the platform… but it makes more sense then vRA7 did. And it is completely different.
One of the main challenges with automation is, selling it to the organisation… and making it donkey proof… it takes time… take small steps so the changes for succes are bigger. And celebrate them.

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