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Reviewing bluelock vCloud Express

Using blueblock vCloud Express is a fairly good experience. The user interface (UI) is clean and fast, virtual machines (VMs) spin up quickly, and the time from registering an account to having a VM online is under 20 minutes.

This is part two of a multi-part series on the various VMware vCloud Express providers. If you're just joining us, please take a moment to read the introduction and proceed from there.

 


← Previous: Reviewing the five vCloud Express providers Next: Part three→

The first thing that strikes me about the bluelock website is that the website is beautiful. The layout is clean, attention grabbing and it makes me want to spend money.

The first step is to register for an account. The only thing worth noting in this very simple process is that there is no Captcha to screen out bots; perhaps they have a great spam filtering solution in place.

After entering in a few personal details, an email is generated for account activation.


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The process could not be any simpler to get started; I didn't even need to pull the credit card out of my wallet. Apparently, during this current beta (Beta 2) at bluelock, vCloud Express is free.

Literally within minutes I was able to log in to the bluelock vCloud Express Beta control panel, and it didn't disappoint.


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The layout is clean and fairly intuitive. It is important to note that this is a beta, and the red 'X' in the monthly bill section (likely supposed to show a graph of sorts) is a great reminder. The control panel is more visually appealing than say, Lab Manager 4, but it is less functional.


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Selecting the Manage button in the left column allows a user to create a virtual data center (VDC), virtual application (vApp) or virtual machine (VM).


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A minor suggestion to the folks at bluelock: It would be nice to be able to click VDC, vApp or VM from the above description screen for creation. Instead, the user must then click a sub-menu in the left column as seen below.


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The first step is to create a VDC to hold the virtual machines. I think it's a wise move for bluelock to use the VMware naming conventions to keep the customer speaking VMware. In the future when a customer can VMotion between, for example, his VMware-based data center and one at bluelock, it's nice for the terminology to have parity. I used BLUELOCKthinkvirt1 as my VDC name.


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The first minor hiccup was that I was prevented from using a dash in my VDC name. Many organizations use dashes and/or underscores in their naming conventions; it would be nice to have this issue resolved.

Next the user must create a vApp before they can create VMs. Again, this keeps with the VMware vision.


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I then created a vApp called Cloud Farm in VDC BLUELOCKthinkvirt1. Task status can be checked at the bottom of the control panel, and is similar to how vCenter displays the status of a given task.


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The next step is to finally create the VM. Bluelock provides five VM templates to choose from:

  • CentOS R5 64-bit: 1 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB HD
  • Redhat 5 64-bit: 1 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB HD
  • Ubuntu 9 Server 64-bit: 1 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 20 GB HD
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition 64-bit: 1 CPU, 1 GB RAM, 30 GB HD
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition 64-bit with SQL Express: 1 CPU, 1=2 GB RAM, 40 GB HD


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Bluelock also provides the ability to allow or disallow in-bound (public accessible) networking. I decided to create the beefiest of VMs, a Server 2008 Standard with SQL Express; I also decided to allow in-bound networking.

Once the VM was created, I clicked Cloud Items from menu on the left, and my newly created VM named BlueLock01 was shown. Six minutes later my VM was on and ready for me to connect. My experience with EC2 is that 7-9 minutes is the average time to spin-up a new Windows Amazon Machine Instance (AMI).


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My first real hurdle came when I tried to connect to BlueLock01 with a direct console session (initiated by clicking the VM name or the screen image). From a Windows 7 and a Windows Vista machine I received a, "Bad Handle 0x930, the handle is invalid" error when trying to install VMware-mks.cab, the Active-X control requires to connect via direct console. The error continues with, "…\vmware-remotemks.exe: this executable should not be invoked directly." Fortunately I was able to connect without issues from a ClearCube thin client running Windows XPe.

A cruise around the rest of the Control Panel shows some highlights and some signs of the current beta status.


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The Usage Chart on the main page of the Control Panel is clean and easy to read. It does make me wonder if the official cloud time zone should be GMT.

Under the Catalog menu, there are three options: All, Global and Private.


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In my opinion, selecting the Private tab under Catalog is missing one major button, Import a VM. Not only could I not find a way to mark my VM as a private catalog item, I am not able to import one of my own VMs into the environment, or build a private VM based on an existing and supported template by bluelock. One of the big advantages of vCloud Express is supposed to be the ability to run any VM supported by VMware in the cloud. At bluelock, I am limited to fewer VMs than I am with Amazon.

Under the Report menu I can see my current charges.


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This has me a bit worried. I've racked up charges without entering my credit card info. Do I have any responsibility to pay this? It wasn't until I took a trip over to the forums that I realized that during the current beta, vCloud Express is free. This did have me concerned for a moment.

It also took me a little poking around to find the local administrator password for my Windows image. This was more my error than design error, but I never had that issue with EC2.


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To find the password, the user must go to the Catalog screen and expand the field below their image. What's interesting to note is that the password is likely the same for every instance. I think a better Guest Customization could generate a unique password on a per user or per VM basis. Granted, bluelock sets the VMs to have their password changed on first login, and the password change must be done via a direct console session (as opposed RDP – even mstsc /console), but this still seems like a less than ideal password solution.


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Overall, VMs within the bluelock vCloud Express are very easy to setup. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of image options at this time.

Once I logged into my Windows VM, BlueLock01 I checked out the VM stats. IPv4 and IPv6 were both enabled and configured, the processor speed was at 2.67 GHz the server was part of a workgroup (WORKGROUP) and it was running version 4.0.0 (build 164009) of VMware tools. It would be nice to be able to enter in a few details in the VM deploy screen or to save guest customizations, but overall everything works well.

The Windows VM was configured with a 30 GB C:\ (OS) and a 10 GB D:\ (Data).

General comments:

  • It takes too many clicks to find the log-in page for the vCloud Express control panel. The log-in link on the mainpage is not correct.

     

  • I cannot find where a user can change his or her password.

     

  • On the Task menu, once there are a few tasks listed, the formatting gets screwy with the task list starting half-way down the page.

     

  • It would be nice to see what the current cloud time is so I can relate that to the task timestamps.

     

  • Bluelock currently has the ability to import images for its Advanced service offering, which is completely separate from their VMware vCloud Express offering. While VMware vCloud Express is a great platform, it does look as though it has lost some functionality with the offering.

     

  • Reports are missing. There is no way for me to track GB In/Out, public versus private traffic, et cetera.

     

  • There is no place to configure firewall rules from within the control panel.

     

  • There is no hardware or software load-balancing capability (that I can see or have access to).

     

  • It would be nice to have users/roles for the control panel.

     

  • Reverse DNS for Exchange does not seem to be supported yet for bluelock vCloud Express (gathered from a post in the forum).

     

  • Bluelock appears to have a small user based thus far, with a whopping 19 registered users. They did recently wipe out the old forum when they migrated to new forum software.

     

  • It would be nice to be able to delete VMs from the Cloud Items screen.

     

  • The user can't delete a vApp without first deleting all of the VMs in the vApp. It would be nice to delete a vApp, get a confirmation that all VMs will be deleted, and let it be so.

     

  • You can't terminate an account.

     

  • There is no defined service level agreement (SLA).

     

  • It would be nice to see aggregate stats for a vApp or VDC.

Moving on to the performance testing of the VM, I downloaded IOMeter and fired up the All-in-One test, just for some basic readings when using the D:\ drive. I found that the VM averaged 600 IOPS, 8MB/sec and 1.6ms IO response time. Not bad.

When I use AWS, my mind knows what's possible in AWS and I work with the framework and use the features to my advantage as much as possible. Knowing the bluelock's vCloud Express is running VMware underneath, I want features such as anti-affinity to be available. The Cloud is a great way to run certain workloads, but there is still the potential for me to have two webserver VMs on the same physical host. I would like the ability for my two webserver VMs to have anti-affinity from a host perspective.

It's also worth noting that a published price list is painfully missing. Since this is still in beta with no current billing, it's marginally acceptable. I would like to know how the prices break down, however, so I can evaluate what workloads are cost efficient in bluelock versus one of its competitors. It does state (in the forums) that the customer is billed based on how much CPU they use, not how much they are allocated. This is more like the Google AppEngine model for processing versus the Amazon EC2 model for prices per instance runhours. This is an interesting cross where an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider is using platform-as-a-service (PaaS) pricing model.

Overall, the experience at bluelock is very favorable. The user interface (UI) is clean and fast, VMs spin up, and the time from registering an account to having a VM online was under 20 minutes. Not too shabby!

 


← Previous: Reviewing the five vCloud Express providers Next: Part three→

 

Jason Langone is vice president of Virtualization Services at Infinite Group, Inc. He has spoken at VMworld, Green Computing Summit and Virtualization Congress. Langone won the VMware Vanguard Award in 2007 and has architected some of the largest virtualization and cloud computing implementations to date. His solutions have been primarily implemented at Fortune Global 500 and public sector organizations and have received various accolades. Langone's focus remains on designing virtualization and cloud computing solutions in large-scale environments.

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