Automate everything!

How to Automate: vCAC

This is the third blog in my “How to automate” series. In the first posts I dicussed PowerCLI and vCO. In this blog I will talk about vCAC. vcac-splash vCAC = VMware vCloud Automation Center. It was originally developed by Credit Suisse, then spun off into a company called Dynamic Ops before it was acquired by VMware. It is software that takes care of the buniness side of automation. It presents a portal on which users or admins can request machines and services. The logic inside vCAC determines who can request which services and where machines are deployed. After a VM or service is requested it  manages the lifecycle of the object. I use the word “object” on purpose here because it can be a virtual machine as well as a physical server. And since version 6 it can even be any kind of service instead of an actual server.

The Upsides

The big upside of vCAC is that it is a very versatile tool. Especially if you have the cloud developer license you can make the software do virtually anything. And even without it you are able to do a whole bunch of stuff. This includes deploying machines to both your internal cloud as well as public clouds like Amazon or vCloud powered clouds. You could also provision storage or networks if you need to. So the software was not only developed in Switserland, it’s also versatile like a Swiss army knife. Another big plus in my opinion is that it integrates with vCenter ORchestrator so well. This is one of the reasons vCAC can do almost anything even without the developer license. If you can do it with vCO, you can integrate it with vCAC. vCAC delivers an end user portal which doesn’t require you to do any web development. This makes building a portal very easy and leaves more time for you to focus on the automation that happens behind the portal. vCAC also makes it possible to import existing virtual machines. This is something that is very hard with vCloud Director. This makes vCAC a much better fit than vCD for companies running their own private datacenter (or should I say “cloud”?). For public cloud providers vCD is still the way to go in my opinion although using vCAC is not impossible.

The Downsides

The fact that vCAC is so versatile is also a downside. vCAC needs a lot of configuration before it does what you want it to do. And that’s before you start digging in to custom workflows. There are 10 workflows which you can customize out of the box. If you want more you need the developer license. On top of that you need .NET knowledge to actually develop custom workflows. And in depth .NET knowledge is not something you find in a regular vCloud admin. But there is a way around this. That way is called vCO. You can call vCO workflows from the default vCAC workflows. This will solve most of your integration problems and I really like this approach. Speaking about vCO integration, that is actually my next downside. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the vCO integration. It just leaves me wondering why I need a bunch of virtual machines, two database servers, an additional SSO and a lot of complexity to have a portal which basically calls vCO workflows and does some life cylce management. It just doesn’t feel right. Ok, vCAC can do a bit more then that. Deploying physical machines for example or creating datastores on NetApp storage. But most companies who will be using vCAC will probably not use these features. So they are stuck with an overcomplicated vCAC setup which has features that are already covered by vCO. And that brings us to my last downside. The vCAC infra itself can get rather complex if you want to set it up in a redundant and scalable way. To VMware: Please simplfy this. I like the VA approach that was introduced with version 6 but I don’t like setting up 6 additional Windows machines and 5 loadbalancers.

The Right Tool for The Job?

When should you use vCAC? I my opinion you should use it when you regularly deploy new virtual machines or other services and you want to automate that process. Using vCAC forces you to automate every single step in the deployment process. This includes creating change requests, registering IP addresses, creating the VM, assigning a network and so on. This makes it possible for application administrators and developers to request machines without any intervention of a cloud administrator. And it doesn’t stop there. You can also automate the decommissioning process, limit the amount of resources someone can consume or allow them to deploy machines on Amazon instead of your internal cloud. But remember: vCAC always brings a friend to the party: vCenter Orchestrator. But in my opinion that only makes the party better.