vSphere 6.x: The beauty and ugliness of the Content Library – Part 2

In part 1 of this mini-series, I wrote about some technical problems that I had had with the Content Library and provided the workable solutions for them.

Here I am going to touch the security aspect of this technology. Fortunately, there are no complications with restricting the virtual machine provisioning. It is just not as straightforward, as I or some of the readers would expect.

Issue #3 – Preventing users from provisioning the virtual machine from the Content Library

Affected platform: vSphere 6.0 and 6.5, all versions.

In vCenter, permissions are assigned to objects in the object hierarchy called vSphere Inventory Hierarchy. The individual permissions are called privileges. They are combined into roles which then allocated to the users.

The Content Library has its own set of privileges under All Privileges > Content Library. They designed to manage different settings related to the configuration of the object. There is a predefined role in vSphere called Content Library Administrator. The primary purpose of it is to give a user privileges to monitor and manage a library and its contents.

However, if you would like to restrict the VM provisioning from the Content Library and look at the long list, there is no privilege which can help to achieve this task there.

After doing some testing and discussing this subject with VMware GSS, the only solution we were able to come up was removing all Content Library privileges from the role and assigning it to the users on the vCenter Server level. In this case, users won’t be able to get access to the items in the Content Library. I was a bit frustrated with this limitation and even contacted the engineering team at VMware directly about the issue.

Coincidentally, I was working on restricting the VM provisioning from other sources: vApps and OVA/OVF Templates. It was then I realised it was actually possible to implement the complete solution to my problem.

As you might know, the Content Library keeps the VM template objects in OVF format.

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So I decided to play with the privileges that control deploying process from OVF templates. Surprisingly, it was a vApp import that helped me to achieve my goal. Happy days!

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Resolution: Remove All Privileges > vApp > Import privilege from the user role, as described in VMware KB 2105932.

vSphere 6.x: The beauty and ugliness of the Content Library – Part 1

The title of this blog post seems to be a bit provocative, and this has been done for a reason.

I believe many VMware engineers, including myself, were really excited about the Content Library feature introduced in vSphere 6.0. The product itself is not completely new for VMware, as it merges code from the content management feature of vCloud Director.

In What’s New in the VMware vSphere 6.0 Platform whitepaper, VMware states the following:

“The Content Library… centrally manages virtual machine templates, ISO images, and scripts, and it performs the content delivery of associated data from the published catalog to the subscribed catalog at other sites.”

Sounds really cool! Now we can centralise all objects that were previously residing on different datastores in one place, and manage them from vSphere Web Client.

In vSphere 6.5, VMware continues improving and polishing this feature:

“Administrators can now mount an ISO directly from the Content Library, apply a guest OS customization specification during VM deployment, and update existing templates.”

However, this article is not only about embracing the tool provided. 🙂 I would like to share with you three specific examples when it doesn’t work as expected, and possible workarounds.

Issue #1 – Provisioning a virtual machine template with the advanced parameters

Affected platform: vSphere 6.0 prior to Update 3.

It was a great surprise to know that provisioning a virtual machine from a VM template which has advanced parameters set can cause any problems in vSphere 6.0. Although the provisioning operation starts as expected, it shows an error message “Failed to deploy OVF package” at the end of it.

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Unfortunately, the Error Report in vSphere Web Client wouldn’t be able to clarify the root cause of this event.

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After contacting VMware GSS about this issue (SR # 16255562909) in late 2016, I had been advised that this bug would be addressed in vSphere 6.0 Update 3.

In March 2017 I updated my environment to this version and tested this feature, the VM creation was working smoothly. So it took almost two years for VMware since the Content Library feature was generally available to fix it.

Gladly, vSphere 6.5 does not have this problem at all.

Resolution: Update your environment to vSphere 6.0 Update 3 or newer version.

Issue #2 – Provisioning a virtual machine from the Content Library on the vSAN datastore

Affected platform: vSphere 6.5 Standard.

The issue is not related to the Content Library directly, rather to OVA/OVF provisioning. For some reason, when you create a new VM from the template in vSphere 6.5, it triggers “Call DRS for cross vMotion placement recommendations” task.

If you use vSphere 6.5 Standard, for which the DRS feature is not available, it causes this task to fail with the error message “The operation failed due to The operation is not allowed in the current state.”

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The Error Report in vSphere Web Client looks similar to one in the picture below.

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In the Known Issues in VMware vSAN 6.6 Release Notes, the vendor states the following:

VM OVF deploy fails if DRS is disabled
If you deploy an OVF template on the vSAN cluster, the operation fails if DRS is disabled on the vSAN cluster. You might see a message similar to the following: The operation is not allowed in the current state.

Workaround: Enable DRS on the vSAN cluster before you deploy an OVF template.

After doing some troubleshooting and trying different scenarios, the only difference with the provisioning task I was able to identify was the VM storage policy. Regardless the way the VM creation was initiated (from the OVA/OVF file, or Content Library template), it was the Virtual SAN Default Storage Policy call for the DRS to perform a cross vMotion check.

For example, if you set the VM storage policy in the Select storage dialogue box to “None”, the OVA/OVF file can be provisioned on the vSAN datastore.

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The same happens for the VM template from the Subscribed Content Library when the VM storage policy is “None”.

Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t work with the templates in the Local Content Library.

So I decided to dig a bit dipper into the Content Library structure to see if anything can be done there.

The Content Library keeps its data in the contentlib-GUID folder. Each template has its own subfolder with the unique name. Inside the subfolder, there are few files: a descriptor (*.ovf) and one or more data files (*.vmdk).

In vSphere 6.0 those files are named as descriptor_GUID.ovf and disk-vdcs-Disk_Number_GUID.vmdk.

With vSphere 6.5 the files are self-explanatory: Template_Name_GUID.ovf and Template_Name-Disk_Number_GUID.vmdk.

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I compared the descriptor files for the VM templates in the Local and Subscribed Content Libraries, and found they had different vmw:name values in the StorageGroupSection. For the Local Content Library it was a “Virtual SAN Default Storage Policy”, and for the subscribed one it was different.

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It all led me to the idea of changing this descriptor for the VM template in the Local Content Library. So I could provision the VMs using one of the workarounds below.

Workarounds:

  • When provision from the OVA/OVF file, set the VM storage policy in the Select storage dialogue box as “None”,
  • You can provision from the Subscribed Content Library if it has the VM templates with the VM storage policy different from the “Virtual SAN Default Storage Policy”. Set the VM storage policy in the Select storage dialogue box as “None”,
  • You can provision from the Local Content Library if you edit the descriptor file for the VM template and replace the “Virtual SAN Default Storage Policy” with something else. Set the VM storage policy in the Select storage dialogue box as “None”.

Resolution: The support case has been opened, and I am waiting for VMware to resolve this issue. The ETA for this to be fixed is in vSphere 6.5 Update 1 (please refer to SR # 17393663302 when contacting VMware GSS for the future updates).

To be continued