13 May, 2013

Are there still use cases for custom attributes within a vSphere 5.1 environment ?

VMware has introduced "tags" with the release of vCenter 5.1, during a "what's new" presentation at VMworld one of the speakers mentioned that these tags could be seen as 2.0 replacement for custom attributes. Tags do offer a lot more then custom attributes, for instance they will be indexed by the search feature of the vSphere web client and they can be used on (almost) all objects in a vSphere environment. Custom attributes can not be searched within the vSphere (web) client and can only be used on Virtual Machine objects.
But is the statement also true when looking at VMware vSphere 5.1 environments currently running in production at VMware customers ? Probably not at the moment, I believe custom attributes will disappear eventually but at the moment there are to many (legacy) 3rd party applications and (PowerCLI) scripts that still use custom attributes.
A good example for the use of custom attributes by 3rd party applications are backup applications, Netbackup and also Veeam can write the last backup result of a VM to a custom attribute value.
If wanted / needed you could create a export of these values to create a report by the use of PowerCLI.

During a recent project a customer was changing their backup application and procedures, the formerly used Netbackup in a disk-to-disk-to-tape way. To the new solution for this customer, which became Netapp Snap Manager, this provides very fast and full backups at storage level. The only downside for the VM admins is that they no longer where able to "see" backup details, such as last backup time and result. This used to be written by Netbackup in a custom attribute value per VM and also exported csv file to update a status webpage.
The Netapp solution does not provide such thing out-of-the-box, so it was PowerCLI to the "rescue". I started to work on a script that would add a custom attribute to every VM and add the timestamp of the last successful backup. Note that Snap Manager uses a VMware snapshot in it's backup procedure, so I only needed to find the removal of the snapshot created by the Netapp service account in the event log per VM to retrieve this data. After some testing and searching the internet for some extra info, I stumbled upon the "Who created that VM?" script by Alan Renouf .
This script retrieves the user account which created that VM and the timestamp of the creation action. The username is then used to retrieve the full name from the Active Directory, the full name and timestamp info are then written to 2 custom attributes. I saw the potential of knowing who and when a VM was created, especially if you want to report on growth of your environment (will write on this in a later post). So I took the main part of Alan's script, modified it to suite the customer needs and also added my last backup part in that script.

The VM admins can now easily see from within the vSphere client when a VM was created, by who and when the last successful backup was made and it will also create the csv file needed to update their internal status webpage.
So in this particular case there is still a very good use case for custom attributes, in a later post I will go into more detail on how to use the value from the "CreatedOn" custom attribute to create a report which shows with how much VM's your environment is growing per month.
For those who want to use my script or use parts of it, please do but there are some points of attention:
1 To get the full name from the AD the script uses Quest AD cmdlets to resolve the username to full name.
2 If a VM is removed from the vCenter inventory and later added again the creator name will be the person how has re-added the VM not the original creator.

In general when you want to add / attach informational data to a VM by the use of (PowerCLI) scripting, you still will want to use custom attributes instead of the newer tags. But keep in mind that custom attributes can only be made visible in the vSphere web client if you run them thru the "migrate to tag" wizard.

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