vRA 7.x vs vRA 8.x - Which Version to Deploy?

VMware has recently released vRealize Automation 8.0 and with this comes a complete redesign of the vRealize Automation product. Are you just starting out on your Cloud Management Platform (CMP) journey and not quite sure which version to deploy? Hopefully this blog will help you understand some of the key differences between vRA 7.x and vRA 8.x and some familiar features which are missing from vRA 8.x.

The first place to start is by reading this excellent blog post by Chip Zoller (daphnissov) on the VMware Community Forums. This vRA 8 FAQ provides plenty of answers to some of the obvious questions.

vRA 7.x Pros & Cons

  • PRO - Very mature and proven product
  • PRO - Well documented / blogged by VMware customers
  • CON - Slower deployment time
  • CON - Higher resource requirements (SQL/Windows IaaS)
  • CON - Requires Windows licenses
  • CON - Requires a rework to migrate to vRA 8.x

vRA 8.x Pros & Cons

  • PRO - Streamlined deployment process with Easy Installer
  • PRO - Less resource requirements (No SQL/Windows IaaS)
  • PRO - Centralised architecture using single appliance / cluster
  • PRO - No rework required
  • PRO - Infrastructure as Code
  • CON - vRA 8.0 is essentially a version 1.0 product, potentially lots of bugs
  • CON - Not well documented / blogged by VMware customers
  • CON - Missing Features

Missing Features

This is probably the biggest sticking point for many customers – “Feature X is missing from vRA 8.0 so I can’t deploy it”. Admittedly, vRA 8.0 does have some features missing such as approval policies, multi-tenancy, granular role based access and the property dictionary.

Approval Policies - Although approval policies are missing from vRA 8.0 and many customers on vRA 7.x are using them, the same customers also use tools such as ServiceNow, where vRA can leverage the ServiceNow capabilities for the approval policies, with vRA 8.0 then taking over the deployment once ServiceNow has completed the approval workflow. I have not heard anything hinted that this may return in vRA 8.1, so for now there are simply no approval policies in vRA 8.

Multi-Tenancy - Unfortunately multi-tenancy is not available in vRA 8.0. It has been hinted at several public VMware events and VMUG events that vRA 8.1 will likely be released with multi-tenancy, but we still don't know what this will look like or if it will provide the same separation as version 7.x did. For now, if you require multi-tenancy, vRA 7.6 or waiting for vRA 8.x are your only options.

Property Dictionary - The property dictionary which was utilised extensively by customers in vRA 7.x is gone from vRA 8.0. Never fear though, there is a replacement! Almost all vRA components now have a generic key-value pair for tagging different components. VMware provides some good documentation on Tags and how best to use them, so have a good read of the documentation here.

Ansible - With vRA 7.x, Ansible Tower was supported. However, vRA 8.0 only supports Ansible (Open Source) and not Ansible Tower currently.

Unsupported Endpoints - vRA 8.0 does not support several endpoints. The full list is available here and this includes vCloud Director, Hyper-V and VCH.

vCAC CAFE and IaaS Endpoints - Due to the change in architecture of the vRealize Automation appliance, the vCAC CAFE and IaaS endpoints are no longer available. Any workflows that call these endpoints will need to be re-written.

Software Components - Software components from vRA 7.x are completely gone from vRA 8.0 and the guest user agent (gugent) is partly replaced with cloud-init for Linux and cloudbase-init for Windows. Although not all functionality is available with cloud-init / cloudbase-init, I am hoping that Software Components will return in some form in the future. For now, it may be best to rely on a third-party software installer tool.

Resource Quotas - In vRA 8.0 Cloud Zones can be configured to limit provisioning based on the number of instances and a limit set on the amount memory. The traditional reservations however are not available and I am hoping that these will return to vRA 8.x at some point in the future.

XaaS workflows - Running a vRO workflow as a catalog item and creating a custom form is available in vRA 8.0!! Too many people have mentioned that XaaS is not available. Basic XaaS is and this is what the majority of the environments I have seen are using XaaS for. Note, the catalog item cannot be presented in a blueprint as a component, however it can be presented as a standalone catalog item.

Custom Actions / Day 2 Actions - Custom actions on standard object types (ie. Virtual Machine) are not available in vRA 8.0 currently. I am hoping this will change soon as many customers utilise this feature. In vRA 8.0 (and 7.x for that matter), this can be worked around by placing the custom action / day 2 action in a vRO wrapper workflow, and presented as a catalog item. I have seen environments where clients prefer to use day 2 actions this way anyway so it can be easily worked around.

Custom Resources - The concept of a XaaS workflow running and creating a vRA customer resource, such as an AD User Group is not available in vRA 8.0. Although this isn't a very common use case for vRA, it is certainly used in environments and I hope that it returns to vRA 8.x.

VMware Support

VMware has confirmed that vRA 7.6 will be supported until 11th April, 2022 which is over 2 years after the version 8.0 product was released. VMware seems to be happy supporting version 7.6 for a while longer yet, as they understand that customers will need time to migrate from 7.x to 8.x. The details below are correct at time of publishing (November 30th, 2019).

Feature vRA 7.4 vRA 7.5 vRA 7.6 vRA 8.0
End of General Support 17th Dec 2020 17th Dec 2020 11th Apr 2022 17th Oct 2021
Support Length 2 Years 2 Years 3 Years 3 Years
Upgrade to 8.x? No Yes Yes Yes

Migration Assessment

Shipping with vRA 8.0 is the "vRA 7 Migration Assessment" and although this does not allow you to upgrade from 7.x to 8.x, it will analyse your vRA and vRO instances and find potential problems. Issues such as blueprints with software components and vRO code referencing the vCAC Cafe or IaaS objects will all be highlighted. Each component will be analysed and it will provide a status for each object as either Ready, Ready with Warnings or Not Ready, along with a description. I am sure this migration assessment will be upgraded for vRA 8.1 to match any new features, but it is a good idea to run it now to get an idea of how compatible your environment might be. More information is available here.

Final Thoughts

So after all of that, what should I go with? The answer for me is vRA 8.0. Although some features aren't available today, 95% of my use cases can be met and not having to re-factor or re-work workflows when eventually migrating from vRA 7.x to vRA 8.x, will result in less work in the long run and provide the end users with a consistent experience into the future. If you want to stay up to date with all things vRA, grab a subscription to vRealize Automation Cloud as VMware has confirmed that this is where all new features will be released first and they will then make there way into vRA.

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