ControlUp Ultimate Labs: ACME with Marcel Calef

ControlUp is a technology company powered by technologists who love to find the answers to questions and who love to tinker. That’s what inspired our own Benny Tritsch—Microsoft MVP, Citrix CTP Fellow, VMware vExpert—to write this blog series: ControlUp Ultimate Labs. Now you can see what goes on behind the scenes and get some tips on building your own labs.

Ever wonder how you build an EUC demo lab for a group of 10+ pre-sales engineers spread all over North America? If you’ve ever attended a ControlUp demo shown in an online presentation, it’s likely that you have seen one—the ControlUp ACME EUC lab—in action.

Marcel Calef, ControlUp’s Pre-Sales Team Leader, is responsible for our lab infrastructure, which falls into the category of a company setup with four enterprise-grade servers, like we discussed in our initial Ultimate Labs blog.

NOTE: Some of you probably know the iconic, fictional ACME company name from many popular cartoons (Wile E. Coyote, anyone?), films, and TV series. At ControlUp, the ACME lab is an ideal placeholder representing “a company making everything” or any public administration.

The lab was created shortly after ControlUp established a pre-sales team in the U.S. Prior to that, our U.S. pre-sales engineers only had access to a ControlUp demo lab located at ControlUp’s office in Israel. After a short time, due to network latency, the perceived performance was unacceptable, and the ACME lab was born.

The primary goal of the ACME lab was to provide a realistic demo environment that could showcase as many aspects of the ControlUp platform and its use cases as possible. Not an easy task. The lab is a critically important component of the sales process, which means that its design must be flexible, allowing for quick updates as soon as there are new ControlUp product versions or use cases. And it must be scalable enough to deliver a great user experience while multiple demos run simultaneously, and synthetic users are generating load.

During a recent conversation, Marcel walked me through the details of the lab setup, which you can watch below. Here is a nice anecdote Marcel shared with me during our interview session:

“Back in the day, the chassis with demo lab servers was sitting in the maintenance closet with the brooms and the cleaning supplies in our office in San Jose. It was a self-contained unit standing upright like a tower. Once we moved it to a co-location, we figured out we could remove the base and the legs and just lay it down. Now, it’s a 9u box in a colo rack.”

Here’s an overview of the ACME lab hardware:

  • Chassis/location: Dell PowerEdge VRTX chassis in a Southeast U.S. colocation
  • Physical host machines: 4x Dell M620P Blades in half-height slots
  • CPUs: Each blade comes with 2x Intel Xeon Gold 5118 @ 2.3 GHz, 6 physical cores per CPU
  • Memory: 384 GB per blade
  • Storage (SSD/HDD, RAID): Dell PERC8 RAID Controller, maximum of 24 SAS hard drives
  • Networking: Eight port 1 Gbps
  • Power and cooling: Four 1100W power supply units and four blower-modules with two fans each

Marcel’s opinion about physical lab hardware management is clear:

“If you can afford it in your lab, you want to have hardware control of your devices even if they are not next to you- iDRAC, iLO, IPMI. I think it’s key for any (home) lab. You can live without it, but when something goes wrong, you have to run to wherever that is and press a power button or put in a USB drive to reimage your hypervisor host. Those things are a pain.”

The primary virtualization platform is VMware ESXi/vSphere with vCenter. Delivering realistic demos required adding Citrix Hypervisor and Microsoft Hyper-V host machines in a nested hypervisor setup. This means that one hypervisor is running on top of another. In combination with multiple integrated EUC products (i.e., Citrix CVAD, Citrix Cloud, VMware Horizon and Azure Virtual Desktop), this setup allows us to demonstrate ControlUp across the full spectrum (almost) of the entire spectrum of virtual environments.

A notable fact regarding the lab infrastructure is that most back-end servers are based on Windows Server Core, which comes without a graphical user interface (GUI). All Windows system management consoles are provided on dedicated admin VMs, side-by-side with the ControlUp consoles.

Over the years, the ACME demo lab showed two hardware deficiencies. One is that the servers only have PCIe Gen2, but not PCIe Gen3 expansion slots. This means that you cannot add modern GPU cards. The other deficiency is that the chassis cannot resize drive RAID arrays. This means that you must create multiple datastores when adding disk capacity. These are things you definitely want to avoid when designing a new lab.

In addition to the ACME demo lab, Marcel has his own home lab. Sometimes he uses it for staging, which means he’s trying out things in his home lab before deploying them to the ACME lab. Here’s what he says:

“You’ve gotta have your own home lab and no two home labs look alike. Be ready to blow it all up and create it again, just because you want to try something different.”

Describing Marcel’s home lab setup would be another Ultimate Labs article…

Even if this article only shows a glimpse of the ControlUp ACME demo lab capabilities, it’s obvious that it is a critically important element in our marketing and sales processes. Being able to demonstrate as many realistic use cases as possible is each pre-sales engineer’s daily business. Designed to be robust and scalable, the ACME infrastructure is a perfect example for a high-end ControlUp Ultimate Lab.