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Thursday, July 13, 2017

vSphere Enterprise licensing Plus Throw Back Thursday [2017 Update]!

Image result for licensingSo the last time I posted about vSphere Enterprise licensing was in 2010!  At the time, Enterprise licenses were not available for net new purchasing.  You could however upgrade your existing Enterprise licenses to vSphere 6 enterprise licenses.   Sever years later, still the same! Smile   Oh and also the same, Client confusion. Smile   So today I was asked about it and did a little research to refresh my own memory and came across an updated KB article (from 2016) here:

End of availability of vSphere Enterprise, vSphere with Operations Manager (vSOM) Standard and Enterprise edition


This confirms (again?) the end of availability of Enterprise for new vSphere license purchases. Oh! and a fancy new chart as well.

Unfortunately the 50% upgrade discount just expired a few weeks ago (sorry!).

So what do you get with new Enterprise Plus licensing?

DRS, DPM, Storage DRS, Storage I/O Control, Network I/O Control, SR-IOV Support, NVIDIA GRID vGPU support, Proactive HA, Distributed Switches, Host Profiles and Auto Deploy.  Go cheap and get vSphere Advanced and you don’t get any of them. Disappointed smile


So that’s the short and long of it. 

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

My Smart Home – a LOOK at the parts that make up the sum.

imageI’ve put up a few posts about certain specific tech in the house [Check it out here] and some people have asked that I do a more complete write up of my actual Home Assistant Smart Home system.  Lots of information can be found on my Github Repo but this will be an attempt or at least a starting point to document most of the high level systems in the house.   From here, I’ll be able to write additional pieces that dive more in depth for particular systems.   If this is not your thing, look away NOW.  You’ve been warned.

The basic foundation for the system is a Raspberry Pi running Home Assistant.  Home Assistant is an open Source piece of software that in a lot of ways reminds me of VMware.   It’s an abstraction of hardware and software.  It allows me to buy and deploy pretty much whatever I want in my house in terms of hardware and provides the software layer/glue/translation for it all to talk to each other.  Smart House as a Service basically. Smile  My Raspberry Pi is a standard 16GB SD card version with the All In One install on it.  Other hardware attached to it is an Aeon Labs Z Wave Stick and a 433Mhz Transmitter.  I am also running Dasher (to provide access to my Amazon Dash buttons) and HomeBridge (to provide Apple HomeKit support) on the Pi itself.



Lights are usually the first place you start with Home Automation.  Turning lights on and off automatically makes a ton of sense in the home setting.  For my lights, I first started with HUE Lights.  The hubs are standard Zigbee light controllers.  I have a mixture of both GE Lights and Hue proper lights connected to them.  I have about 40 or so lights and have 2 Hue hubs deployed in my house.  These 2 hubs control the majority of the lights for the interior of my house.  I also have a Wink Hub deployed that has a few outside lights connected to it via ZWAVE.  Much of the automations built in the house revolve around lights turning on and off through out the day.  Lights turn on at Sunset, when we turn the TV on, walk into rooms or turn off when we get into bed.   There is a pretty cool automation that keeps a consistent light level throughout the day by dimming and adjusting lights as they turn on based on the time of day.   No one like a 100% bright bulb at 2am.  I never appreciated how accent lighting and light levels can affect the overall house mood and look.  I’m a huge fan of it now.



For the most part, most of my lighting is done by bulbs.  There is a never ending debate about whether you should use switches or bulbs.. I don’t think there is a right answer for everyone and for me, I chose bulbs.  They allow for more granular control of the space and it’s lighting.  That said, I do have a few controllable outlets scattered around the house.  Two main types.  Zwave outlets that control my outdoor landscaping lights and my trusty (cheap) 433Mhz outlets for accent lighting switching around the house.  For the 433Mhz operations, I have a few 6 buck Etekcity outlets that are controlled with the 433Mhz Transmitter attached to the Pi.  This worked out to be the most economical way for me to turn accent rope lighting on and off throughout the house with automations. 

HVAC, Smoke Detectors and Irrigation:

For the Heating and AC control in the house, I chose Nest thermostats.  These devices are pretty much set it and forget it.   The thermostats keep the house cool when needed and are aware of our presence to save energy when we are not home. I have built some rules that allow Home Assistant to turn off the HVAC when someone opens a door or window for more than 5 minutes.   Once the door/window is closed, the system resumes it’s normal state.

For Smoke Detectors, I have Nest Protects deployed.  You can read about that deployment and how I came to those decisions here.

Since I live in Florida, irrigation is key to keeping the lawn green and the HOA at bay.  I have put in a Rachio smart irrigation control to control how much and how often the lawn is watered.  It’s another set it and forget it type device.

The three of these devices/systems work nicely together in the event of a fire.  The Protects will sense the fire, turn off the AC (to avoid spreading smoke through the central air) and turn on the sprinklers.  Additionally, HA will be notified and will turn ALL lights on and set our outside lights to flash to draw attention.   If we are not home, remote alerts let us know there is an emergency situation.


For security, I did roll my own.  You can read about it here.  It’s basically NodeMCUs and the pre-existing wires.  Having 17 individual zones all feeding into Home Assistant has given me an abundance of data to build rules around such as the HVAC rule above.

We also have a SkyBell HD doorbell with motion and camera capabilities.  If people ring the bell (or just walk to the door) various lights will blink and turn on to notify us and the person that we are around and aware.   We also have 2 garage doors that are fully automated.  Using Garadget components, we get notifications when they open or close.  They also act as sensors feeding information into HA for rule processing.  A great example is at sunset, we are notified via our Text to Speech system that one or both of the doors are open.  Another neat example of how Home Assistant bridges the gap is when our Garadget Doors open at night, the outdoor Hue lights shine white for us to see.  Two separate systems working together for one experience.


Whole House Speech:

Giving the home the ability to talk to us has really changed the experience with the Smart Home.  For the longest, we have been able to use speech to control the automations with Amazon Echoes (really just to override whatever automations the house was currently implementing) but with the addition of Amazon’s Polly TTS voice, I am able to broadcast all sorts of information over the whole house surround speakers.  Example use cases for this are when the Nest Thermostats turn on or off, reminders to close the windows or doors, announcement messages when we come home giving us a status of the lights, windows and doors.   Reactions to sensors also have voice outputs such as broadcasting a dog barking when there is motion in front of the house (picked up by the SkyBell).  We are also able to stream internet radio over all the speakers throughout the house.  The speakers themselves are normal ceiling mounted speakers but they are connected to ChromeCast Audios and a cheap car AMP.

Presence Detection:

Presence detection in the house is key to a LOT of the successful automations we have.  If the house knows when we are home or not, so many more things can happen without us intervening.  For presence detection, we use a simple NMAP component that just pings the network and takes note of when certain devices are online or off.  For our home, tracking the Wi-Fi status of mine and my wife’s iPhones provides a pretty accurate sensor for when we are home or not.  We also have a SleepIQ bed that has pressure sensors to know when we are in bed or not so that the nighttime routines are fully automated.  When the house knows we are both in bed, all the lights begin shutting down and entering the nighttime scenes. Likewise when we wake up. All Pretty seamlessly.


Final thoughts:

The house will never be finished.  The project will never end.  As new technology and newer capabilities become available I’ll work to implement them in my Smart home.  When things don’t work correctly, my family notices which means to me that these types of automations and conveniences are becoming part of the normal household routine.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Visualizing the Smart Home. Using Home Assistant, Fire Tablets and FloorPlan.


I’ve been running Home Assistant for my home automation for almost 3 years now.  The system has grow quite large and the User Interface was becoming pretty unwieldy and cumbersome.  For the longest time, I was able to shift most of the interface to voice using Amazon Alexa supported by an excellent HA component called emulated_hue.  This allowed us to interact with almost all of the HA objects using Alexa and the native Hue support.  “Alexa, Open the garage doors”, worked beautifully!  My philosophy when it comes to automating the house has always been to try to have the house anticipate what was needed without us even needing an interface.  The interfaces (voice or screen) should just be needed for occasional overrides.

The most recent security system I rolled has kind of changed a lot of that though.  Since all the windows and doors are now represented in the HA system, my lack of attention to the actual UI was now severely affecting the User Experience.   Having to scroll pages and pages of text items to find out if a window was opened or closed was not going to cut it anymore.  Voice helped (leave a window open for more than 5 minutes and Joanna comes in over the whole house surround system and let’s us know the situation and then also turns off the HVAC for us).



All the info is there but it is just not a great user experience.  There had to be a better way!

Timing is everything and Petar Kozul had just released a great Home Assistant extension called FloorPlan.  Floorplan allowed Home Assistant users to create visual maps of their sensors and HA objects.  Named Floorplan but it could do so much more.  It’s just a framework to put up SVG images and then tie HA object IDs to them and on the fly change the images and data via CSS.  It was perfect.   And it resulted in THIS:

This one screen gave me all the essential information I needed to see.  Date, time, weather (inside and outside temps), lights, switches and a few commonly used buttons for easy access.  And at a glance, it showed me all the windows and doors and Nest Protects in the house.  If they were RED, I would know they were left open or in the case of the Protects, OFFLINE.  It’s perfect!


My friend Steven helped me out with the visuals and the overall graphic design but thanks to the HA and Floorplan frameworks, the whole system will stay customizable as the needs of the house change.

Of course with the old alarm system now replaced, I had those ugly panels still on the wall (with the boring keypads).  Time to replace them with $50 Fire OS Tablets.  These 7 inch beauties can be wall mounted and are the perfect replacement for the ugly keypad artifacts.

I ended up using another great Open Sourced software called Wall Panel.  This allowed Fullscreen, MQTT support and a few other handy goodies to make this an awesome solution.


Hardware parts List:

1 x FireOS tablet

1 x Wall Mount clips

1 x Recessed Outlet box

1x Magnetic tipped Micro USB cables
This allows us to just grab the tablet when we want to surf or do something without worrying about yanking the cords out.


Other software I used were Magic Plan to create the actual floor plan of the house, Inkscape for SVG editing and Atom for all text edits. 


Like all my Home Automation Projects, you can visit my repo for all the additional code and details.   Be sure to Star the repo if you want updates.


 My Github Repo


Happy Building


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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PSA: Check out your smoke detectors (once every 10 years)

I have owned my house for just about a year now and I have been automating and ‘smartening’ it up like crazy.  My home automation platform of choice is Home Assistant.  If you haven’t checked it out, it’s an Open source platform that runs on a raspberry pi and becomes the glue or in VMware terms, the abstract layer between all the various hardware.   Yes.  I have a software defined house.

So last month, I got to thinking about my smoke detectors.  I have quite a few of them in the house and honestly didn’t know much about them.  I knew 2 of them were connected to my alarm system and the rest were hardwired into power.  There was also an interconnect wire between them all so that if one goes off, they all go off.  I learned this when one of them went into a low battery state and triggered them all to go off. at night. on a week day.

In addition to the ‘dumb’ status they held, I also learned after some googling that ALL smoke and carbon monoxide detectors go bad after 10 years.  They have a chemical pad in them that ‘smells’ the smoke or CO and then triggers the alert.  This chemical has a 10 year effective lifespan.  My current detectors were 14 years old (they have a manufacturer date stamped on them) and basically didn’t do ANYTHING except eat batteries and then chirp for more.  The house could be on fire and they wouldn’t respond unless a battery happened to fall out of them.

Image result for nest protect

Of course, they needed to be replaced and I went with the Nest Protects.  They are not the cheapest guys on the block but I think they are the smartest and were the easiest to integrate into my existing smart home.  By code, I needed 9 of them for the house.  1 in each room, 1 in all bedroom hallways and 1 in the kitchen.  The ones I purchased are hardwired into power and use a wireless interconnect to spread the word of danger.  You can read up on all the cool nest features elsewhere so I wanted to just share the couple of small additions I made to my set up.

Home Assistant already had a Nest component so once I set them up on the network and added them to my Nest account, all the various protect sensors just showed up in the interface.   My Nest package can be found in my Github repo here.

Out of the box, if the Nest Protects sense an emergency condition, they will of course alert you but additionally, they will

  • turn off your HVAC (assuming controlled by a Nest Thermostat)
  • turn on your sprinkler system (if controlled by a Rachio system)

Thanks to Home Assistant, mine will also trigger my emergency script.  The script sequence will

  • switch all outside lights to red to indicate an emergency
  • flash all lights in the house 4 times to grab everyone’s attention (although the piercing siren from the detectors should do that as well)
  • turn on all interior lights to 100% brightness in the house.
  • switch my front LED strips to a white flashing strobe
  • open both garage doors if we are home. (via Garadget) [Not implemented yet]

It’s been about a month with the Protects and no false alarms so I’m pretty happy with that.  The guide light feature is a welcome bonus as well.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Building my Home alarm system (Hardware Phase)

Image result for burglar 

I have a house.  It has prewired windows and doors that I want to use for my own purposes.  I DON’T have an alarm company.  I refuse to pay some monthly fee for monitoring.  I just don’t feel as though I have gotten the value that I expected in the past from the security companies.  Basically I’ll just pay myself and become my own 24/7/365 monitoring solution. Winking smile


So after a ton of Googl-fu and trying to decide what type of system I should use to replace ADT with, I settled in on using the awesome ESP8266 chips in the NodeMCU form factor.   These tiny (and cheap) little devices could be wired up to all my existing wired doors and windows and then programmed to interface with my Home Assistant home automation platform.  They are about 10 bucks and have built in Wi-Fi and a good amount of support out there on the internet for DIY projects.  They really are awesome once you start working with them.

Here is the part list for my project : 

Let’s take a look at where I started :

imageIt was your standard alarm box.  All wires from the windows and doors fed back through to the walls to this 1980’s circuit board.   They were all simple reed switches (red and black) with magnets at the windows and doors.  When the window/door is closed, a magnet keeps the reed switch closed and the circuit is complete.  When the window/door opened, the magnet is moved away, switch is opened and the circuit is broken.  Easy for 1980’s tech to understand, easy for me to understand and easy for me to get the ESPs to understand.

First thing first, rip out all the wires from the motherboard(carefully). Smile 

Hopefully they are all labeled.  Mine were not so I basically just peeled them off in pairs and used a multimeter to test them.  Set it to tone and then walk around opening and closing windows until the tone goes away. (side note: I found 6 windows that had broken reed switches that were permanently closed through a process of elimination).  Once you identify all of your windows and doors, LABEL them!

ScreenClipAfter I had most of the physical wires labeled, I started with the NodeMCUs.  There are a ton of great resources around to explain how to program the NodeMCUs so I’ll let you find your own way through that but will give you the high level points :

I had 22 windows/doors but bundled a few together for a total of 17 zones.  I purchased 3 NodeMCUs from amazon and figured I would could do 7 zones on each one of them.

I used ESPEASY software to flash and configure the NodeMCUs.  You can see what GPIO pins I used in the diagram to the right.  Green were good, but the red Xs gave me issues.  This may have to do with my novice understanding of the whole ESP8266 architecture and microelectronics in general.

I used MQTT to talk back to my Home Assistant.  If you don’t know about MQTT, it is a machine to machine messaging protocol.  Super lightweight and perfect for these types of communications.

The way ESPEASY works in my set up is that every time a reed sensor is tripped (circuit broken), it will update MQTT.  Home Assistant is configured to watch those MQTT topics and act accordingly when it detects a change. (window opening or closing).  Based on that information, HA will do things.

ESPEASY uses a very nice web interface to do all of the configuration.  It was pretty easy to use once the flashing was completed.



Once the NodeMCUs were flashed and configured, I started wiring them up. 

image image

image image

Since I don’t like soldering (I’m not good at it), I decided to go with breadboards and wire jumper connections.  It made it super easy to connect everything in.  Plus if one of my ESPs goes bad, I can just pop it out and replace with a new one.  The wiring was pretty easy.   All the grounds (black) would be bundled together and then put to a GND on the NodeMCU, and each of the reds would go to a GPIO pin on the boards.

With everything wired up and tested, I removed the old motherboard and carefully put everything back into my alarm case.




The end result in Home Assistant was this:


It’s not the prettiest interface (I’m working on fixing that anyway) but it is WAAY more flexible than anything else I could have gotten.  I have 17 zones that I can now use for input for various things in my Smart Home.

The Home Assistant code for all of this is located here :

One of the first automations I put in place was to turn off the HVAC systems if any of the openings were open for more than 5 minutes.  Then make a short announcement and wait to turn the HVAC back on when the window/door was closed.   I love it!

  - alias: 'Turn off HVAC in window/door is opened'
      - platform: state
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO4
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO5
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO10
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO12
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO13
          - binary_sensor.MCU1_GPIO14
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO4
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO5
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO9
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO10
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO12
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO13
          - binary_sensor.MCU2_GPIO14
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO4
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO5
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO10
          - binary_sensor.MCU3_GPIO14
        state: 'on'
        from: 'off'
          minutes: 5
      - service: climate.set_operation_mode
          entity_id: climate.downstairs
          operation_mode: 'off'
      - service: script.speech_engine
          value1: "The {{ trigger.to_state.attributes.friendly_name }} has been opened for about 5 minutes.  I will shut down the Air Conditioner so you can enjoy the fresh air."
          call_outside_weather: 1
          call_inside_weather: 1


The home assistant code is all based on YAML and is pretty easy to learn and write for.  At some point in the future, I’ll have to do a quick write up on the main Home Assistant system running on my raspberry Pi.

So that’s about it; I ripped out my old alarm system, replaced it with 3 ESP8266 NodeMCU chips, stuffed it back into the old case, integrated it with Home Assistant and then started writing automations using my new sensors.

I built all of this a while ago and I have been running with it without issue.  In fact, it works incredibly well. 

Since then, I have also added in a light sensor to know if someone opens the panel case.



There is a ton of potential with this system and I plan to keep building it out but for now, this should get you started.  I feel like this post might have been all over the place so if there are any BIG items I may have missed or glossed over, feel free to hit me up on twitter.

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