Improving vRA 8 Custom Forms loading times – A practical example using vRO Configuration Elements as a Database!

Hello Everyone!

On today’s post, we will dive into a practical example to use vRealize Orchestrator Configuration Elements to help with a business need for vRA 8 Custom Forms!

The Problem

Customer X is using a single cloud template with multiple inputs backed by vRO Actions. The main input, and what defines pretty much all the rest, is the project selected. Given the complexity of the inputs, the cloud template can be used by all projects and by many different use cases.

Customer X was trying to improve the form loading times, which were around 10 seconds for the initial loading, plus 10 more seconds every time they changed the project in the form. This heavily impacted the user experience since it was giving a sensation of ‘slowness’ overall to anyone that was requesting the items.

The project defines, for example (there are more fields, but these are the ones we will use as example):

  • Hostname prefixes
  • Puppet roles
  • AD OUs
  • Portgroups
  • vCenter Folders

Each project has a ‘Project Map’ which contains different modifiers to then perform a different search in an external API, which has a cache of the objects needed, to reduce the time needed to gather the data (for example, sending API calls to vCenter to get folders)

However, the fact that the Project Map does not have all the information and needs to be processed in real time ends up adding more loading time to the form than desired.

A solution: vRO Configuration Elements

Emphasis on ‘A solution’ and not ‘THE solution’ since there could be other (even better!) ways to solve this problem, but this is how I approached it and will show it in this blog post.

vRO configuration elements, are originally used for example, for sets of variables that will be used in multiple internal actions/workflows, to avoid having the same data in many places, and for ease of managing. The configuration elements can be referenced in workflows or actions and the information is only changed in a single place.

However, there is another use we can give to configuration elements and that is using them as a Database!

All the configuration elements reside in the vRO DB, and the elements used can be of any of the types that exist within vRO.

For more information about configuration elements you can visit: https://docs.vmware.com/en/vRealize-Orchestrator/8.6/com.vmware.vrealize.orchestrator-using-client-guide.doc/GUID-F2F37F70-9F55-4D87-A3BB-F40B6D399FF8.html

So what is the approach here?

  • Creating a Configuration Elements category called ‘Projects’
  • Create one configuration element per project, within that category. The easiest way to accomplish this is to create one configuration element, define all the needed attributes, and then just duplicate that configuration element to match all the projects you need – In this case, since we need to retun this to vRA Custom Forms, mostly in drop-down form, we will be using string arrays
One configuration element per project, with the variables mentioned
  • An action that will return the values to the custom forms, using two inputs, the Project we want to get the information from, and the value that we want to get. That makes the action reusable by multiple fields in the form: In this case, I called it getConfigurationElementValue and it can be seen on the following link: https://github.com/luchodelorenzi/scripts/blob/master/getConfigurationElementValue.js
  • An action or workflow that will:
    • Get the data from the external API
    • Populate the configuration elements with that data

For this example, since I don’t have any external API in my lab, I will use static arrays to demonstrate the point in the code: The action is called updateConfigurationElements and can be seen in the following link https://github.com/luchodelorenzi/scripts/blob/master/updateConfigurationElements.js

This action/workflow can be scheduled to run every minute, every 5 minutes, depending on the need.

The data will be persisted in the vRO DB so that’s why I’m calling this a ‘database’ instead of a cache, however, it could very well be called a ‘persistent cache’ since all it is doing is to make the data available to the user as fast as possible but not doing any processing.

This workflow runs every 5 minutes and updates the values on all the existing projects (Configuration Elements)

The important thing to note here is that there isn’t any processing from the Custom Form to the vRO configuration elements when the user requests a catalog item!. Getting the data directly from the vRO DB without any processing at request time is what is going to give us the fastest loading times. All the processing is done in the background, without none of the requesters noticing!

  • The last step is to refer to the getConfigurationElementValue action in our custom form
    • A small caveat – the way vRA 8 and the ‘Project’ field works is that even though the project shows the user the names to be chosen, it is actually processing the IDs, so in this case I added a hidden field called ProjectName which is what I will be actually using to convert the IDs to names (since the configuration elements are based on the name)
Mapping the Project IDs to names
Using the getConfigurationElementValue action to get the values needed in the form

This is a small demo of how this works, take a look at the loading times for the form and changing the project! (And this is on a nested lab!)

Video Demo

Summary

To reiterate, the important things are:

  • No (or as little processing as possible if there is a field that cannot be used with configuration elements) should be done in the actions that are returning the data to the custom form
  • All the data should be processed in the background – The requester won’t be aware of it
  • Adding new projects it is as simple as duplicating one of the existing ones and changing the name. The way the workflows and actions are coded in this example will always look for every project (configuration element) below the ‘Projects’ folder
  • Getting the data out of the vRO DB directly via configuration elements instead of going to external sources, is the fastest way to get the values in the form.

Closing Note

I hope you found this interesting! It is using configuration elements in a way that might not be the most common usage, but it can bring great benefits to user experience when interacting with vRA requests. Having the data processed in the background and having really short form loading times will give the sensation of having more ‘speed’ to the tool itself!

Feel free to share this or leave a comment if you thought it was interesting!

Until next time!

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