Category Archives: Informational

How intel optane and nvme helps with node consolidation

As the core density increases on a CPU it opens up the opportunity to consolidate the number of nodes required in any given cluster, but in a vSAN cluster, node consolidation has a negative effect on available IOPS, if you think about how each node provides a specific amount of IOPS, lowering the number of hosts in the cluster removes the IOPS capability of the nodes you are consolidating by, take the following for example:

Number of VMs : 200
vCPU Per VM : 4
Virtual Memory per VM : 32GB
Storage per VM : 600GB
vCPU to Core Ratio : 4 to 1

Now for the purpose of this sizing excersize I am going to use the vSAN Sizing tool and apply some cluster settings as per below:

So in the above scenario, the number of cores per CPU is 18, and I want to ensure that this is a two disk group configuration, if we then input the workload details as per below:

You will see when we click on recommendation that it shows a required node count of 8 (not taking into account any N+1 capability as we left that as 0 for the purpose of this sizing)

And we can see the disk config below:

However, if we increase the number of CPU Cores to 20 by clicking on the “+” in the sizing output we can see that it changes the number of nodes

And again if we increase the number of cores again to 22 we get a further reduction in the number of nodes to 6

The sizing tool will dynamically increase or decrease the number of disks required per host as well as the RAM per node that is required as you can see here:

But one thing we have not factored in here is the decrease in IOPS Capability that reducing by two nodes , if say for example each node was capable of 80K IOPS, reducing the node count by two means you have just lost 160K IOPS Capability, so what can we do to mitigate that?

Well instead of using SAS/SATA SSDs in your vSAN design, you could opt to use Intel Optane for Cache, and NAND based NVMe drives for capacity.
For write operations, Intel Optane greatly improves on write performance as I have written about before, but also read performance is greatly accelerated because the capacity devices are NVMe, so therefore reducing your node count by two in this case and utilising this kind of technology means you still get similar levels of performance, the best part is, the overall solution will cost you less too, so your TCO comes down which is good for your finance department right?

One question I get asked frequently is what size Optane device is sufficient?

Well in all of my testing, I very rarely saturated the write buffer even with 375GB Optane drives as cache devices, the reason for this is because vSAN starts to perform de-staging from the cache tier to the capacity tier when the write buffer becomes around 30% Full, and because the capacity tier it NVMe based, the de-staging happens a lot quicker, especially since vSAN 6.7 U3 where the de-stage limits have been removed.

So when would a 750GB Optane be useful?

High write intensive workloads such as Video Surveilance and Databases, or when your capacity disks are much slower, Optane can still be used in vSAN Configurations where the Capacity Tier is SAS/SATA which of course are not as fast as most NVMe devices so the write buffer can get more full.

So just to re-cap, you can save money on your vSAN deployments by consolidating hosts with higher core count CPUs as well as leveraging newer technology such as Intel Optane in the Cache Tier and NVMe in the capacity tier thus saving money whilst maintaining same level of performance or better, what’s not to like?

Why vSAN is the storage of choice for VMware Cloud Foundation

Recently VMware annouced that Cloud Foundation would support external storage connectivity, when I first heard this I thought to myself are VMware out of their minds? Amongst customers who I meet and talk to more or less on a daily basis, I also spoke to a lot of customers at VMworld about this but the stance or direction from VMware has not changed, if you want a truly Software Defined Data-Center then vSAN is the storage of choice.

So why have VMware decided to allow external storage in Cloud Foundation?

Many customers who are either about to start or have already started their journey to a Software Defined Data Center and/or Hybrid Cloud are still using existing assets that they wish to continue to sweat out, it may well be that their traditional storage is only a couple of years old and VMware are not expecting customers to simply throw out existing infrastructure that was either recently purchased or still being sweat out as that would be a tall ask right?

Customers also still have workloads that can’t simply be migrated to the full SDDC, they take some time to plan the migration, maybe there is a re-architecture of the workload that needs to be performed, or maybe there’s a specific need where a traditional storage array has to be used until any obstacles have been overcome, VMware recognises this hence the support for external storage in Cloud Foundation.

There are also specific use cases where Hyper Converged powered by vSAN isn’t an ideal fit, cold storage or archive storage is one of these, so supporting an array that can provide a suplemental storage architecture to meet these requirements is also a plus point.

Will I lose any functionality by leveraging traditional storage with Cloud Foundation? Simple answer is yes for the following reasons:

  • No lifecycle management for external storage through SDDC Manager which means patching and updating of the storage is still a manual task.
  • No single pane of glass management out of the box for external storage without installing third party plugins which in my experience have a tendancy to break other things.
  • No automation of stretched cluster deployment on external storage, all the replication etc has to be configured manually.
  • Day-2 operations such as Capacity Reporting, Health Check and Performance Monitoring are lost without installing any third party software for the external storage.
  • Auto deployment of the storage during a Workload Domain deployment, all the external storage has to be prepared beforehand.
  • Losing the true “Software Defined Storage” aspect and granular object control, currently external storage support for VVOLS is not there right now either.

Also remember that with Cloud Foundation, the Management Workload Domain has to run on vSAN, you can not use external storage for this.

So if you want a truly Software Defined Data Center with all the automation of deployment, all the nice built in features for day-2 operations then vSAN is the first choice of storage, if you have existing storage you wish to sweat out whilst you migrate to a full SDDC then that’s supported too, and yes you can have a vSAN cluster co-exist with external storage too, which makes migrations so much easier.

The other aspect to look at this is in a Hybrid Cloud or Multi Cloud strategy, Cloud Foundation is all about providing a consistent infrastructure between your private and public clouds, so if your public cloud is using Cloud Foundation with vSAN then the logical choice is to have vSAN as your storage for your Cloud Foundation Private Cloud to have that consistent infrastructure for your workloads no matter where they may run.

QLC NVMe – could this signal the end of SAS and SATA?

I met with a team from Intel recently and discussed their new additions to the vSAN Compatibility Guide, mainly around their QLC NVMe drives. I have spoken to many customers around Full NVMe configurations on many occasions and usually there was a slightly higher price to pay for such configurations, but the QLC NVMe drives could be a turning point for future proofing your HCI platform because they are cheaper than your SAS/SATA Equivalent!

This being said, I have heard many times that the days of SATA/SAS based drives are numbered, but clearly with these QLC NVMe drives this could be much sooner rather than later.

Right now the 7.68TB D5-P4320 has been certified, and I have been informed by Intel that the 15.3TB one is currently going through certification, that’s now a game changer for delivering high amounts of capacity at a reasonable cost price. If I take the 4-Node Full NVMe cluster I have access too and replaced all the current NVMe devices for the 7.68TB QLC NVMe devices, I would have an effective usable capacity of 166TB and double that with the 15.3TB drives, this is based on RAID5 Storage Policy only and also taking into account the 10% difference between Device Capacity and Actual Capacity. So let’s take a look a bit more closely at these new QLC NVMe drives from Intel:

From the ARK portal we can determine the following information:

FormatU.2 2.5Inch
Sequential Read (up to)3200 MB/s
Sequential Write (up to)1000 MB/s
Random Read (100% span)427000 IOPS
Random Write (100% span)36000 IOPS
Latency – Read138 µs
Latency – Write30 µs
InterfacePCIe NVMe 3.1 x4

Now if you remember my blog around Full NVMe performance, combining Intel Optane with their NVMe drives will deliver a much more superior performance characteristic versus traditional SAS/SATA, however in addition to that with these new QLC NVMe drives it also reduces the cost of capacity, but just how much of a difference is it?

So I checked out the prices here in the UK, from the same supplier, here’s the link to the NVMe QLC Device and here’s the link to a SAS Equivalent.

For the benefit of this exercise I compared the lowest cost SAS 12G 7.68TB Drive on the vSAN Compatibility Guide since Intel do not manufacture SAS based SSDs and vendors seem to favour SAS based SSDs over SATA

Correct as of 11th August 2019Samsung 7.68TB
SAS 12G
Intel P4320 7.68TB
QLC NVMe
Capacity7.68TB7.68TB
InterfaceSASNVMe
Total Cost of Drive£3093.60£1609.20
Cost per GB£0.40£0.20
DWPD10.2

As you can clearly see, the cost per GB is significantly lower at £0.20 per GB (this falls to around £0.18 per GB on the larger 15.3TB device), however there is one thing to note, the DWPD of the QLC NVMe device is much lower in comparison to the SATA device but in a vSAN environment should this matter too much? The simple answer here is no, but if we look at the maths, if I had 8 of the QLC devices in each host in my 4-node cluster, and I have a usable capacity of 166TB, at 0.2 DWPD that means I would have to be writing 33.2TB of data per day to hit the 0.2 DWPD, so the lower DWPD in a vSAN environment is not significant unless you are constantly writing fresh data that would exceed the above.

I am hoping that I can get some of these QLC NVMe drives from Intel to get some performance data from them in order to complete the write up and give some performance characteristics, but based on my previous full NVMe performance testing I would not expect them to be lower than those previous tests.