Tag Archives: TCO

What’s happening with Intel Optane?

I have done a lot of testing on Optane SSDs in the past, but in July of 2022 Intel announced their intention to wind down the Optane business. Since that announcement I have had many questions surrounding Optane and where it leaves customers today.

Well firstly, I am going to address the messaging that was announced back in July, on the Intel earnings call it was announced that Optane had been written off with over half a billion dollars. This led to quite a storm of confusion as I was asked by many “Does this mean I cannot buy Optane any more?”

To the contrary, Optane is still a product and will continue to be a product until at least the end of 2025, and even if you buy it on the last day it is available, you will still get a 5 year warranty.

I have never really spoken about the other side of the Optane house on this blog before, moreso because it wasn’t directly relevant to vSAN. However, there are two sides to Optane, of course as you know the SSD, but there is also the persistent memory side of the Optane Technology.

Optane Persistent Memory (PMEM) is primarily used in VMware as a memory tiering solution. Over the past few years DRAM has become expensive, as well as having the inability to scale. Memory tiering allows customers to overcome both of the challenges on cost as well as large capacity memory modules. PMEM for example is available in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB modules, at a fraction of the cost of the same size modules of DRAM.

Memory tiering is very much like the Original Storage Architecture in vSAN, you have an expensive cache tier, and a less expensive capacity tier. Allowing you to deliver a higher memory capacity with a much improved TCO/ROI. Below are the typical configurations prior to vSphere 7.0U3.

On the horizon we have a new architecture called Compute Express Link (CXL), and CXL 2.0 will deliver a plethora of memory tiering devices. However, CXL 2.0 is a few years away, so the only memory tiering solution out there for the masses is Intel Optane. This is how it looks today and how it may look with CXL 2.0:

I recently presented at the VMUG in Warsaw where I had a slide that states Ford are discontinuing the Fiesta in June 2023, does this mean you do not go and buy one of these cars today? The simple answer is just because it is going away in the future, it still meets the needs of today. It is the same with Optane Technology, arguably it is around for longer than the Ford Fiesta, but it meets the needs to reduce costs today as a bridge to memory tiering architectures of the future with CXL 2.0.

I like to challenge the status quo, so I challenge you to look at your vSphere, vSAN or VCF environments and look at two key metrics. The first one is “Consumed Memory” and the second one is “Active Memory”. If you divide Consumed by Active and the number you get is higher then 4, then memory tiering is a perfect fit for your environment, and not only can you save a lot of your memory cost, but it also allows you to push up your CPU core count because it is a more affordable technology.

Providing your “Active” memory sits within the DRAM Cache, there should be very little to no performance impact, both Intel and VMware have done extensive testing on this.

Proof of Concepts
Nobody likes a PoC, they take up far too much of your valuable time, and time is valuable. I have worked with many customers where they have simply dropped in a memory tiering host into their existing all DRAM based cluster and migrated real workloads to the memory tiered host. This means no synthetic workloads, and the workloads you migrate to evaluate can simply be migrated back.

Optane is around for a few years yet, and even though it is going to go away eventually, the benefits of the technology are here today, in preparation for the architectures of the future based on CXL 2.0. Software designed to work with memory tiering will not change, it is the hardware and electronics that will change, so it protects the investment in software.

Optane technology is available from all the usual vendors, Dell, HPE, Cisco, Lenovo, Fujitsu, Supermicro are just a few, sometimes you may have to ask them for it, but as they say….”If you do not ask, you do not receive”.

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?