Tag Archives: vSphere

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”.

Enabling RDMA for vSAN with intel e810 adapter

The Intel E810 network adapter is now fully certified for RDMA support in vSAN, I thought I would try it out and see what performance improvement I would get by enabling it. However I found that just installing the drivers is not enough to enable RDMA on the adapter itself.

At the time of writing this article, the driver versions that have been certified are as follows:

  • icen version
  • irdman version
  • E810 firmware 2.40

After installing the above drivers, I did not see any RDMA adapters listed in the vSphere UI:

So it would appear that the driver module has to be told to switch on RDMA, in order to do this you run the following two commands:

esxcli system module parameters set -m icen -p "RDMA=1,1"
esxcli system module parameters set -m irdman -p "ROCE=1,1"

The above two commands enable RDMA at the driver level, and then the version of RDMA at the RDMA driver level, for both ports. After a reboot of the host, you should now see an option in the UI for RDMA adapters:

Now going into the vSAN Services under network, you can now enable RDMA for your vSAN cluster:

In the networking section it should now show that RDMA Support is Enabled:

Now that RDMA is enabled there should be a performance boost due to the offload capabilities that RDMA offers. I will post some results as soon as my test cycles have completed.

vSAN 7.0U1 – A New Way to Add Capacity

As we all know there are a number of ways of scaling capacity in a vSAN environment, you can add disks to existing hosts and scale the storage independently of compute, or you can add nodes to the cluster and scale both the storage and compute together, but what if you are in a situation where you do not have any free disk slots available, and / or you are unable to add more nodes to the existing cluster? Well vSAN 7.0U1 comes with a new feature called vSAN HCI Mesh, so what does this mean and how does it work?

Let’s take the scenario below, we have two vSAN clusters in the same vCenter, Cluster A is nearing capacity from a storage perspective, but the compute is relatively under utilised, there are no available disk slots to expand out the storage. Cluster B on the other hand has a lot of free storage capacity but is more utilised on the compute side of things:

Now the vSAN HCI Mesh will allow you to consume storage on a remote vSAN cluster providing it exists within the same vCenter inventory, there are no special hardware / software requirements (apart from 7.0U1) and the traffic will leverage the existing vSAN network traffic configuration.

This cool feature adds an elastic capability to vSAN Clusters, especially if you need to have some additional temporary capacity for application refactoring or service upgrade where you want to deploy the new services but keep the old one operational until the transition is made.

VMware has not left the monitoring capabilities of such use out either, in the UI you can monitor the usage of “Remote VM” from a capacity perspective as well as within the performance service

So this clearly allows dissagregation of storage and compute in a vSAN environment and offers that flexibility and elasticity of storage consumption are there any limitations?

  • A vSAN cluster can only mount up to 5 remote vSAN Datastores
  • The vSAN Cluster must be able to access the other vSAN cluster(s) via the vSAN Network
  • vSphere and vCenter must be running 7.0U1 or later
  • Enterprise and Enterprise Plus editions of vSAN
  • Enough hosts / configuration to support storage policy, for example if your remote cluster has only four hosts, you cannot use a policy which requires RAID6

So this is a pretty cool feature and sort of elliminates the need for Storage Only vSAN nodes which was discussed in the past at many VMworlds