Tintri – virtual machine aware storage

This week I had a call with a new and exciting company called Tintri. Tintri has been flying under the radar for the last couple of years and has worked really hard to develop a new product. Tintri was founded by some of the smartest kids on the block one of which is their current CEO and former EVP of Engineering at VMware Dr. Kieran Harty. But not only former VMware employees, no we are talking about former Datadomain, NetApp and SUN employees. Although it is a rough time for a storage start-up they are jumping in the deep. Although one might wonder how deep it actually is as these are well experienced people and they know how deep they can go and what the weak and strong points are in virtualized environments when it comes to storage.

During the call the folks at Tintri offered to give a demo of how their Storage Unit works. As you know I don’t have a deep storage background like someone as Chad Sakac but I am working with storage on a day to day basis. I look at storage from a different perspective. My interest is usually around management, performance and availability.

From operational/management perspective Tintri VMstore does change things. Tintri VMstore is VM aware, which of course is easier to accomplish when you develop your own filesystem and serve it up as NFS than when using block-based storage. Tintri leverages the VMware vSphere APIs and correlates information with what they have running on top their filesystem. Now why would you want to do that? Well for instance for simple things like Storage Level snapshots per VM, try doing that on the average FC/iSCSI array and you find yourself snapshotting a full LUN or assigning dedicated LUNs to VMs. In both case not an ideal situation.

What makes VMstore special is that on top of the integration with vSphere they also do inline deduplication and compression, meaning that although a 5u VMstore node (5u includes a UPS system) offers you 8.5 TB of usable harddisk capacity it could potentially serve multitudes of that. (Depending on the type of workload of course.) But when it is doing inline dedupe and compression what about performance? Tintri VMstore offers 16 SATA drives. No not just SATA as that probably wouldn’t meet all your performance requirements, no they also offer MLC Flash aka SSD and that is where the dedupe and compression is done. In other words, in order to enable inline dedupe and compression Tintri developed a hybrid filesystem that moves data between SSD and SATA. By the way, VMstore uses RAID-6 for the 1TB of SSD drives it contains and for the 16x1TB SATA drives. If data needs to move it decides that on a pretty granular level, 4kb. Of course VMstore is smart enough to batch these transfers to optimize bandwidth.

Each VMstore node will be served up as a single NFS Share via 10GbE. Do you need more diskspace? Hook up another VMstore node and connect to the NFS Share. Other things that are simplified of course it the management of the VMstore node itself. Need to upload log files? Don’t worry, a single click sends it to the cloud over an SSL connection and  Tintri will pick it up from there. No hassling with FTP etc. Same goes for the “call back” system for support, it will upload details to the cloud and Tintri will pick it up.

When they demoed it yesterday most workloads were actually running on SSD at that moment. (The showed me their VDI environment) The cool thing is that you can actually see the performance stats on a per VM level (see screenshot below) or even per VMDK if you want to. On top of that you can also “reserve” performance for your VMs by telling VMstore that these need to be pinned to SSD.

The following is a quote from one of their customers:

Previous attempts to virtualize our Oracle Financials application had failed – as we couldn’t deliver the performance users required,” said Don St. Onge, CIO, TIBCO Software, Inc. “With Tintri VMstore, we saw a 2X performance boost which was more than enough to keep our users happy. Tintri’s unique approach to deduplication and compression lets us run the entire 1TB database instance in only 177GB of flash memory.

Now this might be slightly overstating it, like most press releases do, as I have many customers virtualizing their production tier 1 apps, but the key take away for me is the fact that they run a 1TB database in 177GB of flash and still see a performance improvement. I guess that is due to the beefy specs of the VMstore node which is literally using multiple multi core CPUs.

So in short (copy from Tintri’s press release):

  • VM-aware file system designed to service I/O workloads from VMs;
  • Seamless flash/disk integration with file system for smooth workload transitions and efficient use of flash capacity;
  • Monitoring, control and reporting features on a per-VM and per-virtual disk basis for greater transparency in managing storage for VMs;
  • Hybrid flash/disk appliances with inline deduplication and compression capabilities.

So Tintri is hot, fantastic, great… but there must be things that you feel can be improved? Well of course there are…

I would love to see even more integration with VMware. Not only make the VMstore node VM aware but also make vSphere VMstore aware. In others I would expect and love to see plugins which allow you to do most of the VM level storage management tasks within vCenter instead of through the VMstore webinterface. (Although it is a very simple interface which you can master in seconds.) Also I feel that replication is something that it needs to have. I can imagine it is part of their roadmap but I would rather see it today than tomorrow. Having the ability to enable replication per VM and than only replicate the changed and compressed “chunks” is more than welcome. It would also be great if it had Syslog capabilities so that event correlation is even easier.

My take in short: Tintri VMstore has an interesting approach on the traditional problems virtualized infrastructures are facing, by making their nodes VM aware they are looking to solve these problems. Along the way they are simplifying management and have a very competitive price. Most definitely worth investigating if their solution meets your requirements! Their website specifically calls out “Test and Development” as one of the target solutions for VMstore, I guess by now everyone know what starting with “Test and Development” brought VMware…. Keep an eye out for these guys,

Changing the PSP from Fixed to RR

Today I was fooling around with my new Lab environment when I noticed my Path Selection Policy (PSP) was set to fixed while the array (Clariion CX4-120) most definitely supports Round Robin (RR). I wrote about it in the past(1, 2) but as with vSphere 4.1 the commands slightly changed I figured it wouldn’t hurt to write it down again:

First I validated what the currently used Storage Array Type Plugin (SATP) was and which Path Selected Policy was used:

esxcli nmp device list

(note that compared to 4.1 the “storage” bit was added… yes a minor but important change!)

Than I wanted to make sure that every single LUN that would be added would get the standard PSP for Round Robin:

esxcli nmp satp setdefaultpsp --satp VMW_SATP_ALUA_CX --psp VMW_PSP_RR

Now I also needed to set the PSP per LUN, for which I used these two lines of “script”:

for i in `ls /vmfs/devices/disks | grep naa.600`;
do esxcli nmp device setpolicy --device $i --psp VMW_PSP_RR;done

And I figured why not just set the number of IOps down to 1 as well just to see if it changes anything:

for i in `ls /vmfs/devices/disks/ | grep naa.600`;
do esxcli nmp roundrobin setconfig --device $i --type "iops" --iops=1;done

Setting “iops=1″ Didn’t make much difference for me, but it appears to be a general recommendation these days so I figured it would be best to include it.

Before I forget, I wanted to document this as well. For my testing I used the following command which lets you clone a VMDK and time it:

time vmkfstools -i source.vmdk destination.vmdk

And the result would look as follows:

Destination disk format: VMFS zeroedthick
Cloning disk 'destination.vmdk'...
Clone: 100% done.
real    2m 9.67s
user    0m 0.33s
sys     0m 0.00s

Something that might be useful as well, timing the creation of a zeroedthick VMDK:

time vmkfstools -c 30G -d eagerzeroedthick newdisk.vmdk

I am using this to measure the difference between using and not using VAAI on a storage platform. It is a lot easier than constantly kicking off tasks in through vCenter. (Yes Alan and Luc I know it is way easier with PowerCLI.)

Thin provisioned disks and VMFS fragmentation, do I really need to worry?

I’ve seen this myth floating around from time to time and as I never publicly wrote about it I figured it was time to write an article to debunk this myth. The question that is often posed is if thin disks will hurt performance due to fragmentation of the blocks allocated on the VMFS volume. I guess we need to rehash (do a search on VMFS for more info)  some basics first around Think Disks and VMFS volumes…

When you format a VMFS volume you can select the blocksize (1MB, 2MB, 4MB or 8MB). This blocksize is used when the hypervisor allocates storage for the  VMDKs. So when you create a VMDK on an 8MB formatted VMFS volume it will create that VMDK out of 8MB blocks and yes indeed in the case of a 1MB formatted VMFS volume it will use 1MB. Now this blocksize also happens to be the size of the extend that is used for Think Disks. In other words, every time your thin disks needs to expand it will grow in extends of 1MB. (Related to that, with a lazy-thick disk the zero-out also uses the blocksize. So when something needs to be written to an untouched part of the VMDK it will zero out using the blocksize of the VMFS volume.)

So using a thin disk in combination with a small blocksize cause more fragmentation? Yes, more than possibly it would. However the real question is if it will hurt your performance. The answer to that is: No it won’t. The reason for it being that the VMFS blocksize is totally irrelevant when it comes to Guest OS I/O. So lets assume you have an regular Windows VM and this VM is issuing 8KB writes and reads to a 1MB blocksize formatted volume, the hypervisor won’t fetch 1MB as that could cause a substantial overhead… no it would request from the array what was requested by the OS and the array will serve up whatever it is configured to do so. I guess what people are worried about the most is sequential I/O, but think about that for a second or two. How sequential is your I/O when you are looking at it from the Array’s perspective? You have multiple hosts running dozens of VMs accessing who knows how many volumes and subsequently who knows how many spindles. That sequential I/O isn’t as sequential anymore all of a sudden it is?!

<edit> As pointed out many arrays recognize sequential i/o and prefetch which is correct, this doesn’t mean that when contiguous blocks are used it is faster as fragmented blocks also means more spindles etc </edit>

I guess the main take away here is, stop worrying about VMFS it is rock solid and it will get the job done.

No one likes queues

Well depending on what type of queues we are talking about of course, but in general no one likes queues. We are however confronted with queues on a daily basis, especially in compute environments. I was having a discussing with an engineer around storage queues and he sent me the following which I thought was worth sharing as it gives a good overview of how traffic flows from queue to queue with the default limits on the VMware side:

From top to bottom:

  • Guest device driver queue depth (LSI=32, PVSCSI=64)
  • vHBA (Hard coded limit: LSI=128, PVSCSI=255)
  • disk.schedNumOutstanding=32 (VMKernel),
  • VMkernel Device Driver (FC=32, iSCSI=128, NFS=256,  local disk=32)
  • Multiple SAN/Array Queues (Check Chad’s article for more details but it includes port buffers, port queues, disk queues etc (might be different for other storage vendors))

The following is probably worth repeating or clarifying:

The PVSCSI default queue depth is 64. You can increase it to 255 if required, please note that it is a per-device queue depth and keep in mind that this would only be truly useful when it is increased all the way down the stack and the Array Controller supports it. There is no point in increasing the queuedepth on a single layer when the other layers are not able to handle it as it would only push down the delay one layer. As explained in an article a year or three ago, disk.schednumreqoutstanding is enforced when multiple VMs issue I/Os on the same physical LUN, when it is a single VM it doesn’t apply and it will be the Device Driver queue that limits it.

I hope this provides a bit more insight to how the traffic flows. And by the way, if you are worried a single VM floods one of those queues there is an answer for that, it is called Storage IO Control!

RE: VMFS 3 versions – maybe you should upgrade your vmfs?

I was just answering some questions on the VMTN forum when someone asked the following question:

Should I upgrade our VMFS luns from 3.21 (some in 3.31) to 3.46 ? What benefits will we get?

This person was referred to an article by Frank Brix Pedersen who states the following:

Ever since ESX3.0 we have used the VMFS3 filesystem and we are still using it on vSphere. What most people don’t know is that there actually is sub versions of the VMFS.

  • ESX 3.0 VMFS 3.21
  • ESX 3.5 VMFS 3.31 key new feature: optimistic locking
  • ESX 4.0 VMFS 3.33 key new feature: optimistic IO

The good thing about it is that you can use all features on all versions. In ESX4 thin provisioning was introduced but it does need the VMFS to be 3.33. It will still work on 3.21. The changes in the VMFS is primarily regarding the handling of SCSI reservations. SCSI reservations happens a lot of times. Creation of new vm, growing a snapshot delta file or growing thin provisioned disk etc.

I want to make sure everyone realizes that this is actually not true. All the enhancements made in 3.5, 4.0 and even 4.1 are not implemented on a filesystem level but rather on a VMFS Driver level or through the addition of specific filters or even a new datamover.

Just to give an extreme example: You can leverage VAAI capabilities on a VMFS volume with VMFS filesystem version 3.21, however in order to invoke VAAI you will need the VMFS 3.46 driver. In other words, a migration to a new datastore is not required to leverage new features!