Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Stefan Bernbo, Pat Romanski, TJ Randall

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, Microsoft Cloud, Open Source Cloud, @CloudExpo, Cloud Security, SDN Journal

Containers Expo Blog: Article

Can You Trust VDI Storage Benchmarks?

The truth behind VDI benchmarks

by George Crump, Storage Switzerland

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) implementation projects are going to be priorities for many IT Managers in 2013 and a key concern will be end-user acceptance. If the users don't embrace their virtual desktops they won't use them and the project is doomed to failure. The key to acceptance is to provide users with an environment that feels the same, performs better and is more reliable than their current stand-alone system. The storage system bears most of the responsibility in delivering that experience.

IT managers who want to capitalize on the opportunity that the virtual desktop environment can focus on two key capabilities when they evaluate storage system vendors. The first is being able to deliver the raw performance that the virtual desktop architecture needs and the second is doing so in the most cost effective way possible. These are two capabilities that are traditionally at odds with each other and not always well-reflected in benchmark testing.

For most organizations the number-one priority for gaining user acceptance is to keep the virtual desktop experience as similar to the physical desktop as possible. Typically, this will mean using persistent desktops, a VDI implementation in which each user's desktop is a stand-alone element in the virtual environment for which they can customize settings and add their own applications just like they could on their physical desktop.

The problem with persistent desktops is that a unique image is created for each desktop or user, which can add up to thousands of images for larger VDI populations. Obviously, allocating storage for thousands of virtual desktops is a high price to pay for maintaining a positive user experience.

In an effort to reduce the amount of storage required for all of these images, virtualized environments have incorporate features such as thin provisioning and linked clones. The goal is to have the storage system deliver a VDI environment that's built from just a few thinly provisioned ‘golden' VDI images, which are then cloned for each user.

As users customize their clones, only the differences between the golden image and the users' VDIs need to be stored. The result is a significant reduction in the total amount of storage required, lowering its overall cost. Also, the small number of golden images allows for much of the VDI read traffic to be served from a flash-based tier or cache.

When a write occurs from a thinly provisioned, cloned virtual desktop more has to happen then just the operation to write that data object. The volume needs to have additional space allocated to it (one write operation), the metadata table that tracks unique branches of the cloned volume has to be updated (another write operation) and some sort of parity data needs to be written, depending on the RAID protection in place. Then, finally, the data object is written. This entire process has to happen with each data change no matter how small.

Herein lays the tradeoff in using these features. While reducing the amount of space required for the VDI images, thin provisioning and cloning increase the demand for high write performance in the storage system. This presents a significant opportunity for storage system vendors who can address these new performance requirements.

Many storage systems that use a mix of flash memory and hard disk technology don't use the higher performing flash for writes; they use it for actively reading data. While these storage systems have storage controllers designed to handle high read loads, the increased write activity generated by thin provisioning and cloning is still going to relatively slow hard disk drives. Because this type of I/O traffic is highly random, the hard drives are constantly "thrashing about". Basically the controller sits idle while it waits for the hard disk to rotate into position to complete each write command. Even systems with an SSD tier or cache may have problems providing adequate performance because they too don't leverage the high speed flash for write traffic.

Due to the high level of thin provisioning and cloning, plus the fact that once a desktop is created a large part of its I/O is write traffic, many cached or tiered systems do not perform well in real-world VDI environments and can provide misleading VDI Benchmark scores.

The Truth Behind VDI Benchmarks
Most VDI Benchmarks focus primarily on one aspect of the VDI experience, the time it takes to boot a given number of virtual desktops. The problem with using a "boot storm test" is that this important but read-heavy event is only a part of the overall VDI storage challenge. During most of the day desktops are writing data, not reading it. In addition, simple activities such as logging out and application updates are very write-intensive. The capability of a storage system to handle these write activities is not measured by many VDI benchmarking routines.

A second problem with many VDI benchmarking claims is that for their testing configuration they do not use thinly provisioned and cloned volumes. Instead, they use thick volumes in order to show maximum VDI performance.

As discussed above, in order to keep user adoption high and costs low most VDI implementations would preferentially use persistent desktops with thin provisioning and cloning. Be wary of vendors claiming a single device can support over 1000 VDI users. These claims are usually based on the amount of storage that a typical VDI user might need as opposed to the Read/Write IOPS performance they will most likely need.

Trustworthy VDI Performance
A successful VDI project is one that gains end-user acceptance while reducing desktop support costs. The cost of a storage system that can provide thin provisioning, cloning and an adequate sized flash storage area to support the virtual environment could be too high for some enterprises to afford.  And, an additional cost could be incurred with the performance problems that are likely to appear after the initial desktop boot is completed because of the high level of write I/O.

The simplest solution may be to deploy a solid state appliance like Astute Networks ViSX for VDI. These devices are 100% solid state storage to provide high performance on both reads AND writes. This means that boot performance is excellent and performance throughout the day is maintained as well.

With a solid state based solution to the above problems, performance will not be an issue, but cost may still be. Even though it can provide consistent read/write performance throughout the day for a given number of virtual desktops, the cost per desktop of a flash based solution can be significantly higher than a hard drive based system.

However, it's likely in larger VDI environments (400+ users) that flash-based systems are really the only viable alternative to meet the performance requirements which can easily exceed 100 IOPS per user. Fortunately, flash-based systems can also produce efficiencies that bring down that cost in addition to the well-known benefits of using 1/10th the floor space, power and cooling compared to traditional storage systems.

First, the density of virtual desktops per host can be significantly higher with a flash appliance. And, the system is unaffected by the increase in random I/O as the density of virtual machines increases.

Second, the speed of the storage device compensates for the increased demands of thin provisioning and cloning operations run on the hypervisor. These data reduction services can now be used without a performance penalty. This means that the cost of a storage system with a more powerful storage controller and expensive data services like thin provisioning and cloning can be avoided.

Finally, the flash appliance is designed to tap into more of the full potential of solid state-based storage. For example, Astute uses a unique DataPump Engine protocol processor that's designed to specifically accelerate data onto and off of the network and through the appliance to the fast flash storage. This lowers the cost per IOPS compared to other flash-based storage systems.

Most legacy storage systems use traditional networking components and get nowhere near the full potential of flash. In short, the appliance can deliver better performance with the same amount of flash memory space. This leads to further increases in virtual machine density and space efficiency because more clones can be made - resulting in very low cost per VDI user.

Conclusion

VDI benchmark data can be useful but the test itself must be analyzed. Users should look for tests that not only focus on boot performance but also performance throughout the day, and at the end of the day. If systems with a mix of flash and HDD are used then enough flash must be purchased to avoid a cache miss, since these systems rarely have enough disk spindles to provide adequate secondary performance.

A simpler and better performing solution may be to use a solid state appliance like those available from Astute Networks. These allow for consistent, high performance throughout the day at a cost per IOPS that hybrid and traditional storage vendors can't match. Their enablement of the built-in hypervisor capabilities, like thin provisioning, cloning and snapshots, also means that they can be deployed very cost effectively.

>

George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments.

More Stories By Derek Kol

Derek Kol is a technology specialist focused on SMB and enterprise IT innovations.

@CloudExpo Stories
Join Impiger for their featured webinar: ‘Cloud Computing: A Roadmap to Modern Software Delivery’ on November 10, 2016, at 12:00 pm CST. Very few companies have not experienced some impact to their IT delivery due to the evolution of cloud computing. This webinar is not about deciding whether you should entertain moving some or all of your IT to the cloud, but rather, a detailed look under the hood to help IT professionals understand how cloud adoption has evolved and what trends will impact th...
In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Claude Remillard, Principal Program Manager in Developer Division at Microsoft, contrasted how his team used config as code and immutable patterns for continuous delivery of microservices and apps to the cloud. He showed how the immutable patterns helps developers do away with most of the complexity of config as code-enabling scenarios such as rollback, zero downtime upgrades with far greater simplicity. He also demoed building immutable pipelines in the cloud ...
"We are the public cloud providers. We are currently providing 50% of the resources they need for doing e-commerce business in China and we are hosting about 60% of mobile gaming in China," explained Yi Zheng, CPO and VP of Engineering at CDS Global Cloud, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Businesses and business units of all sizes can benefit from cloud computing, but many don't want the cost, performance and security concerns of public cloud nor the complexity of building their own private clouds. Today, some cloud vendors are using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify cloud deployment and management. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ajay Gulati, Co-founder and CEO of ZeroStack, will discuss how AI can simplify cloud operations. He will cover the following topics: why clou...
"We are a custom software development, engineering firm. We specialize in cloud applications from helping customers that have on-premise applications migrating to the cloud, to helping customers design brand new apps in the cloud. And we specialize in mobile apps," explained Peter Di Stefano, Vice President of Marketing at Impiger Technologies, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
@DevOpsSummit taking place June 6-8, 2017 at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, discussed why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and mor...
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation; Alan Williamson, Principal...
"Qosmos has launched L7Viewer, a network traffic analysis tool, so it analyzes all the traffic between the virtual machine and the data center and the virtual machine and the external world," stated Sebastien Synold, Product Line Manager at Qosmos, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
President Obama recently announced the launch of a new national awareness campaign to "encourage more Americans to move beyond passwords – adding an extra layer of security like a fingerprint or codes sent to your cellphone." The shift from single passwords to multi-factor authentication couldn’t be timelier or more strategic. This session will focus on why passwords alone are no longer effective, and why the time to act is now. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Chris Webber, security strateg...
Effectively SMBs and government programs must address compounded regulatory compliance requirements. The most recent are Controlled Unclassified Information and the EU's GDPR have Board Level implications. Managing sensitive data protection will likely result in acquisition criteria, demonstration requests and new requirements. Developers, as part of the pre-planning process and the associated supply chain, could benefit from updating their code libraries and design by incorporating changes. In...
In his session at Cloud Expo, Robert Cohen, an economist and senior fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, provideed economic scenarios that describe how the rapid adoption of software-defined everything including cloud services, SDDC and open networking will change GDP, industry growth, productivity and jobs. This session also included a drill down for several industries such as finance, social media, cloud service providers and pharmaceuticals.
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
"IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, drew together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established compa...
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...