Condusiv Technologies Blog

Condusiv Technologies Blog

Blogging @Condusiv

The Condusiv blog shares insight into the issues surrounding system and application performance—and how I/O optimization software is breaking new ground in solving those issues.

Top 5 Questions from V-locity and Diskeeper Customers

by Brian Morin 20. April 2016 05:00

After having chatted with 50+ customers the last three months, I’ve heard the same five questions enough times to turn it into a blog entry, and a lot of it has to do with flash:

 

1. Do Condusiv products still “defrag” like in the old days of Diskeeper?

No. Although users can use Diskeeper to manually defrag if they so choose, the core engines in Diskeeper and V-locity have nothing to do with defragmentation or physical disk management. The patented IntelliWrite® engine inside Diskeeper and V-locity adds a layer of intelligence into the Windows operating system enabling it improve the sequential nature of I/O traffic with large contiguous writes and subsequent reads, which improves performance benefit to both SSDs and HDDs. Since I/O is being streamlined at the point of origin, fragmentation is proactively eliminated from ever becoming an issue in the first place. Although SSDs should never be “defragged,” fragmentation prevention has enormous benefits. This means processing a single I/O to read or write a 64KB file instead of needing several I/O. This alleviates IOPS inflation of workloads to SSDs and cuts down on the number of erase cycles required to write any given file, improving write performance and extending flash reliability.

 

2. Why is it more important to solve Windows write inefficiencies in virtual environments regardless of flash or spindles on the backend? 

Windows write inefficiencies are a problem in physical environments but an even bigger problem in virtual environments due to the fact that multiple instances of the OS are sitting on the same host, creating a bottleneck or choke point that all I/O must funnel through. It’s bad enough if one virtual server is being taxed by Windows write inefficiencies and sending down twice as many I/O requests as it should to process any given workload…now amplify that same problem happening across all the VMs on the same host and there ends up being a tsunami of unnecessary I/O overwhelming the host and underlying storage subsystem. The performance penalty of all of this unnecessary I/O ends up getting further exacerbated by the “I/O Blender” that mixes and randomizes the I/O streams from all the VMs at the point of the hypervisor before sending out to storage a very random pattern, the exact type of pattern that chokes flash performance the most - random writes. V-locity’s IntelliWrite® engine writes files in a contiguous manner which significantly reduces the amount of I/O required to write/read any given file. In addition, IntelliMemory® caches reads from available DRAM. With both engines reducing I/O to storage, that means the usual requirement from storage to process 1GB via 80K I/O drops to 60K I/O at a minimum, but often down to 50K I/O or 40K I/O. This is why the typical V-locity customer sees anywhere from 50-100% more throughput regardless of flash or spindles on the backend because all the optimization is occurring where I/O originates.

VMware’s own “vSphere Monitoring and Performance Guide” calls for “defragmentation of the file system on all guests” as its top performance best practice tip behind adding more memory. When it comes to V-locity, nothing ever has to be “defragged” since fragmentation is proactively eliminated from ever becoming a problem in the first place.

 

3. How Does V-locity help with flash storage? 

One of the most common misnomers is that V-locity is the perfect complement to spindles, but not for flash. That misnomer couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, most V-locity customers run V-locity on top of a hybrid (flash & spindles) array or all-flash array. And this is because without V-locity, the underlying storage subsystem has to process at least 35% more I/O than necessary to process any given workload.

As much as virtualization has been great for server efficiency, the one downside is the complexity introduced to the data path, resulting in I/O characteristics that are much smaller, more fractured, and more random than it needs to be. This means flash storage systems are processing workloads 30-50% slower than they should because performance is suffering death-by-a-thousand cuts from all this small, tiny, random I/O that inflates IOPS and chews up throughput. V-locity streamlines I/O to be much more efficient, so twice as much data can be carried with each I/O operation. This significantly improves flash write performance and extends flash reliability with reduced erase cycles. In addition, V-locity establishes a tier-0 caching strategy using idle, available DRAM to cache reads. As little as 3GB of available memory drives an average of 40% reduction in response time (see source). By optimizing writes and reads, that means V-locity drives down the amount of I/O required to process any given workload. Instead of needing 80K I/O to process a GB of data, users typically only need 50K I/O or sometimes even less.

For more on how V-locity complements hybrid storage or all-flash storage, listen to the following OnDemand Webinar I did with a flash storage vendor (Nimble) and a mutual customer who uses hybrid storage + V-locity for a best-of-breed approach for I/O performance.

 

4. Is V-locity’s DRAM caching engine starving my applications of precious memory by caching? 

No. V-locity dynamically uses what Windows sees as available and throttles back if an application requires more memory, ensuring there is never an issue of resource contention or memory starvation. V-locity even keeps a buffer so there is never a latency issue in serving back memory. ESG Labs examined the last 3,500 VMs that tested V-locity and noted a 40% average reduction in response time (see source). This technology has been battle-tested over 5 years across millions of licenses with some of largest OEMs in the industry.

 

5. What is the difference between V-locity and Diskeeper? 

Diskeeper is for physical servers while V-locity is for virtual servers. Diskeeper is priced per OS instance while V-locity is now priced per host, meaning V-locity can be installed on any number of virtual servers on that host. Diskeeper Professional is for physical clients. The main feature difference is whereas Diskeeper keeps physical servers or clients running like new, V-locity accelerates applications by 50-300%. While both Diskeeper and V-locity solve Windows write inefficiencies at the point of origin where I/O is created, V-locity goes a step beyond by caching reads via idle, available DRAM for 50-300% faster application performance. Diskeeper customers who have virtualized can opt to convert their Diskeeper licenses to V-locity licenses to drive value to their virtualized infrastructure.

 

Stay tuned on the next major release of Diskeeper coming soon that may inherit similar functionality from V-locity.

Largest-Ever I/O Performance Study

by Brian Morin 28. January 2016 09:10

Over the last year, 2,654 IT Professionals took our industry-first I/O Performance Survey, which makes it the largest I/O performance survey of its kind. The key findings from the survey reveal an I/O performance struggle for virtualized organizations as 77% of all respondents indicated I/O performance issues after virtualizing. The full 17 page report is available for download at http://learn.condusiv.com/2015survey.html.

Key findings in the survey include:

- More than 1/3rd of respondents (36%) are currently experiencing staff or customer complaints regarding sluggish applications running on MS SQL or Oracle

- Nearly 1/3rd of respondents (28%) are so limited by I/O bottlenecks that they have reached an "I/O ceiling" and are unable to scale their virtualized infrastructure

- To improve I/O performance since virtualizing, 51% purchased a new SAN, 8% purchased PCIe flash cards, 17% purchased server-side SSDs, 27% purchased storage-side SSDs, 16% purchased more SAS spindles,       6% purchased a hyper-converged appliance

- In the coming year, to remediate I/O bottlenecks, 25% plan to purchase a new SAN, 8% plan to purchase a hyper-converged appliance, 10% will purchase SAS spindles, 16% will purchases server-side SSDs, 8% will   purchase PCIe flash cards, 27% will purchase storage-side SSDs, 35% will purchase nothing in the coming year

- Over 1,000 applications were named when asked to identify the top two most challenging applications to support from a systems performance standpoint. Everything in the top 10 was an application running on top of   a database

- 71% agree that improving the performance of one or two applications via inexpensive I/O reduction software to avoid a forklift upgrade is either important or urgent for their environment

As much as virtualization has provided cost-savings and improved efficiency at the server-level, those cost savings are typically traded-off for backend storage infrastructure upgrades to handle the new IOPS requirements from virtualized workloads. This is due to I/O characteristics that are much smaller, more fractured, and more random than they need to be.  The added complexity that virtualization introduces to the data path via the “I/O blender” effect that randomizes I/O from disparate VMs, and the amplification of Windows write inefficiencies at the logical disk layer erodes the relationship between I/O and data, generating a flood of small, fractured I/O. This compounding effect between the I/O blender and Windows write inefficiencies creates “death by a thousand cuts” regarding system performance, creating the perfect trifecta for poor performance – small, fractured, random I/O.

Since native virtualization out-of-the box does nothing to solve this problem, organizations are left with little choice but accept the loss of throughput from these inefficiencies and overbuy and overprovision for performance from an IOPS standpoint since they are twice as IOPS dependent than they actually need to be…except for Condusiv customers who are using V-locity® I/O reduction software to see 50-300% faster application performance on the hardware they already have by solving this root cause problem at the VM OS-layer.

Note - Respondents from companies with employee sizes under 100 employees were excluded from the results, so results would not be skewed by the low end of the SMB market.

3 Min Video on SAN Misconceptions Regarding Fragmentation

by Brian Morin 23. June 2015 08:56

In just 3 minutes, George Crump, Sr Analyst at Storage Switzerland, explains the real problem around fragmentation and SAN storage, debunks misconceptions, and describes what organizations are doing about it. It should be noted, that even though he is speaking about the Windows OS on physical servers, the problem is the same for virtual servers connected to SAN storage. Watch ->

In conversations we have with SAN storage administrators and even storage vendors, it usually takes some time for someone to realize that performance-robbing Windows fragmentation does occur, but the problem is not what you think. It has nothing to do with the physical layer under SAN management or latency from physical disk head movement. 

When people think of fragmentation, they typically think in the context of physical blocks on a mechanical disk. However, in a SAN environment, the Windows OS is abstracted from the physical layer. The Windows OS manages the logical disk software layer and the SAN manages how the data is physically written to disk or solid-state.

What this means is that the SAN device has no control or influence on how data is written to the logical disk. In the video, George Crump describes how fragmentation is inherent to the fabric of Windows and what actually happens when a file is written to the logical disk in a fragmented manner – I/Os become fractured and it takes more I/O than necessary to process any given file. As a result, SAN systems are overloaded with a small, fractured, random I/O, which dampens overall performance. The I/O overhead from a fragmented logical disk impacts SAN storage populated with flash equally as much as a system populated with disk.

The video doesn’t have time to go into why this actually happens, so here is a brief explanation: 

Since the Windows OS takes a one-size-fits-all approach to all environments, the OS is not aware of file sizes. What that means is the OS does not look for the proper size allocation within the logical disk when writing or extending a file. It simply looks for the next available allocation. If the available address is not large enough, the OS splits the file and looks for the next available address, fills, and splits again until the whole file is written. The resulting problem in a SAN environment with flash or disk is that a dedicated I/O operation is required to process every piece of the file. In George’s example, it could take 25 I/O operations to process a file that could have otherwise been processed with a single I/O. We see customer examples of severe fragmentation where a single file has been fractured into thousands of pieces at the logical layer. It’s akin to pouring molasses on a SAN system.

Since a defragmentation process only deals with the problem after-the-fact and is not an option on a modern, production SAN without taking it offline, Condusiv developed its patented IntelliWrite® technology within both Diskeeper® and V-locity® that prevents I/Os from fracturing in the first place. IntelliWrite provides intelligence to the Windows OS to help it find the proper size allocation within the logical disk instead of the next available allocation. This enables files to be written (and read) in a more contiguous and sequential manner, so only minimum I/O is required of any workload from server to storage. This increases throughput on existing systems so organizations can get peak performance from the SSDs or mechanical disks they already have, and avoid overspending on expensive hardware to combat performance problems that can be so easily solved.

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SAN Fragmentation Controversy Incites Attack from NetApp

by Brian Morin 22. April 2015 08:38

I can’t blame it all on NetApp.

It all started with THIS TWEET.

I’ll admit NetApp was misled by an inadvertent title from a well-intentioned editor at Searchstorage.com, but the CTO Office at NetApp obviously didn’t read the whole article beyond the headline.

Dave Raffo, the Senior News Director for Search Storage wrote a feature article on the FUD surrounding SAN and fragmentation and how the latest release of Diskeeper® 15 Server eliminates performance-robbing fragmentation without “defragging.” In fact, here is one of Dave’s direct quotes from the article:

“It’s not defragging disks in SAN arrays, but preventing files from being broken into pieces before being written to hard disk drives or solid-state drives non-sequentially. That way, it prevents fragmentation before it becomes an issue.”

Unfortunately, the word “defrag” was inadvertently put into the headline and opening sentence of the article, which triggered a knee jerk reaction from the CTO Office at NetApp who tweeted, “NetApp does not recommend using defragmentation software on our kit, period.”

Attention all SAN vendors: Diskeeper 15 Server is not a “defrag” utility! 

Diskeeper 15 proactively prevents fragmentation from occurring in the first place at the Windows file system level. As a result, Diskeeper is not competing with RAID controllers for physical block management or triggering copy-on-write activity by moving blocks like a traditional “defrag.” Instead, Diskeeper 15 Server complements the SAN by making sure it no longer receives small, fractured random I/O from Windows. This patented approach reduces the IOPS requirement for any given workload and improves throughput on existing systems from physical server to storage, so administrators can get more from the systems they have by moving more data in less time. 

We find it takes someone a few minutes to stop thinking in terms of “defragging” after-the-fact and start thinking in terms of how much a SAN can benefit from fragmentation prevention. Here’s some recent media coverage snippets that explain:

“As Condusiv demonstrates, the level of fragmentation of the logical disk inflates the IOPS requirement for any given workload with a surplus of small, fractured I/O. While part of the performance problem can be hidden behind high performance flash, a high fragmented environment wastes much of the investment in flash.” – Storage Switzerland, full article ->

“Businesses that are switching over to flash arrays should see a benefit as well. Since fragmentation at the logical layer is inherent in the fabric of Windows, the flash technology will still have a higher I/O overhead. Diskeeper will help organizations switching to flash get the most for their investments.” – Storage Review, full article ->

“Diskeeper 15 Server is the first fragmentation protection for SAN storage connected to physical servers. It prevents fragmentation in real time at the logical disk layer, increasing IO density so more data can be processed.” – Channel Buzz, full article ->

“Condusiv's Diskeeper 15 extends the benefits of defragmentation out to the SAN with the novel technique of reducing fragmentation before the data leaves the server.” – Tom’s IT Pro, full article ->

“Condusiv has added a new twist to its Diskeeper line…by tackling for the first time the question of how to defragment SAN storage.” – CRN, full article ->

Keep in mind, those who want to make sure their virtualized workloads connected to SAN are optimized as well can use V-locity® I/O reduction for virtual servers. With V-locity, users get the added benefit of server-side DRAM caching to further reduce I/O to storage and satisfy data even quicker.

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Diskeeper

Is Fragmentation Robbing SAN Performance?

by Brian Morin 16. March 2015 09:39

This month Condusiv® announced the most significant development in the Diskeeper® product line to date – expanding our patented fragmentation prevention capabilities beyond server local storage or direct-attached storage (DAS) to now include Storage Area Networks, making it the industry's first real-time fragmentation solution for SAN storage.

Typically, as soon as we mention "fragmentation" and "SAN" in the same sentence, an 800 pound gorilla walks into the room and we’re met with some resistance as there is an assumption that RAID controllers and technologies within the SAN mitigate the problem of fragmentation at the physical layer.

As much as SAN technologies do a good job of managing blocks at the physical layer, the real problem why SAN performance degrades over time has nothing to do with the physical disk layer but rather fragmentation that is inherent to the Windows file system at the logical disk software layer.

In a SAN environment, the physical layer is abstracted from the Windows OS, so Windows doesn't even see the physical layer at all – that’s the SAN's job. Windows references the logical disk layer at the file system level.

Fragmentation is inherent to the fabric of Windows. When Windows writes a file, it is not aware of the size of the file or file extension, so it will break that file apart into multiple pieces with each piece allocated to its own address at the logical disk layer. Therefore, the logical disk becomes fragmented BEFORE the SAN even receives the data.

How does a fragmented logical disk create performance problems? Unnecessary IOPS (input/output operations per sec). If Windows sees a file existing as 20 separate pieces at the logical disk level, it will execute 20 separate I/O commands to process the whole file. That’s a lot of unnecessary I/O overhead to the server and, particularly, a lot of unnecessary IOPS to the underlying SAN for every write and subsequent read.

Diskeeper 15 Server prevents fragmentation from occurring in the first place at the file system layer. That means Windows will write files in a more contiguous or sequential fashion to the logical disk. Instead of breaking a file into 20 pieces that needs 20 separate I/O operations for every write and subsequent read, it will write that file in a more contiguous fashion so only minimal I/O is required.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with a traffic analogy. Bottlenecks occur where freeways intersect. You could say the problem is not enough lanes (throughput) or the cars are too slow (IOPS), but we’re saying the easiest problem to solve is the fact of only one person per car!

By eliminating the Windows I/O "tax" at the source, organizations achieve greater I/O density, improved throughput, and less I/O required for any given workload – by simply filling the “car” with more people. Fragmentation prevention at the top of the technology stack ultimately means systems can process more data in less time.

When openBench Labs tested Diskeeper Server, they found throughput increased 1.3X. That is, from 75.1 MB/sec to 100 MB/sec. A manufacturing company saw their I/O density increase from 24KB to 45KB. This eliminated 400,000 I/Os per server per day, and the IT Director said it "eliminated any lag during peak operation."

Many administrators are led to believe they need to buy more IOPS to improve storage performance when in fact, the Windows I/O tax has made them more IOP dependent than they need to be because much of their workload is fractured I/O. By writing files in a more sequential fashion, the number of I/Os required to process a GB of data drops significantly so more data can be processed in less time.

Keep in mind, this is not just true for SANs with HDDs but SSDs as well. In a SAN environment, the Windows OS isn’t aware of the physical layer or storage media being used. The I/O overhead from splitting files apart at the logical disk means just as many unnecessary IOPS to SSD as HDD. SSD is only processing that inefficient I/O more quickly than a hard disk drive.

Diskeeper 15 Server is not a "defrag" utility. It doesn’t compete with the SAN for management of the physical layer by instructing the RAID controllers on the how to manage the data. Diskeeper’s patented proactive approach is the perfect complement to a SAN by ensuring only productive I/O is processed from server to storage to keep physical servers and SAN storage running like new.

With organizations spending tens of thousands of dollars on server and storage hardware and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on large SSD deployments, why give 25% or more performance over to fragmentation when it can be prevented altogether for a mere $400 per physical server at our lowest volume tier?

Try Diskeeper 15 Server for 30 Days ->

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