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.

The Inside Story of Condusiv’s “No Reboot” Quest

by Rick Cadruvi, Chief Architect 17. April 2018 04:57

In a world of 24/7 uptime and rare reboot windows, one of our biggest challenges as a company has simply been getting our own customers upgraded to the latest version of our I/O reduction software.

In the last year, we have done dashboard review sessions with a substantial number of customers to demonstrate the power of our latest versions to hybrid and all-flash arrays, hyperconverged systems, Azure/AWS, local SSDs, and more. However, many remain undone simply because customers can’t find the time for reboot windows to upgrade to the latest versions with the most powerful engines and new benefits dashboard. This has been particularly challenging for customers with hundreds to thousands of servers.

Even though we own the trademark term, “Set It and Forget It®,” there was always one aspect that wasn’t, and that’s the fact that it required a reboot to install or upgrade.

Herein lies the problem – important components of our software sit at the storage driver level. At least to the best of our knowledge, all other software vendors who sit at that layer also require a reboot to install or upgrade. So, consider our engineering challenge to take on a project most people wouldn’t know was even solvable.

Let’s start with an explanation as to why this barrier existed. Our software contains several filter drivers that allow us to implement leading edge performance enhancing technologies.  Some of them act at the Windows File System level. Windows has long provided a Filter Manager that allows developers to create File System and Network filter drivers that can be loaded and unloaded without requiring a reboot.  You will quickly recognize that Anti-Malware and Data Backup/Recovery software tends to be the principle targets for this Filter Manager. There are also products such as data encryption that benefit from the Windows Filter Manager. And, as it turns out, we benefit because some of our filter drivers run above the File System.

However, sometimes a software product needs to be closer to the physical hardware itself. This allows a much broader view of what is going on with the actual I/O to the physical device subsystem. There are quite a few software products that need this bigger view. It turns out that we do also.  One of the reasons, is to allow our patented IntelliMemory® caching software to eliminate a huge amount of noisy I/O that creates substantial, yet preventable, bottlenecks to your application. This is I/O that your application wouldn’t even recognize as problematic to its performance, nor would you. Because we have a global view, we can eliminate a large percentage of I/Os from having to go to storage, while using very limited system resources. We also have other technologies that benefit from our telemetry disk filter that helps us see a more global picture of storage performance and what is actually causing bottlenecks. This allows us to focus our efforts on the true causes of those bottlenecks, giving our customers the greatest bang for their buck.  Because we collect excellent empirical data about what is causing the bottlenecks, we can apply very limited and targeted system resources to deliver very significant storage performance increases. Keep in mind, the limited CPU cycles we use operate at lowest priority and we only use resources that are otherwise idle, so the benefits of our engines are completely non-intrusive to overall server performance.

Why does the above matter? Well, the Microsoft Filter Manager doesn’t provide support for most driver stacks and this includes the parts of the storage driver stack below the File System. That means that our disk filter drivers couldn’t actually start providing their benefits upon initial install until after a reboot. If we add new functionality to provide even greater storage performance via a change to one of our disk filter drivers, a reboot was required after an update before the new functionality could be brought to bear.

Until now we just lived with the restrictions. We didn’t live with it because we couldn’t create a solution, but because we anticipated that the frequency of Windows updates, especially security-based updates, would start to increase the frequency of server reboot requirements and the problem would, for all intents and purposes, become manageable. Alas, our hopes and dreams in this area failed to materialize. 

We’ve been doing Windows system and especially kernel software development for decades. I just attended Plugfest 30 for file system filter driver developers.  This is a Microsoft event to ensure high-quality standards for products with filter drivers like ours. We were also at the first Plugfest nearly two decades ago. In addition, we also wrote the Windows NTFS file system component to allow safe, live file defragmentation for Windows NT dating back to the Windows NT 3.51 release.  That by itself is an interesting story, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Anyway, we finally realized that our crystal ball prediction about an increase in the frequency of Windows Server reboots due to Windows Update cycles (patch Tuesday?) was a little less clear than we had hoped. Accepting that this problem wasn’t going away, we set out to create our own Filter Manager to provide a mechanism that allowed filter drivers on stacks not supported by the Microsoft Filter Manager to be inserted and removed without the reboot requirement. This was something we’ve been considering, talked about with other software vendors in a similar situation, and even prototyped before. The time had finally come where we needed to facilitate our customers in getting the significant increased performance from our software immediately instead of waiting for reboot opportunities.

We took our decades of experience and knowledge of Windows Operating System internals and experience developing Kernel software and aimed it at giving our customers the relief from this limitation. The result is in our latest release of V-locity® 7.0, Diskeeper® 18, and SSDkeeper™ 2.0. 

We’d love to hear your stories about how this revolutionary enablement technology has made a difference for you and your organization.

Tags:

Diskeeper | V-Locity

Condusiv Smashes the I/O Performance Gap with New V-locity 7.0, Diskeeper 18, and SSDkeeper 2.0

by Brian Morin 6. April 2018 08:37

Condusiv is pleased to announce the release of V-locity® 7.0, Diskeeper® 18, and SSDkeeper 2.0 that smash the I/O Performance Gap on Windows servers and PCs as growing volumes of data continue to outpace the ability of underlying server and storage hardware to meet performance SLAs on mission critical workloads like MS-SQL.

The new 2018 editions of V-locity, Diskeeper, and SSDkeeper come with “no reboot” capabilities and enhanced reporting that offers a single pane view of all systems to show the exact benefit of I/O reduction software to each system in terms of number of noisy I/Os eliminated, percentage of read and write traffic offloaded from storage, and, most importantly, how much time is saved on each system as a result. It is also now easier than ever to quickly identify systems underperforming from a caching standpoint that could use more memory.

When a minimum of 30-40% I/O traffic from any Windows server is completely unnecessary, nothing but mere noise chewing up IOPS and throughput, it needs to be easy to see the exact levels of inefficiency on individual systems and what it means in terms of I/O reduction and “time saved” when Condusiv software is deployed to eliminate those inefficiencies. Since many customers choose to add a little more memory on key systems like MS-SQL to get even more from the software, it is now clearly evident what 50% or more reduction in I/O traffic actually means.

Our recent 4th annual I/O Performance Survey (no Condusiv customers included) found that MS-SQL performance problems are at their worst level in 4 years despite heavy investments in hardware infrastructure. 28% of mid-sized and large enterprises receive regular complaints from users regarding sluggish SQL-based applications. This is simply due to the growth of I/O outpacing the hardware stack’s ability to keep up. This is why it is more important than ever to consider I/O reduction software solutions that guarantee to solve performance issues instead of reactively throwing expensive new servers or storage at the problem.

Not only are the latest versions of V-locity, Diskeeper, and SSDkeeper easier to deploy and manage with “no reboot” capabilities, but reporting has been enhanced to enable administrators to quickly see the full value being provided to each system along with memory tuning recommendations for even more benefit.

A single pane view lists out all systems with associated workload data, memory data, and benefit data from I/O reduction software and lists systems as red, yellow, and green according to caching effectiveness to help administers quickly identify and prioritize systems that could use a little more memory to achieve a 50% or more reduction in I/O to storage.

Regarding the new “no reboot” capabilities, this is something that the engineering team has been attempting to crack for some time.  Per Rick Cadruvi, SVP, Engineering, “All storage filter drivers require a reboot, which is problematic for admins who manage software across thousands of servers. However, due to our extensive knowledge of Windows Kernel internals dating back to Windows NT 3.51, we were able to find a way to properly synchronize and handle the load/unload sequences of our driver transparently to other drivers in the storage stack so as not to require a reboot when deploying or updating Condusiv software.” 

Fore more on Condusiv’s quest for “no reboot” capabilities, see this blog by Rick Cadruvi, SVP Engineering: The Inside Story of Condusiv's No Reboot Quest 

This means that customers who are currently on V-locity 5.3 and higher or Diskeeper 15 and higher are able to upgrade to the latest version without a reboot. Customers on older versions will have to uninstall, reboot, then install the new version.

"As much as Condusiv I/O reduction software has been a real benefit to our applications running across 2,500+ Windows servers, we are happy to see a no reboot version of the software released so it is now truly "Set It & Forget It"®. My team is happy they no longer have to wrestle down a reboot window for hundreds of servers in order to update or deploy Condusiv software," said Blake W. Smith, MSME, System Director, Enterprise Infrastructure, CHRISTUS Health.

 

I’m a MEDITECH Hospital with SSDs, Is FAL Growth Still an Issue that Risks Downtime?

by Brian Morin 4. December 2017 07:34

Now that many MEDITECH hospitals have gone all-flash for their backend storage, one of the most common questions we field is whether or not there is still downtime risk from the File Attribute List (FAL) growth issue if the data physically lives on solid-state drives (SSDs).

The main reason this question comes up is because MEDITECH requires “defragmentation,” which most admins insinuate as only being a requirement for a spinning disk backend. That misnomer couldn’t be further from the truth as the FAL issue has nothing to do with the backend media but rather the file system itself. Clearly, defragmentation processes are damaging to solid-state media, which is why MEDITECH hospitals turn to Condusiv’s V-locity® I/O reduction software that prevents fragmentation from occurring in the first place and has special engines designed for MEDITECH environments to remediate the FAL from reaching its size limit and causing unscheduled downtime.

The File Attribute List is a Windows NTFS file metadata structure referred to as the FAL. ThFAstructure capointdifferentypeofilattributessucasecuritattributeostandarinformatiosuch acreatioanmodificatiodateandmosimportantlythactuadatcontainewith ithfileFoexamplethFAkeeps tracowheralthdatifothfileThFAactuallcontains pointers to file records thaindicatthlocatioothfildatothvolumeIthadathatbe storeadifferenlogic allocationothvolume (i.e.fragmentation), morpointerarrequired. This iturincreasethsizothFALHereiliethproblemthFAL sizhaauppelimitatioo256KB which is comprised of 8192 attribute entriesWhethalimiireachednmorpointercan be added, whicmeans Nmore datcan baddetthfileAnd, iit is a foldefile whickeeps tracoalthfiletharesidundethafolderNmorfilecabaddeundethafoldefile. Once this occurs, the application crashes, leading to a best case scenario of several hours of unscheduled downtime to resolve.

Although this blog points out MEDITECH customers experiencing this issue, we have seen this FAL problem occur within non-MEDITECH environments like MS-Exchange and MS-SQL, with varying types of backend storage media from HDDs to all-flash arrays. So, what can be done about it?

The logical solution would be–why not just defragment the volume? Wouldn’t that decrease the number of pointers and decrease the FAL size? The problem is that traditional defragmentation actually causes the FAL to grow in size! While it can decrease the number of pointers, it will not decrease the FAL size, but in fact, it can cause the FAL size to groeven larger, making the problem worse even though you are attempting to remediate it.

The only proprietary solution to solve this problem is by using Condusiv’s V-locity® for virtual servers or Diskeeper® Server for physical servers. Included is a special technology called MediWrite®, which helps suppress this issue from occurring in the first place and provides special handling if it has already occurred. MediWrite includes:

>Unique FAL handling: As indicated above,traditional methods of defragmentation will cause the FAL to groeven further in size. MediWrite will detect when files have FAL size issues and will use proprietary methods to prevent FAL growth. This is the only engine of its kind in the industry.

>Unique FAL safe file movement:  V-locity and Diskeeper’s free space consolidation engines automatically detect FAL size issues and automatically deploy the MediWrite feature to resolve.

>Unique FAL growth prevention: Along with MediWrite, V-locity and Diskeeper contain another very important technology called IntelliWrite® which automatically prevents new fragmentation from occurring. By preventing new fragmentation from occurring, IntelliWrite minimizes any further FAL size growth issues.

>Unique Offline FAL Consolidation tool: Any MEDITECH hospital that already has an FAL issue can use the embedded offline tool to shrink the FAL-IN-USE size in a very short time (~5 min) as opposed to manual processes that take several hours.

>V-locity and Diskeeper have been endorsed by MEDITECH. Click Here to view.

 

 

Diskeeper Administrator Quick Start Guide

by Tim Warner, Microsoft MVP in Cloud and Datacenter Management 4. August 2017 06:31

Here's the situation: Sluggish application performance on one or more of your Windows servers had become so bad as to require intervention. You purchased a license for Condusiv® Diskeeper Server and observed such an amazing performance improvement that you want to deploy Diskeeper® on all your physical servers.

"But how can I centrally manage the application?" you wonder. And then you see that Condusiv Makes Diskeeper Administrator. Bingo!

Diskeeper Administrator gives you centralized control over all your managed servers. The solution enables you to deploy, configure and manage Diskeeper Server, Diskeeper Professional for desktop workstations, and some very early versions of V-locity for virtual machines (VMs). Condusiv plans to integrate SSDkeeper into Diskeeper Administrator sometime in the future.
Note: (V-locity and V-locity Management Console should be used for virtual servers)

For now, though, let's learn how to deploy and configure Diskeeper Administrator.

Deployment Prerequisites

In addition to purchasing a Diskeeper Administrator license, you should consider a volume-license purchase of Diskeeper Server to save money.
Diskeeper Administrator runs as a Windows service and is a client/server application that uses Microsoft SQL Server for back-end data storage. For a smooth installation experience, I suggest, but not required, having a SQL Server database engine instance already available on the network. Diskeeper Administrator supports the following database versions:

   - SQL Server 2005
   - SQL Server 2008
   - SQL Server 2012

You can use the free Express Edition if you want; in fact, the Diskeeper Administrator installer can automatically install SQL Server 2012 Express Edition. Notably, more recent SQL Server versions are not yet supported.

Like any client/server application, you need to keep firewall rules in mind. Diskeeper Administrator uses the following Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) ports:

   - 1434 (for SQL Server)
   - 31029
   - 31036
   - 30137
   - 31056
   - 31096
   - 31116
   - 31176
   - 31196
   - 31216

All your managed servers should have file and printer sharing enabled, which opens TCP ports 139 and 445, and exposes the ADMIN$ administrative share that is used for Diskeeper push installation. In addition, you should open ports 31038 or 31058 to facilitate management traffic. More details on port use is available in the DK Administrator’s online help.

Diskeeper Administrator Install and Setup

The Diskeeper Administrator installer is basically an InstallShield wizard "click-click-next" routine. The real work begins after you lay down the application binaries and start Diskeeper Administrator for the first time.

Speaking of Windows Server, you can install Diskeeper Administrator on any version from Windows Server 2008 R2 to Windows Server 2016, as well as Windows Client versions from Windows 7 to Windows 10. My environment runs Windows Server 2016 exclusively, and Diskeeper products all run just fine.

On first launch of the Diskeeper Administrator console (it's an honest-to-goodness Windows desktop application and not a browser portal), you'll see the following requirements dialog:

Continue reading the full Diskeeper Administrator Quick Start Guide »

 

It’s Diskeeper Groundhog Day

by Brian Morin 12. July 2017 06:08

Every week, I find myself sending the same email to at least one Diskeeper® customer. Almost every time, it’s a new manager/director/VP who joins the company and hears Diskeeper is running on their physical servers or clients. This is how it goes:

Hi Christopher,

I’m the SVP of WW Sales here and received news XYZ company may not be renewing support on your Diskeeper licenses because of concerns with it on MS-SQL servers attached to SAN storage with SSDs.

Since you own these licenses, I wanted to reach out for a quick 15-min tech conversation only to make sure you understand what you have in the latest version. Many still have legacy ideas of Diskeeper when it was a “defrag” product and not applicable to the new world order of SSDs and modern SANs.

I guarantee the current version of our product will offload anywhere from 30-40% of your I/O traffic from your underlying storage to provide a nice performance boost and give some precious I/O headroom back to that subsystem. Many customers offload >50% of I/O by simply adding more memory, enabling them to sweat their storage assets significantly and use those IOPS for other things. It’s a free upgrade while you are active on your maintenance.

As a primer, you can read this case study we published last month with the University of Illinois in which we doubled performance of their SQL and Oracle applications sitting on all-flash arrays. And if you want the short, short summary of what the technology does now, here’s the 2-min video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge-49YYPwBM. This is why Gartner named us Cool Vendor of the Year a couple years back.

The good news is that they have heard of Diskeeper. The bad news is that they still associate it with legacy versions that emphasized defragmentation applicable only to spinning disk. For those customers who virtualized and converted their licenses to V-locity®, we don’t run into this issue.

If you are a current Diskeeper customer and have difficulty educating new management, I suggest setting up a tech review between Condusiv and new team members. If you are running all-flash, an alternative approach others have taken is simply replacing their Diskeeper with SSDkeeper® so they don’t run into old “defrag” objections. The core features are identical and both auto-detect if the storage is HDD or SSD and apply the best optimization method.

Keep in mind, since Diskeeper now proactively eliminates excessively small tiny writes and reads in the first place, the whole concept of “defragmentation” is a dead concept for the most part except in some extenuating circumstances. An example would be a heavily fragmented volume on spinning disk that didn’t have Diskeeper on it and could use a one-time clean up. A good example of this is a new customer last week whose full backup was taking over a day to complete! After running Diskeeper on their physical servers, the backup time was cut in half.

Tags:

Defrag | Diskeeper | SAN | SSD, Solid State, Flash

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