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.

FAL Remediation and Improved Performance for MEDITECH

by Gary Quan 28. November 2016 12:11

When someone mentions heavy fragmentation on a Windows NTFS Volume, the first thing that usually comes to mind is performance degradation. While performance degradation is certainly bad, what’s worse is application failure when the application gets this error.

 

Windows Error - "The requested operation could not be completed due to a file system limitation“

 

That is exactly what happens in severely fragmented environments. These are show-stoppers that can stop a business in its tracks until the problem is remediated. We have had users report this issue to us on SQL databases, Exchange server databases, and cases involving MEDITECH EMR systems.

Some refer to this problem as the “FAL Size Issue” and here is why. In the Windows NTFS file system, as files grow in size and complexity (i.e., more and more fragmented data), they can be assigned additional metadata structures. One of these metadata structures is called the File Attribute List (FAL). The FAL structure can point to different types of file attributes, such as security attributes or standard information such as creation and modification dates and, most importantly, the actual data contained within the file. In the extremely fragmented file case, the FAL will keep track of where all the fragmented data is for the file. The FAL actually contains pointers indicating the location of the file data (fragments) on the volume. As more fragments accumulate in a file, more pointers to the fragmented data are required, which in turn increases the size of the FAL. Herein lies the problem: the FAL size has an upper limitation size of 256KB. When that limit is reached, no more pointers can be added, which means NO more data can be added to the data file. And, if it is a folder file, NO more files can be added under that folder file.

If a FAL reaches the size limitation, the only resolution was to bring the volume offline, which can mean bringing the system down, then copying the file to a different location (a different volume is recommended), deleting or renaming the original file, making sure there is sufficient contiguous free space on the original volume, rebooting the system to reset the free space cache, then copying the file back. This is not a quick cycle, and if that file is large in size, this process can take hours to complete, which means the system will remain offline for hours while attempting to resolve.

You would think that the logical solution would be – why not just defragment those files? The problem is that traditional defragmentation utilities can cause the FAL size to grow. While it can decrease the number of pointers, it will not decrease the FAL size. In fact, due to limitations within the file system, traditional methods of defragmenting files cause the FAL size to grow even larger, making the problem worse even though you are attempting to remediate it. This is true with all other defragmenters, including the built-in defragmenter that comes Windows. So what can be done about it?

 

The Solution

Condusiv Technologies has introduced a new technology to address this FAL size issue that is unique only to the latest version of V-locity®  for virtual servers and Diskeeper® for physical servers. This new technology called MediWrite™ contains features to help suppress this issue from occurring in the first place, give sufficient warning if it is or has occurred, plus tools to quickly and efficiently reduce the FAL size. It includes the following:

Unique FAL handling: As indicated above, traditional methods of defragmentation can cause the FAL size to grow even further. MediWrite will detect when files are having FAL size issues and will use a proprietary method of defragmentation that keeps the FAL from growing in size. An industry first!

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

Unique Offline FAL Consolidation tools: The above technologies help stop the FAL size from growing any larger, but due to File System restrictions, it cannot shrink or reduce the FAL size online. To do this, Condusiv developed proprietary offline tools that will reduce the FAL-IN-USE size in minutes.  This is extremely helpful for companies that already have a file FAL size issue before installing our software. With these tools, the user can reduce the FAL-IN-USE size back down to 100kb, 50kb, or smaller and feel completely safe from the maximum FAL size limits. The reduction process itself takes less than 5 minutes. This means that the system will only need to be taken offline for minutes which is much better than all the hours needed with the current Windows copy method.

FAL size Alerts: MediWrite will dynamically scan the volumes for any FAL sizes that have reached a certain limit (the default is a conservative 50% of the maximum size) and will create an Alert indicating this has occurred. The Alert will also be recorded in the Windows Event log, plus the user has the option to get notified by email when this occurrence happens.

 

For more information, see our MEDITECH Solution Brief

 

 

 

Tags:

Diskeeper | Disruption, Application Performance, IOPS | General | IntelliMemory | IntelliWrite | MEDITECH | V-Locity

Everything You Need to Know about SSDs and Fragmentation in 5 Minutes

by Howard Butler 17. November 2016 05:42

When reading articles, blogs, and forums posted by well-respected (or at least well intentioned people) on the subject of fragmentation and SSDs, many make statements about how (1) SSDs don’t fragment, or (2) there’s no moving parts, so no problem, or (3) an SSD is so fast, why bother? We all know and agree SSDs shouldn’t be “defragmented” since that shortens lifespan, so is there a problem after all?

The truth of the matter is that applications running on Windows do not talk directly to the storage device.  Data is referenced as an abstracted layer of logical clusters rather than physical track/sectors or specific NAND-flash memory cells.  Before a storage unit (HDD or SSD) can be recognized by Windows, a file system must be prepared for the volume.  This takes place when the volume is formatted and in most cases is set with a 4KB cluster size.  The cluster size is the smallest unit of space that can be allocated.  Too large of a cluster size results in wasted space due to over allocation for the actual data needed.  Too small of a cluster size causes many file extents or fragments.  After formatting is complete and when a volume is first written to, most all of the free space is in just one or two very large sections.  Over the course of time as files of various sizes are written, modified, re-written, copied, and deleted, the size of individual sections of free space as seen from the NTFS logical file system point of view becomes smaller and smaller.  I have seen both HDD and SSD storage devices with over 3 million free space extents.  Since Windows lacks file size intelligence when writing a file, it never chooses the best allocation at the logical layer, only the next available – even if the next available is 4KB. That means 128K worth of data could wind up with 32 extents or fragments, each being 4KB in size. Therefore SSDs do fragment at the logical Windows NTFS file system level.  This happens not as a function of the storage media, but of the design of the file system.

Let’s examine how this impacts performance.  Each extent of a file requires its own separate I/O request. In the example above, that means 32 I/O operations for a file that could have taken a single I/O if Windows was smarter about managing free space and finding the best logical clusters instead of the next available. Since I/O takes a measurable amount of time to complete, the issue we’re talking about here related to SSDs has to do with an I/O overhead issue.

Even with no moving parts and multi-channel I/O capability, the more I/O requests needed to complete a given workload, the longer it is going to take your SSD to access the data.  This performance loss occurs on initial file creation and carries forward with each subsequent read of the same data.  But wait… the performance loss doesn’t stop there.  Once data is written to a memory cell on an SSD and later the file space is marked for deletion, it must first be erased before new data can be written to that memory cell.  This is a rather time consuming process and individual memory cells cannot be individually erased, but instead a group of adjacent memory cells (referred to as a page) are processed together.  Unfortunately, some of those memory cells may still contain valuable data and this information must first be copied to a different set of memory cells before the memory cell page (group of memory cells) can be erased and made ready to accept the new data.  This is known as Write Amplification.  This is one of the reasons why writes are so much slower than reads on an SSD.  Another unique problem associated with SSDs is that each memory cell has a limited number of times that a memory cell can be written to before that memory cell is no longer usable.  When too many memory cells are considered invalid the whole unit becomes unusable.  While TRIM, wear leveling technologies, and garbage collection routines have been developed to help with this behavior, they are not able to run in real-time and therefore are only playing catch-up instead of being focused on the kind of preventative measures that are needed the most.  In fact, these advanced technologies offered by SSD manufacturers (and within Windows) do not prevent or reverse the effects of file and free space fragmentation at the NTFS file system level.

The only way to eliminate this surplus of small, tiny writes and reads that (1) chew up performance and (2) shorten lifespan from all the wear and tear is by taking a preventative approach that makes Windows “smarter” about how it writes files and manages free space, so more payload is delivered with every I/O operation. That’s exactly why more users run Condusiv’s Diskeeper® (for physical servers and workstations) or V-locity® (for virtual servers) on systems with SSD storage. For anyone who questions how much value this approach adds to their systems, the easiest way to find out is by downloading a free 30-day trial and watch the “time saved” dashboard for yourself. Since the fastest I/O is the one you don’t have to write, Condusiv software understands exactly how much time is saved by eliminating multiple, fractured writes with fewer, larger contiguous writes. It even has an additional feature to cache reads from idle, available DRAM (15X faster than SSD), which further offloads I/O bandwidth to SSD storage. Especially for businesses with many users accessing a multitude of applications across hundreds or thousands of servers, the time savings are enormous.

 

ATTO Benchmark Results with and without Diskeeper 16 running on a 120GB Samsung SSD Pro 840. The read data caching shows a 10X improvement in read performance.

First-ever “Time Saved” Dashboard = Holy Grail for ROI

by Brian Morin 2. November 2016 10:03

If you’ve ever wondered about the exact business value that Condusiv® I/O reduction software provides to your systems, the latest “time saved” reporting does exactly that.

Prior to V-locity® v6.2 for virtual servers and Diskeeper® 16 for physical servers and endpoints, customers would conduct expansive before/after tests to extract the intrinsic performance value, but struggled to extract the ongoing business benefit over time. This has been especially true during annual maintenance renewal cycles when key stakeholders need to be “re-sold” to allocate budget for ongoing maintenance, or push new licenses to new servers.

The number one request from customers has been to better understand the ongoing business benefit of I/O reduction in terms that are easily relatable to senior management and makes justifying the ROI painless. This “holy grail” search on part of our engineering team has led to the industry’s first-ever “time saved” dashboard for an I/O optimization software platform.

When Condusiv software proactively eliminates the surplus of small, fractured writes and reads and ensures more “payload” with every I/O operation, the net effect is fewer write and read operations for any given workload, which saves time. When Condusiv software caches hot reads within idle, available DRAM, the net effect is fewer reads traversing the full stack down to storage and back, which saves time.

In terms of benefits, the new dashboard shows:

    1. How many write I/Os are eliminated by ensuring large, clean, contiguous writes from Windows

    2. How many read I/Os are cached from idle DRAM

    3. What percentage of write and read traffic is offloaded from underlying SSD or HDD storage

    4. Most importantly – the dashboard relates I/O reduction to the business benefit of … “time saved”

This reporting approach makes the software fully transparent on the type of benefit being delivered to any individual system or groups of systems. Since the software itself sits within the Windows operating system, it is aware of latency to storage and understands just how much time is saved by serving an I/O from DRAM instead of the underlying SSD or HDD. And, most importantly, since the fastest I/O is the one you don’t have to write, Condusiv software understands how much time is saved by eliminating multiple small, fractured writes with fewer, larger contiguous writes.  

Have you ever wondered how much time V-locity will save a VDI deployment? Or an application supported by all-flash? Or a Hyperconverged environment? Rather than wonder, just install a 30-day version of the software and monitor the “time saved” dashboard to find out. Benefits are fully transparent and easily quantified.

Have you ever needed to justify Diskeeper’s endpoint solution across a fleet of corporate laptops with SSDs? Now you can see the “time saved” on individual systems or all systems and quantify the cost of labor against the number of hours that Diskeeper saved in I/O time across any time period. The “no brainer” benefit will be immediately obvious.

Customers will be pleasantly surprised to find out the latest dashboard doesn’t just show granular benefits but also granular performance metrics and other important information to assist with memory tuning. See the avg., min, and max of idle memory used for cache over any time period (even by the hour) to make quick assessments on which systems could use more memory to take better advantage of the caching engine for greater application performance. Customers have found if they can maintain at least 2GB used for cache, that's where they begin to get into the sweet spot of what the product can do. If even more can be maintained to establish a tier-0 cache strategy, performance rises even further. Systems with at least 4GB idle for cache will invariably serve 60% of reads or more. 

 

 

       Lou Goodreau, IT Manager, New England Fishery

      “32% of my write traffic has been eliminated and 64% of my read traffic has been cached within idle memory. This saved over 20 hours in I/O time after 24 days of testing!”

       David Bruce, Managing Partner, David Bruce & Associates

                                    “Over 50% of my reads are now served from DRAM and over 30% of write traffic has

                                   been eliminated by ensuring large, contiguous writes. Now everything is more

                                   responsive!"

 

VMware Advises on Defrag

by Brian Morin 27. July 2016 01:40

VMware: Defrag or Not?

Dave Lewis sent in a question, “There is such a quandary about disk fragmentation in the VMware environment. One says defrag and another says never. Who's right? This has been a hard subject to track and define.”

I’m going to debunk “defragging” in a minute, but if you read VMware’s own best practice guide on improving performance (found here), page 17 reveals “adding more memory” as the top recommendation while the second most important recommendation is to “defrag all guest machines.”

As much as VMware is aware that fragmentation impacts performance, the real question is how relevant is the task of defragging in today’s environment with sophisticated storage services and new mediums like flash that should never be defragged? First of all, no storage administrator would defrag an entire “live” disk volume without the tedious task of taking it offline due to the impact that change block activity has against services like replication and thin provisioning, which means the problem goes ignored on HDD-based storage systems. Second, organizations who utilize flash can do nothing about the write amplification issues from fragmentation or the resulting slow write performance from a surplus of small, fractured writes.

The beauty behind V-locity® I/O reduction software in a virtual environment is that fragmentation is never an issue because V-locity optimizes the I/O stream at the point of origin to ensure Windows executes writes in the most optimum manner possible. This means large, contiguous, sequential writes to the backend storage for every write and subsequent read. This boosts the performance of both HDD and SSD systems. As much as flash performs well with random reads, it chokes badly on random writes. A typical SSD might spec random reads at 300,000 IOPS but drop to 23,000 IOPS when it comes to writes due to erase cycles and housekeeping that goes into every write. This is why some organizations continue to use spindles for write heavy apps that are sequential in nature.

When most people think of fragmentation, they think in terms of it being a physical layer issue on a mechanical disk. However, in an enterprise environment, Windows is extracted from the physical layer. The real problem is an IOPS inflation issue where the relationship between I/O and data breaks down and there ends up being a surplus of small, tiny I/O that chews up performance no matter what storage media is used on the backend. Instead of utilizing a single I/O to process a 64K file, Windows will break that down into smaller and smaller chunks….with each chunk requiring its own I/O operation to process.

This is 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.

As much as virtualization has been great for server efficiency, the one downside is how it adds complexity to the data path. This means I/O characteristics from Windows that are much smaller, more fractured, and more random than they need to be. As a result, performance suffers “death by a thousand cuts” from all this small, tiny I/O that gets subsequently randomized at the hypervisor.

So instead of taking VMware’s recommendation to “defrag,” take our recommendation to never worry about the issue again and put an end to all the small, split I/Os that are hurting performance the most.

Tags: , ,

Defrag | Diskeeper | General | virtualization | V-Locity

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.

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