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Quantum Leap in Performance with vSphere 7.0 NVMe-oF
Posted: Thu Apr 02, 2020 10:43:46 AM

VMware is releasing version 7.0 of their virtualization and cloud management software vSphere. Theyíve talked a lot about the new support for containers (or K8s), vMotion upgrades, and a myriad of cool new features to make IT admins more productive and happier. Itís an exciting release, for sure.

vSphere 7.0 also adds a new feature which can increase performance of I/O bound VMs (such as databases or business intelligence) massively: NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF). With NVMe-oF, it is now possible to virtualize I/O intensive workloads that needed to be run on bare metal before. NVMe-oF can also increase the performance of more traditional VMs, allowing more of them to be run on the same hardware, faster.

Whatís even cooler is that the Pavilion HFA is one of the first NVMe-oF all-flash arrays to be certified by VMware for use with vSphere 7.0. Iíve run some basic tests and seen amazing performance improvements using the same hardware and just converting to use NVMe-oF.

NVMe-over-Fabrics in 100 Words or Less

NVMe was built to accelerate flash storage without being tied to legacy architectures. Most SSDs today use it to deliver multiple gigabytes of bandwidth at microseconds of latency. But NVMe has a major problem for virtualization users: itís only for direct attached storage (DAS) and isnít sharable.

NVMe-oF extends NVMe to work over a fabric, enabling an Hyperparallel Flash Array (HFA) to act as shared storage. NVMe-oF uses RDMA, which allows for 0-overhead data transfers directly to VM memory. NVMe-oF can deliver performance rivaling even locally attached SSDs while preserving the shareability, reliability and availability guarantees of traditional SANs.

vSphere 7.0 NFS vs. NVMe-oF Performance with the Pavilion HFA

Because the Pavilion HFA supports multiple protocols, including NFS, weíre in a unique position to compare VM performance apples-to-apples. Since weíve been working behind the scenes with VMware during the development of NVMe-oF for vSphere 7.0, we have had the opportunity to do lots of compatibility and performance testing in our labs.

Because the Pavilion Hyperparallel Flash Array (HFA) supports both NFS and NVMe-oF on all controllers, it allowed us to compare the same exact storage hardware and virtual machineís performance when using either an NFS volume or an NVMe-oF volume. Thatís as close to a perfect A/B test as Iíve seen.

A virtual machine was built with 16GB of RAM, 48 virtual cores, a standard HDD-based boot disk running CentOS 8.1, and both NFS-based and an NVMe-oF datastore based VMDKs were attached. We ran ezFIO which takes the industry-standard FIO and runs a complete series of I/O performance measurements and generates a spreadsheet with graphs and raw data. The same test was run to completion on each of the two virtual disks, and the results were divided to enable relative percent improvement analysis.

The relative performance difference was dramatic.

In a mixed 70% read, 30% write 4K random workload, NVMe-oF provided up to 3.5x the IOPS compared to NFS.

Read latencies were up to 67% lower on the NVMe-oF volume vs. the NFS one.

And sustained write performance was up to almost 4x the NFS performance:

Whatís Next?

In a nutshell, using NVMe-over-Fabrics for VMware vSphere 7.0 can give up to four times the performance of NFS using the exact same Pavilion HFA hardware. That performance multiplier can let you run your I/O bound virtual workloads multiple times faster, and even consolidate move workloads per ESXi server. Thanks to VMwareís work bringing NVMe-oF to vSphere, enterprises can now benefit from its higher throughput and lower latency.

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