Introduction

TCO and ROI have been abused repeatedly by sales representatives, in the hope of getting you to swallow the sometimes outrageously high pricing on their quotation for a trendy new technology. However, server virtualization is one of the few ICT technologies that really lives up to its hype. The cost savings are real and the TCO is great, as long as you obey a few basic rules like not installing bloatware or extremely large memory limited databases. There is more.

Server consolidation is superb for the IT professional who is also a hardware enthusiast (and thus reads it.anandtech.com ?). Hardware purchases used to be motivated by the fact that the equipment was written off or because the maintenance contract was at the end of its life. Can you even think of a more boring reason to buy new hardware? The timeframe between the beginning of the 21st century and the start of commercially viable virtualization solutions was the timeframe where the bean counters ruled the datacenter. Few people were interested in hearing how much faster the newest servers were, as in most cases the extra processing power would go to waste 95% of the time anyway.

Now with virtualization, we hardware nerds are back with a vengeance. Every drop of performance you wring out of your servers translates into potentially higher consolidation ratios (more VMs per physical machine) or better response time per VM. More VMs per machine means immediate short- and long-term cost savings, and better performance per VM means happier users. Yes, performance matters once again and system administrators are seen as key persons, vital to accomplishing the business goals. But how do you know what hardware you should buy for virtualization? There are only two consolidation benchmarks out there: Intel's vConsolidate and VMware's VMmark. Both are cumbersome to set up and both are based on industry benchmarks (SPECJbb2005) that are only somewhat or even hardly representative of real-world applications. The result is that VMmark, despite the fact that it is a valuable benchmark, has turned into yet another OEM benchmark(et)ing tool. The only goal of the OEMs seems to be to produce scores as high as possible; that is understandable from their point of view, but not very useful for the IT professional. Without an analysis of where the extra performance comes from, the scores give a quick first impression but nothing more.

Yes, this article is long overdue, but the Sizing Servers Lab proudly presents the AnandTech readers with our newest virtualization benchmark, vApus Mark I, which uses real-world applications in a Windows Server Consolidation scenario. Our goal is certainly not to replace nor to discredit VMmark, but rather to give you another data point -- an independent second opinion based on solid benchmarking. Combining our own testing with what we find on the VMmark page, we will be able to understand the virtualization performance landscape a bit better. Before we dive into the results, let's discuss the reasoning behind some of the choices we made.

The Virtualization Benchmarking Chaos
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  • Bandoleer - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    I have been running Vmware Virtual Infrastructure for 2 years now. While this article can be useful for someone looking for hardware upgrades or scaling of a virtual system, CPU and memory are hardly the bottlenecks in the real world. I'm sure there are some organizations that want to run 100+ vm's on "one" physical machine with 2 physical processors, but what are they really running????

    The fact is, if you want VM flexability, you need central storage of all your VMDK's that are accessible by all hosts. There is where you find your bottlenecks, in the storage arena. FC or iSCSI, where are those benchmarks? Where's the TOE vs QLogic HBA? Considering 2 years ago, there was no QLogic HBA for blade servers, nor does Vmware support TOE.

    However, it does appear i'll be able to do my own baseline/benching once vSphere ie VI4 materializes to see if its even worth sticking with vmware or making the move to HyperV which already supports Jumbo, TOE iSCSI with 600% increased iSCSI performance on the exact same hardware.
    But it would really be nice to see central storage benchmarks, considering that is the single most expensive investment of a virtual system.

    Reply
  • duploxxx - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    perhaps before you would even consider to move from Vmware to HyperV check first in reality what huge functionality you will loose in stead of some small gains in HyperV.

    ESX 3.5 does support Jumbo, iscsi offload adapters and no idea how you are going to gain 600% if iscsi is only about 15% slower then FC if you have decent network and dedicated iscsi box?????
    Reply
  • Bandoleer - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    "perhaps before you would even consider to move from Vmware to HyperV check first in reality what huge functionality you will loose in stead of some small gains in HyperV. "

    what you are calling functionality here are the same features that will not work in ESX4.0 in order to gain direct hardware access for performance.
    Reply
  • Bandoleer - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    The reality is I lost around 500MBps storage throughput when I moved from Direct Attached Storage. Not because of our new central storage, but because of the limitations of the driver-less Linux iSCSI capability or the lack there of. Yes!! in ESX 3.5 vmware added Jumbo frame support as well as flow control support for iSCSI!! It was GREAT, except for the part that you can't run JUMBO frames + flow control, you have to pick one, flow control or JUMBO.

    I said 2 years ago there was no such thing as iSCSI HBA's for blade servers. And that ESX does not support the TOE feature of Multifunction adapters (because that "functionality" requires a driver).

    Functionality you lose by moving to hyperV? In my case, i call them useless features, which are second to performance and functionality.



    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    I fully agree that in many cases the bottleneck is your shared storage. However, the article's title indicated "Server CPU", so it was clear from the start that this article would discuss CPU performance.

    "move to HyperV which already supports Jumbo, TOE iSCSI with 600% increased iSCSI performance on the exact same hardware. "

    Can you back that up with a link to somewhere? Because the 600% sounds like an MS Advertisement :-).

    Reply
  • Bandoleer - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    My statement is based on my own experience and findings. I can send you my benchmark comparisons if you wish.

    I wasn't ranting at the article, its great for what it is, which is what the title represents. I was responding to this part of the article that accidentally came out as a rant because i'm so passionate about virtualization.

    "What about ESX 4.0? What about the hypervisors of Xen/Citrix and Microsoft? What will happen once we test with 8 or 12 VMs? The tests are running while I am writing this. We'll be back with more. Until then, we look forward to reading your constructive criticism and feedback.

    Sorry, i meant to be more constructive haha...



    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Sunday, May 24, 2009 - link

    "My statement is based on my own experience and findings. I can send you my benchmark comparisons if you wish. "

    Yes, please do. Very interested in to reading what you found.

    "I wasn't ranting at the article, its great for what it is, which is what the title represents. "

    Thx. no problem...Just understand that these things takes time and cooperation of the large vendors. And getting the right $5000 storage hardware in lab is much harder than getting a $250 videocard. About 20 times harder :-).


    Reply
  • Bandoleer - Sunday, May 24, 2009 - link

    I haven't looked recently, but high performance tiered storage was anywhere from $40k - $80k each, just for the iSCSI versions, the FC versions are clearly absurd.

    Reply
  • solori - Monday, May 25, 2009 - link

    Look at ZFS-based storage solutions. ZFS enables hybrid storage pools and an elegant use of SSDs with commodity hardware. You can get it from Sun, Nexenta or by rolling-your-own with OpenSolaris:

    http://solori.wordpress.com/2009/05/06/add-ssd-to-...">http://solori.wordpress.com/2009/05/06/add-ssd-to-...
    Reply
  • pmonti80 - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    Still it would be interesting to see those central storage benchmarks or at least knowing if you will/won't be doing them for whatever reason. Reply

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