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Tag Archives: Performance

Virtualized Hadoop Performance with vSphere 6

A recently published whitepaper shows that not only can vSphere 6 keep up with newer high-performance servers, it thrives on their capabilities.

Two years ago, Hadoop benchmarks were run with vSphere 5.1 on a cluster of 32 dual-socket, quad-core servers. Very good performance was demonstrated, with the optimal virtualized configuration shown to be actually 2% faster than native for TeraSort (see the previous whitepaper).

These benchmarks were recently run on a cluster of the same size, but with ten-core processors, more disks and memory, dual 10GbE networking, and vSphere 6. The maximum dataset size was almost quadrupled to 30TB, to ensure that it is much bigger than the total memory in the cluster (hence qualifying the test as Big Data, by one definition).

The results, summarized in the chart below, show that the optimal virtualized configuration now delivers 12% better performance than native for TeraSort. The primary reason for this excellent performance is the ability of vSphere to map physical hardware resources to virtual hardware that is optimized for scale-out applications. The observed trend, as well as theory based on processor characteristics, indicates that the importance of being able to do this mapping correctly increases as processors become more powerful. The sub-optimal performance of one of the tests is due to the combination of very small VMs and how Hadoop does replication during data creation. On the other hand, small VMs are very advantageous for read-dominated applications, which are typically more common. Taken together with other best practices discussed in the paper, this information can be used to configure Hadoop clusters for the highest levels of performance. Despite all the hardware and software changes over the past two years, the optimal configuration was still found to be four VMs per dual-socket host.

elapsed_time_ratioPlease take a look at the whitepaper for more details on how these benchmarks were run and for analyses on why certain virtual configurations perform so well.

Scaling Out Redis Performance with Docker on vSphere 6.0

by Davide Bergamasco

In an earlier VROOM! post we discussed, among other things, the performance of the Redis in-memory key-value store in a Docker/vSphere environment. In that post we focused on a single instance of a Redis server subject to a more or less artificial workload with the goal of assessing the absolute performance of said instance under various deployment scenarios.

In this post we are taking a different point of view, which is maximizing the throughput of multiple Redis instances running on a “large” server under a more realistic workload. Why are we interested in this perspective?  Conceptually, Redis is an extremely simple application, being just a thin layer of code implementing a large hash table on top of system calls.  From the implementation standpoint, a single-threaded event loop services requests from the clients in a polling fashion. The problem with this design is that it is not suitable for “scaling up”; that is, improving performance by using multiple cores. Modern servers have many processing cores (up to 80) and possibly terabytes of memory.  However, Redis can only access that memory at the speed of a single core.

This problem can be solved by “scaling out” Redis; that is, by partitioning the server memory across multiple Redis instances and running each of those on a different core.  This can be achieved by using a set of load balancers to fragment the key space and distribute the load among the various instances. The diagram shown in Figure 1 illustrates this concept.

Figure 1. Redis Scale Out Setup

Figure 1. Redis Scale Out Setup

Host H3 runs the various Redis server instances (red boxes), while Host H2 runs two sets of load balancers:

  • The green boxes are the Redis load balancers, which partition the key space using a consistent hashing algorithm.  We leveraged the Twemproxy OSS project to implement the Redis load balancers.
  • The yellow boxes are TCP load balancers, which distribute the load across the Redis load balancers in a round robin fashion. We used the HAProxy OSS project to implement the TCP load balancers.

Finally, Host H1 runs the load generators (dark blue boxes); that is, the standard benchmark redis-benchmark.

Deployment Scenarios

We assessed the performance of this design across a set of deployment scenarios analogous to what we considered in the previous post. These are listed below and illustrated in Figure 2:

  • Native: Redis instances are run as 8 separate processes on the Linux OS running directly on Host H3 hardware.
  • VM: Redis instances are run inside 8, 2-vCPU VMs running on a pre-release build of vSphere 6.0.0 running on Host H3 hardware; the guest OS is the same as the Native scenario.
  • Native-Docker: Redis instances are run inside 8 Docker containers running on the Native OS.
  • VM-Docker: Redis instances are run inside Docker containers each running inside the same VMs as the VM scenario, with one container per VM.
Figure 2. Different deployment scenarios

Figure 2. Different deployment scenarios

Hardware/Software/Workload Configuration

The following are the details about the hardware, software, and workload used in the various experiments discussed in the next section:


  • HP ProLiant DL380e Gen8
  • CPU: 2 x Intel® Xeon® CPU E5-2470 0 @ 2.30GHz (16 cores, 32 hyper-threads total)
  • Memory: 96GB
  • Hardware configuration: Hyper-Threading ON, turbo-boost OFF, power policy: Static High (no power management)
  • Network: 10GbE
  • Storage: 8 x 500GB 15,000 RPM 6Gb SAS disks, HP H220 host bus adapter

Linux OS:

  • CentOS 7
  • Kernel 3.18.1 (CentOS 7 comes with 3.10.0, but we wanted to use the latest kernel available at the time of this writing)
  • Docker 1.2


  • VMware vSphere 6.0.0 (pre-release build)


  • 8 x 2-vCPU, 11GB (VM scenario)
  • Virtual NIC: vmxnet3
  • Virtual HBA: LSI-SAS


  • Redis 2.8.13
  • AOF persistency with “everysec” flush policy (every operation that mutates a key is logged into an Append Only File in order to enable data recovery after a crash; the buffer cache is flushed every second, so with this durability policy at most one second worth of data can be lost)


  • Keyspace: 250 million keys, value size 1 byte (this size has been chosen to prevent network or storage from becoming bottlenecks from the bandwidth perspective)
  • 8 redis-benchmark instances each simulating 100 clients with a pipeline depth of 30 requests
  • Operations mix: 75% GET, 25% SET 


We ran two sets of experiments for every scenario listed in the “Deployment Scenarios” section. The first set was meant to establish a baseline by having a single redis-benchmark instance generating requests directly against a single redis-server instance. The second set aimed at assessing the overall performance of the Redis scale-out system we presented earlier. The results of these two set of experiments are shown in Figure 3, where each bar represents the throughput in operations per second averaged over five trials, and error bars indicate the range of the measured values.

Figure 3. Results of the performance experiments (Y-axis represents throughput in 1,000 operations per second)

Figure 3. Results of the performance experiments (Y-axis represents throughput in 1,000 operations per second)

Nothing really surprising can be noticed looking at the results of the baseline experiments (labeled “1 Server – 1 Client” in Figure 3).  The Native scenario is obviously the fastest in terms of operations per second, followed by the Docker, VM, and the Docker-VM scenarios. This is expected as both virtualization and containerization add some overhead on top of the bare-metal performance.

Looking at the scale-out experiments (labeled “Scale-Out” in Figure 3), we see a surprisingly different picture. The VM scenario is now the fastest, followed by Docker-VM, while the Native and Docker scenarios come in as a somewhat distant third and fourth.  This unexpected result can be explained by looking at the Host H3 CPU activity during an experiment run.  In the Native and Docker scenarios, notice that the CPU load is spread over the 16 cores.  This means that even though only 8 threads are active (the 8 redis-server instances), the Linux scheduler is continuously migrating them.  This might result in a large number of cross-NUMA node memory accesses, which are substantially more expensive than same-NUMA node accesses. Also, irqbalance is spreading the network card interrupts across all the 16 cores, additionally contributing to the above phenomenon.

In the VM and Docker-VM scenarios, this does not occur because the ESXi scheduler goes to great lengths to keep both the memory and vCPUs of a VM on one NUMA node.  Also, with the PVSCSI virtual device, the virtual interrupts are always routed to the same vCPU(s) that initiated an I/O, and this minimizes interrupt migrations.

We tried to eliminate the cross-NUMA node memory activity in the Native scenario by pinning all the redis-server processes to the cores of the same CPU; that is, to the same NUMA node. We also disabled irqbalance and manually pinned the interrupt vectors to the same set of cores. As expected, with this ad-hoc configuration, the Native scenario was the fastest, reaching 3.408 million operations per second. Without any pinning, the VM result is only 4% slower than the optimized Native performance. (Notice that introducing artificial affinity between processes/interrupt vectors and cores is not a recommended practice as it is error-prone and can, in general, lead to unexpected or suboptimal results.)

Our initial experiments were conducted with the CentOS 7 stock kernel (3.10.0), which unfortunately is not particularly recent. We thought it was prudent to verify if the Linux scheduler had been improved to avoid the inter-NUMA node thread migrations in more recent kernel versions.  Hence, we re-ran all the experiments with the latest version (at the time of this writing, 3.18.1), but we didn’t notice any significant difference with respect to version 3.10.0.

We thought it would be interesting to look at the performance numbers in terms of speedup; that is, the ratio between the throughput of the scale-out system and the throughput of the baseline 1 Server – 1 Client setup. Figure 4 below shows the speedup for the four scenarios considered in this study.

Figure 4: Speedup (Y-axis represents speedup with respect to baseline)

Figure 4: Speedup (Y-axis represents speedup with respect to baseline)

The speedup essentially tells, in relative terms, how much the performance has improved by deploying 8 Redis instances on the same host instead of on a single one. If the system scaled linearly, it would have achieved a maximum theoretical speedup of 8.  In practice, this limit could not be achieved because of extra overheads introduced by the load-balancers and possible resource contention across the Redis instances running on host H3 (this host is almost running at saturation as the overall CPU utilization is consistently between 75% and 85% during the experiment’s execution). In any case, the scale-out system delivers a performance boost of at least 4x as compared to running a single Redis instance with exactly the same memory capacity.  The VM and Docker-VM scenarios achieve a substantially larger speedup because of the cross-NUMA memory access issue afflicting the Native and Docker scenarios.


The main results of this study are the following:

  1. VMs and Docker containers are truly better together. The Redis scale-out system, using out-of-the-box configuration settings, clearly achieves better performance in the Docker-VM scenario than in the Native or Docker scenarios. Even though its performance is not as high as in the VM scenario, the Docker-VM setup offers the same ease of use and deployment typical of the Docker scenario, at a substantially higher performance.
  2. Using VMs and Docker, we managed to scale out a Redis deployment and extracted a great deal of extra performance (up to 5.6x more) from a large server that would have otherwise been underutilized.


A whitepaper on VMware Horizon 6 RDSH Performance and Best Practices

VMware Horizon 6 delivers remote desktops and applications from a single platform. With Horizon 6, IT can deliver seamless applications and users can access their desktops or applications from anywhere on devices running Windows, Linux, MAC, iOS, and Android operating systems.

In this blog, we present the Horizon 6 RDSH Performance whitepaper that shows the performance of remote sessions (desktops and seamless applications) and the performance of the RDSH virtual machines, paying particular attention to the sizing of the Horizon 6 environment. The paper also reveals the competitive results of leading remote display network protocols. Finally, the paper presents some of the best practices to tune the RDSH server VM performance. All performance tests were run using the VMware View Planner 3.5 benchmark.

The setup, detailed results, and best practices can be found in the performance whitepaper provided below:

VMware Horizon 6 RDSH Performance and Best Practices

Virtual SAN and SAP IQ – a Perfect Match

A performance study shows that VMware vSphere 5.5 with Virtual SAN as the storage backend provides an excellent platform for virtualized deployments of SAP IQ Multiplex Servers.

We created four virtual machines with the RHEL 6.3 operating system, and these virtual machines made up the SAP IQ Multiplex Server, which used Virtual SAN as its storage backend. In order to measure performance, we looked at the distributed query processing (DQP) modes of SAP IQ. In DQP, work is performed by threads running on both leader and worker nodes, and intermediate results are transmitted between these nodes through a shared disk space, or over an inter-node network. In the paper, we refer to these modes as storage-transfer and network-transfer.

In a test consisting of concurrent streams of queries designed to emulate a multi-user scenario, we found that the read-heavy I/O profile of this workload takes full advantage of the Virtual SAN’s flash acceleration layer. Data read from magnetic disks in each disk group, is cached in the SSD in the disk group. Since 70% of SSD capacity is reserved for the read cache, a significant amount of data is quickly placed in very low latency storage. Once it is warmed up, I/O requests are served from the read cache, leading to fast query response times. Add to this SAP IQ’s ability to use network resources to handle intermediate results transfer and we get an additional bump in throughput since we no longer have the overhead of writing intermediate, shared results to disk.

Read more about Distributed Query Processing in SAP IQ on VMware vSphere and Virtual SAN.

Docker Containers Performance in VMware vSphere

By  Qasim Ali,  Banit Agrawal, and Davide Bergamasco


“Containers without compromise” – This was one of the key messages at VMworld 2014 USA in San Francisco. It was presented in the opening keynote, and then the advantages of running Docker containers inside of virtual machines were discussed in detail in several breakout sessions. These include security/isolation guarantees and also the existing rich set of management functionalities. But some may say, “These benefits don’t come for free: what about the performance overhead of running containers in a VM?”

A recent report compared the performance of a Docker container to a KVM VM and showed very poor performance in some micro-benchmarks and real-world use cases: up to 60% degradation. These results were somewhat surprising to those of us accustomed to near-native performance of virtual machines, so we set out to do similar experiments with VMware vSphere. Below, we present our findings of running Docker containers in a vSphere VM and  in a native configuration. Briefly,

  • We find that for most of these micro-benchmarks and Redis tests, vSphere delivered near-native performance with generally less than 5% overhead.
  • Running an application in a Docker container in a vSphere VM has very similar overhead of running containers on a native OS (directly on a physical server).

Next, we present the configuration and benchmark details as well as the performance results.

Deployment Scenarios

We compare four different scenarios as illustrated below:

  • Native: Linux OS running directly on hardware (Ubuntu, CentOS)
  • vSphere VM: Upcoming release of vSphere with the same guest OS as native
  • Native-Docker: Docker version 1.2 running on a native OS
  • VM-Docker: Docker version 1.2 running in guest VM on a vSphere host

In each configuration all the power management features are disabled in the BIOS and Ubuntu OS.

Test Scenarios

Figure 1: Different test scenarios


For this study, we used the micro-benchmarks listed below and also simulated a real-world use case.

-   Micro-benchmarks:

  • LINPACK: This benchmark solves a dense system of linear equations. For large problem sizes it has a large working set and does mostly floating point operations.
  • STREAM: This benchmark measures memory bandwidth across various configurations.
  • FIO: This benchmark is used for I/O benchmarking for block devices and file systems.
  • Netperf: This benchmark is used to measure network performance.

Real-world workload:

  • Redis: In this experiment, many clients perform continuous requests to the Redis server (key-value datastore).

For all of the tests, we run multiple iterations and report the average of multiple runs.

Performance Results


LINPACK solves a dense system of linear equations (Ax=b), measures the amount of time it takes to factor and solve the system of N equations, converts that time into a performance rate, and tests the results for accuracy. We used an optimized version of the LINPACK benchmark binary based on the Intel Math Kernel Library (MKL).

Hardware: 4 socket Intel Xeon E5-4650 2.7GHz with 512GB RAM, 32 total cores, Hyper-Threading disabled
Software: Ubuntu 14.04.1 with Docker 1.2
VM configuration: 32 vCPU VM with 45K and 65K problem sizes


Figure 2: LINPACK performance for different test scenarios

We disabled HT for this run as recommended by the benchmark guidelines to get the best peak performance. For the 45K problem size, the benchmark consumed about 16GB memory. All memory was backed by transparent large pages. For VM results, large pages were used both in the guest (transparent large pages) and at the hypervisor level (default for vSphere hypervisor). There was 1-2% run-to-run variation for the 45K problem size. For 65K size, 33.8GB memory was consumed and there was less than 1% variation.

As shown in Figure 2, there is almost negligible virtualization overhead in the 45K problem size. For a bigger problem size, there is some inherent hardware virtualization overhead due to nested page table walk. This results in the 5% drop in performance observed in the VM case. There is no additional overhead of running the application in a Docker container in a VM compared to running the application directly in the VM.


We used a NUMA-aware  STREAM benchmark, which is the classical STREAM benchmark extended to take advantage of NUMA systems. This benchmark measures the memory bandwidth across four different operations: Copy, Scale, Add, and Triad.

Hardware: 4 socket Intel Xeon E5-4650 2.7GHz with 512GB RAM, 32 total cores, HT enabled
Software: Ubuntu 14.04.1 with Docker 1.2
VM configuration: 64 vCPU VM (Hyper-Threading ON)


Figure 3: STREAM performance for different test scenarios

We used an array size of 2 billion, which used about 45GB of memory. We ran the benchmark with 64 threads both in the native and virtual cases. As shown in Figure 3, the VM added about 2-3% overhead across all four operations. The small 1-2% overhead of using a Docker container on a native platform is probably in the noise margin.


We used Flexible I/O (FIO) tool version 2.1.3 to compare the storage performance for the native and virtual configurations, with Docker containers running in both. We created a 10GB file in a 400GB local SSD drive and used direct I/O for all our tests so that there were no effects of buffer caching inside the OS. We used a 4k I/O size and tested three different I/O profiles: random 100% read, random 100% write, and a mixed case with random 70% read and 30% write. For the 100% random read and write tests, we selected 8 threads and an I/O depth of 16, whereas for the mixed test, we select an I/O depth of 32 and 8 threads. We use the taskset to set the CPU affinity on FIO threads in all configurations. All the details of the experimental setup are given below:

Hardware: 2 socket Intel Xeon E5-2660 2.2GHz with 392GB RAM, 16 total cores, Hyper-Threading enabled
Guest: 32-vCPU  14.04.1 Ubuntu 64-bit server with 256GB RAM, with a separate ext4 disk in the guest (on VMFS5 in vSphere run)
Benchmark:  FIO, Direct I/O, 10GB file
I/O Profile:  4k I/O, Random Read/Write: depth 16, jobs 8, Mixed: depth 32, jobs 8


Figure 4: FIO benchmark performance for different test scenarios

The figure above shows the normalized maximum IOPS achieved for different configurations and different I/O profiles. For random read in a VM, we see that there is about 2% reduction in maximum achievable IOPS when compared to the native case. However, for the random write and mixed tests, we observed almost the same performance (within the noise margin) compared to the native configuration.


Netperf is used to measure throughput and latency of networking operations. All the details of the experimental setup are given below:

Hardware (Server): 4 socket Intel Xeon E5-4650 2.7GHz with 512GB RAM, 32 total cores, Hyper-Threading disabled
Hardware (Client): 2 socket Intel Xeon X5570 2.93GHz with 64GB RAM, 8 cores total, Hyper-Threading disabled
Networking hardware: Broadcom Corporation NetXtreme II BCM57810
Software on server and Client: Ubuntu 14.04.1 with Docker 1.2
VM configuration: 2 vCPU VM with 4GB RAM

The server machine for Native is configured to have only 2 CPUs online for fair comparison with a 2-vCPU VM. The client machine is also configured to have 2 CPUs online to reduce variability. We tested four configurations: directly on the physical hardware (Native), in a Docker container (Native-Docker), in a virtual machine (VM), and in a Docker container inside a VM (VM-Docker). For the two Docker deployment scenarios, we also studied the effect of using host networking as opposed to the Docker bridge mode (default operating mode), resulting in two additional configurations (Native-Docker-HostNet and VM-Docker-HostNet) making total six configurations.

We used TCP_STREAM and TCP_RR tests to measure the throughput and round-trip network latency between the server machine and the client machine using a direct 10Gbps Ethernet link between two NICs. We used standard network tuning like TCP window scaling and setting socket buffer sizes for the throughput tests.


Figure 5: Netperf Recieve performance for different test scenarios


Figure 6: Netperf transmit performance for different test scenarios

Figure 5 and Figure 6 shows the unidirectional throughput over a single TCP connection with standard 1500 byte MTU for both transmit and receive TCP_STREAM cases (We used multiple Streams in VM-Docker* transmit case to reduce the variability in runs due to Docker bridge overhead and get predictable results). Throughput numbers for all configurations are identical and equal to the maximum possible 9.40Gbps on a 10GbE NIC.


Figure 7: Netperf TCP_RR performance for different test scenarios (Lower is better)

For the latency tests, we used the latency sensitivity feature introduced in vSphere5.5 and applied the best practices for tuning latency in a VM as mentioned in this white paper. As shown in Figure 7, latency in a VM with VMXNET3 device is only 15 microseconds more than in the native case because of the hypervisor networking stack. If users wish to reduce the latency even further for extremely latency- sensitive workloads, pass-through mode or SR-IOV can be configured to allow the guest VM to bypass the hypervisor network stack. This configuration can achieve similar round-trip latency to native, as shown in Figure 8. The Native-Docker and VM-Docker configuration adds about 9-10 microseconds of overhead due to the Docker bridge NAT function. A Docker container (running natively or in a VM) when configured to use host networking achieves similar latencies compared to the latencies observed when not running the workload in a container (native or a VM).


Figure 8: Netperf TCP_RR performance for different test scenarios (VMs in pass-through mode)


We also wanted to take a look at how Docker in a virtualized environment performs with real world applications. We chose Redis because: (1) it is a very popular application in the Docker space (based on the number of pulls of the Redis image from the official Docker registry); and (2) it is very demanding on several subsystems at once (CPU, memory, network), which makes it very effective as a whole system benchmark.

Our test-bed comprised two hosts connected by a 10GbE network. One of the hosts ran the Redis server in different configurations as mentioned in the netperf section. The other host ran the standard Redis benchmark program, redis-benchmark, in a VM.

The details about the hardware and software used in the experiments are the following:

Hardware: HP ProLiant DL380e Gen8 2 socket Intel Xeon E5-2470 2.3GHz with 96GB RAM, 16 total cores, Hyper-Threading enabled
Guest OS: CentOS 7
VM: 16 vCPU, 93GB RAM
Application: Redis 2.8.13
Benchmark: redis-benchmark, 1000 clients, pipeline: 1 request, operations: SET 1 Byte
Software configuration: Redis thread pinned to CPU 0 and network interrupts pinned to CPU 1

Since Redis is a single-threaded application, we decided to pin it to one of the CPUs and pin the network interrupts to an adjacent CPU in order to maximize cache locality and avoid cross-NUMA node memory access.  The workload we used consists of 1000 clients with a pipeline of 1 outstanding request setting a 1 byte value with a randomly generated key in a space of 100 billion keys.  This workload is highly stressful to the system resources because: (1) every operation results in a memory allocation; (2) the payload size is as small as it gets, resulting in very large number of small network packets; (3) as a consequence of (2), the frequency of operations is extremely high, resulting in complete saturation of the CPU running Redis and a high load on the CPU handling the network interrupts.

We ran five experiments for each of the above-mentioned configurations, and we measured the average throughput (operations per second) achieved during each run.  The results of these experiments are summarized in the following chart.


Figure 9: Redis performance for different test scenarios

The results are reported as a ratio with respect to native of the mean throughput over the 5 runs (error bars show the range of variability over those runs).

Redis running in a VM has slightly lower performance than on a native OS because of the network virtualization overhead introduced by the hypervisor. When Redis is run in a Docker container on native, the throughput is significantly lower than native because of the overhead introduced by the Docker bridge NAT function. In the VM-Docker case, the performance drop compared to the Native-Docker case is almost exactly the same small amount as in the VM-Native comparison, again because of the network virtualization overhead.  However, when Docker runs using host networking instead of its own internal bridge, near-native performance is observed for both the Docker on native hardware and Docker in VM cases, reaching 98% and 96% of the maximum throughput respectively.

Based on the above results, we can conclude that virtualization introduces only a 2% to 4% performance penalty.  This makes it possible to run applications like Redis in a Docker container inside a VM and retain all the virtualization advantages (security and performance isolation, management infrastructure, and more) while paying only a small price in terms of performance.


In this blog, we showed that in addition to the well-known security, isolation, and manageability advantages of virtualization, running an application in a Docker container in a vSphere VM adds very little performance overhead compared to running the application in a Docker container on a native OS. Furthermore, we found that a container in a VM delivers near native performance for Redis and most of the micro-benchmark tests we ran.

In this post, we focused on the performance of running a single instance of an application in a container, VM, or native OS. We are currently exploring scale-out applications and the performance implications of deploying them on various combinations of containers, VMs, and native operating systems.  The results will be covered in the next installment of this series. Stay tuned!


Monster Performance with SQL Server VMs on vSphere 5.5

VMware vSphere provides an ideal platform for customers to virtualize their business-critical applications, including databases, ERP systems, email servers, and even newly emerging technologies such as Hadoop.  I’ve been focusing on the first one (databases), specifically Microsoft SQL Server, one of the most widely deployed database platforms in the world.  Many organizations have dozens or even hundreds of instances deployed in their environments. Consolidating these deployments onto modern multi-socket, multi-core, multi-threaded server hardware is an increasingly attractive proposition for IT administrators.

Achieving optimal SQL Server performance has been a continual focus for VMware; with current vSphere 5.x releases, VMware supports much larger “monster” virtual machines that can scale up to 64 virtual CPUs and 1 TB of RAM, including exposing virtual NUMA architecture to the guest. In fact, the main goal of this blog and accompanying whitepaper is to refresh a 2009 study that demonstrated SQL performance on vSphere 4, given the marked technology advancements on both the software and hardware fronts.

These tests show that large SQL Server 2012 databases run extremely efficiently with VMware, achieving great performance in a variety of virtual machine configurations with only minor tunings to SQL Server and the vSphere ESXi host. These tunings and other best practices for fully optimizing large virtual machines for SQL Server databases are presented in the paper.

One test in the paper shows the maximum host throughput achieved with different numbers of virtual CPUs per VM. This was measured starting with 8 vCPUs per VM, then doubled to 16, then 32, and finally 64 (the maximum supported with vSphere 5.5).  DVD Store, which is a popular database tool and a key workload of the VMmark benchmark, was used to stress the VMs.  Here is a graph from the paper showing the 8 vCPU x 8 VMs case, which achieved an aggregate of 493,804 opm (operations per minute) on the host:

8 x 8 vCPU VM throughput

There are also tests using CPU affinity to show the performance differences between physical cores and logical processors (Hyper-Threads), the impact of various virtual NUMA (vNUMA) topologies, and experiments with the Latency Sensitivity advanced setting.

For more details and the test results, please download the whitepaper: Performance and Scalability of Microsoft SQL Server on VMware vSphere 5.5.

Custom Power Management Settings for Power Savings in vSphere 5.5

VMware vSphere serves as a common virtualization platform for a diverse ecosystem of applications. Every application has different performance demands which must be met, but the power and cooling costs of running these applications are also a concern. vSphere’s default power management policy, “Balanced”, meets both of these goals by effectively preserving system performance while still saving some power.

For those who would like to prioritize energy efficiency even further, vSphere provides additional ways to tweak its power management under the covers. Custom power management settings in ESXi let you create your own power management policy, and your server’s BIOS also typically lets you customize hardware settings which can maximize power savings at a potential cost to performance.

When choosing a low power setting, we need to know whether it is effective at increasing energy efficiency, that is, the amount of work achieved for the power consumed. We also need to know how large of an impact the setting has on application throughput and latencies. A power saving setting that is too aggressive can result in low system performance. The best combination of power saving techniques will be highly individualized to your workload; here, we present one case study.

We used the VMmark virtualization benchmark to measure the effect of ESXi custom power settings and BIOS custom settings on energy efficiency and performance. VMmark 2.5 is a multi-host virtualization benchmark that uses diverse application workloads as well as common platform level workloads to model the demands of the datacenter. VMs running a complete set of the application workloads are grouped into units of load called tiles. For more details, see the VMmark 2.5 overview.

In this study, the best custom power setting produced an increase in energy efficiency of 17% with no significant drop in performance at moderate levels of load.

Test Methodology

All tests were conducted on a two-node cluster running VMware vSphere 5.5 U1. Each custom power management setting was tested independently to gauge its effects on energy efficiency and performance while all other settings were left at their defaults. The settings tested fall into two categories: ESXi custom power settings and BIOS custom settings. We discuss how to modify these settings at the end of the article.

Systems Under Test: Two Dell PowerEdge R720 servers
Configuration Per Server  
            CPUs: Two 12-core Intel® Xeon® E5-2697 v2 @ 2.7 GHz, Turbo Boost Enabled, up to 3.5 GHz, Hyper-Threading enabled
            Memory: 256GB ECC DDR3 @ 1866Mhz
            Host Bus Adapter: QLogic ISP2532 Dual Port 8Gb Fibre Channel to PCI Express
           Network Controller: Integrated Intel I350 Quad-Port Gigabit Adapter, one Intel I350 Dual-Port Gigabit PCIe Adapter
            Hypervisor: VMware ESXi 5.5 U1
Shared Resources  
            Virtualization Management: VMware vCenter Server 5.5
            Storage Array: EMC VNX5800
30 Enterprise Flash Drives (SSDs) and 32 HDDs, grouped as two 10-SSD RAID0 LUNs and four 8-HDD RAID0 LUNs. FAST Cache was configured from 10 SSDs.
            Power Meters: One Yokogawa WT210 per server

Each configuration was tested at five different load points: 1 tile (the lowest load level), 4, 7, 10, and 12 tiles, which was the maximum number of tiles that met Quality of Service (QoS) requirements. All datapoints are the mean of three tests in each configuration.

ESXi Custom Power Settings

ESXi custom power settings influence the power state of the processor. We tested two custom power management settings which had the greatest impact on our workload: Power.MaxFreqPct and Power.CstateResidencyCoef. The advanced ESXi setting Power.MaxFreqPct (default value 100) reduces the processor frequency by placing a cap on the highest operating frequency it can reach. In practice, the processor can operate only at certain set frequencies (P-states), so if the frequency cap requested by ESXi (e.g. 2160MHz) does not match to a set frequency state, the processor will run at the nearest lower frequency state (e.g. 2100MHz). Setting Power.MaxFreqPct = 99 put the cap at 99% of the processor’s nominal frequency, which limited Turbo Boost. Power.MaxFreqPct = 80 further limited the maximum frequency of the processor to 80% of its nominal frequency of 2.7GHz, for a maximum of 2.1GHz. Setting Power.CstateResidencyCoef = 0 (default value 5) puts the processor into its deepest available C-state, or lowest power state, when it is idle. As a prerequisite, deep C-states must be enabled in the BIOS. For a more in-depth discussion of power management techniques and other custom options, please see the vSphere documentation and the whitepaper Host Power Management in VMware vSphere 5.5.

VMmark models energy efficiency as performance score per kilowatt of power consumed. VMmark scores in the graph below have been normalized to the default “Balanced” 1-tile result, which does not use any custom power settings.

VMware ESXi Custom Power Management Settings improve efficiency

A major trend can be seen here; an increase in load is correlated with greater energy efficiency. As the CPUs become busier, throughput increases at a faster rate than the required power. This can be understood by noting that an idle server will still consume power, but with no work to show for it. A highly utilized server is typically the most energy efficient per request completed, and the results bear this out.

To more closely examine the relative impact of each custom setting compared to the default setting, we normalized all results within each load level to the default “Balanced” result for that number of tiles. The figure below shows the percent change at each load level.

VMware ESXi Custom Power Management Settings Change in Efficiency and Performance Results

All custom settings showed improvements in efficiency compared to the default “Balanced” setting. The improvements varied depending on load. Setting MaxFreqPct to 99 had the greatest benefit to energy efficiency, between 5% and 15% at varying load levels. The greatest improvement was seen at 4 tiles, which increased efficiency by 17%, while resulting in a performance decrease of only 3%. The performance cost increased with load to 9% at 12 tiles. However, limiting processor frequency even further to a maximum of 80% of its nominal frequency does not produce an additive effect. Not only did efficiency actually decrease relative to MaxFreqPct=99, but it profoundly curtailed performance from 96% of baseline at light load to 84% of baseline for a heavily loaded machine. CstateResidency=0 produced some modest increases in efficiency for a lightly loaded server, but the effect disappeared at higher load levels.

VMmark 2.5 performance scores are based on application and infrastructure workload throughput, while application latency reflects Quality of Service. For the Mail Server, Olio, and DVD Store 2 workloads, latency is defined as the application’s response time. We wanted to see how custom power management settings affected application latency as opposed to the VMmark score. All latencies are normalized to the lowest 1-tile results.

VMware ESXi Custom Power Management Settings Effect on Application Latencies

Naturally, latencies increase as load increases from 1 to 12 tiles. Fortunately, the custom power management policies caused only minimal increases in application latencies, if any, except for the MaxFreqPct=80 setting which did create elevated latencies across the board.

BIOS Custom Power Settings

The Dell PowerEdge R720 BIOS provides another toolbox of power-saving knobs to tweak. Using the BIOS settings, we manually disabled Turbo Boost and reduced memory frequency from its default maximum speed of 1866MT/s (megatransfers per second) to either 1333MT/s or 800MT/s.


The Turbo Boost Disabled configuration produced the largest increase in efficiency, while 800MT/s memory frequency actually decreased efficiency at the higher load levels.
Again, we normalized all results within each load level to its default “Balanced” result. The figure below shows the percent change at each load level.

Disabling Turbo Boost was the most effective setting to increase energy efficiency, with a performance cost of 2% at low load levels to 8% at high load levels. Reducing memory frequency to 1333MT/s had a reliable but small boost to efficiency and no effect on performance, leading us to conclude that a memory speed of 1866MT/s is simply faster than needed for this workload.

Disabling Turbo Boost and reducing memory frequency to 800MT/s increased DVD Store 2 latencies at 10 tiles by 10% and 12 tiles by 30%, but all latencies were still well within Quality of Service requirements.  Reducing memory frequency to 1333MT/s had no effect on application latencies.

Reducing the use of Turbo Boost, using either ESXi custom setting MaxFreqPct or BIOS custom settings, proved to be the most effective way to increase energy efficiency in our VMmark tests. The impact on performance was small, but increased with load. MaxFreqPct is the preferred setting because, like all ESXi custom power management settings, it takes effect immediately and can easily be reversed without reboots or downtime. Other custom power management settings produced modest gains in efficiency, but, if taken to the extreme, not only harm performance but fail to increase efficiency. In addition, energy efficiency is strongly related to load; the most efficient server is also one that is heavily utilized. Taking steps to increase server utilization, such as server consolidation, is an important part of a power saving strategy. Custom power management settings can produce gains in energy efficiency at a cost to performance, so consider the tradeoff when choosing custom power management settings for your own environment.

 How to Configure Custom Power Management Settings

Disclaimer: The results presented above are a case study of the impact of custom power management settings and a starting point only. Results may not apply to your environment and do not represent best practices.

Exercise caution when choosing a custom power management setting. Change settings one at a time to evaluate their impact on your environment. Monitor your server’s power consumption either through its UPS, or consult your vendor to find the rated accuracy of your server’s internal power monitoring sensor. If it is highly accurate, you can view the server’s power consumption in esxtop (press ‘p’ to view Power Usage).

To customize power management settings, enter your server’s BIOS. Power Management settings vary by vendor but most include “OS Controlled” and “Custom” policies.

In the Dell PowerEdge R720, choosing the “Performance Per Watt (OS)” System Profile allows ESXi to control power management, while leaving hardware settings at their default values.

Screenshot of R720 BIOS Selecting OS controlled power managment

Choosing the “Custom” System Profile and setting CPU Power Management to “OS DBPM” allows ESXi to control power management while enabling custom hardware settings.


Using ESXi Custom Power Settings

To enable the vSphere custom power management policy,

  1. Browse to the host in the vSphere Web Client navigator.
  2. Click the Manage tab and click Settings.
  3. Under Hardware, select Power Management and click the Edit button.
  4. Select the Custom power management policy and click OK.

The power management policy changes immediately and does not require a server reboot.


To modify ESXi custom power management settings,

  1. Browse to the host in the vSphere Web Client navigator.
  2. Click the Manage tab and click Settings.
  3. Under System, select Advanced System Settings.
  4. Power management parameters that affect the Custom policy have descriptions that begin with In Custom policy. All other power parameters affect all power management policies.
  5. Select the parameter and click the Edit button.

Note: The default values of power management parameters match the Balanced policy.



Web 2.0 Applications on VMware Virtual SAN

Here in VMware Performance Engineering, Virtual SAN is a hot topic. This storage solution leverages economical hardware compared to more expensive storage arrays and offers all the vSphere solutions like vMotion, HA, and DRS. We have been testing Virtual SAN with a number of workloads to characterize their performance. In particular we found that Web 2.0 applications, modeled with the Cloudstone benchmark, performs exceptionally with low application latency on vSphere 5.5 with Virtual SAN. We are giving a quick glimpse of the testing configuration and result here and the full detail can be found in the recently published technical white paper about Web 2.0 applications on VMware Virtual SAN.

We ran the Cloundstone benchmark using Olio server and client virtual machine pairs. Server virtual machines were on a 3-host server cluster, whereas client virtual machines were on a 3-node client cluster. An Olio server virtual machine ran Ubuntu 10.04 with a MySQL database, a NGINX Web server with PHP scripts, and a Tomcat application server. An Olio client virtual machine simulated typical Web 2.0 workloads by exercising 7 different types of user operations that involved web file exchanges and database inquiries and transactions. Virtual SAN was configured on the server cluster. Web files, database files, and OS files were all on the Virtual SAN with dedicated virtual disks to store files separately.


In the paper, we report test results that show Virtual SAN achieves good application latency performance. Each server-client virtual machine pair was pre-configured for 500 Olio users. In one test, we ran 1500 Olio users and 7500 users by having 3 and 15 pairs of virtual machines respectively. We collected the average round-trip time of Olio operations. These operations were divided into frequent ones (EventDetail, HomePage, Login and TagSearch) and less frequent ones (AddEvent, AddPerson, and PersonDetail) according to how often they were exercised in the tests.

The following graph shows the average round-trip times for various operations. The threshold for these operations was defined in the passing critera, which used 250 milliseconds for the frequent operations and 500 milliseconds for the less frequent operations. In the 15VMs/7500 users case, the server cluster was at 70% CPU utilization, but the round-trip time was well below the passing threshold as shown. We also present the 95th-percentile round-trip time results and how it performed in the white paper.


To learn the full story of the 15VMs/7500 Olio users test and how we further stressed storage with the workload and read the results, see the white paper.

Virtual SAP HANA Achieves Production Level Performance

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger announced production support for SAP HANA on VMware vSphere 5.5 at EMC World this week during his keynote. This is the end result of a very thorough joint testing project over the past year between VMware and SAP.

HANA is an in-memory platform (including database capabilities) from SAP that has enabled huge gains in performance for customers and has been a high priority for SAP over the past few years.  In order for HANA to be supported in a virtual machine on vSphere 5.5 for production workloads, we worked closely with SAP to enable, design, and measure in-depth performance tests.

In order to enable the testing and ongoing production support of SAP HANA on vSphere, two HANA appliance servers were ordered, shipped, and installed into SAP’s labs in Waldorf Germany.  These systems are dedicated to running SAP HANA on vSphere onsite at SAP.  Each system is an Intel Xeon E7-8870 (Westmere-EX) based four-socket server with 1TB of RAM.  They are used for performance testing and also for ongoing support of HANA on vSphere.  Additionally, VMware has onsite support engineering to assist with the testing and support.

SAP designed an extensive performance test suite that used a large number of test scenarios to stress all functions and capabilities of HANA running on vSphere 5.5.  They included OLAP and OLTP with a wide range of data sizes and query functions. In all, over one thousand individual test cases were used in this comprehensive test suite.  These same tests were run on identical native HANA systems and the difference between native and virtual tests was used as the key performance indicator.

In addition, we also tested vSphere features including vMotion, DRS, and VMware HA with virtual machines running HANA.  These tests were done with the HANA virtual machine under heavy stress.

The test results have been extremely positive and are one of the key factors in the announcement of production support.  The difference between virtual and native HANA across all the performance tests was on average within a few percentage points.

The vMotion, DRS, and VMware HA tests were all completed without issues.  Even with the large memory sizes of HANA virtual machines, we were still able to successfully migrate them with vMotion while under load with no issues.

One of the results of the extensive testing is a best practices guide for HANA on vSphere 5.5. This document includes a performance guide for running HANA on vSphere 5.5 based on this extensive testing.  The document also includes information about how to size a virtual HANA instance and how VMware HA can be used in conjunction with HANA’s own replication technology for high availability.

Power Management and Performance in VMware vSphere 5.1 and 5.5

Power consumption is an important part of the datacenter cost strategy. Physical servers frequently offer a power management scheme that puts processors into low power states when not fully utilized, and VMware vSphere also offers power management techniques. A recent technical white paper describes the testing and results of two performance studies: The first shows how power management in VMware vSphere 5.5 in balanced mode (the default) performs 18% better than the physical host’s balanced mode power management setting. The second study compares vSphere 5.1 performance and power savings in two server models that have different generations of processors. Results show the newer servers have 120% greater performance and 24% improved energy efficiency over the previous generation.

For more information, please read the paper: Power Management and Performance in VMware vSphere 5.1 and 5.5.