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Scaling Web 2.0 Applications using Docker containers on vSphere 6.0

by Qasim Ali

In a previous VROOM post, we showed that running Redis inside Docker containers on vSphere adds little to no overhead and observed sizeable performance improvements when scaling out the application when compared to running containers directly on the native hardware. This post analyzes scaling Web 2.0 applications using Docker containers on vSphere and compares the performance of running Docker containers on native and vSphere. This study shows that Docker containers add negligible overhead when run on vSphere, and also that the performance using virtual machines is very close to native and, in certain cases, slightly better due to better vSphere scheduling and isolation.

Web 2.0 applications are an integral part of Enterprise and small business IT offerings. We use the CloudStone benchmark, which simulates a typical Web 2.0 technology use in the workplace for our study [1] [2]. It includes a Web 2.0 social-events application (Olio) and a client implemented using the Faban workload generator [3]. It is an open source benchmark that simulates activities related to social events. The benchmark consists of three main components: a Web server, a database backend, and a client to emulate real world accesses to the Web server. The overall architecture of CloudStone is depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1: CloudStone architecture

The benchmark reports latency for various user actions. These metrics were compared against a fixed threshold. Studies indicate that users are less likely to visit a Web site if the response time is greater than 250 milliseconds [4]. This number can be used as an upper bound for latency for frequent operations (Home-Page, TagSearch, EventDetail, and Login). For the less frequent operations (AddEvent, AddPerson, and PersonDetail), a less restrictive threshold of 500 milliseconds can be used. Table 1 shows the exact mix/frequency of various operations.

Operation Number of Operations Mix
HomePage 141908 26.14%
Login 55473 10.22%
TagSearch 181126 33.37%
EventDetail 134144 24.71%
PersonDetail 14393 2.65%
AddPerson 4662 0.86%
AddEvent 11087 2.04%

Table 1: CloudStone operations frequency for 1500 users

Benchmark Components and Experimental Set up

The test system was installed with a CloudStone implementation of a MySQL database, NGINX Web server with PHP scripts, and a Tomcat application server provided by the Faban harness. The default configuration was used for the workload generator. All components of the application ran on a single host, and the client ran in a separate virtual machine on a separate host. Both hosts were connected using a direct link between a pair of 10Gbps NICs. One client-server pair provided a single, independent CloudStone instance. Scaling was achieved by running additional instances of CloudStone.

Deployment Scenarios

We used the following three deployment scenarios for this study:

  • Native-Docker: One or more CloudStone instances were run inside Docker containers (2 containers per CloudStone instance: one for the Web server and another for the database backend) running on the native OS.
  • VM: CloudStone instances were run inside one or more virtual machines running on vSphere 6.0; the guest OS is the same as the native scenario.
  • VM-Docker: CloudStone instances were run inside Docker containers that were running inside one or more virtual machines.

Hardware/Software/Workload Configuration

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

Server Host:

  • Dell PowerEdge R820
  • CPU: 4 x Intel® Xeon® CPU E5-4650 @ 2.30GHz (32 cores, 64 hyper-threads)
  • Memory: 512GB
  • Hardware configuration: Hyper-Threading (HT) ON, Turbo-boost ON, Power policy: Static High (that is, no power management)
  • Network: 10Gbps
  • Storage: 7 x 250GB 15K RPM 4Gb SAS  Disks

Client Host:

  • Dell PowerEdge R710
  • CPU: 2 x Intel® Xeon® CPU X5680 @ 3.33GHz (12 cores, 24 hyper-threads)
  • Memory: 144GB
  • Hardware configuration: HT ON, Turbo-boost ON, Power policy: Static High (that is, no power management)
  • Network: 10Gbps
  • Client VM: 2-vCPU 4GB vRAM

Host OS:

  • Ubuntu 14.04.1
  • Kernel 3.13

Docker Configuration:

  • Docker 1.2
  • Ubuntu 14.04.1 base image
  • Host volumes for database and images
  • Configured with host networking to avoid Docker NAT overhead
  • Device mapper as the storage backend driver


  • VMware vSphere 6.0 (pre-release build)

VM Configurations:

  • Single VM: An 8-vCPU 4GB VM ( Web server and database running in a single VM)
  • Two VMs: One 6-vCPU 2GB Web server VM and one 2-vCPU 2GB database VM (CloudStone instance running in two VMs)
  • Scale-out: Eight 8-vCPU 4GB VMs

Workload Configurations:

  • The NGINX Web server was configured with 4 worker processes and 4096 connections per worker.
  • PHP was configured with a maximum number of 16 child processes.
  • The Web server and the database were preconfigured with 1500 users per CloudStone instance.
  • A runtime of 30 minutes with a 5 minute ramp-up and ramp-down periods (less than 1% run-to-run  variation) was used.


First, we ran a single instance of CloudStone in the various configurations mentioned above. This was meant to determine the raw overhead of Docker containers running on vSphere vs. the native configuration, eliminating scheduling differences. Second, we picked the configuration that performed best in a single instance and scaled it out to run multiple instances.

Figure 2 shows the mean latency of the most frequent operations and Figure 3 shows the mean latency of less frequent operations.

Figure 2: Results of single instance CloudStone experiments for frequently used operations


Figure 3: Results of single instance CloudStone experiments for less frequently used

We configured the benchmark to use a single VM and deployed the Web server and database applications in it (configuration labelled VM-1VM in Figure 2 and 3). We then ran the same workload in Docker containers in a single VM (VMDocker-1VM). The latencies are slightly higher than native, which is expected due to some virtualization overhead. However, running Docker containers on a VM showed no additional overhead. In fact, it seems to be slightly better. We believe this might be due to the device mapper using twice as much page cache as the VM (device mapper uses a loopback device to mount the file system and, hence, data ends up being cached twice in the buffer cache). We also tried AuFS as a storage backend for our container images, but that seemed to add some CPU and latency overhead, and, for this reason, we switched to device mapper. We then configured the VM to use the vSphere Latency Sensitivity feature [5] (VM-1VM-lat and VMDocker-1VM-lat labels). As expected, this configuration reduced the latencies even further because each vCPU got exclusive access to a core and this reduced scheduling overhead.  However, this feature cannot be used when the VM (or VMs) has more vCPUs than the number of cores available on the system (that is, the physical CPUs are over-committed) because each vCPU needs exclusive access to a core.

Next, we configured the workload to use two VMs, one for the Web server and the other for the database application. This configuration ended up giving slightly higher latencies because the network packets have to traverse the virtualization layer from one VM to the other, while in the prior experiments they were confined within the same VM.

Finally, we scaled out the CloudStone workload with 12,000 users by using eight 8-vCPU VMs with 1500 users per instance. The VM configurations were the same as the VM-1VM and VMDocker-1VM cases above. The average system CPU core utilization was around 70-75%, which is the typical average CPU utilization for latency sensitive workloads because it allows for headroom to absorb traffic bursts. Figure 4 reports mean latencies of all operations (latencies were averaged across all eight instances of CloudStone for each operation), while Figure 5 reports the 90th percentile latencies (the benchmark reports these latencies in 20 millisecond granularity as evident from Figure 5.)


Figure 4: Scale-out experiments using eight instances of CloudStone (mean latency)


Figure 5: Scale-out experiments using eight instances of CloudStone (90th percentile latency)

The latencies shown in Figure 4 and 5 are well below the 250 millisecond threshold. We observed that the latencies on vSphere are very close to native or, in certain cases, slightly better than native (for example, Login, AddPerson and AddEvent operations). The latencies were better than native due to better vSphere scheduling and isolation, resulting in better cache/memory locality. We verified this by pinning container instances on specific sockets and making the native scheduler behavior similar to vSphere. After doing that, we observed that latencies in the native case got better and they were similar or slightly better than vSphere.

Note: Introducing artificial affinity between processes and cores is not a recommended practice because it is error-prone and can, in general, lead to unexpected or suboptimal results.


VMs and Docker containers are truly “better together.” The CloudStone scale-out system, using out-of-the-box VM and VM-Docker configurations, clearly achieves very close to, or slightly better than, native performance.


[1] W. Sobel, S. Subramanyam, A. Sucharitakul, J. Nguyen, H. Wong, A. Klepchukov, S. Patil, O. Fox and D. Patterson, “CloudStone: Multi-Platform, Multi-Languarge Benchmark and Measurement Tools for Web 2.8,” 2008.
[2] N. Grozev, “Automated CloudStone Setup in Ubuntu VMs / Advanced Automated CloudStone Setup in Ubuntu VMs [Part 2],” 2 June 2014. https://nikolaygrozev.wordpress.com/tag/cloudstone/.
[3] java.net, “Faban Harness and Benchmark Framework,” 11 May 2014. http://java.net/projects/faban/.
[4] S. Lohr, “For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait,” 29 February 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/technology/impatient-web-usersflee-slow-loading-sites.html.
[5] J. Heo, “Deploying Extremely Latency-Sensitive Applications in VMware vSphere 5.5,” 18 September 2013.   http://blogs.vmware.com/performance/2013/09/deploying-extremely-latency-sensitive-applications-in-vmware-vsphere-5-5.html.




Power Management and Performance in ESXi 5.1

Powering and cooling are a substantial portion of datacenter costs. Ideally, we could minimize these costs by optimizing the datacenter’s energy consumption without impacting performance. The Host Power Management feature, which has been enabled by default since ESXi 5.0, allows hosts to reduce power consumption while boosting energy efficiency by putting processors into a low-power state when not fully utilized.

Power management can be controlled by the either the BIOS or the operating system. In the BIOS, manufacturers provide several types of Host Power Management policies. Although they vary by vendor, most include “Performance,” which does not use any power saving techniques, “Balanced,” which claims to increase energy efficiency with minimal or no impact to performance, and “OS Controlled,” which passes power management control to the operating system. The “Balanced” policy is variably known as “Performance per Watt,” “Dynamic” and other labels; consult your vendor for details. If “OS Controlled” is enabled in the BIOS, ESXi will manage power using one of the policies “High performance,” “Balanced,” “Low power,” or “Custom.” We chose to study Balanced because it is the default setting.

But can the Balanced setting, whether controlled by the BIOS or ESXi, reduce performance relative to the Performance setting? We have received reports from customers who have had performance problems while using the BIOS-controlled Balanced setting. Without knowing the effect of Balanced on performance and energy efficiency, when performance is at a premium users might select the Performance policy to play it safe. To answer this question we tested the impact of power management policies on performance and energy efficiency using VMmark 2.5.

VMmark 2.5 is a multi-host virtualization benchmark that uses varied application workloads as well as common datacenter operations to model the demands of the datacenter. VMs running diverse application workloads are grouped into units of load called tiles. For more details, see the VMmark 2.5 overview.

We tested three policies: the BIOS-controlled Performance setting, which uses no power management techniques, the ESXi-controlled Balanced setting (with the BIOS set to OS-Controlled mode), and the BIOS-controlled Balanced setting. The ESXi Balanced and BIOS-controlled Balanced settings cut power by reducing processor frequency and voltage among other power saving techniques.

We found that the ESXi Balanced setting did an excellent job of preserving performance, with no measurable performance impact at all levels of load. Not only was performance on par with expectations, but it did so while producing consistent improvements in energy efficiency, even while idle. By comparison, the BIOS Balanced setting aggressively saved power but created higher latencies and reduced performance. The following results detail our findings.

Testing Methodology
All tests were conducted on a four-node cluster running VMware vSphere 5.1. We compared performance and energy efficiency of VMmark between three power management policies: Performance, the ESXi-controlled Balanced setting, and the BIOS-controlled Balanced setting, also known as “Performance per Watt (Dell Active Power Controller).”

Systems Under Test: Four Dell PowerEdge R620 servers
CPUs (per server): One Eight-Core Intel® Xeon® E5-2665 @ 2.4 GHz, Hyper-Threading enabled
Memory (per server): 96GB DDR3 ECC @ 1067 MHz
Host Bus Adapter: Two QLogic QLE2562, Dual Port 8Gb Fibre Channel to PCI Express
Network Controller: One Intel Gigabit Quad Port I350 Adapter
Hypervisor: VMware ESXi 5.1.0
Storage Array: EMC VNX5700
62 Enterprise Flash Drives (SSDs), RAID 0, grouped as 3 x 8 SSD LUNs, 7 x 5 SSD LUNs, and 1 x 3 SSD LUN
Virtualization Management: VMware vCenter Server 5.1.0
VMmark version: 2.5
Power Meters: Three Yokogawa WT210

To determine the maximum VMmark load supported for each power management setting, we increased the number of VMmark tiles until the cluster reached saturation, which is defined as the largest number of tiles that still meet Quality of Service (QoS) requirements. All data points are the mean of three tests in each configuration and VMmark scores are normalized to the BIOS Balanced one-tile score.

Effects of Power Management on VMmark 2.5 score

The VMmark scores were equivalent between the Performance setting and the ESXi Balanced setting with less than a 1% difference at all load levels. However, running on the BIOS Balanced setting reduced the VMmark scores an average of 15%. On the BIOS Balanced setting, the environment was no longer able to support nine tiles and, even at low loads, on average, 31% of runs failed QoS requirements; only passing runs are pictured above.

We also compared the improvements in energy efficiency of the two Balanced settings against the Performance setting. The Performance per Kilowatt metric, which is new to VMmark 2.5, models energy efficiency as VMmark score per kilowatt of power consumed. More efficient results will have a higher Performance per Kilowatt.

Effects of Power Management on Energy Efficiency

Two trends are visible in this figure. As expected, the Performance setting showed the lowest energy efficiency. At every load level, ESXi Balanced was about 3% more energy efficient than the Performance setting, despite the fact that it delivered an equivalent score to Performance. The BIOS Balanced setting had the greatest energy efficiency, 20% average improvement over Performance.

Second, 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, which is confirmed in our results. Higher energy efficiency creates cost savings in host energy consumption and in cooling costs.

The bursty nature of most environments leads them to sometimes idle, so we also measured each host’s idle power consumption. The Performance setting showed an average of 128 watts per host, while ESXi Balanced and BIOS Balanced consumed 85 watts per host. Although the Performance and ESXi Balanced settings performed very similarly under load, hosts using ESXi Balanced and BIOS Balanced power management consumed 33% less power while idle.

VMmark 2.5 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 power management policies affected application latency as opposed to the VMmark score. All latencies are normalized to the lowest results.

Effects of Power Management on VMmark 2.5 Latencies

Whereas the Performance and ESXi Balanced latencies tracked closely, BIOS Balanced latencies were significantly higher at all load levels. Furthermore, latencies were unpredictable even at low load levels, and for this reason, 31% of runs between one and eight tiles failed; these runs are omitted from the figure above. For example, half of the BIOS Balanced runs did not pass QoS requirements at four tiles. These higher latencies were the result of aggressive power saving by the BIOS Balanced policy.

Our tests showed that ESXi’s Balanced power management policy didn’t affect throughput or latency compared to the Performance policy, but did improve energy efficiency by 3%. While the BIOS-controlled Balanced policy improved power efficiency by an average of 20% over Performance, it was so aggressive in cutting power that it often caused VMmark to fail QoS requirements.

Overall, the BIOS controlled Balanced policy produced substantial efficiency gains but with unpredictable performance, failed runs, and reduced performance at all load levels. This policy may still be suitable for some workloads which can tolerate this unpredictability, but should be used with caution. On the other hand, the ESXi Balanced policy produced modest efficiency gains while doing an excellent job protecting performance across all load levels. These findings make us confident that the ESXi Balanced policy is a good choice for most types of virtualized applications.

Virtualized SQL Server Performance: Scalable and Reliable

Database workloads are very diverse. While most database servers are lightly loaded, larger database
workloads can be resource-intensive, exhibiting high I/O rates or consuming large amounts of memory. With improvements in virtualization technology and hardware, even servers running large database workloads run well in virtual machines. Servers running Microsoft’s SQL Server, among the top database server platforms in the industry today, are no exception.

An important consideration in SQL Server consolidation scenarios is application performance when packing multiple virtual machines on a single hardware platform. Application performance in virtual machines should continue to meet or exceed required service levels. That is to say, the virtual platform should:

  • Be scalable.
  • Ensure that all virtual machines get resources in proportion to their load levels up to specified resource limits.
  • Provide performance isolation for each virtual machine running on a host.
  • Ensure that the overall load of a host will have minimal impact on the performance of applications running in individual virtual machines on that host.

We recently published a white paper, "SQL Server Workload Consolidation," that demonstrates the ability of VMware® ESX 3.5 to scale while guaranteeing fairness and isolation under a demanding SQL Server load.