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Author Archives: Julie Brodeur

Julie Brodeur

About Julie Brodeur

Julie is a senior technical writer in the Performance Engineering group at VMware.

Performance Comparison of Containerized Machine Learning Applications Running Natively with Nvidia vGPUs vs. in a VM – Episode 4

This article is by Hari Sivaraman, Uday Kurkure, and Lan Vu from the Performance Engineering team at VMware.

Performance Comparison of Containerized Machine Learning Applications

Docker containers [6] are rapidly becoming a popular environment in which to run different applications, including those in machine learning [1, 2, 3]. NVIDIA supports Docker containers with their own Docker engine utility, nvidia-docker [7], which is specialized to run applications that use NVIDIA GPUs.

The nvidia-docker container for machine learning includes the application and the machine learning framework (for example, TensorFlow [5]) but, importantly, it does not include the GPU driver or the CUDA toolkit.

Docker containers are hardware agnostic so, when an application uses specialized hardware like an NVIDIA GPU that needs kernel modules and user-level libraries, the container cannot include the required drivers. They live outside the container.

One workaround here is to install the driver inside the container and map its devices upon launch. This workaround is not portable since the versions inside the container need to match those in the native operating system.

The nvidia-docker engine utility provides an alternate mechanism that mounts the user-mode components at launch, but this requires you to install the driver and CUDA in the native operating system before launch. Both approaches have drawbacks, but the latter is clearly preferable.

In this episode of our series of blogs [8, 9, 10] on machine learning in vSphere using GPUs, we present a comparison of the performance of MNIST [4] running in a container on CentOS executing natively with MNIST running in a container inside a CentOS VM on vSphere. Based on our experiments, we demonstrate that running containers in a virtualized environment, like a CentOS VM on vSphere, suffers no performance penlty, while benefiting from the tremenduous management capabilities offered by the VMware vSphere platform.

Experiment Configuration and Methodology

We used MNIST [4] to compare the performance of containers running natively with containers running inside a VM. The configuration of the VM and the vSphere server we used for the “virtualized container” is shown in Table 1. The configuration of the physical machine used to run the container natively is shown in Table 2.

vSphere  6.0.0, build 3500742
Nvidia vGPU driver 367.53
Guest OS CentOS Linux release 7.4.1708 (Core)
CUDA driver 8.0
CUDA runtime 7.5
Docker 17.09-ce-rc2

Table 1. Configuration of VM used to run the nvidia-docker container

Nvidia driver 384.98
Operating system CentOS Linux release 7.4.1708 (Core)
CUDA driver 8.0
CUDA runtime 7.5
Docker 17.09-ce-rc2

⇑ Table 2. Configuration of physical machine used to run the nvidia-docker container

The server configuration we used is shown in Table 3 below. In our experiments, we used the NVIDIA M60 GPU in vGPU mode only. We did not use the Direct I/O mode. In the scenario in which we ran the container inside the VM, we first installed the NVIDIA vGPU drivers in vSphere and inside the VM, then we installed CUDA (driver 8.0 with runtime version 7.5), followed by Docker and nvidia-docker [7]. In the case where we ran the container natively, we installed the NVIDIA driver in CentOS running natively, followed by CUDA (driver 8.0 with runtime version 7.5),  Docker and finally, nvidia-docker [7]. In both scenarios we ran MNIST and we measured the run time for training using a wall clock.

 Figure 1. Testbed configuration for comparison of the performance of containers running natively vs. running in a VM

Model Dell PowerEdge R730
Processor type Intel® Xeon® CPU E5-2680 v3 @ 2.50GHz
CPU cores 24 CPUs, each @ 2.5GHz
Processor sockets 2
Cores per socket 14
Logical processors 48
Hyperthreading Active
Memory 768GB
Storage Local SSD (1.5TB), Storage Arrays, Local Hard Disks
GPUs 2x M60 Tesla

⇑ Table 3. Server configuration


The measured wall-clock run times for MNIST are shown in Table 4 for the two scenarios we tested:

  1. Running in an nvidia-docker container in CentOS running natively.
  2. Running in an nvidia-docker container inside a CentOS VM on vSphere.

From the data, we can clearly see that there is no measurable performance penalty for running a container inside a VM as compred to running it natively.

Configuration Run time for MNIST as measured by a wall clock
Nvidia-docker container in CentOS running natively 44 minutes 53 seconds
Nvidia-docker container running in a CentOS VM on vSphere 44  minutes 57 seconds

⇑ Table 4. Comparison of the run-time for MNIST running in a container on native CentOS vs. in a container in virtualized CentOS


  • Based on the results shown in Table 4, it is clear that there is no measurable performance impact due to running a containerized application in a virtual environment as opposed to running it natively. So, from a performance perspective, there is no penalty for using a virtualized environment.
  • It is important to note that since containers do not include the GPU driver or the CUDA environment, both of these components need to be installed separately. It is in this aspect that a virtualized environment offers a superior user experience; an nvidia-docker container in CentOS running natively requires that any existing GPU and CUDA drivers be removed if the version of the drivers does not match that required by the container. Uninstalling and re-installing the correct drivers is often a challenging and time consuming task. However, in a virtualized environment, you can, in advance, create and store in a repository, a number of CentOS VMs with different VGPU and CUDA drivers. When you need to run an application in an nvidia-docker container, just clone the VM with the correct drivers, load the container, and run with no performance penalty. In such a scenario, running in a virtualized environment does not require you to uninstall and re-install the correct drivers, which saves both time and considerable frustration. This issue of uninstalling and re-installing drivers in a native environment becomes considerably more difficult if there are multiple container users on the system; in such a scenario, all the containers need to be migrated to use the new drivers, or the user who needs a new driver will have to wait until all the other users are done before a sytem administrator can upgrade the GPU drivers on the native CentOS.

Future Work

In this blog, we presented the performance results of running MNIST in a single container. We plan to run MNIST in multiple containers running concurrently in both a virtualized environment and on CentOS executing natively, and report the measured run times. This will provide a comparison of the performance as we scale up the number of containers.


  1. Google Cloud Platform: Cloud AI. https://cloud.google.com/products/machine-learning/
  2. Wikipedia: Deep Learning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_learning
  3. NVIDIA GPUs – The Engine of Deep Learning. https://developer.nvidia.com/deep-learning
  4. The MNIST Database of Handwritten Digits. http://yann.lecun.com/exdb/mnist/
  5. TensorFlow: An Open-Source Software Library for Machine Intelligence. https://www.tensorflow.org
  6. Wikipedia: Operating-System-Level Virtualization. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating-system-level_virtualization
  7. NVIDIA Docker: GPU Server Application Deployment Made Easy. https://devblogs.nvidia.com/parallelforall/nvidia-docker-gpu-server-application-deployment-made-easy/
  8. Episode 1: Performance Results of Machine Learning with DirectPath I/O and GRID vGPU. https://blogs.vmware.com/performance/2016/10/machine-learning-vsphere-nvidia-gpus.html
  9. Episode 2: Machine Learning on vSphere 6 with NVIDIA GPUs. https://blogs.vmware.com/performance/2017/03/machine-learning-vsphere-6-5-nvidia-gpus-episode-2.html
  10. Episode 3: Performance Comparison of Native GPU to Virtualized GPU and Scalability of Virtualized GPUs for Machine Learning. https://blogs.vmware.com/performance/2017/10/episode-3-performance-comparison-native-gpu-virtualized-gpu-scalability-virtualized-gpus-machine-learning.html 

Performance of Storage I/O Control (SIOC) with SSD Datastores – vSphere 6.5

With Storage I/O Control (SIOC), vSphere 6.5 administrators can adjust the storage performance of VMs so that VMs with critical workloads will get the I/Os per second (IOPS) they need. Admins assign shares (the proportion of IOPS allocated to the VM), limits (the upper bound of VM IOPS), and reservations (the lower bound of VM IOPS) to the VMs whose IOPS need to be controlled.  After shares, limits, and reservations have been set, SIOC is automatically triggered to meet the desired policies for the VMs.

A recently published paper shows the performance of SIOC meets expectations and successfully controls the number of IOPS for VM workloads.

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New Fling released – IOInsight

By Sankaran Sivathanu

VMware IOInsight is a tool to help people understand a VM’s storage I/O behavior. By understanding their VM’s I/O characteristics, customers can make better decisions about storage capacity planning and performance tuning. IOInsight ships as a virtual appliance that can be deployed in any vSphere environment and includes an intuitive web-based UI that allows users to choose VMDKs to monitor and view results.

Where does IOInsight help?

  • Customers may better tune and size their storage.
  • When contacting VMware Support for any vSphere storage issues, including a report from IOInsight can help VMware Support better understand the issues and can potentially lead to faster resolutions.
  • VMware Engineering can optimize products with a better understanding of various customers’ application behavior.

IOInsight captures I/O traces from ESXi and generates various aggregated metrics that represent the I/O behavior. The IOInsight report contains only these aggregated metrics and there is no sensitive information about the application itself. In addition to the built-in metrics computed by IOInsight, users can also write new analyzer plugins to IOInsight and visualize the results. A comprehensive SDK and development guide is included in the download bundle.

The fling works with vSphere 5.5 or above and can be downloaded at https://labs.vmware.com/flings/ioinsight.

vSphere 6.0 U2 Storage Performance with 32Gb Fibre Channel

We compared the I/O performance of vSphere 6.0 U2 over 16Gb and 32Gb Emulex FC HBAs connected via a Brocade G620 FC switch to an EMC VNX7500 storage array.

Iometer, a common microbenchmark, was used to generate the workload for various block sizes. For single-VM experiments, we measured sequential read and sequential write throughput. For multi-VM experiments, we measured random read IOPS and throughput.

Our experiments showed that vSphere 6 can achieve near line rate with 32Gb FC.

For details, please see the whitepaper Storage I/O Performance on VMware vSphere 6.0 U2 over 32 Gigabit Fibre Channel.

Virtual SAN 6.2 Performance with OLTP and VDI Workloads

Virtual SAN is a VMware storage solution that is tightly integrated with vSphere—making storage setup and maintenance in a vSphere virtualized environment fast and flexible. Virtual SAN 6.2 adds several features and improvements, including additional data integrity with software checksum, space efficiency features of RAID-5 and RAID-6, deduplication and compression, and an in-memory client read cache.

We ran several tests to compare the performance of Virtual SAN 6.1 and 6.2 to make sure they were on par with each other.

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Fault Tolerance Performance in vSphere 6

VMware has published a technical white paper about vSphere 6 Fault Tolerance architecture and performance. The paper describes which types of applications work best in virtual machines with vSphere FT enabled.

VMware vSphere Fault Tolerance (FT) provides continuous availability to virtual machines that require a high amount of uptime. If the virtual machine fails, another virtual machine is ready to take over the job.  vSphere achieves FT by maintaining primary and secondary virtual machines using a new technology named Fast Checkpointing. This technology is similar to Storage vMotion, which copies the virtual machine state (storage, memory, and networking) to the secondary ESXi host. Fast Checkpointing keeps the primary and secondary virtual machines in sync.

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Virtualizing Performance-Critical Database Applications in VMware vSphere 6.0

by Priti Mishra

Performance studies have previously shown that there is no doubt virtualized servers can run a variety of applications near, or in some cases even above, that of software running natively (on bare metal). In a new white paper, we raise the bar higher and test “monster” vSphere virtual machines loaded with CPU and running the most taxing databases and transaction processing applications.

The benchmark workload, which we call Order-Entry, is based on an industry-standard online transaction processing (OLTP) benchmark called TPC-C. Both rigorous and demanding, the Order-Entry workload pushes virtual machine performance.

Note: The Order Entry benchmark is derived from the TPC-C workload, but is not compliant with the TPC-C specification, and its results are not comparable to TPC-C results.

The white paper quantifies the:

  • Performance differential between ESXi 6.0 and native
  • Performance differential between ESXi 6.0 and ESXi 5.1
  • Performance gains due to enhancements built into ESXi 6.0

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Scaling Performance for VAIO in vSphere 6.0 U1

by Chien-Chia Chen

vSphere APIs for I/O Filtering (VAIO) is a framework that enables third-party software developers to implement data services, such as caching and replication, to vSphere. Figure 1 below shows the general architecture of VAIO. Once I/O filter libraries are installed to a virtual disk (VMDK), every I/O request generated from the guest operating system to the VMDK will first be intercepted by the VAIO framework at the file device layer. The VAIO framework then hands over the I/O request to the user space I/O filter libraries, where a series of third party data service operations can be performed against the I/O. After processing the I/O, user space I/O filter libraries return the I/O back to the VAIO framework, which continues the rest of the issuing path. Similarly, upon completion, the I/O will first be processed by the user space I/O filter libraries before continuing its original completion path.

There have been questions around the overhead of the VAIO framework due to its extra user-to-kernel communication. In this blog post, we evaluate the performance of vSphere APIs for I/O Filtering using a null I/O filter and demonstrate how VAIO scales with respect to the number of virtual machines and outstanding I/Os (OIOs). The null I/O filter accepts each I/O request and immediately returns it.

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Dynamic Host-Wide Performance Tuning in VMware vSphere 6.0

by Chien-Chia Chen


The networking stack of vSphere is, by default, tuned to balance the tradeoffs between CPU cost and latency to provide good performance across a wide variety of applications. However, there are some cases where using a tunable provides better performance. An example is Web-farm workloads, or any circumstance where a high consolidation ratio (lots of VMs on a single ESXi host) is preferred over extremely low end-to-end latency. VMware vSphere 6.0 introduces the Dynamic Host-Wide Performance Tuning  feature (also known as dense mode), which provides a single configuration option to dynamically optimize individual ESXi hosts for high consolidation scenarios under certain use cases. Later in this blog, we define those use cases. Right now, we take a look at how dense mode works from an internal viewpoint.

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VMware Virtual SAN Stretched Cluster Best Practices White Paper

VMware Virtual SAN 6.1 introduced the concept of a stretched cluster which allows the Virtual SAN customer to configure two geographically located sites, while synchronously replicating data between the two sites. A technical white paper about the Virtual SAN stretched cluster performance has now been published. This paper provides guidelines on how to get the best performance for applications deployed on a Virtual SAN stretched cluster environment.

The chart below, borrowed from the white paper, compares the performance of the Virtual SAN 6.1 stretched cluster deployment against the regular Virtual SAN cluster without any fault domains. A nine- node Virtual SAN stretched cluster is considered with two different configurations of inter-site latency: 1ms and 5ms. The DVD Store benchmark is executed on four virtual machines on each host of the nine-node Virtual SAN stretched cluster. The DVD Store performance metrics of cumulated orders per minute in the cluster, read/write IOPs, and average latency are compared with a similar workload on the regular Virtual SAN cluster. The orders per minute (OPM) is lower by 3% and 6% for the 1ms and 5ms inter-site latency stretched cluster compared to the regular Virtual SAN cluster.

Figure 1a.  DVD Store orders per minute in the cluster and guest IOPS comparison

Guest read/write IOPS and latency were also monitored. The read/write mix ratio for the DVD Store workload is roughly at 1/3 read and 2/3 write. Write latency shows an obvious increase trend when the inter-site latency is higher, while the read latency is only marginally impacted. As a result, the average latency increases from 2.4ms to 2.7ms, and 5.1ms for 1ms and 5ms inter-site latency configuration.

Figure 1b.  DVD Store latency comparison

These results demonstrate that the inter-site latency in a Virtual SAN stretched cluster deployment has a marginal performance impact on a commercial workload like DVD Store. More results are available in the white paper.