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Keeping track of VCF and vSAN cluster driver/firmware

Are you building out a new VMware Cloud Foundation cluster, and trying to make sure you stay up to date with your vSAN ReadyNodes driver/firmware updates? Good news, there are a few options for tracking new driver/firmware patches.

The first method is simple, try out the new vLCM functionality. This allows for seamless updates of firmware/drivers for drives and controllers as well as system BIOS and other devices. It also has integration to verify key driver/firmware levels for the vSAN VCG sub-components. For those of you looking into this go check, the VCG for compatible hardware check out this blog post.

What about for clusters where you can not use vLCM yet. Maybe, your servers are not yet supported?

The vSAN VCG notification service can help fill the gap. It allows you to subscribe to changes. Subscribing will set you up for email alerts that will show changes to driver and firmware versions, as well as when updates and major releases. You can sign up for individual components, as well as for an entire ReadyNode specification.

Changes are reflected in a clear color-coded view showing what has been removed and what has been added to replace the entry.

The ReadyLabs team keep continuing to make it easier to keep your VMware Cloud Foundation environment up to date. If you have any more questions about the service, be sure to check out the FAQ. If you have any questions on this or the vSAN VCG reach out by email to [email protected]

Understanding File System Architectures.

File System Taxonomy

I’ve noticed that Clustered File Systems, Global file systems, parallel file systems and distributed file systems are commonly confused and conflated. To explain VMware vSAN™ Virtual Distributed File System™ (VDFS) I wanted to highlight some things that it is not. I’ll be largely pulling my definitions from Wikipedia but I look forward to hearing your disagreements on twitter. It is work noting some file systems can have elements that cross the taxonomy of file system layers for various reasons. In some cases, some of these definitions are subcategories of others. In other cases, some file systems (GPFS as an example) can operate in different modes (providing RAID and data protection, or simply inherent it from a backing disk array).

Clustered File System

A clustered file system is a file system that is shared by being simultaneously mounted on multiple servers. Note, there are other methods of clustering applications and data that do not involve using a clustered file system.

Parallel file systems

Parallel file systems are a type of clustered file system that spread data across multiple storage nodes, usually for redundancy or performance. While the vSAN layer mirrors some characteristics (Distributed RAID and striping) it does not 100% match with being a parallel file system.

Examples would include OneFS and GlusterFS.

shared-disk file system

shared disk file systems are a clustered file system but are not a parallel file system. VMFS is a shared disk file system. The most common form of a clustered file system that leverages a storage area network (SAN) for shared access of the underlying LBAs. Clients are forced to handle the translation of file calls, and access control as the underlying shared disk array has no awareness of the actual file system itself. Concurrency control prevents corruption. Ever mounted NTFS to 2 different windows boxes and wondered why it corrupted the file system? NTFS is not a shared disk file system and the different operating systems instances do not independently by default know how to cleanly share the partition when they both try to mount it. In the case of VMFS, each host can mount a given volume as read and write, while cleanly making sure that access to specific subgroups of LBA’s used for different VMDKs (or even shared VMDKs) is properly handled with no data corruption. This is commonly done over a storage area network (SAN) presenting LUNs (SCSI) or namespaces (NVMe over fabrics). protocol to share this is block-based and can range from Fibre Channel, iSCSI, FCoE, FCoTR, SAS, Infiniband etc.

Example of 2 hosts mounting a group of LUNs and using VMFS to host VMs

Examples would include: GFS2, VMFS, Apple xSAN (storenext).

Distributed file systems

Distributed file systems do not share block-level access to the same storage but use a network protocol to redirect access to the backing file server exposing the share within the namespace used. In this way, the client does not need to know the specific IP address of the backing file server, as it will request it when it makes the initial request and within the protocol (NFSv4 or SMB) be redirected. This is not exactly a new thing (DFS in Windows is a common example, but similar systems were layered on top of Novell based filers, proprietary filers etc). These redirects are important as they prevent the need to proxy IO from a single namespace server and allow the data path to flow directly from the client to the protocol endpoint that has active access to the file share. This is a bit “same same but different” to how iSCSI redirects allow connection to a target that was not specified in the client pathing, or ALUA pathing handles non-optimized paths in the block storage world. For how vSAN exposes this externally using NFS, Check out this blog, or take a look at this video:

The benefits of a distributed file system?

  1. Access Transparency. This allows back end physical data migrations/rebuilds to happen without the client needing to be aware and re-pointing at the new physical location. clients are unaware that files are distributed and can access them in the same way as local files are accessed.
  2. Transparent Scalability. Previously you would be limited to the networking throughput and resources of a single physical file server or host that hosted a file server virtual machine. With a distributed file system each new share can be distributed out onto a different physical server and cleanly allow you to scale throughput for front end access. In the case of VDFS, this scaling is done with containers that the shares are distributed across.
  3. Capacity and IO path efficiency – Layering a scale-out storage system on top of an existing scale-out storage system can create unwanted copies of data. VDFS uses vSAN SPBM policies on each share and integrates with vSAN to have it handle the data placement and resiliency. In addition layering, a scale-out parallel file system on top of a scale-out storage system leads to unnecessary network hops for the IO path.
  4. Concurrency transparency: all clients have the same view of the state of the file system. This means that if one process is modifying a file, any other processes on the same system or remote systems that are accessing the files will see the modifications in a coherent manner. This is distinctly different from how some global file systems operate.

It is worth noting that VDFS is a distributed file system that exists below the protocol supporting containers. A VDFS volume is mounted and presented to the container host using a secure direct hypervisor interface that bypasses TCP/IP and the vSCSI/VMDK IO paths you would traditionally use to mount a file system to virtual machine or container. I will explore more in the future. For now, Duncan Explains it a bit on this blog.

Examples include: VDFS, Mirosoft DFS, BlueArc Global Namespace

Global File System

Global File Systems are a form of a distributed file system where a distributed namespace provides transparent access to different systems that are potentially highly distributed (IE in completely different parts of the world). This is often accomplished using a blend of caching and the use of weak affinity. There are trade-offs in this approach as if the application layer is not understood by the client accessing the data you have to deal with manually resolving conflicting save attempts of the same file, or forcing one site to be “authoritative” slowing down non-primary site access. While various products in this space have existed they tend to be an intermediate step for an application-aware distributed collaboration platform (or centralizing data access using something like VDI). While async replication can be a part of a global file system, file replication systems like DFS-R would not technically qualify. Solutions like Dropbox/OneDrive have reduced the demand for this kind of solution.

Examples include: Hitachi HDI

Where do various VMware storage technologies fall within this?

VMFS – a Clustered file system, that specifically falls within the shared-disk file system. While powerful and one of the most deployed file systems in the enterprise datacenter, it was designed for use with larger files that are (With some exceptions) only accessed by a single host at a time. While support for higher numbers of files and smaller files has improved significantly over the years, general-purpose file shares are currently not a core design requirement for it.

vVols – Not a clustered file system. An abstraction layer for SAN volumes, or NFS shares. For block volumes (SAN) it leverages SUB-LUN units and directly mounts them to the hosts that need them.

VMFS-L – A non-clustered variant Used in vSAN prior to the 6.0 release. Also used for the ESXi installed volume. File system format is optimized for DAS. Optimization include aggressive caching with for the DAS use case, a stripped lockdown lock manager, and faster formats. You commonly see this used on boot devices today.

VDFS – vSAN Virtual Distributed File System. A Distributed file system that sits inside the hypervisor directly onto of vSAN objects providing the block back end. As a result, it can easily consume SPBM policies on a per-share basis. For anyone paying attention to the back end, you will notice that objects are automatically added and concatenated onto volumes when the maximum object size is reached (256GB). components behind these objects can be striped, or as a result of various reasons be automatically spanned and created across the cluster. It is currently exposed through protocol containers that export NFSv3 or NFSv4.1 as a part of vSAN file services. While VDFS does offer a namespace for NFSv4.1 one connections and handles redirection of share access, it does not currently globally redirect between disparate clusters, so it would not be considered a global file system.

vSAN ReadyNodes Additional Feature: vLCM Support

When picking out some new nodes for a VMware Cloud Foundation build-out, I noticed a new feature I could search for.

Here’s a quick explanation of what this new capability is, as well as some existing features:

vLCM Capable ReadyNode: This node is supported by the server OEM as being able to be patched by VMware LifeCycle Manager. This capability allows you to patch NICs, HBAs, Drives with new firmware and driver as well as update the BIOS. Currently, this includes servers from HPE Gen10 as well as select Dell 13 and 14 generation servers. For a quick demo of how vLCM can patch a host check out this video

SAS Expander: A typical SAS physical connection has 4 SAS channels. Most internal HBA and controllers only have 2 SAS physical connections and in a directly connected configuration only support 8 drives. SAS expanders switch the connection, allowing up to 254 per connection. The SAS expander must work tightly with the raid controller (both are often made by the same manufacturer) and firmware and driver versions for both must be kept in “sync” to prevent issues. SAS expanders also support SATA tunneling protocol that allows a SATA drive to emulate a SCSI device. For additional information on SAS expanders, see the vSAN design and sizing guide.

SSD/HDD Hotplug: Hotplug is the ability to add a device to a system while it is running. Useful for replacing failed devices, as well as expanding a ReadyNode without having to power off the host.

Intel VMD: VMD incorporated NVMe drives to have several modes for the drive’s amber LED such as on, off and flash to identify the NVMe drive. This allows device location for serviceability. VMD also enables hot-swap replacement without shutting down the system.  The VMD device can intercept PCIe events due to hot plug and allow for safe, clean drive removal and re-insertion. With Intel VMD, servicing drives can be done online, minimizing service interruptions.

CIFS for VCF and vSAN?

The year was 2019 and at VMworld Barcelona, someone asked me “When will vSAN support CIFS?.” This is a question I get from time to time, and I responded the same as always.

“vSAN will NEVER support CIFS”

VMware Cloud Foundation 7, and vSAN 7 now offer native file services, starting with NFS v3 and NFS v4.1 as the first file protocols. Why was NFS chosen first? Why not CIFS?

A historical detour into what is CIFS…

CIFS (Common Internet File System) was effectively a Microsoft extension of IBM’s SMBv1 from around the time of Appletalk rising and falling in usage. It had some issues:

  • Despite “internet” being in the name, it is in a tie for last with NetBIOS for things you don’t want on the public internet.
  • There were lots of weird proprietary extensions, unstable client implementations.
  • Security is baaaaad (and not getting fixed). Us CERT says to stop using it.
  • After Microsoft deprecated it usage has plummeted to ancient legacy devices. Devices like that 15-year-old copier/scanner want to bash with a hammer, and that Windows XP machine that controls the HVAC system everyone forgot about.

Due to the opportunity for downgrade attacks from SMB2, Microsoft pushed out a service to disable it automatically. This effectively ended its era, and new versions of windows lack the binaries to use it (only in place upgrades still had it around).

Image
Yes, that’s a service that exists to automatically remove a service. There’s got to be a better name for this?

“But John, xxxx vendor stills calls windows file shares CIFS”

I actually asked that vendor, why they call it a CIFS gateway and was told: “we have a few large customers, who haven’t updated their RFP templates from when new coke was still a thing…”

“John, will you stop pedantically correcting everyone who says CIFS, surely they mean SMB?”

The owner of the protocol Ned Pyle at Microsoft actually gets even more annoyed than me by people calling it CIFS.

What about SMB3.x

While SMB 3.x share still exists and holds lots of departmental shares, and roaming profiles, and various “junk drawers” of forgotten files, this is not a super exciting high growth right now. Sync and Share products (OneDrive/Dropbox) are for many shops slurping up a lot of this use case for unstructured data that needs to accessed by windows clients. It is worth noting that even the best 3rd party implementations of SMB3.x tend to cut corners on the full Microsoft server implementation, and many features associated with a windows file server (FSRM reporting and file screens, quotas, NTFS ACLs) are not actually a part of SMB and something that has to be implemented in the backing file system or emulated etc. Don’t worry, VMware is still looking at SMB 3.x support, but first, it’s time to address why NFS…

The better question: Why start with NFS?

When picking what protocols vSAN would support first, it was critical to look at what is driving new file share use cases in the data center, and specifically what are the file needs for Kubernetes developers. The goal of vSphere 7 with Kubernetes is to make VMware Cloud Foundation the premier platform for cloud-native application development and deployment. The existing ReadWriteOnce support delivered in vSAN 6.7U3 helps automate block workloads to containers using the CSI, but for applications that need ReadWriteMany volumes, a non-block shared file system option was needed.

NFSv3 strengths

In addition to the Kubernetes use case, there are a number of various infrastructure related use cases for NFS, ranging from a vCenter backup target, to content catalog, archive target, and repository share. NFSv3 especially does well with these use cases, as it’s simple, and the protocol has seen little interop issues in the over 20 years since it was ratified as a RFC. In general, it has aged a bit like a fine wine (as opposed to CIFS which as aged like milk sitting in the sun).

I’m honestly not a cheese guy, but this is what I assume CIFS would look like as cheese

NFSv4.1Back to the Future

One of the considerations, with file servers as an extension of VMware Cloud Foundation based HCI, is making sure that:

  1. Performance scales linearly with the nodes
  2. Consumption is cloud-like and can be easily automated

A critical feature that NFSv4.1 includes, that v3 does not, is the ability to use a virtual namespace across multiple file servers, and seamlessly redirect connections to the right one every time, without having to make the consumer of NFS go look anything up. I go into what this looks like in this blog a bit. As well as the following video.

So what’s the future of vSAN File Services?

While vSAN file services deliver a great experience for cloud-native services and infrastructure shares, it will continue to evolve to meet the needs of more and more applications and users as time goes on. The unique auto-scaling container structure can support adding additional containers to speak different protocols. Lastly, the unique hypervisor integrated IO path opens up some interesting future possibilities to extend VMware Cloud Foundation’s lead as the leading application platform.

vSAN File Services – How to find the connection URL

vSAN File Services adds a critical service to VMware Cloud Foundation. Layering a distributed protocol access layer on top of vSANs existing shared nothing distributed object store that can serve the NFS needs of Kubernetes as well as traditional services.

New shares setup in vSAN file services are balanced across the cluster. To find the IP address of which container you should connect to for a given share the interface offers this information for NFSv3.

Note NFSv4 is different. a NFSv4 referral enables a multi-server namespace to exist and seamlessly handle redirecting the client to the server that hosts a given directory or share. While it may appear as one namespace, All IO will not have to hairpin through the container owning the primary IP. Similar to iSCSI login Redirects, this simplifies setup, avoids the need for the client to attempt to connect to every node in the cluster.

What does this look like in the interface? This short 1 minute video may help:

 

VMware Cloud Foundation 4 is a powerful virtual machine and container platform. vSAN file services is critical to meeting the needs of modern applications and container workloads.

If your looking for more information on NFS Redirection the following may be useful:

The RFC – https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc7530

vSAN File Services – A First Look at File Services for VCF

vSAN File Services adds a critical service to VMware Cloud Foundation. Layering a distributed protocol access layer on top of vSANs existing shared nothing distributed object store. Simplify operations and remove complexity by integrating File workloads into the infrastructure itself. For more information on how to use this with Kubernetes check out Myles Grey’s blog on the CSI integration.

I wanted to capture a few operational tasks withing vSAN File Services to show just how simple it is to setup and manage.

 Setting up vSAN File Services

First off setting up vSAN is easy. You will need to setup 3-8 of the containers used for file services. each of these will need:

  • A unique IP address
  • DNS (forward and reverse)
  • subnet and gateway settings

In addition for the cluster you will need:

  • File Services Domain – This is a unique namespace for the cluster that will be used across the shares.
  • DNS servers – You can add multiple DNS servers for redundancy.
  • DNS Suffix – Note you can add multiple of these also.

Configuring a share on vSAN File Services

For each share you will need to configure:

  • A share name – This will be the path set after the namespace in NFSv4 or directly off the shares primary IP in NFSv3.
  • A Storage policy – Adjusting the RAID level here can help optimize capacity or resilience.
  • Share Warning threshold – This is a soft quota that will generate a vSAN health alarm when reached.
  • Share Hard quota – This is a hard quota. At the point this is reached writes will fail until data is deleted or this quota is raised.
  • Labels – These can be useful for categorizing a share (adding what department) data classification (compliance or security level) or other organizational methods. These can also be auto-generated when being created by Kubernetes making it easier to identify the MongoDB share the developers are having issues with etc.
  • Network access controls – These are IP based access control lists for who has read or write access to the shares (along with the usual root_squash ability for systems that need it and can only connect as root, but do be aware of the security implications of using this).

Upgrading vSAN File Services

This one is pretty Simple. vSAN will phone home and look for new versions of the file services OVF package. If the environment lacks internet connectivity from the vCenter a proxy can be used, or the file can be manually downloaded and uploaded to the vCenter.

File Services Upgrade

If you have any other vSAN File Services questions be sure to checkout the FAQ or ask on twitter @Lost_signal.

VMware vSphere Reliable Memory – A few thoughts

 According to a study by Google, The annual incidence of uncorrectable errors was 1.3% per machine and 0.22% per DIMM. This rate rises to 1.7–2.3% after seeing corrected errors.  Hard errors are caused by physical factors, such as excessive temperature variation, voltage stress, or physical stress brought upon the memory bits. Soft errors are random bit flips, typically associated with alpha particle radiation, solar winds and are correctable. 


As the number of DIMMs and density of them increases, I suspect this only gets worse and rapidly approaches 100% if I have something important to work on.

Odds of me seeing this increase to 100% the closer I am to recording a Demo

Now, what happens with a VMware host, when the CPU detects unrecoverable errors for memory? This depends on who gets the bad bit:

-VMkernel: Crash (i.e. PSOD) the ESX host unless the kernel is within MCE Safe context.

VMM: Kill the VM. (The Virtual Machine should restart).

User space: Kill the user world (Most processes can be restarted).

Now, what if we want some protection? It’s worth noting that using ECC memory provides some basic protection (A single bit randomly flipping), and more importantly, provides awareness against larger protections through active scrubbing (So we don’t commit corrupt data to disk). If we want to mitigate larger failures (Such as an entire memory device on a DIMM or a DIMM itself) we need to look for more advanced protection methods.

Memory Mirroring: This is pretty simple and fairly expensive. This involves mirroring all DIMMs, so that in the event of a DIMM failure the server will keep on running. This is only outmatched by more extreme triple-redundant quorum/voting systems used on spaceflight computers. This is only considered for mission-critical systems in extremely difficult to reach places (Submarine, diamond mine, etc).

Single Device Data Correction (SDDC) – Out of the normal 18 memory devices on a DIMM you kee 1 device for CRC and 1 device for parity. If one if the devices fails, its data can be reconstructed. This is called single-device data correction (SDDC). Think of this a bit like RAID 4 (dedicated parity device) with checksums stored on a dedicated device also rather than with the block of data. Note a +1 option, effectively keeps a “hot spare” device so that after a failure is mitigated, you can support another failure. For Intel The Silver/Bronze SKUs offer an adaptive variant called Adaptive Data Correction (ADC), at Bank granularity.

Double Device Data Correction (DDDC) – This is where things start to get fancy and weird. By combining two 4x DIMMs into the same memory channel you can run a double parity scheme across both devices. This comes with performance impacts (Memory throughput seems to be the main issue). This doesn’t seem to be recommended for high throughput applications (HPC).

Adaptive Double DRAM Device Correction (ADDDC) – New with the Intel Scalable series processors (2017), this enables the ability to avoid the performance pre-failure that the DDDC design normally imposes. Note this feature doesn’t work with 8x DIMM layouts (smaller 8 and 16GB DIMMs from what I’ve found). For Intel, the Platinum/Gold SKUs offer Adaptive Double DRAM Device Correction (ADDDC).

Other weird OEM options – You will find stuff like hot spare DIMMs, and exotic additional bit ECC, how often scrubbing is performed etc. Be careful with this stuff and talk to your OEM about the expected performance impact.

Address Range Partial Memory Mirroring – This is an intel specific technology with a bit of variety on the implementation depending on the OEM. Unlike DIMM mirroring (which is transparent) this requires a OS –> Firmware interface for the OS to be aware of. In this case this is what the vSphere reliable memory feature enables. How this works under the hood is kernel processes flagged for usage of this will use this memory and be protected up to and including a full DIMM failure. This feature requires Intel Xeon Platinum and Gold processors SKUs.

Let’s see what this looks like in VMware!

You can look up how much memory is considered reliable by using the ESXCLI hardware memory get command.

Before turning on feature:

[[email protected]:~] esxcli hardware memory get
   Physical Memory: 549657530368 Bytes
   Reliable Memory: 0 Bytes
   NUMA Node Count: 2

After turning it on:

[[email protected]:~] esxcli hardware memory get
   Physical Memory: 480938061824 Bytes
   Reliable Memory: 68619579392 Bytes
   NUMA Node Count: 2

On boot I can see that a bit of DRAM has been borrowed for “reliable memory” (54GB). Given this is 1/8th of the memory in the host that is a trade off (12.5%) but it’s is something for mission critical applications that might be worth considering. Digging around 12.5% is normal for a 13Gen server. Note this memory overhead comes 100% out of the first NUMA node (ESXTOP will confirm this).

It’s worth noting that more than the kernel can use this feature. Virutal Machines can be configured for it by following KB2146595 and using the VMX flag sched.mem.reliable = "True"

If you reserve 30% or more of a CPU you could trip an alarm called “Significant imbalance between NUMA nodes detected”.

How much should be reserved? The guidance in 5.5 was for at least 3GB, but if virtual machines are using this, or extensive services are being used ona host more may be needed.

There is a bit of variety in the OEM implementations.

Dell – The servers I tested this with by default grab either 12.5% or 25% of my hosts memeory depending on if I use the fault resilient mode, or the NUMA fault resilient mode.

HPE – offers overs 4GB reservation or 10% or 20% of memory above 4 GB.

Lenovo – Offers Mirroring of 4GB.

Fujitsu – Supports 4GB + %. Can be defined in UEFI (which makes me think other OEM’s might have unsuppoprted hacks to alter this in UEFI basd on Intel’s documentation).

SuperMicro – I found no mention of partial memory mirroring in their RAS guide. Note their RAS guide is a great read on the other parity based protections.

Should I configure reliable memory?

You fundamentally have to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What am I paying for RAM, and what is the overhead going to be? In the case of the Dell functionality I tested it appears the BIOS is reserving 64GB. Looking at 3rd party memory prices this is going to run me in the us about $439. Looking at the spot price of memory recently it seems DRAM pricing is hitting new lows. Maybe it is worth sparing some to increase residency for mission critical clusters?
  2. What is my tolerance for a host failing from a bad DIMM? For this you need to look at your estimated DIMM failure rate, and consider the odds that something important in kernel space is crashed by the DIMM failure (most user world things and virtual machines will reboot if they hit a non-recoverable memory error). If this is Test/Dev I might not care, if I’m running an Oracle RAC cluster that backs the ERP for a fortune 50 company I might have more sensitivity.
  3. Is HA and/or application clustering “good enough protection?
  4. Should I extend this to Virtual Machines? The VMX flag allows configuration of virtual machines to attempt to fit into the reliable memory space. I’m not sure what happens when the host is given 64GB of reliable memory and I try configuring a 100GB reliable memory VM (More testing needed).
  5. Is 4GB good enough? Some platforms (HPE) offer the ability to configure 4GB or 4GB + xx%. By lowering what is protected (but lowering the cost overhead) a blend of risk mitigation and cost control may be “good enough” for many.
  6. Would I rather mirror a virtual machine between two hosts (SMP-FT) and just pay the extra overhead?
  7. Is there a particle accelerator or evil supervillain lab next door? If the server will be operating near a major source of alpha particle radiation it may be worth considering full mirroring (or shielding the server!)

Improving NIC and switch performance for vSAN (and other IP storage)

This is going to be a short post collecting a few tricks to unlock some bottlenecks in storage networking that may grow over time:

Unfortunetly a lot of troubeshooting of networking performance stops earlier than it should. Two common incomplete troubleshooting workflows I’ve seen:

  1. Someone checks that network utilization on a host isn’t near the link speed and says “network not the bottleneck”.
  2. Someone calls the networking team and they look at the switchports utilization based on SNMP polling, or do a quick “Show interface” and don’t see obvious port errors (CRC, drops, giants etc). They proudly close the ticket as “Switches are fine!”

Buffer Configuration Considerations

In one of my labs where we have a Nexus 9000 series switch we found performance was looking a bit limited. Seeing higher than expected re-ransmits we dug into it deeper. We dug deeper into buffer utilization. Discovering that the default mesh configuration was limiting buffer access to 500 KB per port, we adjusted the buffers using the qos ns-buffer-profile ultra-burst command. This signifigantly opened up performance, reducing TCP incast inssues (which cause retransmits) and brought performance more in line with what we would expect for the cluster. For anyone looking for more inormation on this command (and how to look at buffers) see the QoS Guide. Note for solving buffer contention different switches will have different options for configuring buffers, priortizing which flows to drop first, and allocating buffer to ports. In other cases it may be simpler to just buy switches with deeper buffers to begin with. Rather than trying to chop apart a 12MB-40MB buffer, simply purchasing a switch with an 8GB buffer can avoid a lot of the need for buffer management consideration.

I”ve been asked about the HPE 5950 series switch. Digging into the CoS/QoS guide I found a few things:

You can detect how often you exceed a buffer with the display buffer usage interface command.

<switchname> Display buffer usage interface hundredgige 1/0/1

This command will be more useful than the “display buffer usage” as that only tracks usage over a 5 second rolling outage, vs the violation tracker that the interface counter can track (Which will detect very short microbursts that may be causing buffer full and retransmits conditions nad latency). Note the default buffer threashold is 70%.

burst-mode enable appears to be a similar command to the ultra-burst buffer configuration and is recomended for cases that include “Traffic enters a device from multiple same-rate interfaces and goes out of an interface with the same rate.” Given this scenario is exactly what we would see from TCP incast (multiple vSAN hosts trying to talk to the same host and filling a buffer), this is likely something you would want to turn on. As I don’t have one of these switches in my lab, I’d love any feedback anyone has from trying this command. If anyone from HPE Networking is reading this, feel free to reach out.

TCP dispatch queues tuning

In another example in the lab, a test of raw throughput was coming up short. A review of the back end disk groups showed a lack of congestion (latency was low, write cache fill rate was low). A review of network utilization showed only 30% utilization on the link speed, but high latency (20ms+ between the nodes).

Investigation showed that the throughput was bottlenecking on a single threaded TCP process (CPU for attached world at 100%). By raising the TCP RX queues from the default of 1 to 4, this eleminated this as a bottleneck and returned performance to expected levels.

Steps to set this are:

Set the advanced setting on the host

$ esxcfg-advcfg -s 4 /Net/TcpipRxDispatchQueues

Or for PowerCLI:

Get-AdvancedSetting -Entity <esxi host> -Name Net.TcpipRxDispatchQueues | Set-AdvancedSetting -Value ‘4’

Reboot the host once this is set.

To validate this setting:

$ esxcfg-advcfg -g /Net/TcpipRxDispatchQueues

It’s worth noting that Niel’s blog on vMotion tuning reported higher throughput per stream than I saw (His blog reports 15Gbps per stream). This may be a result of my lab hosts using inexpensive cheaper Intel 5xx series NICs that lack the advanced offloads that the Intel 700 or 800 series cards have. Mellanox CX Series cards also have similar capabilities. Without these offloads, more CPU is needed to push the same throughput and this would compound together to bring the performance ceiling even lower with the cheaper NICs.

Summery

For anyone seeing bottlenecks on lower-cost NIC’s, or wanting to push more than 15Gbps per host of vSAN traffic, keep an eye on this setting, and talk to GSS if you are concerned this default may be causing a bottleneck. For new hosts I’d strongly consider smarter NIC’s that contain hardware LRO/TSO, RSS VxLAN GENEVE offload capabilities and make sure that your driver and firmware are both up to date. Note in a future release this default may change.

If you have any feedback on these commands (or questions on other commands or switches!) reach out to me on twitter @Lost_Signal

Peanut Butter is Not Supported with vSphere/Storage Networking/vSAN/VCF

 From time to time I get oddball questions where someone asks about how to do something that is not supported or a bad idea. I’ll often fire back a simple “No” and then we get into a discussion about why VMware does not have a KB for this specific corner case or situation. There are a host of reasons why this may or may not be documented but here is my monthly list of “No/That is a bad idea (TM)!”.

How do I use VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) with a VSA/Virtual Machine that can not be vMotion’d to another host?

This one has come up quite a lot recently with some partners, and storage vendors who use VSA’s (A virtual machine that locally consumes storage to replicate it) incorrectly claiming this is supported. The issue is that SDDC Manager automates upgrade and patch management. In order to patch a host, all running virtual machines must be removed. This process is triggered when a host is placed into maintenance mode and DRS carefully vMotions VMs off of the host. If there is a virtual machine on the host that can not be powered off or moved, this will cause lifecycle to fail.

What about if I use the VSA’s external lifecycle management to patch ESXi?

The issue comes in, running multiple host patching systems is a “very bad idea” (TM). You’ll have issues with SDDC Manager not understanding the state of the hosts, but also coordination of non-ESXi elements (NSX perhaps using a VIB) would also be problematic. The only exception to using SDDC manager with external lifecycle tooling tools are select vendor LCM solutions that done customization and interop (Examples include VxRAIL Manager, the Redfish to HPE Synergy integration, and packaged VCF appliance solutions like UCP-RS and VxRACK SDDC). Note these solutions all use vSAN and avoid the VSA problem and have done the engineering work to make things play nice.

JAM also not supported!

Should I use a Nexus 2000K (or other low performing network switch) with vSAN?

While vSAN does not currently have a switch HCL (Watch this space!) I have written some guidance specifically about FEXs on this personal blog. The reality is there are politics to getting a KB written saying “not to use something”, and it would require cooperation from the switch vendors. If anyone at Cisco wants to work with me on a joint KB saying “don’t use a FEX for vSAN/HCI in 2019” please reach out to me! Before anyone accuses me of not liking Cisco, I’ll say I’m a big fan of the C36180YC-R (ultra deep buffers RAWR!), and have seen some amazing performance out of this switch recently when paired with Intel Optane.

Beyond the FEX, I’ve written some neutral switch guidance on buffers on our official blog. I do plan to merge this into the vSAN Networking Guide this quarter. 

I’d like to use RSPAN against the vDS and mirror all vSAN traffic, I’d like to run all vSAN traffic through a ASA Firewall or Palo Alto or IDS, Cisco ISR, I’d like to route vSAN traffic through a F5 or similar requests…

There’s a trend of security people wanting to inspect “all the things!”.  There are a lot of misconceptions about vSAN routing or flowing or going places.

Good Ideas! – There is some false assumptions you can’t do the following. While they may add complexity or not be supported on VCF or VxRAIL in certain configurations, they certainly are just fine with vSAN from a feasibility standpoint.

  1. Routing storage traffic is just fine. Modern enterprise switches can route OSPF/Static routes etc at wire-speed just fine all in the ASIC offloads. vSAN is supported over layer 3 (may need to configure static routes!) and this is a “Good idea” on stretched clusters so spanning tree issues don’t crash both datacenters!
  2. vSAN over VxLAN/VTEP in hardware is supported.
  3. VSAN over VLAN backed port groups on NSX-T is supported.

Bad Ideas!

Frank Escaros-Buechsel with VMware support once told someone “While we do not document that as not supported, it’s a bit like putting peanut butter in a server. Some things we assume are such bad idea’s no one would try them, and there is only so much time to document all bad ideas.

  1. Trying to mirror high throughput flows of storage or vMotion from a VDS is likely to cause performance problems. While I”m not sure of a specific support statement, i’m going to kindly ask you not to do this. If you want to know how much traffic is flowing and where, consider turning on SFLOW/JFLOW/NetFlow on the physical switches and monitoring from that point. vRNI can help quite a bit here!
  2. Sending iSCSI/NFS/FCoE/vSAN storage traffic to an IDS/Firewall/Load balancer. These devices do not know how to inspect this traffic (trust me, they are not designed to look at SCSI or NVMe packets!) so you’ll get zero security value out of this process. If you are looking for virus binaries, your better off using NSX guest introspection and regular antivirus software. Because of the volume, you will hit the wire-speed limits of these devices. Outside of path latency, you will quickly introduce drops and re-transmits and murder storage traffic performance. Outside of some old Niche inline FC encryption blades (that I think Netapp used to make), inline storage security devices are a bad idea. While there are some carrier-grade routers that can push 40+ Gbps of encryption (MLXe’s I vaguely remember did this) the costs are going to be enormous, and you’ll likely be better off just encrypting at the vSCSI layer using the VM Encryption VAIO filter. You’ll get better security that IPSEC/MACSEC without massive costs.

Did I get something wrong?

Is there an Exception?

Feel free to reach out and lets talk about why your environment is a snowflake from these general rules of things “not to do!”

How to pick NICs for VMware vSAN powered HCI

This post has been a long time coming, as Network Interface Cards are an often overlooked component. Many people have mistakenly assumed all NIC’s are the same or are simple commodities. Note, that most of this advice will also apply as generic advise for vSphere, and ethernet storage. Here is a short list of features and considerations when picking a network interface card. I’m hoping this series will spawn out into more information on picking switches, as well as troubleshooting of NICs and switches.

Offload Features

LRO/LSO – Large Receive Offload, and Large Send Offload allow for packets to be broken up when transmitting and consolidated. Note: TCP segmentation offload (TSO) is a very common form of LSO and you will often see these terms used interchangeably. This provides improvements in CPU overhead. The VMware Performance Team has a great blog showcasing what this looks like for virtual machines. LRO can benefit CPU overhead on 64KB workloads by as much as 90%.

Receive Side Scaling (RSS) – Helps distributed load across multiple CPU cores. At higher throughput operations it is possible that a single CPU thread can not fully saturate larger network interfaces. In sample testing, a 40Gbps NIC could only use 15Gbps when using a single core. RSS is also critical for VxLAN/NSX performance. Note RSSv2 is supported by a limited subset of cards (This appears to allow balancing at a more granular level).

Geneve/VxLAN encapsulation support – For customers using NSX, hardware support for overlays again helps increase performance and should be added to the shopping list when selecting a NIC.

Converged over Ethernet (RCoEv1/RCoEv2) – While vSAN doesn’t yet, support RDMA, vSphere VM’s, iSER (iSCSI RDMA Extensions) support is shipping today, and hopefully in the future additional support will come for other traffic classes. RDMA significantly lowers latency, lowers CPU usage and increases throughput while keeping CPU usage down. Note, RCoE avoids the use of TCP, while iWARP (a competing standard) runs RDMA over TCP. RCoE requires not only NICs that support it, but also physical switches to support it. Mellanox is a popular vendor for both NICs (X4) and switches as they have a long history of working with RDMA.

NSX-T Virtual Distributed Switch (N-VDS). NICs that support this will feature “N-VDS Enhanced Data Path” support in the vSphere VCG. This includes the ability for Traffic flow over NUMA aware Enhanced Data Path. While this is normally something reserved for NFV workloads, the gains in throughput are massive. This Blog is a good starting point.

https://blogs.vmware.com/networkvirtualization/files/2018/06/enhanced.datapath.png
Turn this path up to 11

MISC CNA/Storage Options.

iSCSI HBAs have come in and out of vogue over the years. In general, I have some concerns with the quality of the QA the vendors are doing for this feature that sees such little usage now that the software initiator is the overwhelming majority of the market. FCoE has been removed/deprecated from some Intel NICs and in general, is falling out out favor. A software

FCoE software initiator now exists, but in general, the fad of FCoE (Which was always a bridge technology) seems to be slowly going away. For those still using FCoE CNA’s be sure to make sure that vVols secondary LUN support is available.

NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) – Support for NVMe over ethernet fabric is slowing gaining interest in customers looking for the lowest latency possible. While possible to run over Fibre Channel, 100Gbps RDMA Ethernet is also a promising option.

Other Conisderations

Supported Maximums – Not a huge issue for most, but some NIC’s have caveats on the maximum supported number that can be placed in a host. This is often tied to driver memory allocations. This information will be found in the vSphere maximums as well as in the notes on the VCG entry for a NIC.

Link Layer Discovery Protocol LLDP – Technically normally a software feature, but on some NIC families this is bizarrely made a hardware feature. This can have…. interesting results depending on the implementation.

Nothing to see here, rogue ARPs are normal!

Stable/Fast Driver Firmware and engineers to maintain this – I’m not sure why I have to list this as a “NIC feature” but it is. There are NIC’s out there that have had hilariously unstable firmware for years (Note this isn’t a vSphere issue, but a general issue across OS platforms). Some vendors will take an issue and rapidly RCA it in their testing lab. Others will ask you to be a crash test dummy and run debug drivers in production “until it happens again” Questions to ask an OEM are “If we have an issue do you have the hardware to recreate this, and were physical? is this lab?”. If you are repeatedly being asked to run async drivers (that are not tested/validated by VMware) this may be a sign that this vendor doesn’t have adequate engineering behind this card.

The PSODs are a feature?

Flow control – This is something you really only should be using on 1Gbps, otherwise turn it off. It’s not a problem, and there are frankly are better ways (CoS/DSCP) to prioritize traffic under contention.

Management APIs for CIM Provider and OCSD/OCBB Support – This can allow for better out of band monitoring of this NIC. If there are not good ways to interigate health and pull logging of the card, recreating issues can be painful.

Wake on LAN – Really you should be waking servers using the out of band management, but ocasionally there is a use for this.

So what do these features mean for a HCI Architect?

Lower host CPU usage means more CPU available for processing storage and running virtual machines enabling increased virtualization consolidation.

Higher Throughput per core (as a result of LRO/TSO) means that higher performance per core can be achieved by reducing uncessary CPU usage. This allows faster resync operations (commonly 64KB), as well as higher throughput available. LRO/TSO/RSS help prevents single-threaded networking processes from becoming bottlenecks.

Lower Packets Per Second (PPS) – By consolidating packets with TSO, fewer packets must transverse the physical switches. Many Switch ASICs will have limits as to how many PPS they can process and will be forced to delay packets negatively impacting performance.

Caveat Emptor – Some NIC’s have had a troubled history with these features, and may require driver/firmware updates to make stable. Some vendors may label a feature as offload, but in reality still, process them in CPU. Some features may only be supported in specific driver versions, or might even be quietly deprecated and scrubbed from the datasheets. Note, the suubtle humor of release note writers can not be understated. “may lead to connectivity issues” may translate as “cause the host to crash, and cause a plague of locusts to infest the datacenter”. As always, trust but verify.

Feedback – Did I get something wrong? Did I not properly abreviate NVM over Fabrics? Is FCoE still the future of storage 10 years later? Reach out to me on twitter @Lost_Signal and lets continue this conversation.