An Early Look at Windows Server 8 – Can You Say Cloud?

Richard Fichera

Well, maybe everybody is saying “cloud” these days, but my first impression of Microsoft Windows Server 8 (not the final name) is that Microsoft has been listening very closely to what customers want from an OS that can support both public and private enterprise cloud implementations. And most importantly, the things that they have built into WS8 for “clouds” also look like they make life easier for plain old enterprise IT.

Microsoft appears to have focused its efforts on several key themes, all of which benefit legacy IT architectures as well as emerging clouds:

  • Management, migration and recovery of VMs in a multi-system domain – Major improvements in Hyper-V and management capabilities mean that I&O groups can easily build multi-system clusters of WS8 servers, and easily migrate VMs across system boundaries. Muplitle systems can be clustered with Fibre Channel, making it easier to implement high-performance clusters.
  • Multi-tenancy – A host of features, primarily around management and role-based delegation that make it easier and more secure to implement multi-tenant VM clouds.
  • Recovery and resiliency – Microsoft claims that they can failover VMs from one machine to another in 25 seconds, a very impressive number indeed. While vendor performance claims are always like EPA mileage – you are guaranteed never to exceed this number – this is an impressive claim and a major capability, with major implications for HA architecture in any data center.
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Xsigo Expands to a Data Center Fabric: Converged Infrastructure for the Virtual Data Center

Richard Fichera

Last year at VMworld I noted Xsigo Systems, a small privately held company at VMworld showing their I/O Director technology, which delivereda subset of HP Virtual Connect or Cisco UCS I/O virtualization capability in a fashion that could be consumed by legacy rack-mount servers from any vendor. I/O Director connects to the server with one or more 10 G Ethernet links, and then splits traffic out into enterprise Ethernet and FC networks. On the server side, the applications, including VMware, see multiple virtual NICs and HBAs courtesy of Xsigo’s proprietary virtual NIC driver.

Controlled via Xsigo’s management console, the server MAC and WWNs can be programmed, and the servers can now connect to multiple external networks with fewer cables and substantially lower costs for NIC and HBA hardware. Virtualized I/O is one of the major transformative developments in emerging data center architecture, and will remain a theme in Forrester’s data center research coverage.

This year at VMworld, Xsigo announced a major expansion of their capabilities – Xsigo Server Fabric, which takes the previous rack-scale single-Xsigo switch domains and links them into a data-center-scale fabric. Combined with improvements in the software and UI, Xsigo now claims to offer one-click connection of any server resource to any network or storage resource within the domain of Xsigo’s fabric. Most significantly, Xsigo’s interface is optimized to allow connection of VMs to storage and network resources, and to allow the creation of private VM-VM links.

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A Rift At The High-End For Server Requirements?

Richard Fichera

We have been repeatedly reminded that the requirements of hyper-scale cloud properties are different from those of the mainstream enterprise, but I am now beginning to suspect that the top strata of the traditional enterprise may be leaning in the same direction. This suspicion has been triggered by the combination of a recent day in NY visiting I&O groups in a handful of very large companies and a number of unrelated client interactions.

The pattern that I see developing is one of “haves” versus “have nots” in terms of their ability to execute on their technology vision with internal resources. The “haves” are the traditional large sophisticated corporations, with a high concentration in financial services. They have sophisticated IT groups, are capable fo writing extremely complex systems management and operations software, and typically own and manage 10,000 servers or more. The have nots are the ones with more modest skills and abilities, who may own 1000s of servers, but tend to be less advanced than the core FSI companies in terms of their ability to integrate and optimize their infrastructure.

The divergence in requirements comes from what they expect and want from their primary system vendors. The have nots are companies who understand their limitations and are looking for help form their vendors in the form of converged infrastructures, new virtualization management tools, and deeper integration of management software to automate operational tasks, These are people who buy HP c-Class, Cisco UCS, for example, and then add vendor-supplied and ISV management and automation tools on top of them in an attempt to control complexity and costs. They are willing to accept deeper vendor lock-in in exchange for the benefits of the advanced capabilities.

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Hyper-V Matures As An Enterprise Platform

Richard Fichera

A project I’m working on for an approximately half-billion dollar company in the health care industry has forced me to revisit Hyper-V versus VMware after a long period of inattention on my part, and it has become apparent that Hyper-V has made significant progress as a viable platform for at least medium enterprises. My key takeaways include:

  • Hyper-V has come a long way and is now a viable competitor in Microsoft environments up through mid-size enterprise as long as their DR/HA requirements are not too stringent and as long as they are willing to use Microsoft’s Systems Center, Server Management Suite and Performance Resource Optimization as well as other vendor specific pieces of software as part of their management environment.
  • Hyper-V still has limitations in VM memory size, total physical system memory size and number of cores per VM compared to VMware, and VMware boasts more flexible memory management and I/O options, but these differences are less significant that they were two years ago.
  • For large enterprises and for complete integrated management, particularly storage, HA, DR and automated workload migration, and for what appears to be close to 100% coverage of workload sizes, VMware is still king of the barnyard. VMware also boasts an incredibly rich partner ecosystem.
  • For cloud, Microsoft has a plausible story but it is completely wrapped around Azure.
  • While I have not had the time (or the inclination, if I was being totally honest) to develop a very granular comparison, VMware’s recent changes to its legacy licensing structure (and subsequent changes to the new pricing structure) does look like license cost remains an attraction for Microsoft Hyper-V, especially if the enterprise is using Windows Server Enterprise Edition. 
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GPU Case Study Highlights Financial Application Acceleration

Richard Fichera

NVIDIA recently shared a case study involving risk calculations at a JP Morgan Chase that I think is significant for the extreme levels of acceleration gained by integrating GPUs with conventional CPUs, and also as an illustration of a mainstream financial application of GPU technology.

JP Morgan Chase’s Equity Derivatives Group began evaluating GPUs as computational accelerators in 2009, and now runs over half of their risk calculations on hybrid systems containing x86 CPUs and NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, and claims a 40x improvement in calculation times combined with a 75% cost savings. The cost savings appear to be derived from a combination of lower capital costs to deliver an equivalent throughput of calculations along with improved energy efficiency per calculation.

Implicit in the speedup of 40x, from multiple hours to several minutes, is the implication that these calculations can become part of a near real-time business-critical analysis process instead of an overnight or daily batch process. Given the intensely competitive nature of derivatives trading, it is highly likely that JPMC will enhance their use of GPUs as traders demand an ever increasing number of these calculations. And of course, their competition has been using the same technology as well, based on numerous conversations I have had with Wall Street infrastructure architects over the past year.

My net take on this is that we will see a succession of similar announcements as GPUs become a fully mainstream acceleration technology as opposed to an experimental fringe. If you are an I&O professional whose users are demanding extreme computational performance on a constrained space, power and capital budget, you owe it to yourself and your company to evaluate the newest accelerator technology. Your competitors are almost certainly doing so.

Recent Benchmarks Reinforce Scalability Of x86 Servers

Richard Fichera

Over the past months server vendors have been announcing benchmark results for systems incorporating Intel’s high-end x86 CPU, the E7, with HP trumping all existing benchmarks with their recently announced numbers (although, as noted in x86 Servers Hit The High Notes, the results are clustered within a few percent each other). HP recently announced new performance numbers for their ProLiant DL980, their high-end 8-socket x86 server using the newest Intel E7 processors. With up to 10 cores, these new processors can bring up to 80 cores to bear on large problems such as database, ERP and other enterprise applications.

The performance results on the SAP SD 2-Tier benchmark, for example, at 25160 SD users, show a performance improvement of 35% over the previous high-water mark of 18635. The results seem to scale almost exactly with the product of core count x clock speed, indicating that both the system hardware and the supporting OS, in this case Windows Server 2008, are not at their scalability limits. This gives us confidence that subsequent spins of the CPU will in turn yield further performance increases before hitting system of OS limitations. Results from other benchmarks show similar patterns as well.

Key takeaways for I&O professionals include:

  • Expect to see at least 25% to 35% throughput improvements in many workloads with systems based on the latest the high-performance PCUs from Intel. In situations where data center space and cooling resources are constrained this can be a significant boost for a same-footprint upgrade of a high-end system.
  • For Unix to Linux migrations, target platform scalability continues become less of an issue.

First Sign Of A Cloud Bubble Ready To Pop - An ETF

James Staten

On July 5th, First Trust launched an exchange traded fund (ETF) designed to help investors capitalize on the growing market for cloud computing. I'd be excited about this sign of maturity for the market if the fund let you invest in the companies that are truly driving cloud computing, but most of them aren't publicly traded. Now don't get me wrong, there are clearly some cloud leaders in the ISE Cloud Index, such as Amazon, saleforce.com and Netflix, but many of the stocks in this fund are traditional infrastructure players who get a fraction (at most) of their revenues from cloud computing, such as Polycom, Teradata and Iron Mountain. The fund is a mix of cloud leaders, arms dealers and companies who are directionally heading toward the cloud - dare I say "cloudwashing" their traditional revenue streams. 

The bigger question, though, is should anyone invest in this fund? Ignore the name and why not. Many of these stocks are market leaders in their respective areas, so if you are looking for a good technology fund, this is probably as good as any. 

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The Cloud Computing Market Grows Up

James Staten

Mark this date. While it isn't an anniversary of anything significant in the past, it is a day where our beloved cloud computing market showed significant signs of maturing. Major announcements by VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft all signaled significant progress in making cloud platforms (infrastructure-as-a-service [IaaS] and platform-as-a-service [PaaS]) more enterprise ready and consumable by I&O professionals.

* VMware updates its cloud stack. The server virtualization leader announced version 5 of its venerable hypervisor and version 1.5 of vCloud Director, its IaaS platform atop vSphere. Key enhancements to vCloud include more hardening of its security and resource allocation policy capabilities that address secure multitenancy concerns and elimination of the "noisy neighbor" problem, respectively. It also doubled the total capacity of VMs service providers can put in a single cloud to 20,000. VMware also resurrected a key feature from its now defunct Lab Manager — linked clones. This key capability for driving operational efficiency lets you deploy new VMs from the image library and the system will maintain the relationship between the golden image and the deployed VM. This does two things; it minimizes the storage footprint of the VM, much as similar technology does in virtual desktops, and second it uses the link to ensure clones maintain the patch level and integrity of the golden master. This alone is reason enough to consider vCloud Director.

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VMware Pushes Hypervisor And Management Features With vSphere 5 Announcement

Richard Fichera

After considerable speculation and anticipation, VMware has finally announced vSphere 5 as part of a major cloud infrastructure launch, including vCloud Director 1.5, SRM 5 and vShield 5. From our first impressions, it is both well worth the wait and merits immediate serious consideration as an enterprise virtualization platform, particularly for existing VMware customers.

The list of features is voluminous, with at least 100 improvements, large and small, but among the features, several stand out as particularly significant as I&O professionals continue their efforts to virtualize the data center, primarily dealing with and support for both larger VMs and physical host systems, and also with the improved manageability of storage and improvements Site Recovery Manager (SRM), the remote-site HA components:

  • Replication improvements for Site Recovery Manager, allowing replication without SANs
  • Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS) for Storage
  • Support for up to 1 TB of memory per VM
  • Support for 32 vCPUs per VM
  • Support for up to 160 Logical CPUs and 2 TB or RAM
  • New GUI to configure multicore vCPUs
  • Storage driven storage delivery based on the VMware-Aware Storage APIs
  • Improved version of the Cluster File System, VMFS5
  • Storage APIs – Array Integration: Thin Provisioning enabling reclaiming blocks of a thin provisioned LUN on the array when a virtual disk is deleted
  • Swap to SSD
  • 2TB+ LUN support
  • Storage vMotion snapshot support
  • vNetwork Distributed Switch improvements providing improved visibility in VM traffic
  • vCenter Server Appliance
  • vCenter Solutions Manager, providing a consistent interface to configure and monitor vCenter-integrated solutions developed by VMware and third parties
  • Revamped VMware High Availability (HA) with Fault Domain Manager
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Intel Steps On The Accelerator, Reveals Many Independent Core Road Map

Richard Fichera

While NVIDIA and to a lesser extent AMD (via its ATI branded product line) have effectively monopolized the rapidly growing and hyperbole-generating market for GPGPUs, highly parallel application accelerators, Intel has teased the industry for several years, starting with its 80-core Polaris Research Processor demonstration in 2008. Intel’s strategy was pretty transparent – it had nothing in this space, and needed to serve notice that it was actively pursuing it without showing its hand prematurely. This situation of deliberate ambiguity came to an end last month when Intel finally disclosed more details on its line of Many Independent Core (MIC) accelerators.

Intel’s approach to attached parallel processing is radically different than its competitors and appears to make excellent use of its core IP assets – fabrication and expertise and the x86 instruction set. While competing products from NVIDIA and AMD are based on graphics processing architectures, employing 100s of parallel non-x86 cores, Intel’s products will feature a smaller (32 – 64 in the disclosed products) number of simplified x86 cores on the theory that developers will be able to harvest large portions of code that already runs on 4 – 10 core x86 CPUs and easily port them to these new parallel engines.

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