Demoing the PernixData Flash Virtualization Platform Beta
Flash has become a big topic in the IT world lately especially around virtualization. There are all flash arrays, hybrid flash arrays, auto-tiering within more traditional arrays, and of course server-side flash and SSD. Server-side flash puts the performance gains right in the server, closer to the hypervisor. Using software like PernixData’s Flash Virtualization Platform (FVP) can enable huge performance increases in your vSphere environment without breaking the bank or demanding a huge learning curve.
Right now PernixData is only available as a beta, but they are expecting to GA this summer or fall (2013). The beta is available on the website for those who are interested (hit the red ‘Join Beta’ button on their site nav). In this article I’ll run through a high level installation and running some daily tasks in the vSphere environment while using FVP. Please keep in mind this is only the beta and things are subject to change in the general release.
Install FVP on ESXi:
- Ensure you have installed any SSD or flash devices in your servers already. You can use any devices that are approved by VMware’s Hardware Compatibility List.
- Move the appropriate zip file (provided in the beta) to your host and install the contents. The commands are provided in the product guide. Just make sure you use the full path to the .zip file and also make sure your host is put into maintenance mode. It is very likely this step will be more automated in the GA release of FVP.
Install the FVP Management Server:
- Copy the PernixData Management Server.exe file to the vCenter server and double click on it. Follow the wizard to complete the installation.
- You’ll want to use a service account that has administrative control over the vCenter Server.
- Choose the SQL server you’d like to use and then complete the installation.
- You’ll then install the PernixData plugin from the vCenter Plugins manager, which will make it available as a tab in vCenter.
At this point FVP has been installed. By highlighting the cluster and clicking on the PernixData tab you’ll see the initial screen (see below). There is a guided setup you can follow to get it running quickly.
Configuration & Adding Devices
It walks you through adding flash devices as well as datastores and VMs. Right now, only block storage is capable of being added (iSCSI, Fibre Channel, and FCoE attached datastores). So, even local storage cannot be used currently. You can also choose whether you’d like to use Write Through mode or Write Back mode. With write through mode, changes are made to the back end array with each operation. With write back mode, usually the changes are made in the cache but are not written back to the back end array until the data is purged from the cache.
Sometimes there are concerns over using write back because although there can be a performance increase, it’s possible to lose data. However, PernixData prevents data loss by synchronizing the flash in one host with the flash in the other hosts. This sort of “flash cluster” also enables things like vMotion and HA to continuously take advantage of the performance increases offered by FVP even if a VM is moved to another host manually or because of a host failure. See the figure below to see how to add datastores and in which mode you’re going to use.
You can view usage statistics by clicking on the cluster, host, or VM and looking at the PernixData tab. From there click on the Usage and Performance tabs to check out different things. If you’re concerned about running certain VMs with FVP or you’d like to test performance increases, you can leave VMs out of FVP. Another feature is that if you don’t have SSD or flash devices available in some of your hosts you may still use FVP. Of course, you will not see any performance increases for VMs on the hosts without flash devices, but you will still see the gains on your other hosts.
Server-side flash is becoming a hotter topic. PernixData is not the only option out there. Other companies such as ProximalData, EMC, NetApp and Fusion-io also have server-side flash options. They all have their pros and cons. The nice thing about PernixData is that you can use write back mode and it syncs all of the data on your flash devices without any manual pushes. Server-side flash is definitely worth checking out and is a way more affordable option than flash arrays.
Update: Here’s an video overview of the platform featured at Storage Field Day 3 in April: