SSD’s saved our View Pod

Synology DS3612xs SSDs

I’ve talked with several colleagues in the virtualization arena and one of the things they all say is “VDI is tough, it’s always changing, there is nothing harder than virtualizing desktops!” I have learned this lesson the hard way. Two years ago our company deployed VMware’s VDI solution View (now Horizon View) as a proof on concept (POC) to a group of test users, these users ranged from task workers to advanced users running CPU and Graphics intensive applications. That test group was roughly 10 people, 6 months later we deployed VDI in waves to various departments and grew to over 50 users.

Now before I go any further I want to give you a background of the equipment we used to deploy the POC:

  • Dell Poweredge R620 – Intel Xeon E5-2690 2.9 Ghz, 128GB RAM, (6) 1GB NIC’s
  • HP ProCurve 5412zl L2/L3 Switch
  • Dual Dell PowerConnect 24 Port Gigabit Managed Swtiches (SAN Network)
  • Dell Equalogic PS 6100 (48TB Raw) – Total IOPS – 1300

The POC had been deployed before I joined the company and at the time the VDI experience was very good. But as we continued into production, we started seeing performance hits at random times. I started in April of 2012 and was working in another area of IT but was quickly attracted to the allure of VDI and everything VMware. So in my spare time I started doing research into VDI performance issues, I learned about PCoIP offloading, CPU and RAM issues, sizing Gold Images properly, etc. I threw everything out that I knew and started over with new Gold Images, same performance issues. This all happened over 15 months.

The problem was right in front of us…

Then it occurred to me (read: Google, forums, talking w/ vExperts) that storage was our issue. I started reading everything about Total and Peak IOPS and how it relates to VDI, I started scoring our various Gold Images and discovered that some of our images had Peak IOPS of over 150! Do the math…..the Equalogic that we were running had a peak of 1300 IOPS, at this point we had over 180 users, so do that easy math: 180 users x 25 IOPS (average) = 4500 IOPS!!!!! Houston, we have a problem.

The Solution…sorta

So what did we do? It’s simple but not easy! We realized that as we grew our VDI environment that we improved everything except storage. We upgraded to bigger, more powerful hosts, improved our Core Switch architecture and expanded to larger SAN switches, upgraded our Power and Environmental systems. We did every upgrade except storage. This is not a slight towards our team or myself, we just didn’t have the knowledge and experience to truly understand what we were dealing with in VDI. Getting back to the solution (that is the title of this article right?) we started meeting with and sizing solutions around various vendors and in the meantime I got the idea to buy a Synology NAS load it up with some SSD’s and give us a fairly inexpensive band aid until we can properly implement a permanent storage solution.

In the left corner….Synology DS3612xs

DS3612xs

So let’s talk about the Synology DS3612xs because this thing is a beast! I chose this model specifically because of the 12 bay capacity and its ease of transition into our test lab environment (I’m begging my boss to buy it for my Home Lab!) The specs for this thing are really impressive:

  • 12 Drive Bays (Expandable to 36 with Add On Chassis)
  • Intel Core i3 CPU
  • 8GB RAM
  • 4 1GB NICs
  • Available PCIe bay (did someone say 10GB?)
  • vSphere 5 support with VAAI
  • SSD TRIM Support
  • Synology Awesomesauce DSM operating system
In the right corner….Intel 520 Series SSD and 10GB Fiber

I went with Intel 520 Series 480GB Solid State Discs because of the reliability, cost and Total IOPS count (42,000 Read/50,000 Write). Because of the Peak IOPS burst, I have heard horror stories about running SSD’s over 1GB so I wanted to have a nice big pipe to our SAN network, I went with a Intel SFP card that supports 10GB fiber. This fit perfectly into our SAN switches and was excited to get everything put together!

Did it fix the IOPS issue?

Yes it has! But that was its intention all along. We took the time, did the research and assembled a reasonable budget and solution that could solve an immediate crisis for our end users. Is it a permanent solution? Absolutely not! But we have seen an immediate performance improvement across the board, from recomposes, pool creation, to end user UI improvements, it has been really nice to finally know but to understand the problem.

The next steps?

Now that we have our band aid we can focus on our permanent storage solution. I am really excited to start working with various vendors and stand up some POC’s to see how the various solutions work with our systems and processes. Until then I get a lot of joy watching the performance metrics every morning during login storms go smoothly. Clone VM’s in seconds as opposed to 90 minutes! I will update this article as I can with some specific performance charts. But for now I am getting ready for our next set of problems after storage….virtualizing graphics. But isn’t that why we are doing this, to learn, understand, solve problems and make things better? I know I am!

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Veeam ONE Monitor Free Edition Review

VeeamONEFree

As 2014 is about to start, December is always a time to have internal IT meetings on how to improve processes, workflows and responsiveness. This year our IT department experienced positives and negatives in those categories from power outages to unexpected server down times. The big takeaway from 2013 was being a more proactive team when it comes to our virtual system and resolving problems before they become downtime scenarios.

So as I set out to do research (read: Google) on proactive monitoring solutions for our virtual infrastructure I came across several good candidates like SolarWinds, Xangati, vCOPS and Veeam. I think money grows on trees, my bosses think otherwise so I decided to deploy VeeamONE Free Edition to see if it cut the mustard for what we wanted and if the free version is an actual solution or just a digital carrot dangling in front of the budget waiting to be purchased.

There are a few differences/limitations to the free version, I have highlighted them below, now that we have that covered let’s find out if VeeamONE is really free and usable.

Veeam ONE Monitor Free vs Paid

Installation

Installation was quite easy to stand up. Built out a VM with the necessary “hardware” requirements on a Windows 2008 R2 x64 box. Everything was pretty much next, next, next, except for a restriction we have on SQL creations, that was an easy fix. We simply ran the CREATE script that came packaged with the installer, ran it in SSMS and the database was created. Verified the default ports and linked VeeamONE to our primary vCenter server and assigned some users to the Users and Admin groups. Reboot once and everything came back up just fine.

Configuration

Configuration was a breeze, there are two types of roles, Admins and Users, biggest difference I can see is Users are limited to what changes can be altered to events where as Admins have higher control. Email notifications are limited to the canned responses in the Free edition but is sufficient for what we wanted. Setup your SMTP settings and go!  With notifications you can include known KB articles with a specific issue, this is a helpful step for your lower tier Help Desk guys if they don’t live on VMware’s KB site like I do! If you have a broader SNMP capture system, VeeamONE links up nicely. On to views and the dashboard.

Views and Dashboard

This is where I personally think VeeamONE shines, you have 3 views to choose from: Infrastructure, Business and Data Protection.  In the Free Edition, Data Protection is unavailable as it relates to Veeam Backup & Replication and Enterprise Manager for a higher level view of your environment as it relates to your data integrity, this is a view we would like, but completely understand why Veeam left it out of the free edition. The Infrastructure View is where I live, it gives me a complete breakdown of my vCenter environment separated by Datacenter, Clusters, Hosts, VM’s, Resources and Datastores. As referenced in the free vs. paid chart, some notifications are limited but it is still a ton of information to get you closer to resolution.

My favorite is the Dashboard view, we are a VDI shop at so I built out a Kiosk Mode VM that auto loads the VeeamONE Client in full screen mode (pictured above) that gives me a dedicated station in my office to turn around and focus on a specific problem or event. Lately we have been testing some VDI users on a certain Synology DS3612XS with SSD’s (article coming soon!), it’s been nice to see statistics on performance and be alerted if the datastore spikes with latency.

Conclusions

VeeamONE Free Edition is a great compliment to your vCenter environment and has helped up isolate issues that we weren’t even looking for. Veeam has done a great job giving a lot of functionality in a free edition, there are some limitations that will make us seriously consider the paid version (Management likes reports!). But with some knowledge in PowerShell and PowerCLI vCheck can help with this! We have only had it up and running for 2 weeks and I obsessively knock out all the events that come across my inbox from the notification system. It has made us think twice about issues before diving in. I would highly recommend standing up the free version in your environment, what do you have to lose but a little more pro-activeness and maybe a different view on your vCenter environment!

VeeamONE Monitor Free Edition Link

vBlog voting starts soon…

celebration

I woke up to some good news yesterday, Eric Siebert from vSphere-land updated his vBlog list and announced that voting for vBlog 2014 will be starting soon. He has updated his vLaunchPad site and I am happy to have been added to the list of awesome bloggers and contributors of the technology community. He will be updating the site and add categories for nominations. I have a few articles to post in the next few days so be on the lookout….maybe something about a certain Synology DS3612xs that we have running some VDI….so stay tuned!