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UCS and VCE vBlock Type 1 Challenge Top VMmark

January 13, 2010

VMmark "Tile" Loads

Last November we reported on the Fujitsu RX300 S5 rack server taking the top VMmark spot for 8-core systems. Yesterday (January 11, 2010) Cisco’s UCS B200-M1 using VMware ESX 4.0 (build 164009) came within 0.5% of the top spot with a score of 25.06@17 tiles. While falling only slightly short of the mark set by the brute force RX300/DX80 combo, the UCS system did so with a very different solution, unsurprisingly similar to the vBlock Type 1 architecture described by Chad Sakacc in his blog post about the VMware, Cisco and EMC alliance.

Given that VMmark is a single node test harness, the difference between rack server and blade server architectures is a non-issue. However, more than just rack vs. blade is going on in this comparison. The Cisco UCS system is being fed by a pair of 10GE converged network adapters – used both for host network access and Fiber Channel bus access – and a monolithic storage array in the guise of a CLARiiON CX4-240 complete with a complement of 20, 73GB STEC SSD’s – just to sweeten the pot.

VMmark Network Configuration for the UCS B200-M1

While it is clear from past VMmark posts that the network speed (beyond 1Gbps) has little to do with the results, it is nice to see the confidence Cisco has in the CNA approach (Cisco UCS M71KR-Q) to go with the “eggs in a basket” solution. Given the storage demands on the CNA, the VMmark result should remove any doubt about the viability (performance) of high-capacity tandems (we’ll leave the physical link security concerns for another day.)

However, where the “rubber meets the road” in this contest is storage I/O and this solution – in our opinion is just plain showing off. With just 41 disks to build from, the CX4-240 has been configured to deliver 37 LUNs – nearly one LUN per unit disk. Before any awards are given out for storage of the year, we need to consider that 36 of those LUNs are RAID0 – yielding a testing platform with no real-world analog (hence “showing off”.)

CLARiiON CX4-240 Storage Build-out for UCS B200-M1 VMmark

Given the ease at which RAID0 can be replaced by RAID1+0, it may be safe to assume that the same results could have been obtained by using 77 disks instead of 41 – at which point the CX4-240 would still be less than half the size of the top VMmark’s 172-disk solution. The reason is clear: SSD’s accelerate I/O loads incredibly well in architectures that support them. If anything, this “runner-up” proves that SSD adoption is on the verge of becoming mainstream.

But what does this test show about UCS? Firstly, it shows that Cisco’s platform can compete with the best solutions out there on CPU and I/O performance (what’s a half a percentage point across 102 virtual machines?) It’s not really a surprise given that the UCS platform was designed to do just that – and within a neatly managed framework. Secondly, it shows that the choice of EMC as a partner was an excellent one. As Martin Glassborow commented on his Storagebod’s Blog, EMC’s involvement in VMware has energized the storage vendor to take bold and innovative steps towards Cloud Computing solutions that it might not have done otherwise (like the RAID0 SSD array). Thirdly and most importantly, it underscores the importance of predictable performance in a virtualization solution. Given the UCS/vBlock approach to systems organization, it can be very difficult not to draw solid parallels between the benchmarks and expectations for net new builds based on the criterion.

4 comments

  1. Great post, and I agree with many of your conclusions.

    I think the choice of RAID 0 was an oversight — I believe that any parity RAID scheme (e.g. 7+1) would have likely delivered near-identical results without affecting cost significantly.

    Good thing that Cisco has decided to partner with a storage company ūüôā

    — Chuck

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  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by solori: UCS and VCE (vBlock Type 1 anyone) challenge the top 8-core VMmark spot: http://bit.ly/6BP8Lw – within 0.5% perf and only half the disks…

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  3. […] UCS and VCE vBlock Type 1¬†Challenge Top VMmark‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČCisco/‚ÄčVMware/‚ÄčEMC UCS install per¬≠forms as well as any¬≠one else in VMmark bench¬≠mark. Last November we repor¬≠ted on the Fujitsu RX300 S5 rack server tak¬≠ing the top VMmark spot for 8-‚Äč‚Äčcore sys¬≠tems. Yesterday (January 11, 2010) Cisco‚Äôs UCS B200-‚Äč‚ÄčM1 using VMware ESX 4.0 (build 164009) came within 0.5% of the top spot with a¬†score of 25.06@17 tiles. While fall¬≠ing only slightly short of the mark set by the brute force RX300/‚ÄčDX80 combo, the UCS sys¬≠tem did so with a¬†very dif¬≠fer¬≠ent solu¬≠tion, unsur¬≠pris¬≠ingly sim¬≠ilar to the vBlock Type 1¬†archi¬≠tec¬≠ture described by Chad Sakacc in his blog post about the VMware, Cisco and EMC alliance. […]

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  4. great stuff guys..

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