UCS and VCE vBlock Type 1 Challenge Top VMmarkJanuary 13, 2010
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.
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”.)
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.