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VDI “The Missing Questions” #1: Core Count vs. Core Speed

January 31, 2013 at 8:40 am PST

Choosing the right compute platform for your VDI environment requires both science and art. You have to balance CPU and memory characteristics against your expected workload profile and your desired density. At the end of the day, VDI has to meet some cost criteria in order to go from a fun science project to a funded program in your company. That means you can’t just throw the top bin CPU at the problem; you have to pick the right CPU. This is further complicated by the fact that there is not one CPU that is ideal for all VDI workloads. There is no magical bill of materials at the end of this series of blogs, but we will attempt to make your VDI decisions based more on science than art.

Strength in numbers? Or strength in speed? As Tony said in his introduction, we had several involved questions related to VDI that we honestly couldn’t answer… so we decided to start testing. This will be a series of blogs that attempts to answer practical questions like “when is processor A better than processor B?” And of course you then have to ask “when is processor B better than processer A?” In this first installment in the series, I will tackle the question of whether the number of cores or the core speed is more important when the goal is to achieve the best desktop density per host. Here is a handy guide to the other posts in this series:

The usual suspects. Throughout this series, we will focus on two processors. We picked them because they are popular and cost effective, yet quite different from each other. They are not top bin processors. Take a look at the table below for a comparison.

Note: Prices in this table are recommended prices published by Intel at http://ark.intel.com and may vary from actual prices you pay for each processor. The SPEC performance numbers are an average of SPEC results published by many OEMs (at http://www.spec.org/) across many platforms. These are not Cisco-specific SPEC numbers.

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From the Front Lines: How IT Is Taking Advantage of the Cloud Today

The cloud is here and here to stay. No one expects a wholesale move to the cloud overnight, but I’ve been hearing recently from numerous customers whose journeys are well underway, and some common themes are emerging as businesses explore various deployment models. Business agility, flexibility and balance sheet liquidity will drive cloud adoption, and, as the popularity of hybrid models increases, users will demand a seamless end-user experience between the cloud and on-premise systems.

A few weeks ago, I included these themes in my predictions about the future of cloud collaboration. This week I had the chance to speak with two Cisco customers about why issues such as flexibility, cost savings and user experience drove them to deploy cloud collaboration technologies and other cloud solutions. Sheila Jordan, senior vice president, communication and collaboration IT, co-hosted the discussion with me and offered her insights from an IT perspective. She also recapped the discussion, sharing some specific tips for how IT managers can best take advantage of the cloud.

John Jackson, vice president of global infrastructure and vendor management for D+M Group, said that he can relate easily to the prediction about business agility, flexibility and cost when thinking back to his company’s decision to move to the cloud. D+M Group employs people in several different operating divisions around the world and grew through a series of acquisitions, leaving the company to globalize shared-services IT team that did not previously exist. Read More »

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Cisco Live Europe London Excel Centre Jan 28-Feb 1 : What You Make Possible

January 28, 2013 at 5:00 am PST

Cisco Live Europe returns to London this year more precisely at the ICC Excel Conference Centre.

By focusing on “What You Make Possible”, attendees are invited to hear customer testimonials and see Cisco’s innovation solutions that showcase what is possible when partnering with Cisco.

WhatYouMake Possible

 

As usual the event is divided between a series of educational programs, starting on Monday January 28 with a full day of technical seminars , followed on the 29, 30, 31 and even Feb 1st by a large range of opportunities

  • Keynotes sessions with CTO Padmasree Warrior (1/29) and Data Center SVP/GM David Yen (1/30 )
  • Break out sessions
  • Panels
  • Labs
  • Meet the Engineers
  • Cisco Certifications

I will not detail all the activities. I encourage you to check the website. If you’re in London you want to attend directly – If not you may want to check www.ciscolive356.com to discover  a large  choice of sessions that you can attend on line .

This year we are honored to have NetApp as a Diamond Sponsor (Check John Rollason’s blog on NetApp activities a Cisco Live) . If Cisco, EMC and VMware have been collaborating intensively over the past years with the creation of VCE , and solutions such as VBlock and VSPEX , Cisco and NetApp have also reinforced the partnership moving it to a next level with a recent announcement around Flexpod (chek the blog from Todd Brannon More of a good thing: Cisco and NetApp open the next chapter for FlexPod)

 

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VDI – The Questions You Didn’t Ask (But Really Should)

There’s no shortage of content out there (a quick Google search easily confirms this) when it comes to looking for vendor-originated material touting the latest server performance benchmarks for hosted virtual desktops.  Being part of that community, I’m pretty sure I have my fingerprints on more than one such piece of collateral – and I’m constantly reminded of this, when we run into questions along the lines of “yeah, {xxx} desktops on a blade is great, but c’mon, you and I both know we’d never do that in practice”.  It’s a balancing act of demonstrating solution performance, intersected with the practical reality of what IT managers would reasonably support in a production environment.

So what really matters?  If I’m implementing VDI for the 1st time, and I’m trying to make intelligent decisions around CPU, memory speed, IOPS, etc., where do I go?  VDI is unique in its consumption of compute, storage and network resources, when compared to other workloads hosted in the data center.  Much of the performance benchmarking info put out by server manufacturers is not specific to VDI performance, or how user experience might be impacted by simple decisions like choice of clock speed or # of vCPU.

Thankfully, there are folks in my company that care a LOT about such questions.  So much so, that a small, VDI-proficient group of them took it upon themselves to design and build an in-house lab environment with one express purpose – exhaustively exploring and documenting the performance and scalability impacts seen when configuring your compute platform for VDI.  No stone left unturned – things like CPU cores, clock speed, memory speed,  vCPU, memory density and more – all fair game.

The findings are extremely valuable to anyone deploying VDI, and what this team discovered is a set of real-life “questions”.  The “Missing” questions if you will – those questions that are noticeably absent or never sufficiently exposed in marketing materials, when it comes to the practical choices you can make that most significantly impact the cost, scalability and performance of your virtual desktop implementation.

So let me start with an introduction.  Over the next few weeks, you’re going to hear from some peers of mine – Doron Chosnek, Jason Marchesano, and Shawn Kaiser.  They’re Cisco Consulting Systems Engineers, and they live and breathe VDI (I know, melodramatic), as implemented in their customers’ data centers around the world.

They undertook this journey with the express purpose of answering the “missing” questions, by assembling a test platform in their lab, built on Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), using readily available components including:

  • Various UCS B200 M3 configurations
  • Login Virtual Session Indexer (Login VSI) 3.6.1 benchmark
  • Login VSI’s Medium with Flash workload
  • VMware View 5.1.1
  • Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 32-bit virtual desktops
  • Pure Storage FlashArray with Purity version 2.0.2.

Keep in mind that their goal was not to explore maximum scalability, or prescribe a preferred design/architecture, or even what kind of server blade or processor you should use for VDI.  Instead they relied on commonly available gear easily found in our customer’s data centers.  If you want prescriptive design guidance, Cisco CVD’s are ideal for that, and you can find them here.

So let’s talk about their test environment.

Physical Lab

The physical environment shown below is a highly overprovisioned system.  Only one B200 M3 blade was tested at any one time, yet every logical link between elements shown consists of multiple 10-GbE links or multiple 8-Gb Fibre Channel links.

The storage array has 24 flash disks and is capable of substantially higher IOPS than used for this testing. All the infrastructure machines used for this test (Active Directory, VMware vCenter, VMware View, VSI Launchers) are virtual machines on the B230 M2 blade in the environment.

9 Q Figure 1

 

Note: At the time of testing, the Pure Storage had not completed UCS certification testing.

 

Logical Server Environment

9 Q Figure 2

The tests involved two UCS B200 M3 blades, one with dual E5-2665 processors and the other with dual E5-2643 processors.  The 2643 is a 4-core high clock/burst speed processor, and the 2665 is an 8-core medium/high clock/burst speed processor.  Here are the specs for the CPU’s chosen:

9 Q Figure 3

Now, you may wonder, are either of these THE processor you would choose for VDI?  Not necessarily! 

Keep in mind the goal we set out with – to expose the relative impacts of # cores, clock speed, memory speed, #vCPU’s etc.  What you’ll take away from the results, are guidance on which parameters matter for specific types of VDI deployments.  You can then safely look at a VDI-“workhorse” processor like the E5-2680 or E5-2690, and apply what our CSE’s have learned through this testing, to that class of CPU, and make your best selection there.

The tests were conducted using Login VSI’s Medium with Flash workload generator.  As we explore the test results in this series, you’ll see reference to “VSImax”, which defines the threshold past which the user experience will be unacceptable.  The VSImax threshold will appear on supporting graphs that show the performance curve under various test scenarios.  You can learn more about how this threshold is derived here.

9 Q Table 1

So that’s the test environment.  Through this series – let’s call it VDI – the Questions You Didn’t Ask (But Really Should) – our CSE friends (Shawn, Doron, and Jason) will explore and expose the findings they’ve documented for us, dealing with a new “question” each time.  If you join us for this journey, it’ll be worth your while – you’ll come away with a better appreciation of the impact that some simple decisions in your data center compute configuration can make.

So are you ready for the journey -- You’ll find the Questions (answered thus far) below:

  1. VDI “The Missing Questions” #1: Core Count vs. Core Speed
  2. VDI “The Missing Questions” #2: Core Speed Scaling (Burst)
  3. VDI “The Missing Questions” #3: Realistic Virtual Desktop limits
  4. VDI “The Missing Questions” #4: How much SPECint is enough
  5. VDI “The Missing Questions” #5: How does 1vCPU scale compared to 2vCPU’s?
  6. VDI “The Missing Questions” #6: What do you really gain from a 2vCPU virtual desktop?
  7. VDI “The Missing Questions” #7: How memory bus speed affects scale
  8. VDI “The Missing Questions” #8: How does memory density affect VDI scalability?
  9. VDI “The Missing Questions” #9: How many storage IOPs?
  10. VDI “The Missing Questions” Conclusion

Special Web Event -- You’re Invited!

If you’re enjoying our series, be sure to join our free webcast, where Shawn, Doron and Jason will discuss all the (Missing) VDI Questions Live + take your Q&A.  Access the webcast here.

Featured Whitepaper Now Available!

Need a convenient whitepaper-ized version of the discussion?  Download it now, here.

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Attending Cisco Live in London? Register for the VSPEX Case Study

January 24, 2013 at 9:54 am PST

Cisco and EMC are partnering at Cisco Live next week in London to deliver the latest developments on VSPEX.   Register and plan on attending this informative breakout session.

EMC Global General Manager of VSPEX, Gil Shneorson, and MTI Technology detail how VSPEX powered by EMC, VMware and Cisco technology, transformed the business of a recent VSPEX customer – greatly simplifying management over their IT infrastructure, while delivering performance that drives business value -- enabling them to move on to more strategic thinking within their IT environment.

VSPEX is a complete virtualization solution, proven by EMC and Cisco, delivered by partners. VSPEX gives you the power to choose the technology in your solution while removing the complexity and risk that typically comes with designing, integrating and deploying a best-of-breed solution – enabling fast deployment of powerful cloud infrastructure.

Date: Thursday January 31, 2013

Time: 11:30 am

Session Title: PCS-2003 -- VSPEX Transforms IT: A Customer Case Study

Presenters: Gil Shnoerson, Senior Director Global Product Sales & EMC VSPEX GM; and EMC Richard Flanders, Director, MTI

Also, visit the Cisco and EMC exhibits to learn even more about how Cisco and EMC are partnering together on VSPEX.

 

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