VMware and DBAs

Disclosure: I’m a VMware fan and run it on my laptop. I definitely prefer it to other hypervisors. This workshop and all travel expenses was also paid for entirely by VMware.

I was fortunate and grateful to be invited out to VMware recently for a multi-day workshop for SQL Server on VMware. Michael Corey wrote about the workshop here, which was an interesting way for VMware to reach out to the SQL Community and both talk to us about what they’re doing as well as get feedback from us on how SQL Server performs and interacts with the VMware platform. They will do more in the future, so if you’re active in the community or a heavy user, read Michael’s post and see if you can get yourself nominated.

The week was full of speakers from both VMware and Tintri, a storage vendor doing interesting things. We had quite a few executives talking about their plans to make SQL Server run better, and we (as a group) provided lots of feedback. Certainly I think we helped to ensure executives understand that a database server is fundamentally different from a file server, mail server, or other workload.

Of course, it wasn’t all work.

Mrdenney

I can’t talk about lots of what we discussed, as much is under NDA, but I will say that you should keep an eye on how VMware is going to improve their interaction with SQL Server. Hopefully we’ll see more products, information, and help at some of the SQL Saturdays and other SQL Server specific events.

We also got a night out at ATT Park in San Francisco where the various attendees and speakers could interact in a casual atmosphere. An exciting game, with two of the best pitchers in the game throwing that night (Kershaw and Bumgarner).

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I’d never been there, so it was a treat for me. I walked around and enjoyed the baseball game, the first one I’ve seen live in a couple years.

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Overall it was a very interesting time, with lots of points raised by everyone that I hadn’t considered or thought of. The more I hear about what the ESX platform does and handles, as well as hearing about how people have set up the platform. There are truly some powerful instances being run in a virtualized environment and I’m not sure there are many workloads that couldn’t be run successfully on VMware.

I’m sure that there are hardware and budget restrictions for many people, but the issues aren’t VMware or virtualization, they’re the setup. In the labs we worked on, quite a few of the systems pressed a SQL Server instance hard, and the hypervisor and storage system kept up nicely.

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Not to disparage Hyper-V, but I haven’t had the experience there. I suspect both hypervisors could be tuned to a high level. Both also have some holes and places where the system might not run as smoothly as you’d like, but at least I think VMware is more aware of what we, as SQL Server professionals, see as problems.

Tintri

I have to admit that I have mostly though of storage as a utility. It needs to work and respond fast, but beyond that, I don’t care about it. It’s like a water faucet. I turn it on and it works.

Tintri was the guest storage vendor that provided appliances for us to use. I didn’t’ think much of them on Tuesday morning, but by the time their founder had talked with us, I was very intrigued. I still don’t really care about storage other than needing it to work, but I was very intrigued by how this particular product works.

Most storage is presented as a LUN to a host, which may or may not share that among guests running on a box. Tintri changes that, with what they call VM aware storage, with VM level QOS. Essentially, the storage box is aware of each guest connected as a VM. It manages the storage response and bandwidth on a VM basis, with separate FIFO queues for each drive in the VM. Essentially each VM is treated separately and the storage capabilities (min and max IOPS) can be managed separately.

It seems as though VMs get better response from the appliance this way, with less dependency on heavy management by storage admins. They also use a lot of flash memory (SSDs) with disks to ensure fast responses. They do 100% write to flash for speed and tune the systems to aim for 99% reads from flash. Because the device is aware of VMs, it can move blocks around from flash to disk to ensure that the heavily used data is quickly available.

If you have heavy needs, check them out. If you’re looking for a SAN, I’d look at them as well. Not sure what the pricing is, but I bet it’s competitive with other SAN devices.

We also got a lecture about low level storage technologies from a VMware exec. The talk looked at the advances taking place in storage, which seem to be finally leaping forward. With the price of SSDs crashing, and the research into 3D flash, it seems that though more and more of us might move to flash based SAN storage quicker than we expect. Fascinating stuff, and I suspect that database systems will start to see better performance from hardware upgrades across the next 6-7 years.

A Break

It was nice to get away and learn something without any pressure to work on much else. This was a short workshop, close to home, and in an area that had me concentrating and paying attention in ways that sometimes don’t happen at SQL Server events. I enjoyed it, and I learned quite a few things.

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I’m not sure how much I’ll use this stuff moving forward, but I am thinking that I’d like to play around with an ESX server at home and use that to experiment with SQL Server features and especially setup. I’m looking forward to trying to get a system ready that can build a new SQL Server instance in minutes.

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