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SQL Server on Hyperconverged Infrastructure

If there is one technology trend that is revolutionizing the enterprise data center more than just flash alone, it is hyperconvergence. This is where storage and compute (CPU and RAM) are provided in a single package and connected by standard Ethernet networks. By far the leader in this sector of the market is Nutanix, with its Virtual Computing Platform. This section covers key aspects of SQL Server performance and architecture of the Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform.

The Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform is built for virtualization and cloud environments, with the idea of brining the benefits and economics of web-scale architectures from companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon to the masses. The Nutanix solution includes storage and server compute (CPU and Memory) in a platform building block. Each building block is 2 RU and based on standard x86 server technology. The platform architecture is designed to deliver a unified, scale-out, shared-nothing cluster with no single point of failure (SPOF). Hyperconverged platforms don’t require SAN or NAS storage, or fibre channel networks, but can sit along side existing environments.

A general aspect of hyperconverged platforms and Nutanix in particular is a reduction in the number of components that need to be managed and a reduction in the overall solution complexity. The reduction in complexity and increased simplicity translates into ease of deployment and operations, such as when dynamically increasing a cluster’s size, and ease of designing and architecting successful solutions, even for business-critical applications such as SQL Server.

For designing a SQL Server environment, a Nutanix platform is arguably simpler because there are no LUNs, no RAID, no FC switches, no zoning, no masking, no registered state change notifications (RSCN), and no storage multipathing required. All management is VM and VMDK centric. An advantage of being VM and VMDK centric is that storage IO from a VMDK is seen as what it is: sequential is sequential and random is random. This allows the platform to optimize for that IO pattern without the impact of the IO Blender Effect.

This doesn’t mean you have to throw away the assets you’ve already got and that still have a book value. You can use a hyperconverged platform to offload some capacity and performance from your existing systems. This can improve your overall performance and reduce management complexity.

With Nutanix, you have one pool of storage across a distributed file system cluster called the Nutanix Distributed File System (NDFS), which includes SSDs for high performance and low latency and HDDs for cheap capacity. The different types of storage devices in the storage pool are automatically tiered using an intelligent information life cycle management (ILM) engine to ensure the most frequently used data is available in memory or in flash cache. This assumes you have sufficient capacity in your high-performance tier for the most active working set of your VMs. If you are deploying SQL Server on Nutanix, the sections of this chapter you need to follow closely are “SQL Server Database and Guest OS Design” and “Virtual Machine Storage Design,” in addition to “The Five Key Principles of Database Storage Design,” which appears at the start of this chapter.

Nutanix has a small number of model options available to try and make it easy to choose the right one and to make it easy to support. Depending on the model of platform selected, a single 2U building block can include up to four nodes, combining up to 80 CPU cores (two sockets, 10 cores each per node), 2TB RAM (512GB per node), and 8TB of high-performance storage. These building blocks can be scaled out without any artificial limits and provide linear performance as you add more VMs. If more capacity is required per node, a different building block type with up to 16TB–20TB per 2RU can be mixed and matched into a single NDFS cluster to balance both compute capacity and storage capacity and performance. Typical performance from a 2RU building block is up to a combined 100K 4KB Random Read IOs, up to 50K 4KB Random Write IOs, 1.4GBps sequential write throughput, and 3GBps sequential read throughput across four NDFS nodes. These numbers were produced using the built-in Nutanix Diagnostics Tool; actual application performance with mixed workloads will vary. You should benchmark your particular applications and seek advice from Nutanix on your particular virtualization scenarios. It should be noted that SQL Database predominant IO size will be 64KB or above if you have followed the guidance so far in this chapter.

Figure 6.46 shows an overview of the Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform Architecture, including each hypervisor host (VMware ESXi), SQL VMs (User VMs), Storage Controller VM (Controller VM), and its local disks. Each Controller VM is directly connected to the local storage controller and the connected disks using VMware DirectPath/IO. By using local storage controllers on each ESXi host access to the NDFS file system, the data access path is localized and doesn’t always require transport over the network, thereby reducing network traffic and potentially improving performance, predominantly for read operations. NDFS ensures that writes are replicated and distributes data within the cluster for data protection. The local storage controller on each host ensures that storage performance as well as storage capacity increase when additional nodes are added to a Nutanix NDFS cluster.

Figure 6.46

Figure 6.46 Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform Architecture overview.

Figure 6.47 shows an overview of a single Nutanix NDFS cluster combining many different workloads, including SQL Server VMs, into different VMware vSphere clusters.

Figure 6.47

Figure 6.47 SQL Server on the Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform.

Although the storage is local to each node, NDFS makes it appear to the hypervisor as shared storage and therefore integrates with VMware DRS, HA, and fault tolerance. The combination of SSD and HDD local storage in addition to automated tiering is aimed at balancing both cost and performance. Also, NDFS data protection techniques remove some of the performance penalties associated with RAID. The localization of data allows for performance and quality of service to be provided per host, so noisy VMs can’t greatly impact the performance of their neighbors. This allows for large mixed workload vSphere clusters that may be more efficient from a capacity and performance standpoint, while being resilient to failure.

Due to the simplified nature of the Nutanix storage architecture and NDFS, we can simplify the storage layout for SQL Server. Figure 6.48 includes a sample layout, which is standard in a Nutanix environment, consisting of a single NFS data store and single storage pool. We do not need to configure multiple LUNs or calculate LUN queue depths.

Figure 6.48

Figure 6.48 SQL Server VM disk layout on the Nutanix.

For high-performance, critical databases we would recommend you include 4 × PVSCSI controllers and split up the data files, Temp DB, and transaction logs similarly to that described in the section on SQL VM storage layout. With the four PVSCSI adapters available, we recommend that you start with two VMDKs per controller and expand the number of virtual disks per controller as evenly as necessary.

The simplified storage layout potentially provides a number of benefits to each type of SQL Database. Table 6.20 outlines some of the benefits you may be able to expect.

Table 6.20 Nutanix Benefits for OLTP and OLAP SQL Databases

Nutanix Benefits


Transactional Database

Localized I/O for low-latency operations

SSD for indexes and key database files

Ability to handle random and sequential workloads without the impact of the IO Blender Effect


Analytical Database

Local read I/O for high-performance queries and reporting

High sequential write and read throughput

Scalable performance and capacity

To demonstrate the capability of the Nutanix platform for SQL Server, a number of SQLIO benchmarks were performed as part of the “SQL on Nutanix Best Practices” white paper (http://go.nutanix.com/TechGuide-Nutanix-SQLBestPractices_Asset.html), reproduced here with permission. Figures 6.49 through 6.52 resulted from the benchmarks.

Figure 6.49

Figure 6.49 SQL Server SQLIO single VM random IOPS by block size.

Figure 6.50

Figure 6.50 SQL Server SQLIO single VM throughput by block size.

Figure 6.51

Figure 6.51 SQL Server SQLIO multiple VM IOPS scalability.

Figure 6.52

Figure 6.52 SQL Server SQLIO multiple VM throughput scalability.

Figures 6.49 through 6.52 show different performance profiles of the Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform for SQL Server VMs based on the “Nutanix SQL Best Practices” white paper, which includes the detailed configuration and testing details as well as individual IO pattern scenarios. Because most environments consist of mixed IO workloads, you should baseline your environment and consider the impact of IO mix and different IO sizes. The Nutanix platform can coexist with existing storage investments and offload workloads from existing storage platforms, thus freeing up both capacity and performance. It is a valid consideration for SQL Databases that fit within the performance envelope of the scale-out platform.

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