Common Mistake: Inefficient cluster sizes

In my day job, I regularly come across environments which are running poorly and have inefficient designs.

One of the most common issues I see is VMware environments which cannot power on VMs due to being out of compute resources, but not for the reasons you may expect.

While the environments may have less than optimal HA settings / policies, the most common issues I see is customers (for whatever reason) having multiple clusters with only a few nodes. (ie: 2/3/4 etc)

Some of the time, there are corporate policies which may require this type of setup, but alot of the time, you can comply with these policies while still optimizing the environment.

It seems that even with virtualisation having been common place for many years, the basics are still mis-understood by a significant percentage of industry professionals. I have heard comments event recently saying you need 2 node clusters for maximum HA efficiency, They couldn’t be more Wrong!

So, why are small clusters a potential problem?

Depending on what HA setting you choose (Host failures cluster tolerates , Percentage of cluster resources reserved for HA, or Failover Host/s), the clusters have a large amount of “waste”.

What is “Waste”?

“Waste”, is the amount of the compute power within the cluster, that cannot be used to ensure in a HA event, VMs can be restarted on the remaining hosts.

Now at this stage, let me point out, some “Waste” is a good thing. We need to have some spare capacity for HA events, but the challenge is to minimize the waste without compromising HA.

So, in a recent environment I reviewed, there was 4 clusters using similar IBM x3850 Servers.

Cluster 1 : 2 Nodes

Cluster 2 : 2 Nodes

Cluster 3: 3 Nodes

Cluster 4 : 2 Nodes

In all clusters, HA was enabled (as it should be) and the HA admission control setting was “Percentage of Cluster resources reserved for HA” (which I prefer).

The 2 node clusters HA reservation percentage was set to 50%, and the 3 node cluster was 33%, which would be the settings I would choose if I had to stick with the 4 cluster design.

Because the environment (in its current state) was unable to host any more VMs, the customer wanted to purchase another 2 new Hosts, and form a new cluster.

At this stage we have the equivalent of 4 hosts of “waste” within the environment, and with a new cluster we would have 5 hosts “wasted”.

Now after a quick check of the VMware EVC KB: 1003212 all CPUs are compatible with EVC and support the EVC mode “Intel® “Merom” Generation”.

So, we can form a single new cluster using the existing 9 hosts and maintain full cluster functionality by enabling EVC.

Lets assume the hosts are all in a cluster and we’re configuring HA, How do we ensure we have more available compute for the new virtual machines?

Simple, we Enable HA (as you always should), Enable admission control, and set the HA policy to “Percentage of Cluster resources reserved for HA, But what percentage should we choose?

Well, it depends of what level of redundancy you require.

Generally, I recommend for

<8 hosts = N+1 – Note: If you require N+1 during maintenance you need N+2

>8 hosts < 16 hosts = N+2

>16 hosts <24 hosts = N+3

>24 hosts = N+4

The reason for the above, is as you add more hosts, your chance of a host failure, and a subsequent host failure increases. Therefore the more hosts you have, the more redundancy you need, Similar concept to RAID.

So in this example, we’re right on the line in terms of N+1 or N+2.

Lets be conservative, and choose N+2, therefore setting “Percentage of Cluster resources reserved for HA” to 22% (N+2 is actually 22.5%, but we use round numbers).

So what have we achieved?

The previous setup had only N+1 and an average HA overhead of 45.75% (50%+50%+50%+33% divide 4).

The new 9 node cluster now with N+2 redundancy and only has an overhead of 22%. A NET gain of 23.75% of available compute resources without purchasing new hardware.

What else do we gain by having a single larger cluster:

1. Increased DRS flexibility

2. Increase redundancy (previously N+1, now N+2)

3. Less chance of contention

4. No need to purchase new hardware!!

The above is a simple example of how to increase efficiency within a VMware environment without purchasing new hardware.

Now for those of you wanting to know more about HA/DRS, this has been covered in great detail in other blogs, I would recommend you first have a read of the following blog and get a copy of “vSphere 5.0 Clustering technical deep dive” book.

Yellow Bricks (Duncan Epping) – HA Admission control Pros and Cons