Expanding Capacity on a Nutanix environment – Design Decisions

I recently saw an article about design decisions around expanding capacity for a HCI platform which went through the various considerations and made some recommendations on how to proceed in different situations.

While reading the article, it really made me think how much simpler this process is with Nutanix and how these types of areas are commonly overlooked when choosing a platform.

Let’s start with a few basics:

The Nutanix Acropolis Distributed Storage Fabric (ADSF) is made up of all the drives (SSD/SAS/SATA etc) in all nodes in the cluster. Data is written locally where the VM performing the write resides and replica’s are distributed based on numerous factors throughout the cluster. i.e.: No Pairing, HA pairs, preferred nodes etc.

In the event of a drive failure, regardless of what drive (SSD,SAS,SATA) fails, only that drive is impacted, not a disk group or RAID pack.

This is key as it limited the impact of the failure.

It is importaint to note, ADSF does not store large objects nor does the file system require tuning to stripe data across multiple drives/nodes. ADSF by default distributes the data (at a 1MB granularity) in the most efficient manner throughout the cluster while maintaining the hottest data locally to ensure the lowest overheads and highest performance read I/O.

Let’s go through a few scenarios, which apply to both All Flash and Hybrid environments.

  1. Expanding capacityWhen adding a node or nodes to an existing cluster, without moving any VMs, changing any configuration or making any design decisions, ADSF will proactively send replicas from write I/O to all nodes within the cluster, therefore improving performance while reactively performing disk balancing where a significant imbalance exists within a cluster.

    This might sound odd but with other HCI products new nodes are not used unless you change the stripe configuration or create new objects e.g.: VMDKs which means you can have lots of spare capacity in your cluster, but still experience an out of space condition.

    This is a great example of why ADSF has a major advantage especially when considering environments with large IO and/or capacity requirements.

    The node addition process only requires the administrator to enter the IP addresses and its basically a one click, capacity is available immediately and there is no mass movement of data. There is also no need to move data off and recreate disk groups or similar as these legacy concepts & complexities do not exist in ADSF.

    Nutanix is also the only platform to allow expanding of capacity via Storage Only nodes and supports VMs which have larger capacity requirements than a single node can provide. Both are supported out of the box with zero configuration required.

    Interestingly, adding storage only nodes also increases performance, resiliency for the entire cluster as well as the management stack including PRISM.

  2. Impact & implications to data reduction of adding new nodesWith ADSF, there are no considerations or implications. Data reduction is truely global throughout the cluster and regardless of hypervisor or if you’re adding Compute+Storage or Storage Only nodes, the benefits particularly of deduplication continue to benefit the environment.

    The net effect of adding more nodes is better performance, higher resiliency, faster rebuilds from drive/node failures and again with global deduplication, a higher chance of duplicate data being found and not stored unnecessarily on physical storage resulting in a better deduplication ratio.

    No matter what size node/s are added & no matter what Hypervisor, the benefits from data reduction features such as deduplication and compression work at a global level.

    What about Erasure Coding? Nutanix EC-X creates the most efficient stripe based on the cluster size, so if you start with a small 4 node cluster your stripe would be 2+1 and if you expand the cluster to 5 nodes, the stripe will automatically become 3+1 and if you expand further to 6 nodes or more, the stripe will become 4+1 which is currently the largest stripe supported.

  3. Drive FailuresIn the event of a drive failure (SSD/SAS or SATA) as mentioned earlier, only that drive is impacted. Therefore to restore resiliency, only the data on that drive needs to be repaired as opposed to something like an entire disk group being marked as offline.

    It’s crazy to think a single commodity drive failure in a HCI product could bring down an entire group of drives, causing a significant impact to the environment.

    With Nutanix, a rebuild is performed in a distributed manner throughout all nodes in the cluster, so the larger the cluster, the lower the per node impact and the faster the configured resiliency factor is restored to a fully resilient state.

At this point you’re probably asking, Are there any decisions to make?

When adding any node, compute+storage or storage only, ensure you consider what the impact of a failure of that node will be.

For example, if you add one 15TB storage only node to a cluster of nodes which are only 2TB usable, then you would need to ensure 15TB of available space to allow the cluster to fully self heal from the loss of the 15TB node. As such, I recommend ensuring your N+1 (or N+2) node/s are equal to the size of the largest node in the cluster from both a capacity, performance and CPU/RAM perspective.

So if your biggest node is an NX-8150 with 44c / 512GB RAM and 20TB usable, you should have an N+1 node of the same size to cover the worst case failure scenario of an NX-8150 failing OR have the equivalent available resources available within the cluster.

By following this one, simple rule, your cluster will always be able to fully self heal in the event of a failure and VMs will failover and be able to perform at comparable levels to before the failure.

Simple as that! No RAID, Disk group, deduplication, compression, failure, or rebuild considerations to worry about.

Summary:

The above are just a few examples of the advantages the Nutanix ADSF provides compared to other HCI products. The operational and architectural complexity of other products can lead to additional risk, inefficient use of infrastructure, misconfiguration and ultimately an environment which does not deliver the business outcome it was originally design to.

Nutanix Data Protection Capabilities

There is a lot of misinformation being spread in the HCI space about Nutanix data protection capabilities. One such example (below) was published recently on InfoStore.

Evaluating Data Protection for Hyperconverged Infrastructure

When I see articles like this, It really makes me wonder about the accuracy of content on these type of website as it seems articles are published without so much as a brief fact check from InfoStore.

None the less, I am writing this post to confirm what Data Protection Capabilities Nutanix provides.

  • Native In-Built Data protection

Prior to my joining Nutanix in mid-2013, Nutanix already provided a Hypervisor agnostic Integrated backup and disaster recovery solution with centralised consumer- grade management through our PRISM GUI which is HTML 5 based.

The built in capabilties are flexible and VM-centric policies to protect virtualized applications with different RPOs and RTOs with or without application consistency.

The solution also supports Local, remote, and cloud-based backups, and synchronous and asynchronous replication-based disaster recovery solutions.

Currently supported cloud targets include AWS and Azure as shown below.

CloudBackup

The below video which shows in real time how to create Application consistent snapshots from the Nutanix PRISM GUI.

Nutanix can also perform One to One, One to Many and Many to One replication of application consistent snapshots to onsite or offsite Nutanix clusters as well as Cloud providers (AWS/Azure), ensuring choice and flexibility for customers.

Nutanix native data protection can also replicate between and recover VMs to clusters of different hypervisors.

  • CommVault Intellisnap Integration

Nutanix also provides integration with Commvault Intellisnap which allows existing Commvault customers to continue leveraging their investment in the market leading data protection product and to take advantage of other features where required.

The below shows how agentless backups of Virtual Machines is supported with Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV). Note: Commvault is also fully supported with Hyper-V and ESXi.

By Commvault directly calling the Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric (NDSF) it ensures snapshots are taken quickly and efficiently without the dependancy on a hypervisor.

  • Hypervisor specific support such as VMware API Data Protection (VADP)

Nutanix also supports solutions which leverage VADP, allowing customers with existing investment in products such as Veeam & Netbackup to continue with their existing strategy until such time as they want to migrate to Nutanix native data protection or solutions such as Commvault.

  • In-Guest Agents

Nutanix supports the use of In-Guest agents which are typically very inefficient with centralised SAN/NAS storage but due to data locality and NDSF being a truly distributed platform, In-Guest Incremental forever backups perform extremely well on Nutanix as the traditional choke points such as Network, Storage Controllers & RAID packs have been eliminated.

Summary:

As one size does not fit all in the world of I.T, Nutanix provides customers choice to meet a wide range of market segments and requirements with strong native data protection capabilities as well as 3rd party integration.

Nutanix Implementation of Data Avoidance & Reduction Technologies

While its not news that Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric (NDSF) supports numerous data avoidance & reduction technologies, what is less well known is how these technologies can be enabled/disabled and used.

Before we begin, let me cover off what technologies NDSF offers:

Data Avoidance:

  • VAAI-NAS Fast File Clone (for ESXi)
  • View Composer for Array Integration (VCAI) for Horizon View
  • Native NDSF Clones (ESXi, Hyper-V and AHV)
  • ODX Copy Offload (Hyper-V)
  • Crash and Application Consistent snapshots (ESXi, Hyper-V and AHV)

Data Reduction:

  • Compression (In-Line and Post-Process)
  • Deduplication (Fingerprint on Write/In-Line for Performance Tier and/or Capacity Tier)
  • Erasure Coding (EC-X)

Data avoidance is designed to prevent the creation of unnecessary data which removes the requirement to leverage data reduction technologies. This means less work for the storage layer which results in more available front end IO to service the virtual machines.

An example of data avoidance is using VCAI with Horizon View to create Linked Clones near instantly which not only reduces space but ensures faster deployment and recompose activities with greatly reduced impact to the environment.

Data avoidance is greatly underrated in my opinion, as it results in lower compression/deduplication ratios, because there is no additional data to dedupe or compress. If Nutanix turned off these data avoidance technologies, it would result in HIGHER compression and dedupe ratios, which sounds great on a marketing slide or in a tweet, but in reality, avoiding work for the storage is a much better way to do things.

Some vendors report data avoidance such as snapshots in deduplication ratios, and this in my opinion is very misleading and designed to artifically inflate dedupe ratios for competitive purposes. For more information see: Deduplication ratios – What should be included in the reported ratio?

Data Reduction is still a valuable option to have but in my opinion its overrated. The reason I think its overrated is data reduction does not always work well. It greatly depends on your data type if you will see a good data reduction ratio or not, AND if the overheads (of which there is always an overhead) are worth it.

Let’s now focus on the NDSF implementation of Data Reduction technologies.

Compression:

Compression can be configured on new or existing containers and be set to In-Line or Post-Process. For post process, enter a “Delay” value e.g.: 60 to delay compression for 1 Hour, or 3600 for 1 day.

Compression

Compression can be reconfigured at any time, without the requirement to relocate VMs or reformat the storage. For data which is already compressed it will be uncompressed as part of a low priority background task (known as Curator). This ensures there is low/no impact of changing Compression settings, ensuring maximum flexibility for customers.

Because compression is configured per container, you can have VMs or even Virtual Disks running compression alongside VMs or Virtual Disks not running compression within the same NDSF cluster. This helps eliminate silos and ensures mixed workloads with different data types/profiles can co-exist efficiently.

Deduplication:

As with Compression, Deduplication can be configured on new or existing containers and be set to dedupe for the performance tier (SSD) and optionally for the Capacity (HDD) Tier. This means data reduction can be maximised for either or both tiers depending on customer requirements.

dedupeconfig

Again the same as Compression, Dedupe can be reconfigured at any time, without the requirement to relocate VMs or reformat the storage. For data which is already deduped the same low priority background task (Curator) rehydrates the data again ensuring there is low/no impact of changing dedupe settings and ensuring maximum flexibility for customers.

Because dedupe is configured per container, you can have VMs or even Virtual Disks running dedupe alongside VMs or Virtual Disks not running dedupe within the same NDSF cluster. Deduplication is also complimentary to Compression, meaning both can be ran at the same time to maximise data reduction and further eliminate silos ensuring mixed workloads can co-exist efficiently.

Erasure Coding (EC-X):

As with Compression & Dedupe, EC-X is enabled on a per container basis and is complimentary to both Compression and Dedupe. EC-X is a post-process only form of data reduction designed to work on Write cold data (meaning data which is not changing).

EC-X applies to data across the Performance Tier (SSD) and the Capacity Tier (SATA) which means the effective SSD capacity is increased, which means more data can be serviced by SSD, thus increasing performance.

ecxonoff

As previously discussed, NDSF supports different containers using different combinations of data reduction all within the same NDSF cluster to maximise efficiencies and eliminate unnecessary silos.

Summary:

Nutanix provides multiple technologies to minimise the data being stored on the distributed storage fabric while giving customers the flexibility to enable/disable and tune data reduction settings to suit different data profiles all within the same NDSF cluster.

Remember, “one size does not fit all” so it is importaint for the storage layer to be able treat your workloads differently based on their individual requirements.

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