What is the performance impact & overheads of Inline Compression on Nutanix?

I’m frequently getting asked about Nutanix data reduction capabilities such as Deduplication, Erasure Coding and Compression and one of the most common questions (especially in a competitive situation) is:

“What is the performance impact and the overhead of Inline Compression on Nutanix?”

The short answer is, the pros outweigh the cons and this has been true for as long as I can remember with the Nutanix platform.

I have been testing of various applications, node types, cluster sizes and configurations and thought I would share some data on the overheads and performance impact of in-line compression which is what Nutanix (and I) recommend for most deployments including for business critical applications such as Oracle, MS SQL and MS Exchange.

In this case I was testing storage performance for MS Exchange using Jetstress.

Now without going into the exact configuration of the environment (to avoid competitors FUD), the test was simple. I created a Windows 2012 VM and configured Jetstress. I then performed 3 x 15min runs each of which completed a database checksum at the completion.

Following the 3 runs, I enabled In-line compression and repeated the same 3 tests.

The below chart is a screenshot from the Nutanix PRISM HTML 5 UI showing the Cluster wide IOPS, latency and throughput along with the Controller VM CPU utilisation.


As we can see, the 6 performance runs are very similar across all metrics including the CVM CPU utilisation. The below table shows each run including database read latency and log write latency which are the two key performance metrics for MS Exchange Jetstress testing.


Note: The performance numbers above are not the peak or best performance Nutanix can deliver, they are just one of the many test scenarios I ran.

We can see the delta between the No Compression and Inline compression is almost zero. This test shows that while we all know inline data reduction has overheads on the I/O path, that does not necessarily translate into slower performance for the application.

In this case, Nutanix in-line compression is so efficient, that customers can enjoy excellent data efficiencies for applications like MS Exchange, with virtually no impact on performance or additional CPU overheads on the CVM.

Oh and all of this performance on Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV)!

Benchmark(et)ing Nonsense IOPS Comparisons, if you insist – Nutanix AOS 4.6 outperforms VSAN 6.2

As many of you know, I’ve taken a stand with many other storage professionals to try to educate the industry that peak performance is vastly different to real world performance. I covered this in a post titled: Peak Performance vs Real World Performance.

I have also given a specific example of Peak Performance vs Real World Performance with a Business Critical Application (MS Exchange) where I demonstrate that the first and most significant constraining factor for Exchange performance is compute (CPU/RAM) so achieving more IOPS is unnecessary to achieve the business outcome (which is supporting a given number of Exchange mailboxes/message per day).

However vendors (all of them) who offer products which provide storage, whether it is as a component such as in HCI or a fully focused offering, continue to promote peak performance numbers. They do this because the industry as a whole has and continues to promote these numbers as if they are relevant and trying to one-up each other with nonsense comparisons.

VMware and the EMC federation have made a lot of noise around In-Kernel being better performance than Software Defined Storage running within a VM which is referred to by some as a VSA (Virtual Storage Appliance). At the same time the same companies/people are recommending business critical applications (vBCA) be virtualized. This is a clear contradiction, as I explain in an article I wrote titled In-Kernel verses Virtual Storage Appliance which in short concludes by saying:

…a high performance (1M+ IOPS) solution can be delivered both In-Kernel or via a VSA, it’s simple as that. We are long past the days where a VM was a significant bottleneck (circa 2004 w/ ESX 2.x).

I stand by this statement and the in-kernel vs VSA debate is another example of nonsense comparisons which have little/no relevance in the real world. I will now (reluctantly) cover off (quickly) some marketing numbers before getting to the point of this post.

VMware VSAN 6.2

Firstly, Congratulations to VMware on this release. I believe you now have a minimally viable product thanks to the introduction of software based checksums which are essential for any storage platform.

VMW Claim One: For the VSAN 6.2 release, “delivering over 6M IOPS with an all-flash architecture”

The basic math for a 64 node cluster = ~93700 IOPS / node but as I have seen this benchmark from Intel showing 6.7Million IOPS for a 64 node cluster, let’s give VMware the benefit of the doubt and assume its an even 7M IOPS which equates to 109375 IOPS / node.

Reference: VMware Virtual SAN Datasheet

VMW Claim Two: Highest Performance >100K IOPS per node

The graphic below (pulled directly from VMware’s website) shows their performance claims of >100K IOPS per node and >6 Million IOPS per cluster.

Reference: Introducing you to the 4th Generation Virtual SAN

Now what about Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric (NDSF) & Acropolis Operating System (AOS) 4.6?

We’re now at the point where the hardware is becoming the bottleneck as we are saturating the performance of physical Intel S3700 enterprise-grade solid state drives (SSDs) on many of our hybrid nodes. As such we have moved onto performance testing of our NX-9460-G4 model which has 4 nodes running Haswell CPUs and 6 x Intel S3700 SSDs per node all in 2RU.

With AOS 4.6 running ESXi 6.0 on a NX9460-G4 (4 x NX-9040-G4 nodes), Nutanix are seeing in excess of 150K IOPS per node, which is 600K IOPS per 2RU (Nutanix Block).

The below graph shows performance per node and how the solution scales in terms of performance up to a 4 node / 1 block solution which fits within 2RU.


So Nutanix AOS 4.6 provides approx. 36% higher performance than VSAN 6.2.

(>150K IOPS per NX9040-G4 node compared to <=110K IOPS for All Flash VSAN 6.2 node)

It should be noted the above Nutanix performance numbers have already been improved upon in upcoming releases going through performance engineering and QA, so this is far from the best you will see.


Enough with the nonsense marketing numbers! Let’s get to the point of the post:

These 4k 100% random read IOPS (and similar) tests are totally unrealistic.

Assuming the 4k IOPS tests were realistic, to quote my previous article:

Peak performance is rarely a significant factor for a storage solution.

More importantly, SO WHAT if Vendor A (in this case Nutanix) has higher peak performance than Vendor B (in this case VSAN)!

What matters is customer business outcomes, not benchmark(eting)!


Wait a minute, the vendor with the higher performance is telling you peak performance doesn’t matter instead of bragging about it and trying to make it sound importaint?

Yes you are reading that correctly, no one should care who has the highest unrealistic benchmark!

I wrote things to consider when choosing infrastructure. a while back to highlight that choosing the “Best of Breed” for every workload may not be a good overall strategy, as it will require management of multiple silos which leads to inefficiency and increased costs.

The key point is if you can meet all the customer requirements (e.g.: performance) with a standard platform while working within constraints such as budget, power, cooling, rack space and time to value, you’re doing yourself (or your customer) a dis-service by not considering using a standard platform for your workloads. So if Vendor X has 10% faster performance (even for your specific workload) than Vendor Y but Vendor Y still meets your requirements, performance shouldn’t be a significant consideration when choosing a product.

Both VSAN and Nutanix are software defined storage and I expect both will continue to rapidly improve performance through tuning done completely in software. If we were talking about a product which is dependant on offloading to Hardware, then sure performance comparisons will be relevant for longer, but VSAN and Nutanix are both 100% software and can/do improve performance in software with every release.

In 3 months, VSAN might be slightly faster. Then 3 months later Nutanix will overtake them again. In reality, peak performance rarely if ever impacts real world customer deployments and with scale out solutions, it’s even less relevant as you can scale.

If a solution can’t scale, or does so in 2 node mirror type configurations then considering peak performance is much more critical. I’d suggest if you’re looking at this (legacy) style of product you have bigger issues.

Not only does performance in the software defined storage world change rapidly, so does the performance of the underlying commodity hardware, such as CPUs and SSDs. This is why its importaint to consider products (like VSAN and Nutanix) that are not dependant on proprietary hardware as hardware eventually becomes a constraint. This is why the world is moving towards software defined for storage, networking etc.

If more performance is required, the ability to add new nodes and the ability to form a heterogeneous cluster and distribute data evenly across the cluster (like NDSF does) is vastly more importaint than the peak IOPS difference between two products.

While you might think that this blog post is a direct attack on HCI vendors, the principle analogy holds true for any hardware or storage vendor out there. It is only a matter of time before customers stop getting trapped in benchmark(et)ing wars. They will instead identify their real requirements and readily embrace the overall value of dramatically simple on-premises infrastructure.

In my opinion, Nutanix is miles ahead of the competition in terms of value, flexibility, operational benefits, product maturity and market-leading customer service all of which matter way more than peak performance (which Nutanix is the fastest anyway).


  1. Focus on what matters and determine whether or not a solution delivers the required business outcomes. Hint: This is rarely just a matter of MOAR IOPS!
  2. Don’t waste your time in benchmark(et)ing wars or proof of concept bake offs.
  3. Nutanix AOS 4.6 outperforms VSAN 6.2
  4. A VSA can outperform an in-kernel SDS product, so lets put that in-kernel vs VSA nonsense to rest.
  5. Peak performance benchmarks still don’t matter even when the vendor I work for has the highest performance. (a.k.a My opinion doesn’t change based on my employers current product capabilities)
  6. Storage vendors ALL should stop with the peak IOPS nonsense marketing.
  7. Software-defined storage products like Nutanix and VSAN continue to rapidly improve performance, so comparisons are outdated soon after publication.
  8. Products dependant upon propitiatory hardware are not the future
  9. Put a high focus on the quality of vendors support.

Related Articles:

  1. Peak Performance vs Real World Performance
  2. Peak performance vs Real World – Exchange on Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV)
  3. The Key to performance is Consistency
  4. MS Exchange Performance – Nutanix vs VSAN 6.0
  5. Scaling to 1 Million IOPS and beyond linearly!
  6. Things to consider when choosing infrastructure.

In-Kernel verses Virtual Storage Appliance

Let me start by asking, What’s all this “In-Kernel verses Virtual Storage Appliance” debate all about?

It seems to me to be total nonsense yet it is the focus of so called competitive intelligence and twitter debates. From an architectural perspective I just don’t get why it’s such a huge focus when there are so many other critical areas to focus on, like the benefit of Hyper-Converged vs SAN/NAS!!!

Saying In-Kernel or VSA is faster than the other (just because of where the software runs) is like saying my car with 18″ wheels is faster than your car with 17″ wheels. In reality there are so many other factors to consider, the wheel size is almost irrelevant, as is whether or not storage is provided “In-Kernel” or via a “Virtual Appliance”.

If something is In-Kernel, it doesn’t mean it’s efficient, it could be In-Kernel and really inefficient code, therefore being much worse than a VSA solution, or a VSA could be really inefficient and an In-Kernel solution could be more efficient.

In addition to this, Hyper-converged solutions are by design scale-out solutions, as a result the performance capabilities are the sum of all the nodes, not one individual node.

As long as a solution can provide enough performance (IOPS) per node for individual (or scaled up) VMs and enough scale-out to support all the customers VMs, it doesn’t matter if Solution A is In-Kernel or VSA, or that the solution can do 20% or even 100% more IOPS per node compared to solution B. The only thing that matters is the customers requirements are met/exceeded.

Let’s shift focus for a moment and talk about the performance capabilities of the ESX/ESXi hypervisor as this seems to be argued as an significant overhead which prevents a VSA from being high performance. In my experience , ESXi has never been a significant I/O bottleneck, even for large customers with business critical applications as the focus on Biz Critical Apps really took off around the VI3 days or later where the hypervisor could deliver ~100K IOPS per host.

The below is a chart showing VMware’s tested capabilities from ESX 1, through to vSphere 5 which was released in July 2011.


What we can clearly see is vSphere 5.0 can achieve 1 Million IOPS (per host), and even back in the VI3 days, 100,000 IOPS.

In 2011, VMware wrote a great article “Achieving a Million I/O Operations per Second from a Single VMware vSphere® 5.0 Host” which shows how the 1 million IOPS claim has been validated.

In 2012 VMware published “1 million IOPS On 1VM” which showed not only could vSphere achieve a million IOPS, but it could do it from 1 VM.

I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty impressive VMware has optimized the hypervisor to the point where a single VM can get 1 million IOPS, and that was back in 2012!

Now in both the articles, the 1 million IOPS was achieved using a traditional centralised SAN, the first article was with an EMC VMAX with 8 engines and I have summarized the setup below.

  • 4 quad-core processors and 128GB of memory per engine
  • 64 front-end 8Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) ports
  • 64 back-end 4Gbps FC ports
  • 960 * 15K RPM, 450GB FC drives

The IO profile for this test was 8K , 100% read, 100% random.

For the second 1 million IOPS per VM test, the setup used 2 x Violin Memory 6616 Flash Memory Arrays with the below setup.

  • Hypervisor: vSphere 5.1
  • Server: HP DL380 Gen8
    CPU: 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2690, HyperThreading disabled
    Memory: 256GB
  • HBAs: 5 x QLE2562
  • Storage: 2 x Violin Memory 6616 Flash Memory Arrays
  • VM: Windows Server 2008 R2, 8 vCPUs and 48GB.
    Iometer Config: 4K IO size w/ 16 workers

For both configurations, all I/O needs to traverse from the VM, through the hypervisor, out HBAs/NICs, across a storage area network, through central controllers and then make the return journey back to the VM.

There is so many places where additional latency or contention can be introduced in the storage stack it’s amazing VMs can produce the level of storage performance they do, especially back 3 years ago.

Chad Sakac wrote a great article back in 2009 called “VMware I/O Queues, Microbursting and Multipathing“, which has the below representation of the path I/O takes between a VM and a centralized SAN.


As we can see, Chad shows 12 steps for I/O to get to the disk queues, and once the I/O is completed, the I/O needs to traverse all the way back to the VM, so all in all you could argue it’s a 24 step round trip for EVERY I/O!

The reason I am pointing this out is because the argument around “In-kernel” verses “Virtual Storage Appliance” is only about 1 step in the I/O path, when Hyper-Converged solutions like Nutanix (which uses a VSA) eliminate 3/4’s of the steps in an overcomplicated I/O path which has been proven to achieve 1 million IOPS per VM.

Andre Leibovici recently wrote the article “Nutanix Traffic Routing: Setting the story straight” where he shows the I/O path for VMs using Nutanix.

The below diagram which Andre created shows the I/O path (for Read I/O) goes from the VM, across the ESXi hypervisor to the Controller VM (CVM) which then using DirectPath I/O to directly access the locally attached SSD and SATA drives.


Consider if the VM in the above diagram was a Web Server and the CVM was a database server and they were running in an environment with a SAN/NAS. The Web Server would be communicating to the DB server over the network (via the hypervisor) but the DB Server would have to access it’s data (that the Web Server requested) from the centralized SAN, so in the vast majority of environments today (which are using SAN/NAS) the data is travelling a much longer path than it would compared to a VSA solution and in many cases traversing from one VM to another across the hypervisor before going to the SAN/NAS and back through a VM to be served to the VM requesting the data.

Now back to the diagram, For Nutanix the Read I/O under normal circumstances will be served locally around 95% of the time, this is thanks to data locality and how Write I/O happens.

For Write I/Os, one copy of each piece of data is written locally where the VM is running which means all subsequent Read I/O can be served locally (and freshly written data is also typically “Active data”), and the 2nd copy is replicated throughout the Nutanix cluster. This means even though half the Write I/O (of the two copies) needs to traverse the LAN, it doesn’t hit a choke point like a traditional SAN, because Nutanix scales out controllers on a 1:1 ratio with ESXi hosts and writes are distributed throughout the cluster in 1MB extents.

So if we look back to Chad’s (awesome!) diagram, Hyper-converged solutions like Nutanix and VSAN are only concerned with Steps 1,2,3,12 (4 total) for Read I/O and 1,2,3,12 as well as 1 step for the NIC at the source & 1 step for the NIC at the destination host.

So overall it’s 4 steps for Read, 6 steps for Write, compared to 12 for Read and 12 for Write for a traditional SAN.

So Hyper-converged solutions regardless of In-Kernel or VSA based remove many of the potential points of failure and contention compare to a traditional SANNAS and as a result, have MUCH more efficient data paths.

On twitter recently, I responded to a tweet where the person claims “Hyperconverged is about software, not hardware”.

I disagree, Hyper-converged to me (and the folk at Nutanix) is all about the customer experience. It should be simple to deploy, manage, scale etc, all of which constitute the customers experience. Everything in the datacenter runs on HW, so I don’t get the fuss on the Software only vs Appliance / OEM software only solution debate either, but this is a topic for another post.


I agree doing things in software is a great idea, and that is what Nutanix and VSAN do, provide a solution in software which combines with commodity hardware to create a Hyper-converged solution.


A great customer experience (which is what I believe matters) along with high performance (1M+ IOPS) solution can be delivered both In-Kernel or via a VSA, it’s simple as that. We are long past the days where a VM was a significant bottleneck (circa 2004 w/ ESX 2.x).

I’m glad VMware has led the market in pushing customers to virtualize Business Critical Apps, because it works really really well and delivers lots of value to customers.

As a result of countless best practice guides, white papers, case studies from VMware and VMware Storage Partners such as Nutanix, we know highly compute / network & storage intensive applications can easily be virtualized, so anyone saying a Virtual Storage Appliance can’t (or shouldn’t) be, simply doesn’t understand how efficient the ESXi hypervisor is and/or he/she hasn’t had the industry experience deploying storage intensive Business Critical Applications.

To all Hyper-converged vendors: Can we stop this ridiculous debate and get on with the business of delivering a great customer experience and focus on the business at hand of taking down traditional SAN/NAS? I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’ll be doing.