Sizing assumptions for solutions with Erasure Coding (EC-X)

A common question recently has been how should I size a solution with Erasure Coding (EC-X) from a capacity perspective.

As a general rule, any-time I size a solution using data reduction technology including Compression, De-duplication and Erasure Coding, I always size on the conservative side as the capacity savings these technologies provide can vary greatly from workload to workload and customer to customer.

To assist with sizing, I have created the below tables showing the RAW capacity, usable capacity based on RF, Maximum usable with EC-X and my recommended sizing range.

You will note the recommended sizing is a range between roughly 50-80% of the theoretical maximum capacity EC-X can provide.

This is because EC-X is a post process and is only applied to Write Cold data as per my earlier post: What I/O will Nutanix Erasure coding (EC-X) take effect on?

This means it is unlikely all data will have EC-X applied and as a result, the usable capacity will generally be less than the maximum.

The following are general recommendations, which may not be applicable to every environment. For example, if your workload is heavy on “overwrites”, your EC-X capacity savings will likely be minimal, but for general server workloads, the below can be used as a rule of thumb:

RF2 + EC-X Recommended Sizing Range




RF3 + EC-X Recommended Sizing RangeRF3ECXsizingassumptionsrange

If you want to be conservative with sizing, I recommend choosing the lower value in the sizing range. If you are happy to be less conservative then the higher number in the range can be used.

If you decide to size based on a number outside the recommended range, please document the assumed EC-X data reduction ratio and a risk that states in the event EC-X savings are less than “insert your value here” additional nodes will need to be purchased.

Tip: Always size for at least N+1 at the capacity layer, meaning if your largest node is 10TB RAW and with EC-X and RF2 you expect to have for example 7.5TB usable, that your container is configured with an “Advertised Capacity” at least N-1 capacity of the storage pool. (Or N-2 for clusters using RF3)

I hope you find this helpful when sizing your Nutanix environments.

Nutanix – Erasure Coding (EC-X) Deep Dive

I published a post earlier this month during the .NEXT conference titled “What’s .NEXT? – Erasure Coding!” which covered the basics of Nutanix EC-X implementation.

This post is a deep drive follow on to answer numerous questions I have received about EC-X such as:

1. Does it work with Compression and De-duplication?
2. Can I use EC-X to reduce the overhead of RF3?
3. Does it work on Hot or Cold data?
4. Does it work only on the SATA tier?
5. What is the performance impact?
6. When should I use/not use EC-X?
7. What’s different about Nutanix (Patent pending) EC-X compared to other EC algorithms?
8. How does EC-X impact Data Locality?
9. What Hypervisors is EC-X supported with?

So let’s start with What’s different about Nutanix (Patent pending) EC-X compared to other EC algorithms?

* Nutanix EC-X is optimized for a distributed platform, where data is spread across nodes, not individual disks to ensure optimal performance. This also ensures rebuild times are faster and lower impact as the rebuild is performed across all the nodes/drives.

* Nutanix EC-X is also performed as a background task and only on Write Cold data meaning the configured RF is completed as normal and then as a post process EC-X is performed to ensure the write process is not potentially slowed by requiring numerous nodes within the cluster to participate in the initial write I/O.

How does EC-X affect existing Nutanix Data Reduction technologies.

* Short answer, EC-X is complimentary to both compression and deduplication so you will get even more data reduction. Here is a sample screen shot from the Home screen in PRISM which shows a breakdown of Dedup, Compression and Erasure Coding savings.


In the Storage Tab within PRISM, we can get further details on the capacity savings. Here we see an example Container with Compression and EC-X enabled:


Does it work only on the SATA tier?

No, EC-X works on all tiers, being SSD and SATA today, but in the future when newer technology or more than two tiers are used, EC-X works across all tiers.

Does EC-X work on Hot or Cold data?

EC-X waits until data written (via RF2 or RF3) is “Write Cold”, meaning the data is not being overwritten. The data might be white hot from a read I/O perspective, but as long as its not being overwritten the extent group (4MB) will be a candidate for EC-X.

This means for data which is Write Cold, the effective capacity of the SSD tier will be increased due to requiring less space thanks to EC-X.

What is the performance impact?

As EC-X is a post process task and EC-X waits until data is “Write Cold” before performing EC-X on the data, in general it will not impact the Write performance.

The exception to this is in the event data is Write Cold for a period of time, then the data is overwritten, this “overwrite” will incur a higher penalty than a typical RF2/RF3 write. As such some workloads may not be suitable for EC-X which I will discuss later.

Overall, if the workload is suitable, EC-X will keep the data in the SSD tier and the parity on the SATA tier which effectively extends the usable capacity of the SSD tier therefore helping to increase performance (as with compression and dedup).

What Hypervisors is EC-X supported with?

Everything in the Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric (part of the Nutanix Xtreme Computing Platform or XCP) is designed to be hypervisor agnostic. So whatever Hypervisor/s you choose, you can benefit from EC-X!

How does EC-X impact Data Locality?

As the initial Write path is not impacted by enabling EC-X, Data Locality is still maintained and ensures one copy of data is written to the local node where the VM is running while replicating a further one or two copies (dependent on RF configuration) throughout the cluster.

This means that for newly written data as well as data being overwritten at frequencies of <60mins will always maintain data locality.

For data which meets the criteria for EC-X to be performed, such as Read Hot or Write Cold data, Data Locality can only be partially maintained as the data is by design striped across nodes. The result of this means that it is probable Read I/O will be performed over the network.

Importantly though Read Hot data will be maintained in the SSD tier and be distributed throughout the cluster. This means a single VMs read I/O can be served by multiple nodes concurrently which can lead to increased performance.

As EC-X also provides capacity savings, this allows for more data to be serviced by the SSD tier which enabled a larger active working set to perform at SSD speeds.

In summary, while Data Locality is not always maintained when using EC-X, the advantages of EC-X far outweigh the partial loss in Data Locality.

And finally, When should I use/not use EC-X?

As discussed earlier, EC-X is applied to Write Cold data and if/when that data is overwritten, the write penalty is higher than a typical RF2 write I/O. So if your dataset has a high percentage of overwrites, it is recommended not to use EC-X. The good news is storage can be assigned on a per VMDK level (or vDisk at the NDFS layer) so you can have one VM using EC-X for some data and RF2/3 for other data, again giving customers the best of both worlds.

The best workloads for EC-X are:

1. File Servers
2. Backup
3. Archive
4. Email
5. Logging


Nutanix EC-X gives customers more choice without compromising functionality and performance while dramatically reduces the cost/GB of storage.

Related Articles:

  1. Large scale clusters and increased resiliency with RF3 + EC-X
  2. What I/O will Nutanix Erasure coding (EC-X) take effect on?

  3. Sizing assumptions for solutions with Erasure Coding (EC-X)

What’s .NEXT? – Erasure Coding!

Up to now, Nutanix has used a concept known as “Replication Factor” or “RF” to provide storage layer data protection as opposed to older RAID technologies.

RF allows customers to configure either 2 or 3 copies of data depending on how critical the data is.

When using RF2, the usable capacity of RAW is 50% (RAW divide 2).

When using RF3, the usable capacity of RAW is 33% (RAW divide 3).

While these sound like large overheads, but in reality, they are comparable to traditional SAN/NAS deployments as explain in the two part post – Calculating Actual Usable capacity? It’s not as simple as you might think!

But enough on existing features, lets talk about an exciting new feature, Erasure coding!

Erasure coding (EC) is a technology which significantly increases the usable capacity in a Nutanix environment compared to RF2.

The overhead for EC depends on the cluster size but for clusters of 6 nodes or more it results in only a 1.25x overhead compared to 2x for RF2 and 3x for RF3.

For clusters of 3 to 4 nodes, the overhead is 1.5 and for clusters of 5 nodes 1.33.

The following shows a comparison between RF2 and EC for various cluster sizes.ErasureCodingAs you can see, the usable capacity is significantly increased when using Erasure Coding.

Now for more good news, in-line with Nutanix Uncompromisingly Simple philosophy, Erasure Coding can be enabled on existing Nutanix containers on the fly without downtime or the requirement to migrate data.

This means with a simple One-click upgrade to NOS 4.5, customers can get up to a 60% increase in usable capacity in addition to existing data reduction savings. e.g.: Compression.

So there you have it, more usable capacity for Nutanix customers with a non disruptive one click software upgrade…. (your welcome!).

For customers considering Nutanix, your cost per GB just dropped significantly!

Want more? Check out how to scale storage capacity separately from compute with Nutanix!

Related Articles:

1. Nutanix Erasure Coding (EC-X) Deep Dive