Erasure Coding Overheads – Part 1

Erasure Coding has become a hot topic in the Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) world since Nutanix announced its implementation (EC-X) in June 2015 at its inaugural user conference and VMware have followed up recently with support for EC in its 6.2 release for All-Flash deployments.

As this is a new concept to many in the industry there have been a lot of questions about how it works, what are the benefits and of course what are the trade offs.

In short, regardless of vendor Erasure Coding will allow data to be stored with tuneable levels of resiliency such as single parity (similar to RAID 5) and double parity (similar to RAID 6) which provides more usable capacity compared to replication which is more like RAID 1 with ~50% usable capacity of RAW.

Not dissimilar to RAID 5/6, Erasure coding implementations have increased write penalties compared to replication (RF2 for Nutanix or FTT1 VSAN) similar to RAID 1.

For example, the write penalties for RAID are as follows:

  • RAID 1 = 2
  • RAID 5 = 4
  • RAID 6 = 6

Similar write penalties are true for Erasure coding depending on each vendors specific implementation and stripe size (either dynamic/fixed).

I have written a number of posts about Nutanix specific implimentation, for those who are interested see the following deep dive post:

Nutanix – Erasure Coding (EC-X) Deep Dive

VMware has also released a post titled The Use Of Erasure Coding In VMware Virtual SAN 6.2 covering their implementation of Erasure Coding by .

The article is well written and I would like to highlight two quotes from the post which are applicable to any implementation of Erasure coding, including Nutanix EC-X and VSAN.

Quote #1

Erasure Coding does not come for free. It has a substantial overhead in operations per second (IOPS) and networking.

Quote #2

In conclusion, customers must evaluate their options based on their requirements and the use cases at hand. RAID-5/6 may be applicable for some workloads on All-Flash Virtual SAN clusters, especially when capacity efficiency is the top priority. Replication may be the better option, especially when performance is the top priority (IOPS and latency). As always, there is no such thing as one size fits all.

Pros of Erasure Coding:

  • Increased usable capacity of RAW storage compared to replication
  • Potential to increase the amount of data stored in SSD tier
  • Lower cost/GB
  • Nutanix EC-X Implementation places parity on capacity tier to increase the effective SSD tier size

Cons of Erasure Coding:

  • Higher write overheads
  • Higher impact (read) in the event of drive/node failure
  • Performance will suffer significantly for I/O patterns with high percentage of overwrites
  • Increased computational overheads

Recommended Workloads to use Erasure Coding:

  • Write Once Read Many (WORM) workloads are the ideal candidate for Erasure Coding
  • Backups
  • Archives
  • File Servers
  • Log Servers
  • Email (depending on usage)

As many of the strong use cases for Erasure coding are workloads not requiring high IO, using Erasure Coding across both performance and capacity tiers can provide significant advantages.

Workloads not ideal for Erasure Coding:

  • Anything Write / Overwrite Intensive
  • VDI

This is due to VDI typically being very write intensive which would increase the overheads on the software defined storage. VDI is also typically not capacity intensive thanks to intelligent cloning so EC advantages would be minimal.


Regardless of vendor, all Erasure Coding implementations have higher overheads than traditional replication such as Nutanix RF2/RF3 and VSANs FTT1/2.

The overheads will vary depending on:

  • The configured parity level
  • The stripe size (which may vary between vendors)
  • The I/O profile, the more write intensive the higher the overheads
  • If the striping is performed in-line on all data or post process on write cold data
  • If the stripe is degraded or not from a drive/node failure

The usable capacity also varies depending on:

  • The number of nodes in a cluster which can limit the stripe size (see the next point)
  • The stripe size (dependant on number of nodes in the cluster)
    • E.g.: A 3+1 will give usable capacity up to 75% and a 4+1 will give up to 80% usable capacity.

It is importaint to understand as the stripe size increases, the resulting usable capacity increases diminish. As the stripe size increases, so do the overheads on the storage controllers and network. The impact during a failure is also increased as is the risk of a drive or node failure impacting the stripe.

In Part 2, I am planning on publishing testing examples to show the performance delta between typical replication and erasure coding for a write intensive workload.

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)

Think HCI is not an ideal way to run your mission-critical x86 workloads? Think again! – Part 1

I recently wrote a post called Fight the FUD: Nutanix scale limitations which corrected some mis-information VCE COO Todd Pavone has stated in this article COO: VCE converged infrastructure not affected by Dell-EMC about Nutanix scalability.

In the same interview, Todd makes several comments ( see quote below) which I can only trust to be accurate for VSPEX Blue but as he refers more generally about Hyper-converged systems, I have to disagree with many of the comments from a Nutanix perspective, and thought it would be good to discuss where I see Nutanix.

Where does VSPEX Blue fit into the portfolio?

Hyper-converged by definition is where you use software to find technology to manage what people like to call a commoditized infrastructure, where there is no external storage. So, the intelligence is in the software, and you don’t require the intelligence in the infrastructure. In the market, everyone has had an appliance, which is just a server with embedded storage or some marketed software, and ideal for edge locations or for single use cases. But you’re not going to put SAP and run your mission-critical business on an appliance. They have scaling challenges, right? You get to a certain number of nodes, and then the performance degrades; you have to then create another cluster, another cluster. It’s just not an ideal way to go run your mission-critical x86 workloads. [It’s] good for an edge, good for a simple form factors, good for single use cases or what I’ll call more simplified workloads.

In this post I will be specifically discussing Nutanix HCI solution, and while I have experience with and opinions about other products in the market, I will let other vendors speak for themselves.

The following quotes are not in the order Todd mentioned them in the above interview, they have been grouped together/ordered to avoid overlap/repeating comments and to make this blog flow better (hopefully). As such, if any comments appear to be taken out of context, it is not my intention.

So let’s break down what Todd has said:

  • Todd: In the market, everyone has had an appliance, which is just a server with embedded storage or some marketed software, and ideal for edge locations or for single use cases.

I agree that Hyper-converged systems such as Nutanix run on commodity servers with embedded storage. I also agree Nutanix is ideal for edge locations and can be successfully used for single use cases, but as my next response will show, I strongly disagree with any implication that Nutanix (as the markets most innovative leader in HCI, source: Gartner with 52% market share according to IDC) is limited to edge or single use cases.

  • Todd: “It’s just not an ideal way to go run your mission-critical x86 workloads” & “But you’re not going to put SAP and run your mission-critical business on an appliance.”

Interestingly, Nutanix is the only certified HCI platform for SAP.

As an architect, when designing for mission critical workloads, I want a platform which can/is:

a) Start small and scale as required (for example as vBCA’s demands increase)
b) Highly resilient & have automated self healing
c) Fully automated non-disruptive (and low impact) maintenance
d) Easy to manage / scale
e) Deliver the required levels of performance

In addition to the above, the fewer dependancies the better, as there is less to go wrong, troubleshoot, create bottlenecks and so on.

Nutanix HCI delivers all of the above, so why wouldn’t you run vBCA on Nutanix? In fact, the question I would ask is, “Why would you run vBCA on legacy 3 tier platforms”!

With legacy 3 tier in my experience it’s more difficult to start small and scale, typically 3-tier solutions have only two controllers which cannot self heal in the event of a failure, have complex and time consuming patching/upgrading procedures, typically have multiple points of Management (not single pane of glass like Nutanix w/ Acropolis Hypervisor), are typically much more difficult to scale (and require rip/replace).

The only thing most monolithic 3-tier products provide (if architected correctly) is reasonable performance.

Here is a typical example of a Nutanix customer upgrade experience compared to a legacy 3-tier product.


Think the above isn’t a fair comparison? I agree! Nutanix vs Legacy is no contest.

When I joined Nutanix in 2013, I was immediately involved with testing of mission critical workloads & I have no problems saying performance was not good enough for some workloads. Since then Nutanix has focused on building out a large team (3 of which are VCDX with years of vBCA experience) focusing on business critical applications, now applications like SQL, Oracle (including RAC deployments), MS Exchange and SAP are becoming common workloads for our customers who originally started with Test/Dev or VDI.

Think of Nutanix like VMware in 2005, everyone was concerned about performance, resiliency and didn’t run business critical applications on VI3 (later renamed vSphere), but over time everyone (including myself) learned virtualization was infact not only suitable for vBCA it’s an ideal platform. I’m here to tell everyone, don’t make the same mistake (we all did with virtualization) and assume Nutanix isn’t suitable for vBCA and wait 5 years to realise the value. Nutanix is more than ready (and has been for a while) for Mission critical applications.

Regarding Todd’s second statement “But you’re not going to put SAP and run your mission-critical business on an appliance.”

If not on an appliance, then what are we supposed to put mission-critical application on? Regardless of what you think of traditional Converged products, the fact is they are actually just a single SKU for multiple different pre-existing products (generally from multiple different vendors) which have been pre-architected and configured. They are not radically different and nor do they eliminate ongoing operational complexity which is a strength of HCI solutions such as Nutanix.

If anything putting mission critical applications on a simple and highly performant/scalable HCI appliance based solution (especially Nutanix) makes more sense than Converged / 3 Tier products. Nutanix is no longer the new kid on the block, Nutanix is well proven across all industries and on different workloads, including mission critical. Hell, most US Federal agencies including the Pentagon uses Nutanix, how much more critical do you want?  (Also anyone saying VDI isn’t mission critical has rock’s in their head! Think if all your users are offline, how productive is your company and how much use are all your servers?)

Imagine if the sizing of a traditional converged solution is wrong, or a mission critical application outgrows it before its scheduled end of life. Well with Nutanix, add one or more nodes (no rip and replace) and vMotion the workload/s, and you’ve scaled completely non disruptively. In fact, with Nutanix you should intentionally start small and scale as close to a just in time fashion as possible so your mission-critical application can take advantage of newer HW over the 3-5 years! Lower CAPEX and better long term performance, sounds like a WIN/WIN to me!

Even if it were true that Converged (or any other product) had higher peak performance (which in the real world has minimal value) than a Nutanix HCI solution, so what? Do you really want to have point solutions (a.k.a Silos) for every different workload? No. I wrote the following post which covers things to consider when choosing infrastructure which covers why you want to avoid silos which I encourage you to read when considering any new infrastructure.

  • Todd: They have scaling challenges, right? You get to a certain number of nodes, and then the performance degrades; you have to then create another cluster, another cluster.”

My previous post Fight the FUD: Nutanix scale limitations covers this FUD off in detail. In short, Nutanix has proven numerous times we can scale linearly, see Scaling to 1 Million IOPS and beyond linearly! for an example (And this video is from October 2013). Note: Ignore the actual IO number, the importaint factor is the linear scalability, not the peak benchmark number which have little value in the real world as I discuss here: “Peak Performance vs Real World Performance”.

  • Todd:  [It’s] good for an edge, good for a simple form factors, good for single use cases or what I’ll call more simplified workloads.

To be honest i’m not sure what he means by “good for a simple form factors”, but I can only assume he is talking about how HCI solutions like Nutanix has compact 4 node per 2RU form factors and use less rack space, power, cooling etc?

As for single use cases, I recommend customers run mixed workloads for several reasons. Firstly, Nutanix is a truly distributed solution which means the more nodes in a cluster, the more performant & resilient the cluster becomes. Scaling out a cluster also helps eliminate silos which reduces waste.

I recently wrote this post: Heterogeneous Nutanix Clusters Advantages & Considerations which covers how mixing node types works in a Nutanix environment. The Nutanix Distributed Storage fabric has lots of back end optimisations (ran by curator) which have been developed over the years to ensure heterogeneous clusters perform well. This is an example of technology which marketing slides can’t represent the value of, but the real world value is huge.

I have been involved with numerous mission critical application deployments, and there are heaps of case studies available on the Nutanix website for these deployments available at

A final thought for Part 1, with Nutanix, you can build what you need today and have mission critical workloads benefit from latest generation HW on a frequent basis (e.g.: Annually) by adding new nodes over time and simply vMotioning mission critical VMs to the newer nodes. So over say a 5 year life span of infrastructure, your mission critical applications could benefit from the performance improvements of 5 generations of intel chipsets not to mention the ever increasing efficiency of the Nutanix Acropolis base software (formally known as NOS).

Try getting that level of flexibility/performance improvements with legacy 3 tier!

Next up, Part 2


Enterprise Architecture & Avoiding tunnel vision.

Recently I have read a number of articles and had several conversations with architects and engineers across various specialities in the industry and I’m finding there is a growing trend of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) having tunnel vision when it comes to architecting solutions for their customers.

What I mean by “Tunnel Vision” is that the architect only looks at what is right in front of him/her (e.g.: The current task/project) , and does not consider the implications of how the decisions being made for this task may impact the wider I.T infrastructure and customer from a commercial / operational perspective.

In my previous role I saw this all to often, and it was frustrating to know the solutions being designed and delivered to the customers were in some cases quite well designed when considered in isolation, but when taking into account the “Big Picture” (or what I would describe as the customers overall requirements) the solutions were adding unnecessary complexity, adding risk and increasing costs, when new solutions should be doing the exact opposite.

Lets start with an example;

Customer “ACME” need an enterprise messaging solution and have chosen Microsoft Exchange 2013 and have a requirement that there be no single points of failure in the environment.

Customer engages an Exchange SME who looks at the requirements for Exchange, he then points to a vendor best practice or reference architecture document and says “We’ll deploy Exchange on physical hardware, with JBOD & no shared storage and use Exchange Database Availability Groups for HA.”

The SME then attempts to justify his recommendation with “because its Microsoft’s Best practice” which most people still seem to blindly accept, but this is a story for another post.

In fairness to the SME, in isolation the decision/recommendation meets the customers messaging requirements, so what’s the problem?

If the customers had no existing I.T and the messaging system was going to be the only I.T infrastructure and they had no plans to run any other workloads, I would say the solution proposed could be a excellent solution, but how many customers only run messaging? In my experience, none.

So lets consider the customer has an existing Virtual environment, running Test/Dev, Production and Business Critical applications and adheres to a “Virtual First” policy.

The customer has already invested in virtualization & some form of shared storage (SAN/NAS/Web Scale) and has operational procedures and expertises in supporting and maintaining this environment.

If we were to add a new “silo” of physical servers, there are many disadvantages to the customer including but not limited too;

1. Additional operational documentation for new Physical environment.

2. New Backup & Disaster Recovery strategy / documentation.

3. Additional complexity managing / supporting a new Silo of infrastructure.

4. Reduced flexibility / scalability with physical servers vs virtual machines.

5. Increased downtime and/or impact in the event hardware failures.

6. Increased CAPEX due to having to size for future requirements due to scaling challenges with physical servers.

So what am I getting at?

The cost of deploying the MS Exchange solution on physical hardware could potentially be cheaper (CAPEX) Day 1 than virtualizing the new workload on the existing infrastructure (which likely needs to be scaled e.g.: Disk Shelves / Nodes) BUT would likely result overall higher TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) due to increased complexity & operational costs due to the creation of a new silo of resources.

Both a physical or virtual solution would likely meet/exceed the customers basic requirement to serve MS Exchange, but may have vastly different results in terms of the big picture.

Another example would be a customer has a legacy SAN which needs to be replaced and is causing issues for a large portion of the customers workloads, but the project being proposed is only to address the new Enterprise messaging requirements. In my opinion a good architect should consider the big picture and try to identify where projects can be combined (or a projects scope increased) to ensure a more cost effective yet better overall result for the customer.

If the architect only looked at Exchange and went Physical Servers w/ JBOD, there is zero chance of improvement for the rest of the infrastructure and the physical equipment for Exchange would likely be oversized and underutilized.

It will in many cases be much more economical to combine two or more projects, to enable the purchase of a new technology or infrastructure components and consolidate the workloads onto shared infrastructure rather than building two or more silo’s which add complexity to the environment, and will likely result in underutilized infrastructure and a solution which is inferior to what could have been achieved by combining the projects.

In conclusion, I hope that after reading this article, the next time you or your customers embark on a new project, that you as the Architect, Project Manager, or Engineer consider the big picture and not just the new requirement and ensure your customer/s get the best technical and business outcomes and avoid where possible the use of silos.