VMAX VSA: IT’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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As the title suggests there is indeed a Symmetrix VMAX VSA. I have been working on this project since shortly after EMC World. As I look back through my emails, I received the code on 6/3/11 and I have been working on it in almost all of my free time since then.

Now finally it will make its public debut this week at VMworld 2011 as part of the EMC Interactive Demo booth on the show floor. As part of its grand unveiling I thought I would tell you a little about what makes it work.

Now to make a few things clear up front, this is a science project, I cannot distribute it, it does “work”. As part of the lab (I will publish the guide) the student actually provisions an iSCSI disk from the VSA to a ESXi 5.0 host.

One of the first things I noticed with the code when trying to virtualize it.  It’s HUGE. There are 2 parts to the VSA.

1. The Service Processor (SP). In a physical VMAX this is the 1U server that is racked in the system bay. It has a special image of Windows XP and contains all of the proprietary software used to manage a VMAX. If you own a VMAX this is what you will see EMC field service personnel using when they come to work on your system. This is NOT accessible by a end-user as it requires special RSA credentials that change weekly. (one reason we can’t distribute it). Its specs are 2vCPU and 2GB of RAM and about 10GB of disk space.

2. Enginuity. This is the Operating Environment of the Symmetrix. For the purposes of this VSA it runs in a SuSE Enterprise Linux 11VM. One of the big deals with the VMAX was that Enginuity was ported from a PowerPC CPU to a Intel x86 based architecture. Without this change this VSA would never exist. Now this VM is big, so big as a matter of fact i had to use a RC build of vSphere 5 in order to even get it to work. I was finally able to scale it down a bit, but at one point it was using 32 vCPU’s 92GB of RAM and about 250GB of disk space.

Obviously one of the challenges for using this in a lab is that I needed it to use fewer resources. In the beginning this VMAX was a Single Engine model, which means it had 16 “slices” running. Each director has 4 DA (backend) directors, and 4 FA (front end) directors. I quickly found this was the biggest reason i needed so much memory and CPU. After working with one developer Chakib, who totally rocks by the way.  We were able to scale this down to 1 FA and 1 DA per director. One interesting side note, when I was going down this path I asked Chakib what kind of VM he was using to test this.  His reply was, “I am not using this in a VM, I have a physical Linux box with 200GB of RAM”. So I clearly had some work to do. But in its current state it uses 8 vCPU and “ONLY” 48GB of RAM. Which is still pretty darn big, but a lot better than it was when we started.

The networking requirements are pretty simple, the SP needs 1 Public NIC so that we can use its management tools. 2 Internal NICs which is used for internal communication to the directors. In our case that’s the Linux VM. The Linux VM needed the 2 internal NICs and 1 NIC to present an iSCSI target to. Then we put out ESXi host’s VMkernel NIC on the same vSwitch so it can use the iSCSI target provided by the VSA.

So that’s all great you say, but what actually works? That’s a good question.

What works is using Standard Devices, and very small ones today. One of the things I was told when I was given the code was that this WON’T and CAN’T do any I/O. Which obviously proved to be a bit of an issue. Chakib really worked his butt of to get me something that does I/O. So this is not like the Celerra UBER VSA by @lynxbat, where you can run a VM off of it. We hope we can do that one day. Thin Pools work to the extent you can create them, and put devices in a pool, but when you present it to a host it will not work. This kept me from using the VSI SPM plugin for vSphere as part of my lab, hey we always have next year! The really neat part to me is that the internal tools (SymmWin) that run on the SP fully work. It’s like having an actually VMAX, but without all the fuss of getting a few 50A power drops. As an ex-customer this to me is the coolest part, I got to put on my own BIN files, use Inlines (internal tool used to directly talk to the hardware). As a total nerd this thing is a dream come true.

So what’s next?

Well a lot of that depends on YOU! Since this is a total science project we need to show those in Symmetrix Engineering this is worth putting their time and money into. I need everyone here at VMworld this week to come try this thing, give me feedback, leave comments here, and if you aren’t at the show, express your desire for us to continue working on it. If no one is interested this will ultimately die on the vine. Please fill out this form so we can show how many of you all would like to see this project continue.

I have to give special thanks to Chad Sakac (@sakacc), Chris Horn (@horn_Chris) for getting me involved in this project and letting me run with it. Also all of the support they gave me during this process.

Here is a link to the lab guide being used this week at VMworld. Take a look and let me know what you think!

VMAX Lab Guide

Big thanks to Matt Cowger (@mcowger), Scott Lowe (@scott_lowe), and Tee Glasgow (@teeglasgow) for their help with the lab guide. Also to Rick Scherer (@rick_vmwaretips) for the blog help

10 thoughts on “VMAX VSA: IT’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  1. Pingback: EMC Symmetrix VSA in the works! | vReality

    • I think as arrays beomce more and more virtualized, this will be more common. In fact, when I worked at NetApp it was very common for software upgrades to improve performance. Since ONTAP uses logic to determine the optimal placement of data on disk, engineering was always finding ways to improve the logic based and boost performance. I had customers repeatedly delay hardware improvements due to software improvements. Many vendors are also working to improve how their software utilizes multi-core and many-core CPUs. I’m not sure if that is where VMAX is getting it’s boost from or not.I would expect any virtualized system to improve in performance with software updates. Virtualization is about working smarter, not harder.The comment about sleep statements made me smile though

  2. Pingback: VMAX VSA: IT’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! « BasRaayman's technical diatribe

  3. Pingback: End & Beginning of another Virtual Year « That's right. Another tech blog.

  4. Scott,

    Kudos to EMC and the team on producing the VMAX VSA and actually putting to ‘the test’ with it’s use in the booth at VMworld.

    It’s a very interesting time to be in the industry, and am delighted to see EMC embrace innovation in what I expect will eventually provide an additional means to meet the needs of the market.

    Vaughn

  5. Vauhgn, thanks for your comment. One small correction: I didn’t write this post, this was written by David Robertson, one of the EMC vSpecialists in the Dallas, TX area. David played a lead role in getting the VMAX VSA up and running; my role was minimal, at best. All kudos go to David, Chakib, and the others who worked on this project. Thanks!

    • My only problem is that this techqinue doesn’t scale. Once your storage requirements exceed what can be hosted internally with the builtin controller it’s cheaper to buy an array than it is to expand the storage of the nodes. An HP P2000 SAS with dual controllers (or equivalent low end array from your vendor of choice) can be had for less than the licensing cost for two nodes of either the HP P4000 VSA or the VMWare VSA and you don’t end up needing 2x or 3x the number of disks. I really liked the idea of a brick of storage, ram, and compute resources but ultimately the economics fell down when our needs exceeded a fairly small setup. As a techie I’m glad I got to play with an interesting technology but as a manager responsible for my budget I’m definitely not as favorable on the technology as it is priced today.

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