Friday, May 25, 2007

My Message to Virtualization Vendors

Virtualization is about creating illusions (see Chapter 7 in Guerrilla Capacity Planning). However, vendors need to recognize that virtualization is a double-edged sword.

Constructing illusions by hiding physical information from users is one thing, propagating that illusion to the performance analyst or capacity planner is quite another, and considered harmful.

Presumably, it's also potentially bad for business, in the long run. This unfortunate situation has arisen for one of the following reasons:

  1. The performance data that is available is incorrect.

    Example: Enabling hyperthreading on a Xeon processor misleads the operating system, and thereby performance tools, into treating the single core as 2 virtual processors. This means that many performance management tools will conclude and report that your system has 200% processor capacity available. But, this is an illusion, so you will never see 200% processor capacity.

  2. The correct performance data is not made available.

    Example: With hyperthreading enabled, there should be a separate register or port that allows performance management tools to sample the actual utilization of the single physical core (AKA the execution unit). The IBM Power-5 has something called the PURR register that performs this role.

There are many examples of this kind of mangled performance shenanigans in the virtualized world, especially in what I call the meso-VM (PDF) level such as VMware and XenSource. The good news there is, since it's software, it's easier to modify and therefore more likely that actual performance data will become exposed to the analyst.

In other words:

Fewer bells, more whistles

should be the watchword for virtualization vendors.

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