Wednesday, May 03, 2006

iSCSI Performance and Deployment

With the popularity and proliferation of iSCSI, a lot of questions are being asked regarding iSCSI performance and when to consider deployment.

iSCSI performance is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the protocol. Looking at it purely from a bandwidth perspective, Fibre Channel at 2/4Gbit certainly appears much faster than iSCSI at 1Gbit. However, before we proceed further lets define two important terms: Bandwidth and Throughput

Bandwidth: The amount of data transferred over a specific time period. This is measured in KB/s, MB/s, GB/s

Throughput: The amount of work accomplished by the system over a specific time period. This is measured in IOPS (I/Os per second), TPS (transactions per second)

There is a significant difference between the two in that Throughput has varying I/O sizes which have a direct effect on Bandwidth. Consider an application that requires 5000 IOPS at a 4k block size. That translates to a bandwidth of 20MB/s. Now consider the same application but at a 64k size. That's a bandwidth of 320MB/s.

Is there any doubt as to whether or not iSCSI is capable of supporting a 5000 IOP, 20MB/s application? How about at 5000 IOPs and 40MB/s using a SQL server 8k page size?

Naturally, as the I/O size increases the interconnect with the smaller bandwidth will become a bottleneck sooner than the interconnect with the larger one. So, I/O size and application requirements makes a big difference as to when to consider an iSCSI deployment.

If you are dealing with bandwidth intensive applications such as backup, video/audio streaming, large block sequential I/O Data Warehouse Databases, iSCSI is probably not the right fit, at this time.

Tests that we have performed internally, as well, as tests performed by 3rd party independent organizations such as the Enterprise Storage Group confirm that iSCSI performance difference between FC and iSCSI is negligible when deployed with small block OLTP type applications. Having said that, there are also documented tests conducted by a 3rd party independent organization, Veritest, where iSCSI outperformed an equivalent array identically configured with FC using Best Practices documentation deployed by both vendors, in conjuction with an OLTP type of workload.

At the end of the day, always remember that the application requirements dictate protocol deployment.

Another question that gets asked frequently is whether or not iSCSI is ready for mission critical applications.

iSCSI has come a long way since 2003. The introduction of host-side clustering, multipathing support and SAN booting capabilities from various OS and storage vendors provide a vote of confidence that iSCSI can certainly be considered for mission critical applications. Additionally, based on deployments, Netapp has proven over the past 3 years, that a scalable, simple to use array with Enterprise class reliability when coupled with the above mentioned features can safely be the iSCSI platform for mission-critical applications. Exchange is a perfect example of a mission critical application (it is considered as such by lots of Enterprises) that is routinely deployed over iSCSI these days.

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