Lord Kelvin Vs the IO blender

One of the characteristics of a  successful storage system for virtualized environments is that it must handle the IO blender.  Put simply, when lots of regular looking workloads are virtualized and presented to the storage, their regularity is lost, and the resulting IO stream starts to look more and more random.

 This is very similar to the way that synthesisers work – they take multiple regular sine waves of varying frequencies and add them together to get a much more complex sound.


That’s all pretty awesome for making cool space noises, but not so much when presented to the storage OS.  Without the ability to detect regularity, things like caching, pre-fetching and any kind of predictive algorithm break down.

That pre-fetch is never going to happen.

In Nutanix NOS we treat each of these sine waves (workloads) individually, never letting them get mixed together.  NDFS knows about vmdk’s or vhdx disks – and so by keeping the regular workloads separate we can still apply all the usual techniques to keep the bits flowing, even at high loads and disparate workload mixes that cause normal storage systems to fall over in a steaming heap of cache misses and metadata chaos.


Designing a scaleout storage platform.

I was speaking to one of our developers the other day, and he pointed me to the following paper:  SEDA: An Architecture for Well-Conditioned, Scalable Internet Services as an example of the general philosophy behind the design of the Nutanix Distributed File System (NDFS).

Although the paper uses examples of both a webserver and a gnutella client, the philosophies are relevant to a large scale distributed filesystem.  In the case of NDFS we are serving disk blocks to clients who happen to be virtual machines.  One trade-off that is true in both cases is that scalability is traded for low latency in the single-stream case.  However at load, the response time is generally better than a system that is designed to low-latency, and then attempted to scale-up to achive high throughput.

At Nutanix we often talk about web-scale architectures, and this paper gives a pretty solid idea of what that might mean in concrete terms.

FWIW., according to google scholar, the paper has been cited 937 times, including Cassandra which is how we store filesystem meta-data in a distributed fashion.