What is the I/O Blender and why does it matter to the channel?


As most partners involved in the data industry already know, I/O is the computing term for describing input/output. It has become a commonly used phrase for describing performance levels.

It’s also becoming clear to the channel that virtualised applications are now the norm, and traditional storage is 20 years overdue for a shakeup.

The mismatch between a dynamic virtualised environment and traditional storage products has caused an I/O Blender effect forcing enterprises to be bound by tedious, blind solutions that don’t address the most important needs of IT – visibility into, and control of, the dynamic nature of data in a virtualised world. Picture what the contents of a blender look like when you push the pulse button.

The contents are mixed up and jumping around, hardly resembling what was there before. I/O is no longer predictable. Rather, it looks like it has gone through an I/O Blender. But how has this happened?

Today, many businesses rely on virtual machines to run critical databases, enterprise applications, private clouds and host thousands of desktop computers and mobile devices. When any of these processes fail to perform well, the business also fails, reaffirming the importance of having visibility and control over virtual environments. This is a huge issue, which can effect any organisation, and channel partners need to work closely with customers to first understand their IT environment, then maximise performance.

The I/O Blender Effect

The I/O Blender effect can impact a number of infrastructure components and can have a negative impact on a customer’s system performance. Such as: Insufficient controller cache, as concurrent access to the same resources can overwhelm controller caches and result in degraded performance with added read/write latencies.

Read/write scheduling in arrays, depending on the disk configuration and array configuration, scheduling and performing these operations can have a significant impact on performance – especially if large amounts of requests from disparate systems are realised.

VMDK file locking in block storage, the hypervisor spends much time and effort locking and unlocking files which can take a heavy toll on SAN and environmental performance and LUN Alignment, a condition exists wherein the block sizes of the OS do not match (by some factor) with the block sizes on SAN storage. This LUN misalignment can have serious impact on performance.

Tackling the I/O Blender Effect

By now it is clear that virtualisation is only going to continue to grow in enterprise environments. The channel needs to be ready to tackle the effects of the I/O blender. There are several steps customers can take to do this:

  • Adjust organisation of VMs for like workloads: This may involve different SAN configurations to ensure like-workloads are organised rather than providing a single array of disks. Like workloads are more predictable and can be planned for.
  • Utilise storage offloading functions: Hypervisor vendors have been working hard with storage vendors to offload many storage functions from the hypervisor to the storage controllers. This allows the storage system to more efficiently handle the operation, reduces pressure on the hypervisor and helps reduce congestion on any storage connections (local, fibre or network).
  • Understand the workload: Understanding the workload will help system admins and storage admins ensure proper grouping of like-workload types. Being able to proactively plan where workloads are going to be placed will ensure optimal performance will be maintained and identification of capacity constraints BEFORE they occur.
  • Expand and extend storage systems: Being able to expand a storage system in some fashion ensures the decisions you make now can be adapted, adjusted and enhanced to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.
  • Utilise up-to-date infrastructure: The I/O Blender effect has a way of highlighting the bottlenecks in your virtualisation environment. By staying up to date with infrastructure technologies, the bottlenecks can be reduced or eliminated.

While virtualisation brought efficiency and simplicity to the compute side, it has only made things worse for storage. Utilising “smart storage” that sees, learns and adapts not only helps channel partners and their customers to effectively manage the virtual environment, but also provides more efficiency and productivity to the businesses overall.