Run KVM virtual machines on hardware with real performance

There's nothing worse than trying to run a workload on a hardware-bottlenecked system. Release the power of KVM with IBM System x servers.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

You can run virtualization host software on just about any kind of hardware. But why would you if you’re an existing Red Hat customer? Almost a year ago, I wrote, “Big Blue plus Red Hat plus Private Cloud equals Purple Reign?,” which was an analysis of the team-up between Red Hat and IBM to create a new public cloud offering that I called, Purple Reign. Now, there’s something new on the horizon for these two crazy kids playing in the data center virtual space: Red Hat Virtualization 3.0 on IBM System x servers. Other than a marketing blitz, what’s the purpose behind this new software/hardware mixture? If you said, “Performance,” you win.

If you’ve followed the virtualization space for any length of time, you know that the initial excitement surrounding the technology has waned a bit. X86 Virtualization is a mature offering and you probably, like most people, believe that the only way to boost performance is to upgrade your network, to add RAM or to tweak settings. The problem is that x86 virtualization has reached its limits.

You can install your host software on systems full of RAM and many processors and cores that go underutilized and add those systems to a pool but, in the end, you still have limitations on the amount of RAM available to your virtual machines and applications. It’s RAM and not processing power that usually forces you into buying more systems to add to your pools. That’s a lot of money to pay for another blob of RAM.

There’s a solution: A new generation of PC server.

IBM has created a new generation of their System x servers. The fifth generation, known as eX5, is a redesigned and re-engineered PC server.

So, what’s the big deal, you ask?

How about instead of buying another system to get more RAM, you can now add external memory expansion chasses to existing systems independent of processors. That’s a very big deal.

The IBM MAX5 for BladeCenter has the following features:

  • Additional 24 DIMMS
  • Enables memory expansion without adding more CPUs
  • Independent of software licenses
  • Supports 4GB and 8GB VLP Registered ECC DDR3 memory DIMMS
  • Compatible with IBM BladeCenter HX5 Blade Server

The second part of the IBM System x big deal is that you’ll save money by using it. Because you can add money without adding more processors, you won’t have to pay for more socket-oriented licensing fees in order to expand available memory for running workloads. This means more virtual machines per processor without the additional cost (Up to 82% more virtual machines).

And, if you’re running databases on your System x hardware, then you’ll realize up to 50% savings on blade-bound database services.

Further, IBM’s System x blades are also energy efficient. You’ll find that using this fifth-generation technology means power savings of up to $100 per system per year. Add the ability to expand non-processor-bound memory, to lower licensing fees, to lower power consumption and to higher virtual machine density and you’ve created a winning combination for your physical and virtual infrastructure.

Using IBM’s System x servers makes good economic sense. Now, couple that economy with System x performance and you have an unbeatable solution for virtualization, database transactions and application performance. In fact, IBM published some preliminary performance data for its System x two-processor server, shown below.

IBM has published a benchmark result that sets a new record for 2-processor performance on the TPC-E benchmark, which is designed to enable clients to more objectively measure and compare the performance and price of OLTP systems. The IBM System x3650 M4 server achieved 1,863.23 tpsE (transactions per second E) at $207.85 USD / tpsE. This result is faster than all the other currently published TPC-E results for 2-processor servers, and represents a significant performance benefit compared to systems using previous-generation processors. For example, the x3650 M4’s result is more than 45% faster than the HP ProLiant DL380 G7 server’s result.

The x3650 M4 achieved this result using Microsoft® SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition and Microsoft Windows® Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Edition SP1. The x3650 M4 was configured with two Intel® Xeon® E5-2690 processors at 2.9GHz with 20MB L3 cache per processor (2 processors/16 cores/32 threads), 512GB of memory (3) and solid state drive (SSD) storage, which can enable faster database access.

The IBM System x3650 M4 is the IBM flagship, 2-socket, 2U rack server optimized for performance and uptime for business-critical applications and cloud deployments. The flexible x3650 M4 features the following:

  • Intel Xeon processors with up to 8 cores and up to 768GB of memory capacity for virtualization and other memory-intensive solutions.
  • Optional slotless 10GbE NIC with IBM Virtual Fabric that delivers high performance for bandwidth-heavy workloads.
  • Available with the IBM exclusive high-performance solid-state drive technology.

Red Hat’s KVM has excellent performance on its own but if your hardware isn’t up to the task, you’ll be unhappy with KVM, Red Hat and virtualization. Don’t put yourself into that situation with old hardware or “white box” solutions. If you’re relying on virtualization for virtual desktops or other virtual workloads, you absolutely can’t afford to be “on the cheap” when building that solution. You should always purchase the best available technology for your corporate projects.

Do you have experience with the winning combination of Red Hat’s KVM and IBM’s System x servers? If so, let me know what you think.

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