IBM System Storage DS3500 Express: Mixed Workload Performance with Application Aware Data Management

This ESG Lab report explores the capabilities of an IBM System Storage DS3500 Express deployed in a consolidated virtual server environment with a focus on the value of predictably balanced mixed application performance and application aware storage management plug-ins.

Author(s): Brian Garrett

Published: April 13, 2011

The Challenges

A worldwide wave of server and storage consolidation is reducing the cost and complexity of delivering IT services to the business. Consolidation is clearly a priority as a growing number of organizations embrace server virtualization technology. In a recent survey, ESG asked IT decision makers to list their top priorities over the next 12-18 months.[1] As shown in Figure 1, increased use of server virtualization, data growth management, and data center consolidation were all top priorities.

Figure 1. Top 2011 IT Priorities

However, despite the broad success of server virtualization, nagging issues and challenges exist. As a result, a low percentage of the potential workloads that can be virtualized have been migrated to virtual machines, and the consolidation ratios of virtual machines per physical server remains relatively low. A recent ESG survey explored the storage challenges associated with the next wave of server virtualization.[2] Given the rapid growth in the number of virtual machines being deployed, it's no surprise that scalability, performance, and the overall volume of storage capacity have been identified as key challenges.

Consolidation and server virtualization are changing the way that IT infrastructure is managed.   Managing IT infrastructure from a centralized virtual server console is simplifying the process of deploying new applications.  Storage system management tools need to be integrated with the virtual server management interface and higher level application management frameworks to increase the value of a centrally managed IT infrastructure.

The Solution

The IBM System Storage DS3500 Express is a modular data storage system with balanced mixed workload performance and a rich set of application aware management tools. The DS3500 uses the latest 6 Gbps Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) interface for the back-end connection to disk drives and a rich set of front-end server connectivity options. The iSCSI host attach option leverages the affordability and ubiquity of industry standard Ethernet technology. The high performance 8 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) host attach option provides connectivity for applications with high performance and availability requirements.  SAS, which has traditionally been used for an affordable connection to entry level disk arrays (often referred to as just a bunch of disks, or JBOD), is also supported for high speed, low cost host connectivity.

Figure 2. Introducing the IBM System Storage DS3500 Express

Supporting up to 4 GB/sec of throughput and 40,000 IOPS, the key capabilities of the DS3500 include:

  • Four native 6 Gbps SAS host interfaces.
  • Up to eight additional 1 Gbps iSCSI host interfaces.
  • Up to eight additional 8 Gbps FC host interfaces.
  • Up to four additional 6 Gbps SAS interfaces.
  • Up to 96 high-speed SAS, cost-effective nearline SAS, self encrypting, or solid state drives.
  • 3.5 and 2.5 inch drive enclosures.
  • Up to 4 GB of cache.
  • Advanced recovery capabilities, including snapshots and volume copies.
  • Advanced availability capabilities, including dual controllers and remote replication.

A  growing set of application aware management plug-ins provide tight integration with management tools from Microsoft, VMware, Oracle and others. Plug-ins simplify the management of DS3500 storage with built-in provisioning, monitoring, event management, and advanced data recovery. A growing set of management frameworks are supported, including VMware vSphere, Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager (SCOM), and Oracle Enterprise Manager.

The Results

This report documents the performance and application management capabilities of IBM System Storage DS3500 Express. Performance testing with a mix of real-world applications in a VMware vSphere-enabled virtual server environment and mix of management framework plug-ins explores how:

  • A single IBM System Storage DS3500 Express with 96 10K RPM SAS drives attached to a pair of powerful multi-core servers running a mix of real-world application workloads in 16 virtual machines supports up to:
    • 20,458 mailboxes using the Microsoft Exchange 2010 Jetstress  utility
    • and 3,724 database IOs per second for small OLTP IOs with the Oracle Orion utility
    • and 856 MB/sec of throughput for large OLAP Oracle Orion operations
    • and 3,490 simulated web server IOPs
    • and 1,260 MB/sec of throughput for simulated backup jobs
    • with predictably fast response times and scalability.
  • Management tools were examined with a goal of confirming that provisioning, monitoring, and protecting application data residing on an  DS3500 storage system can be simplified with application aware capabilities including:
    • vCenter vSphere Plug-in.
    • Oracle Enterprise Manager Plug-in.
    • Site Recovery Adapter(SRA) for VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM).
    • Integration with Microsoft Disbursed Cluster Storage Failover (DCSF).
    • Management Pack for Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager (SCOM).

The predictably fast, mixed workload performance scalability of the virtualized environment tested by ESG Lab is summarized in Figure 3. The results will be explored in detail later in this report, but for now it should be noted that the performance of the DS3500 scaled well as a mix of real-world application workloads run in parallel on up to 16 virtual machines.

Figure 3. DS3500 Mixed Workload Scalability

The balance of this report explores how the tests were accomplished, what the results mean, and why they matter to your business.

ESG Lab Validation

The real-world performance capabilities of the DS3500 storage system were assessed by ESG Lab. The methodology presented in this report was designed to assess the mixed workload performance and manageability of a DS3500 in virtual server and consolidated application environments.

Mixed Workload Storage Performance Testing

Conventional server benchmarks were designed to measure the performance of a single application running on a single operating system inside a single physical computer. SPEC CPU2000 and CPU2006 are well known examples of this type of server benchmarking tool. Much like traditional server benchmarks, conventional storage system benchmarks were designed to measure the performance of a single storage system running a single application workload.  The SPC-1 benchmark, developed and managed by the Storage Performance Council, is a great example. SPC-1 was designed to assess the performance capabilities of a single storage system as it services an online interactive database application.

Traditional benchmarks running a single application workload can't help IT managers understand what happens when a mix of applications are deployed together in a virtual server environment. To overcome these limitations, VMware created a mixed workload benchmark called VMmark.  VMmark uses a tile-based scheme for measuring application performance and provides a consistent methodology that captures both the overall scalability and individual application performance of a virtual server solution.  VMmark measures performance as a mix of application workloads are run in parallel within virtual machines deployed on the same physical server.

The novel VMmark tile concept is simple, yet elegant. A tile is defined as a mix of industry standard benchmarks that emulate common business applications (e.g., e-mail, database, web server). The number of tiles running on a single machine is increased until the server runs out of performance. A score is derived so that IT managers can compare servers with a focus on their performance capabilities when running virtualized applications.

While VMmark is well suited for understanding the performance of a mix of applications running on a single server, it was not designed to assess what happens when a mix of applications is run on multiple servers sharing a single storage system. VMmark tends to stress server internals more than it does the storage system. The methodology developed by ESG Lab and presented in this report was designed to stress the storage system more than the servers. Taking a cue from the VMmark methodology, a tile-based concept was used. Each tile is composed of a mixture of four application workloads. Two physical servers, each configured with eight virtual machines, were used to measure performance as the number of active tiles was increased from one to four.

VMmark testing is performed with a single server, often attached to multiple storage systems.  When server vendors publish VMmark results, they make sure there is plenty of storage available so they can record the highest VMmark score. This provides IT managers with a fair comparison of the performance capabilities of competitive server technologies.

As shown in Figure 4, ESG Lab storage-focused benchmarking uses a different approach. Instead of testing with a single server and more than enough storage, multiple servers are attached to a single storage system. Rather than running application-level benchmarks which stress the CPU and memory of the server, lower level industry standard benchmarks are used with a goal of measuring the maximum mixed workload capabilities of a single storage system.

Figure 4. Server-focused VMmark vs. Storage-focused ESG Lab Benchmarking

Test Bed

VMware vSphere version 4.1 was installed on a pair of servers, each with a pair of quad-core processors and a pair of dual-port host adapters. A DS3500 storage system with 96 10K RPM SAS drives was connected to the servers through a pair of 8 Gbps FC switches, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. ESG Lab Test Bed


Industry standard benchmarks were used to emulate the IO activity of four common business application workloads:

  • E-Mail: The Microsoft Jetstress 2010 utility was used to generate e-mail traffic. Similar to the Microsoft LoadGen utility used in the VMmark benchmark, Jetstress simulates the activity of typical Microsoft Exchange users as they send and read e-mails, make appointments, and manage to-do lists. The Jetstress utility is, however, a more lightweight utility than LoadGen. Using the underlying Jet Engine database, Jetstress was designed to focus on storage performance.
  • Database: The Orion utility from Oracle was used to generate database traffic. Much like Jetstress, Orion is a lightweight tool that is ideally suited for measuring storage performance. Orion was designed to help administrators understand the performance capabilities of a storage system, either to uncover performance issues or to size a new database installation without having to create and run an Oracle database. Orion is typically used to measure two types of database activity: response-time sensitive online transaction processing (OLTP) and bandwidth sensitive online analytic processing (OLAP).
  • Web Server: The industry standard Iometer utility was used to generate web server traffic. The IO definition was composed of random reads of various block sizes. The web server Iometer profile used for this test was originally distributed by Intel, the author of Iometer. Iometer has since become an open source project.[3] Iometer tests were performed on Windows physical drives running over VMware raw mapped devices.
  • Backup: The Iometer utility was used to generate a single stream of large block sequential read traffic.  Operations that tend to generate this type of traffic include backup operations, scan and index operations, long running database queries, bulk data uploads, and copies. One 256 KB sequential read workload was included in each tile to add a throughput intensive component to the predominantly random IO profile of interactive e-mail, database, and web server applications. As most experienced database and storage administrators have learned, a throughput-intensive burst in IO traffic can drag down performance for interactive applications, causing performance problems for end-users. Adding a few streams of throughput-intensive read traffic was used to determine whether interactive performance would remain predictably responsive as the amount of mixed IO utilization increased.

Each of the four workloads ran in parallel, with the Jetstress e-mail test taking the longest to complete (approximately three hours). Configuration details and the settings for each of the workload generators are documented in the appendix.

Why This Matters

ESG research indicates that storage scalability and performance are significant challenges for the growing number of organizations embracing server virtualization technology. Storage benchmarks have historically focused on one type of workload (e.g., database or e-mail) and one key performance metric (e.g., response time or throughput). Server benchmarks have typically tested only one server running a CPU-intensive workload that doesn't stress storage. To help IT managers understand how a DS3500 performs in a virtual server environment, this benchmark was designed to assess how real-world applications behave when running on multiple virtualized servers sharing a single storage system.


In a way, storage system benchmark testing is like an analysis of the performance of a car. Specifications, including horsepower and acceleration from 0 to 60, are a good first pass indicator of a car's performance. But while specifications provide a good starting point, there are a variety of other factors that should be taken into consideration including the condition of the road, the skill of the driver, and gas mileage ratings. Much like buying a car, a test drive with real-world application traffic is the best way to determine how a storage system will perform.


Performance analysis began with an examination of the low level aggregate throughput capabilities of the test bed.  This testing was performed using the Iometer utility running within the eight virtual machines that were used later during mixed workload testing.  The eight virtual machines accessed DS3500 storage through eight 8 Gbps FC interfaces.

Iometer access definitions, which measured the maximum throughput from disk, were used for this first pass analysis of the underlying capabilities of the DS3500.[4] Similar to a dynamometer horsepower rating for a car, maximum throughput was used to quantify the power of a turbo-charged DS3500 storage engine. As shown in Figure 6, ESG Lab recorded a maximum throughput of 4.2 GB/sec.

Figure 6. Characterizing the IBM DS3500 Storage Engine

What the Numbers Mean

  • Much like the horsepower rating of a car, the throughput rating of a storage system is a good indicator of the power of a storage system's engine.
  • Storage throughput is a measure of the bandwidth available to the system. Throughput can be measured on a stream or aggregate basis. A stream is represented by one application or user communicating through one IO interface to one device. Aggregate throughput is a measure of how much data the storage system can move on a whole for all applications and users.
  • ESG Lab recorded a peak aggregate throughput of 4.2 GB/sec in a VMware vSphere environment.
  • When comparing the performance capabilities of two servers in a virtual server environment, the server with more cache tends to perform better. ESG Lab is confident that a similar pattern holds true for storage systems. A storage system with more cache-and better caching algorithms-should perform better in a virtual server environment.
  • ESG Lab characterization testing indicates that the DS3500 has more than enough cache and front-end bandwidth to meet the needs of virtualized applications.
  • ESG Lab is convinced that the caching algorithms of the DS3500 provide a significant performance boost during virtualized mixed application testing.

Why This Matters

A storage system needs a strong engine and well-designed modular architecture to perform predictably in a mixed real-world environment. One measure of the strength of a storage controller engine is its maximum aggregate throughput. ESG Lab testing of the DS3500 in a VMware vSphere environment achieved 4.2 GB/sec of aggregate large block sequential read throughput.

In ESG Lab's experience, these are excellent results for a dual controller modular storage system. As a matter of fact, these results provide an early indication that the DS3500 is well suited for virtual server consolidation and mixed real-world business applications.

Virtual Machine Utilization

Mixed application testing began with a quick analysis of server CPU and RAM utilization to make sure that there were no bottlenecks between virtualized application workloads and the DS3500. As expected, utilization was manageably low on the physical servers during the busiest mixed workload test (3.2% CPU utilization and 32% memory utilization were observed at the vSphere client).

Mixed Real-world IOPS Scalability

IOs per second, or IOPS, is a measure of the number of operations a storage system can perform in parallel. When a system is able to move a lot of IOPS-from disk and from cache- it will tend to be able to service more applications and users in parallel. Much like the horsepower rating for a car engine, the IOPS rating for a storage controller can be used as an indicator of the power of a storage system engine.

While IOPS out of a cache is typically a big number and can provide an indication of the speed of the front end of a storage controller, IOPS from disk is a more useful metric when determining the real-world performance of a storage system servicing a mix of business applications. For example, e-mail and interactive database applications tend to be random in nature and therefore benefit from good IOPS from disk. With that said, a mix of real-world applications tends to generate random and sequential IO traffic patterns that may be serviced from disk or from cache.

ESG Lab measured IOPS performance as reported by the DS3500 as the number of virtual machines running mixed real-world application workloads increased from four through sixteen. With a mix of random and sequential IOs over 96 disk drives, the goal was not to record a big IOPS number; the goal with this exercise was an assessment of the scalability of the  DS3500 as an increasing number of applications are consolidated onto a single virtualized platform. The IOPS scalability during the peak period of mixed workload activity is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. DS3500 Mixed Workload Scalability

What the Numbers Mean

  • IOPS varied throughout the mixed workload test with peaks occurring during the Orion small IOPs phase and toward the end as the Jetstress utility performed a database consistency check.
  • A peak of 14,709 IOPS was recorded during the four tile run.
  • IOPS scaled well as mixed real-world application traffic increased from four through sixteen virtual servers.

Handling Throughput Spikes with Ease

As noticed during IOPS monitoring, peaks of throughput activity could be correlated to the periodic behavior of real-world applications. Two bursts of aggregate throughput were observed: the first during the Oracle large MBPS test which simulates a throughput-intensive OLAP application and the second during the Jetstress database consistency check. A VMware vSphere view of mixed workload performance on one of the servers is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Peak Throughput (One Server, Four Active Tiles, Stacked VM View)

What the Numbers Mean

  • An aggregate throughput level of 2.1 GB/sec was recorded as mixed, real-world applications were run on 16 virtual machines sharing a single DS3500 storage system (1.1 GB/sec for one of the two physical servers is shown in Figure 8).
  • As throughput intensified during the Oracle Orion OLAP test phase, bandwidth utilization for other mixed workloads operating in parallel remained steady.

Why This Matters

Predictable performance scalability is a critical concern when a mix of applications shares a storage system. A burst of IO activity in one application (e.g., a database consistency check) can lead to poor response times, lost productivity, and, in the worst case, lost revenue.

ESG Lab confirmed that the balanced performance of the DS3500 scales predictably as a growing number of applications are consolidated in a virtual server environment.

Mixed Application Performance Scalability Having looked at the IOPS and throughput ratings of the turbo-charged DS3500 engine, here's where the rubber meets the road as we examine performance at the application level. The output from each of the industry standard benchmark utilities was analyzed to determine the performance scalability and responsiveness of real-world applications running in a consolidated virtual environment.

Microsoft Exchange

The IO and performance efficiency of Microsoft Exchange have improved significantly over the years. Architectural improvements in Exchange 2010, including a new store schema, larger page sizes (8 KB to 32 KB), improved read/write coalescing, improved pre-read support, and increased cache effectiveness, have reduced the number of IOs per user up to 70% compared to Exchange 2007.[5] ESG Lab typically uses a value of 0.5 IOPS per mailbox to emulate a heavy Exchange user environment when testing with Jetstress 2007. A value of 0.12 IOPS per mailbox was used during Jetstress 2010 testing to reflect the 70% reduction in IOPS compared to Exchange 2007.

The Microsoft Jetstress 2010 utility was used to see how many simulated e-mail users could be supported by the DS3500 during mixed workload testing. The number of IOPS and response time for each database and log volume was recorded at the end of each Jetstress run. A response time goal of 20 milliseconds or less for database reads is required to pass the test. These values are defined by Microsoft as a limit beyond which end-users will feel that their e-mail system is acting slowly.[6] The results are shown in Figure 9 and itemized in Table 1.

Figure 9. Mixed E-mail Scalability (Response Time)

Table 1. Jetstress 2010 Performance Results (One Through Four Tiles)

What the Numbers Mean

  • The single tile mixed application test supported 5,067 Exchange users with an average DB disk response time of 5.2 milliseconds.
  • Performance scaled to 20,458 users while the DS3500 was busy servicing other applications concurrently.
  • As the number of simulated e-mail users was increased, the DS3500 provided excellent response times that are well within Microsoft's guidelines. Note that response times for database reads are below the Microsoft recommended maximum of 20 milliseconds, which is shown as a dotted line in Figure 9.
  • The IO efficiency improvements in Exchange 2010 reduce the cost of delivering e-mail support in mixed virtual server environments. In this case, ESG Lab supported up to 20,458 mailboxes on four virtualized Exchange 2010 servers in a mixed workload environment-more than twice the expected number of supported mailboxes within an Exchange 2007 environment.


The Oracle Orion utility was used to measure small transfer (8 KB) response time and large transfer (1 MB) throughput. The small transfer results are used to predict the performance and scalability of response time-sensitive interactive database applications (e.g., OLTP). The large transfer results are used to predict the performance of throughput-intensive online analytical processing (OLAP) and decision support systems (DSS).

ESG used the following guidelines from an Oracle OpenWorld presentation to interpret the results:

Target 5-10 millisecond for response time critical IO. Start by assuming 30 IOPS per disk for OLTP and 20 MB/sec per disk in DSS. This is way below the theoretical value, but allows for media repair etc.[7]

For new or non-existing applications, use business rules or data model transaction profiles flow to understand what a transaction is and then extrapolate for transactions per second or hour. Optionally, you can use the numbers we have seen in our consulting gigs. Note that these are just guideline values. Use the following as basic guidelines for OLTP:

Low transaction system - 1,000 IOPS or 200 MB/sec

Medium transaction system - 5,000 IOPS or 600 MB/sec

High-end transaction system - 10,000 IOPS or 1 GB/sec (rarely achievable)[8]

The results for the four tile Orion test are summarized in Table 2. A sample Orion report is shown in the Appendix.

Table 2. Orion Four Tile Performance Results

What the Numbers Mean

  • The four tile test achieved a grand total of 3,724 small IOPS and 856 large MBPS while the system was simultaneously running a mix of real-world application workloads.
  • Using Oracle's back of the envelope sizing guidelines, this level of IO activity falls between the performance guidelines for a "low transaction system" and a "medium transaction system."
  • The total number of small IOPS processed during the busy four tile test yielded a rate of 53.5 small IOPS per drive, which exceeds the conservative Oracle planning guideline of 30 IOPS per drive.
  • Orion reported an average latency of 5.15 milliseconds for the small IOPs workload. Given the Oracle guidance of 5 to 10 milliseconds, ESG Lab believes that these are excellent results-especially given the mix of IO-intensive workloads being serviced by the DS3500 in parallel.

Web Server and Backup Reader

Performance results as reported by the Iometer utility for the web server and backup workloads during the one, two, three, and four tile tests are listed in Table 3.

Table 3. Iometer Four Tile Performance Results

What the Numbers Mean

  • Performance scaled in a nearly linear fashion as the number of virtual machines running in parallel was scaled from four to sixteen.
  • Given the cache friendly, read-only nature of web server IO traffic, ESG Lab believes that these results indicate that the DS3500 has the horsepower required to service tens of thousands of simultaneous page requests.
  • Each of the four backup streams sustained at least 300 MB/sec of throughput for the entire duration of the mixed workload test.  A stream of this magnitude could service the data needs of a number of simultaneous backup jobs, a very aggressive scan and index job, or a throughput-intensive database table scan.

Much like the electrical system in your home, figuring out how many appliances you can run in parallel before blowing a fuse is not a function of the number of wires behind the walls. What matters more is the design of the circuits used to distribute the right amount of power to appliances.  ESG Lab testing indicates that the DS3500 engine delivers the right amount of power to virtualized applications when needed.

Why This Matters

Excessive downtime and slow response time can result in the loss of sales, loss of customer goodwill, loss of productivity, loss of competitiveness, and increased costs. With more and more companies running entire suites of business applications on virtualization solutions like VMware, mixed workload scalability with predictable performance is needed.   ESG Lab testing confirmed that the DS3500 can sufficiently handle a very large number of Exchange users-even as it services other applications and thousands of users with predictably fast response times.

Tags: DS3500 IBM


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