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GE pre-tests storage performance, cuts downtime with Load DynamiX

Load DynamiX appliances enable GE's IT team to pre-test application workloads and validate performance to ensure storage arrays perform as expected.

Pricey testing tools that can simulate application workloads and validate the performance of storage systems prior to putting them into production may not fit into every company's budget, but they have proven valuable for General Electric.

With petabytes of data spread across several different types and brands of storage arrays, General Electric's (GE's) Global Infrastructure Services team purchased the same type of Load DynamiX appliances that large storage vendors use to test and validate the performance of their systems.

"We have a very complex storage environment, and this gives us the ability to do a lot of pre-testing before we bring in a product or do code upgrades," said Brian Walker, principal architect for cloud solutions at GE. "We can help our application owners model their applications prior to deployment and validate the storage is going to perform as we would expect it to perform. We know when we lay out the storage on the production environment that we're setting it up properly."

Load DynamiX was known as SwiftTest before changing its name in Nov. 2013. The company initially sold its performance validation tools primarily to storage vendors such as Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi and IBM.

But as vendors brought the tools to customers to validate storage system performance, some IT organizations started to buy the products. Load DynamiX began selling directly to enterprise IT approximately 18 months ago. Len Rosenthal, the company's vice president of marketing, said IT customers now make up approximately 40% of its revenue.

GE purchased its first Ethernet-based testing appliance when Load DynamiX was still known as SwiftTest. The IT team wanted to validate the performance of NetApp NAS arrays, particularly with virtual servers, in the lab prior to putting the systems into production. The Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) appliance enabled GE to simulate thousands of connections through its virtual environments, according to Walker.

"What makes the tool so beneficial is that you can create load tests that are repeatable over and over and over," Walker said. "You're on a hardware platform, and you can guarantee that every time you run that test, it's going to be the same."

Load DynamiX this year added virtual appliances that work with VMware's ESXi, but GE currently uses only the GbE, 10 GbE and Fibre Channel (FC) physical testing appliances.

GE added the Load DynamiX FC Series appliance in 2013 to test the storage virtualization and performance capabilities of EMC's VMAX and Hitachi Data Systems' Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) prior to making a purchase decision. Walker said Hitachi's VSP won the bake-off, but GE also has VMAX arrays sitting behind the Hitachi VSP.

Earlier this year, the Load DynamiX appliance proved especially helpful when GE encountered performance issues with virtual machines running on virtual hosts in conjunction with a migration from legacy arrays to new VMAX systems. GE used the Load DynamiX device to mimic the virtual environment and run tests against the VMAX frame.

"That let us tweak and prod things in the lab by changing configurations on storage pools and on controllers to get us to the configuration and the disk layout that we really needed to be at," Walker said. "Then basically our bottlenecks in the virtual environment went away."

Easy setup, but complex data

Walker said the Load DynamiX appliance affords a highly granular level of control in building tests and altering parameters. He said users define the number of connections and can even change how the FC protocol talks and communicates, if they want. Other parameters under the user's control include read and write ratios, sequential versus random workloads, and compressible versus non-compressible data.

"The level of complexity of the data is something that you have to be prepared for," Walker cautioned. "You have to make sure that you either bring professional services in to help you get over that hump, or you have to have somebody in-house that can understand what the data's telling you and which levers to pull to correct what you're seeing."

Walker said setting up the device was easy. It involved racking and cabling the 2U server appliance to the IP switch or Fibre Channel switch, connecting the management port, loading up the management software on a portable computer, giving the management port an IP address, and pointing the device to the IP address of the management interface.

"Everything that you need to do is basically from that Web portal," said Walker. "Your workstation has the software on it that basically makes the connection to the appliance, and that's how you start, stop and do all your configuration of the test. When you run the test, it's actually sending the test or the workload to the storage array."

GE enlisted Load DynamiX's professional services group to help build the tests and interpret the results until the IT team built up enough expertise to do the analysis on their own. Walker said he requested that Load DynamiX put "layman logic" behind some of the data.

"They have added some of those capabilities, but there's still a ways to go," he said.

Load DynamiX's Rosenthal claimed the product's complexity primarily lies in the settings that allow users to simulate their real-world environments. He said the company's chief focus during the past two years has been making the product easier to use. He cited a workload iterator as an example and noted that users can now change the block size, read-write ratio, queue depth and other parameters with the click of a button.

"Interpreting [the results] is not terribly difficult, because it really comes down to three different things: IOPS, latency and throughput," Rosenthal said.

Slashed downtime justifies high price tag

Even without services, the Load DynamiX appliances can run more than $100,000. List price for the two-port base configuration starts at $35,000 for the 1G Series appliance and close to $60,000 for the 10G Series and FC Series appliances. The list price for the Unified Series, which has the ability to generate load on both FC and 10 GbE, starts at $106,000.

Still, GE's Walker said the tools prove valuable enough to justify the cost.

"We haven't done an official ROI, but with the amount of [storage] savings and the uptime it gives us, we know we cut out downtime by doing a lot of the pre-testing," he said. "We just know that it provides value."

Rosenthal said Load DynamiX professional services engagements typically run for about two weeks and start at about $25,000. He said Load DynamiX is starting a program for resellers to offer the services "because, candidly, we're not trying to be in the services business ourselves."

Next Steps

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