Condusiv V-locity erases school's Blackboard I/O issues

Alvernia University sped its Blackboard application with a software fix via Condusiv V-locity rather than throwing money into flash hardware.

Alvernia University, a Catholic university in Reading, Pa., avoided spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a flash array to solve sluggish performance. Instead of fixing its problem with hardware, the university installed I/O reduction software to improve throughput and response times of a key application.

When Alvernia's Blackboard learning management system (LMS) slowed to a crawl, the school turned to Condusiv V-locity software and experienced 100% performance improvement.

The university's LMS online application is a central part of its digital education classes, servicing Alvernia's 3,000 students and 500 faculty members. The university's IT department started getting complaints of time-outs and slow loading about two years after implementing its digital learning system.

The problems came after Alvernia virtualized its Windows servers, which connected to an EMC VNX 5300 iSCSI storage array containing flash and Serial-Attached SCSI drives, with 27 TB of useable capacity. As Alvernia's online learning initiative grew, the system started to experience performance issues due to the I/O blender effect that generates random I/O out to storage.

"We started to get a lot of complaints from faculty and students about issues with Blackboard," said Richard Reitenauer, Alvernia University's manager of infrastructure and support. "They were experiencing time-outs due to application performance issues."

The team had to do monthly reboots to refresh its IBM System x3650 M4 servers running the Windows Server operating system.

As Alvernia's online learning initiative grew, the system started to experience performance issues due to the I/O blender effect that generates random I/O out to storage.

Reitenauer said his team upgraded from Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) to 10 GbE connectivity from the storage-attached network to the servers, without the desired results.

"It didn't work very well," he said. "Blackboard didn't improve. We saw a boost for other servers, but not the virtual servers. We still had to do reboots."

Reitenauer looked into upgrading to an all-flash EMC array, but found it would be a $500,000 capital expense on top of the $125,000 the school paid in 2011 for the EMC SAN. He also looked into using VMware's vSphere Flash Read Cache, which enables a host to use a local solid-state drive (SSD) as a caching layer for virtual machines (VMs). But that would require purchasing more SSDs and licenses.

"That stopped at the price point," he said.

He had read about Condusiv V-locity I/O reduction software on online forums. V-locity is bundled with an embedded benchmark called the Benefit Analyzer, which provides a granular I/O profile of VM workloads, so customers can quantify their before-and-after performance benefits. Installed on Windows virtual machines at the operating system layer, V-locity optimizes the I/O at the source.

The software sequentializes random I/O created when multiple VMs funnel I/O streams into the hypervisor. The random I/O patterns are reorganized to behave sequentially as a single I/O stream. The software also has a behavioral analytics engine that caches active data in available server memory to also reduce I/O demand on storage.

Reitenauer said Alvernia did a test using Condusiv V-locity last summer and during that phase, he heard no complaints regarding performance.

Response times fell from 55 milliseconds to five milliseconds, and the time to process 1 GB of data dropped from 2.9 minutes to 1.5 minutes.

"We did notice a significant improvement, not just on the Blackboard environment, but also noticed I/O improvement on the SAN as well," he said.

Next Steps

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