Wow! Synology Released DSM 4.1 Beta w/ vSphere VAAI Support!

Yesterday Synology released the beta for DSM (DiskStation Manager) 4.1.  You can see the announcement with a nice overview of features here.  But, as usual, some of the best new stuff in a DSM beta doesn’t make the big announcements page but is instead hidden in the change log.  For example:

  1. VMware vSphere 5.0 VAAI Support:
    • VAAI is now supported on DS3612xs, RS3412xs, RS3412RPxs, RS3411xs & RS3411RPxs, DS3611xs to provide intelligent storage server operation and optimize the performance and efficiencies in virtualization deployment.
    • Full Copy is supported to enable the storage array to make full copies of data within the array to improve data cloning performance.
    • Block Zero is supported to enable the Synology NAS to zero out large numbers of blocks to improve virtual disk initialization performance.
    • Thin Provisioning is supported to allow for the reclamation of unused space and monitoring space usage of Thin Provisioned LUNs.
Some of you may remember that Synology did have some VAAI integration with DSM 4, but that was limited to just ATS (Atomic Test & Set), which eliminates entire LUN locking for some types of updates and would limit number of VMs per datastore.

What is VAAI?

For those that may not know…VAAI is vStorage APIs for Array Integration.  That’s a fancy term that means that they are APIs that let you offload many common tasks to the array.  In this way the vSphere host is out of the loop which takes load off the host and speeds up the process.  For example, the VAAI Full Copy function lets the storage array perform a clone of a VM by itself without the data going to/from the vSphere host.  The vSphere host just tells the array what it wants done and to let it know when it is finished.  Much faster.  Far less data passing across the storage fabric.

Testing VAAI Support

As soon as I saw this release I grabbed the beta.  Right now I’m working on an initial review of a DS3611xs unit that Synology sent me.  That took a backseat as I loaded up the new beta and started some performance testing.

To start the testing I created a new iSCSI LUN.  You’ll notice a new drop down box during creation.  And yes, this works with both File LUNs (binary blob on filesystem) as well as block LUNs.  One thing that I noticed was that this decision has to be made during LUN creation.  If you create a LUN with VAAI disabled you cannot go back and enable it.  That goes for LUNs you already have created before upgrading to DSM 4.1, too.  That kind of sucks.

Once you create the LUN you connect to it from vCenter/vSphere just like any other iSCSI LUN.  You’ll now notice that hardware acceleration is supported.

Output from my test host:

~ # esxcli storage core device vaai status get
naa.600140501f7c5fdd0ad1d39f1daf68d5
 VAAI Plugin Name: 
 ATS Status: supported
 Clone Status: supported
 Zero Status: supported
 Delete Status: supported
naa.6001405729ac07addb01d3c73db4bbd1
 VAAI Plugin Name: 
 ATS Status: supported
 Clone Status: unsupported
 Zero Status: supported
 Delete Status: unsupported
naa.60014057e339553d95ffd3825d9205d3
 VAAI Plugin Name: 
 ATS Status: supported
 Clone Status: supported
 Zero Status: supported
 Delete Status: supported
naa.60014052ba18972d25e1d3897d8740da
 VAAI Plugin Name: 
 ATS Status: supported
 Clone Status: unsupported
 Zero Status: supported
 Delete Status: unsupported
~ #

Even those LUNs with VAAI set to disabled have Zero Status and ATS (Atomic Test and Set) enabled.  That’s why it shows Hardware Acceleration enabled for all LUNs. Two of my LUNs show full support (VAAI1 & VAAI2 data stores), two support just Zero Status and ATS (NoVAAI1 & NoVAAI2 data stores)

First Test – VMDK Creation

First test, creating an Eager Zeroed Thick 100GB VMDK on the data stores.  Connectivity between the vSphere host and the array is 1Gb Ethernet with jumbo frames enabled.  Data will be landing on four SSD disks in a RAID0 volume (VAAI2 & NoVAAI2)

Time to complete the VMDK creation:

  • VAAI Enabled – 2 minutes and 18 seconds
  • VAAI Disabled – 14 minutes and 55 seconds

Network usage comparison:

As you can see there is a huge difference in time and network bandwidth.  Basically, all 100GB of those zeroes has to be sent across the wire without VAAI.  A faster interconnect (10Gb) would reduce the time, but not the amount of data transferred.  With VAAI enabled the network impact is just a small blip.  The array does the rest of the work.

Second Test – VM Clone

This time I cloned a 20GB VM.  Time for completion:

  • VAAI Enabled – 50 seconds
  • VAAI Disabled – 8 minutes and 48 seconds

Again, just a small blip during the VAAI operation (ignore that long stretch after) while the non-VAAI operation took far longer and transferred a lot more data.

Caveats

There are a couple of caveats with the VAAI support in DSM 4.1, at least in the beta.  First, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t go back and enable it on an existing LUN.  It’s a creation time option.  I am waiting on confirmation from Synology on if that will change in the final DSM 4.1 release.

The second caveat…and a big one to me…is that VAAI is only enabled on the xs series NAS units.  Those of us that use the smaller units in our lab are out of luck.  To be honest I’m unhappy with this.  I’d really like to see it working on the 5 and 8-bay units, even if it’s unsupported.  Synology confirmed this limitation with me and the reasoning is performance mandates from VMware.  During the tests I monitored CPU use on the DS3611xs and they may be correct.

As you can see VAAI operations use more CPU but at a shorter duration than non-VAAI operations.  There are times that CPU use during VAAI operations are around 25% of CPU on the DS3611xs….that’s a dual core i3-2100 3.1GHz CPU.  If you compare that CPU to the Atoms in the 5 and 8-bay units you can see a problem.  Standard benchmarks show the i3-2100 to be about 4 to 6 times faster than the dual-core Atoms.  The Atom-based NAS units would be very CPU limited when doing VAAI operations, and in my testing I wasn’t running any other applications or services.

While you can’t really argue with the numbers I’d still like unsupported VAAI operation on the smaller NAS units.  Many of us in our labs only use the NAS for the lab, no other applications so some CPU contention is fine.

By the way, the screenshot above is from the new Resource Monitor in DSM 4.1 Beta.  It’s great.  Splits out CPU usage, shows IOPS of the unit, and all sort of other nice additions.

Final Thoughts

If you’re familiar with VAAI a lot of the information above is repetitive, but the purpose was to show that the VAAI support in DSM 4.1 Beta is the real deal.  As far as I can tell no other NAS vendor in this space offers VAAI capability.  That’s a big deal.  In fact, VAAI support is lacking in many small NAS arrays from the major players.  For example, the VNXe from EMC supports VAAI on NFS (which the Synology does not) but no support for iSCSI.  Good job Synology!  It’s great to see innovation.

11 Comments

  1. I really hope they include it for the smaller units… Like my DS1511+ I would really like to have VAAI in my lab!

  2. Good new ! Synology is so sweet !

  3. I think now all that is lacking with Synology is 4 hour or NBD support of the device in the event of system failure. Great write up.

    • I agree and is my main “complaint” in the xs review that I’m working on. I’d like to see those support options added.

  4. Gahhh..based on the CPU assessment it looks like I won’t see it on my Iomega PX4-300d anytime soon if at all.

  5. Maybe some one will make and 3-party VAAI plugin or hack :D

  6. Nice review Jason, thanks. If only I could afford an xs model for my lab. Sigh.

  7. I have to ask; Why Synolgy over QNAP?
    –Seth

    • And I have to reply, Why QNAP over Synology? :) For me it was about the online community, social media response, and features. I have no real experience with QNAP but I hear very good things. To me, I see more innovation out of Synology right now (look at the VAAI support) but I also like the QNAP Thunderbolt products and announcements.

  8. A little confused:
    VAAI is now supported on DS3612xs, RS3412xs, RS3412RPxs, RS3411xs & RS3411RPxs, DS3611xs

    Any reason why not other models like the DS1512+ should support VAAI, after all they would be using the DSM 4.1(beta) ?

  9. @SwanB

    The RS3x and DS3x models have much more CPU Power (Core i3 instad of Atom)

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