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ThinIO, taking a peak under the covers.

logoWhat a busy few weeks, Citrix Synergy already feels like a distant memory. We had a great trip and were dumbfounded by the interest and excitement shown by enthusiasts, customers and vendors around our ThinIO solution, with quite a few people insisting on seeing the inner mechanics and trying to break our demo’s to ensure the figures they saw were legit!

For those unfortunate enough to miss synergy or our Webinar with Erik over at XenAppBlog, here’s a little blog post you will find interesting as I walk you through the inners of ThinIO and why it’s so simple to deliver disk access with RAM speeds without any of the complexity.

 

What is ThinIO?

 

ThinIO is a filter driver which operates at a block level, inline between the windows and the disk.

ThinIO sits in the operating system layer and can be used on windows desktop operating systems or server based computing models.

ThinIO delivers a greatly reduced IO footprint on your storage, while also speeding up core items like boot times and login times. ThinIO also helps standardize the peaks your storage will get hit by at busy periods during the day. Ultimately this allows you to size your storage for an average, as opposed to sizing for the worst case scenario during peaks.

How does it work?

 

When ThinIO starts up, it allocates a configurable cache of reserved RAM to perform its optimisations.

Being the last filter in the stack, ThinIO can still allow windows to perform it’s own optimisation on IO, delivering value by catching the read and write IO’s just as they hit the disk.

ThinIO interacts with block data as read’s and writes traverse the cache. As a read is observed it is retrieved from disk and subsequently stored for future use, meaning any subsequent read will be served directly from cache.

But read’s a boring, and everyone has a solution for read caching. ThinIO also treats this RAM cache as a storage area for write IO. Write IO is committed nearly instantly to the cache and no IO is sent down to the disk while free space is available in the cache.

“But what about if the machines run out of RAM?”

 

Well I’m glad you asked! The cache in ThinIO is hard set at a value you configure, so RAM will never be taken from the cache to service other processes. But in the situation where the cache has become 100% volatile write, ThinIO will then begin to spill over to the local disk allowing the Virtual Machine continue to operate.

There’s more, ThinIO actively manages cache contents to ensure it’s as relevant as possible. As the cache begins to fill, ThinIO’s Lazy Page Writer can identify and flush out blocks that have not been frequently used. This allows you to use a relatively small cache size while still deliver the big numbers we’ll discuss later.

Designed to be fool proof:

 

ThinIO’s GUI is fool proof, it’s intuitive and gives you a really quick view of ThinIO Realtime. ThinIO provides graphical representations of stats on reads, writes and cache usage, as well as an immediate view of the benefit ThinIO has created for the desktop.

The ThinIO console can also remotely connect to machines to ensure you don’t have to disturb the user while checking performance.

 

 

When the cache is enabled, ThinIO also has a realtime statistics window to help you identify disk patterns and cache performance

 

 

Boot and application launch time optimization:

 

ThinIO has some really clever technology built in to optimise the windows boot process and user experience.

During early testing, we observed just how inefficiently windows uses its disk resources during the boot process. Regularly the same files are requested over and over again on boot, if these blocks are non-contiguous, seek times are inherent. Busy servers were requesting up to 80,000 read IOPS during boot and process start.

ThinIO’s Read Ahead feature allows you to teach windows to be less of a storage monster. As the ThinIO cache is already aware of all blocks needed to boot, or even serve the users first launch of their applications, Read Ahead allows you to boot the machine, with a preloaded cache of required blocks, sorted contiguously.

When ThinIO starts up, it identifies the ‘Read Ahead’ configuration file and pauses windows while it reads the required blocks once, in a contiguous pattern around the disk. Once finished, windows continues to boot retrieving the majority of its block data directly from cache.

By doing this, ThinIO was delivering roughly 30% improved boot times while also reducing boot IOPS by over 80% in our testing. In the below graphs, we did a side by side comparison of the windows start-up process with and without ThinIO.

In the Gui below you will see a machine with the ThinIO cache enabled but no read ahead configured, we achieve a good 40% reduction of IOPS on boot and login, which is not bad on it’s own, but we knew we could make it better:

So after configuring a ‘Read Ahead’ configuration by booting a machine, logging in, opening the core set of applications and committing the file we see the following, large improvement of IOPS saving and cache hit rate on read:

 

So there you have it. By taking an additional 3-4 minutes with your golden image, you reduce nearly 30,000 IOPS to roughly 5,000 IOPS while also reducing boot times. Not only have you taken alot of pressure off your storage, if you launched your users applications core files as part of the read ahead configuration, your user’s login speeds will receive a really good boost while making their application launch times near instant.

Once the read ahead is complete, the driver will then start to use the data which is no longer needed for more chatty blocks of read or write, so configuring read ahead has zero impact on cache usage in the longer term.

Deploy, size, done.

 

Out of box, ThinIO takes less than 5 minutes to install and configure delivering you immediate benefits. No hoping, trusting or praying the hardware vendor’s figures are correct. No SAN or LUN type requirement, no hardware lead time, no hypervisor requirements and no change needed to your architecture. Whether you are doing on premises or even cloud SaaS / DaaS, ThinIO installs without any change.

 

Licensing:

 

ThinIO will ship with a 30 day grace period for you to test to your heart’s content without any commitment. If ThinIO is not for you, it’s just a matter of uninstalling it! Keeping in the spirit of the community, ThinIO will even have a free version available!

Ultimately, designing and deploying virtual desktops is difficult, we really wanted to write a product that both delivers and is simple and easy to deploy. We feel we’ve absolutely hit the mark on this and we look forward to opening the program to full deployment in the coming weeks.

Sounds great, how do I learn more?

 

Head on over to the ThinScale Technology web page and read more or register for the private beta.

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