Category Archives: Networking

Debunking the VM Link Speed Myth!

** Edit on 11/6/2017: I hadn’t noticed before I wrote this post, but Raphael Schitz (@hypervisor_fr) beat me to the debunking! Please check out his great post on the subject as well here. **

I have been working with vSphere and VI for a long time now, and have spent the last six and a half years at VMware in the support organization. As you can imagine, I’ve encountered a great number of misconceptions from our customers but one that continually comes up is around VM virtual NIC link speed.

Every so often, I’ll hear statements like “I need 10Gbps networking from this VM, so I have no choice but to use the VMXNET3 adapter”, “I reduced the NIC link speed to throttle network traffic” and even “No wonder my VM is acting up, it’s got a 10Mbps vNIC!”

I think that VMware did a pretty good job documenting the role varying vNIC types and link speed had back in the VI 3.x and vSphere 4.0 era – back when virtualization was still a new concept to many. Today, I don’t think it’s discussed very much. People generally use the VMXNET3 adapter, see that it connects at 10Gbps and never look back. Not that the simplicity is a bad thing, but I think it’s valuable to understand how virtual networking functions in the background.

Today, I hope to debunk the VM link speed myth once and for all. Not with quoted statements from documentation, but through actual performance testing.

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VM Network Performance and CPU Scheduling

Over the years, I’ve been on quite a few network performance cases and have seen many reasons for performance trouble. One that is often overlooked is the impact of CPU contention and a VM’s inability to schedule CPU time effectively.

Today, I’ll be taking a quick look at the actual impact CPU scheduling can have on network throughput.

Testing Setup

To demonstrate, I’ll be using my dual-socket management host. As I did in my recent VMXNET3 ring buffer exhaustion post, I’ll be testing with VMs on the same host and port group to eliminate bottlenecks created by physical networking components. The VMs should be able to communicate as quickly as their compute resources will allow them.

Physical Host:

  • 2x Intel Xeon E5 2670 Processors (16 cores at 2.6GHz, 3.3GHz Turbo)
  • 96GB PC3-12800R Memory
  • ESXi 6.0 U3 Build 5224934

VM Configuration:

  • 1x vCPU
  • 1024MB RAM
  • VMXNET3 Adapter (1.1.29 driver with default ring sizes)
  • Debian Linux 7.4 x86 PAE
  • iperf 2.0.5

The VMs I used for this test are quite small with only a single vCPU and 1GB of RAM. This was done intentionally so that CPU contention could be more easily simulated. Much higher throughput would be possible with multiple vCPUs and additional RX queues.

The CPUs in my physical host are Xeon E5 2670 processors clocked at 2.6GHz per core. Because this processor supports Intel Turbo Boost, the maximum frequency of each core will vary depending on several factors and can be as high as 3.3GHz at times. To take this into consideration, I will test with a CPU limit of 2600MHz, as well as with no limit at all to show the benefit this provides.

To measure throughput, I’ll be using a pair of Debian Linux VMs running iperf 2.0.5. One will be the sending side and the other the receiving side. I’ll be running four simultaneous threads to maximize throughput and load.

I should note that my testing is far from precise and is not being done with the usual controls and safeguards to ensure accurate results. This said, my aim isn’t to be accurate, but rather to illustrate some higher-level patterns and trends.

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VMXNET3 RX Ring Buffer Exhaustion and Packet Loss

ESXi is generally very efficient when it comes to basic network I/O processing. Guests are able to make good use of the physical networking resources of the hypervisor and it isn’t unreasonable to expect close to 10Gbps of throughput from a VM on modern hardware. Dealing with very network heavy guests, however, does sometimes require some tweaking.

I’ll quite often get questions from customers who observe TCP re-transmissions and other signs of packet loss when doing VM packet captures. The loss may not be significant enough to cause a real application problem, but may have some performance impact during peak times and during heavy load.

After doing some searching online, customers will quite often land on VMware KB 2039495 and KB 1010071 but there isn’t a lot of context and background to go with these directions. Today I hope to take an in-depth look at VMXNET3 RX buffer exhaustion and not only show how to increase buffers, but to also to determine if it’s even necessary.

Rx Buffering

Not unlike physical network cards and switches, virtual NICs must have buffers to temporarily store incoming network frames for processing. During periods of very heavy load, the guest may not have the cycles to handle all the incoming frames and the buffer is used to temporarily queue up these frames. If that buffer fills more quickly than it is emptied, the vNIC driver has no choice but to drop additional incoming frames. This is what is known as buffer or ring exhaustion.

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