PVS or MCS – We Talking About IOPS Again


Deciding between PVS and MCS is a tough decision for many organizations. Although MCS is limited in that it can only do virtual machines, it does appear to be easier to setup than PVS. In fact, MCS just works while PVS requires another server and configuration of bootstrap processes like TFTP/PXE. So it sounds like we should be using MCS for everything. Right? Not so fast. We need to look at the resource requirements, beyond servers, as this might negate the benefit of easier setup/configuration.

If you’ve gone through the other two discussions so far, we focused on the Big Picture of your environment and the operational model. This time, we are focusing on resource requirements.

First, we know that using PVS will require, at least, 2 additional servers (remember I’m including fault tolerance). MCS doesn’t require any extra hardware besides the hypervisor. Now let’s look at storage requirements, and with storage I’m talking about IOPS, our favorite topic.

If you look at PVS, we do all reads from one location and do all of our writes on another location. Because of this, we can optimize the systems. We know that on the PVS server, we allocate enough RAM so the reads happen in RAM and not disk, thus greatly reducing read IOPS.

MCS is different. The reads and writes happen on the same storage. This is a big deal. Look at the graph below.

We know that during desktop startup, we have a huge amount of read IOPS, during logon, it is evenly split, and during the steady state (working), the ratio moves towards writes. Most people are concerned with the boot and logon storms. Because these are more read intensive, you would think that PVS would be the better option for large boot/logon storms as we cache the vDisk in PVS RAM. This line of thinking is correct.

Now before people say, “Hey, my SAN can cache”. You are correct. Of course there are SAN caching solutions, but these cost money. With PVS, it is just part of the Windows operating system. Because of this, we can see a MCS implementation generating more IOPS than a PVS implementation. How much more? I’ve seen as much as 1.5X more IOPS. For deployments with 50 desktops, this might not be a big deal, but what if you are talking about 20,000 desktops?

Some might be thinking about using XenServer IntelliCache to bring these more inline. This has a potential to help lower MCS IOPS requirements, but the products aren’t integrated yet, so I’ve got no data points to share.

But regardless, you need to take the resource requirements into consideration before making your PVS/MCS decision.

Daniel – Lead Architect
XenDesktop Design Handbook

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3 thoughts on “PVS or MCS – We Talking About IOPS Again”

    1. Agreed. I spoke about the IOPS savings you get with PVS on my website at http://virtualizationjedi.com a while back. With MCS, you don’t have the PVS advantage and all the reads have to come from your storage instead of over the network. Perhaps, Intellicache is the answer here, but the IOPS will still occur on the storage at some point, just that they can occur faster because of the caching algorithm.

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