Microsoft Azure Versus VMware on Containers

Some basics if you are new to containers. CargoContainer Applications run inside containers.  Containers believe they are running on an independent operating system but in fact they are running in isolated partitions sharing a single operating system while other containers are also running other applications using the same operating system.  Where in traditional hypervisor virtualization a server will run several virtualized operating systems and applications.  Remember ESX?

Here is a popular graphic explaining the difference between the two types of virtualization.  The top of the graphic shows the hypervisor style of virtualizing and operating system an application while the lower portion shows a single operating system using Docker container software to virtualize the operating system while several instances use that one virtualized operating system.
docker-containers

Who cares?

Some companies think this is the future of virtualization, dismissing the traditional hypervisor model of virtulization as an archaic technology like the CD-ROM, good in its day but no longer needed. “Everything at Google runs in a container” according to Google.  Their entire cloud infrastructure is running on containers.  Also using another application to dynamically cluster containers known as Kubernetes. https://developers.google.com/compute/docs/containers The most popular container software today is known as Docker, like the formerly popular OG pleated pants, still worn by some, minus the ess. San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals

Microsoft’s Approach

How has Microsoft and VMware reacted to this new (not really) virtualization technology?  Microsoft to its credit has worked to embrace the technology by allowing customers to use it within Microsoft Azure.  In fact I am going to quote their explanation of Docker and Kubernetes because they do such a nice job of explaining them. “Docker is an open-source engine that automates the deployment of any application as a portable, self-sufficient container that will run almost anywhere. Kubernetes is an open source cluster management tool, a declarative technology supporting orchestration and scheduling of Docker containers.” Here is what they have actually implemented of the two technologies into Azure.

The key features we have implemented are documented in the Kubernetes project and can be summarized as:

  • Build a container and publish it to Azure Storage
  • Deploy an Azure cluster using container images from Azure Storage or the Docker Hub
  • Configure an Azure cluster
  • Update the Kubernetes application on an existing cluster
  • Tear down an Azure cluster

Keeping in mind that containers run on *nix, this is quite a departure from the traditional Microsoft.  While adoption and continued development will demonstrate if Microsoft has really embraced the technology at this point it looks like they are living up to their announcement back in July where they stated they would support containers and were joining the opensource development project.

MS-AZ-Kubernetes

VMware’s Approach

VMware also announced their partnership with Google, Docker and Pivotal last week during VMworld.  Their approach is slight different but also similar to Microsoft.  The major difference in VMware’s approach is that they support containers on top of their hypervisor.  While Microsoft’s approach is more inline with the spirit of how the technology was intended to be used.  Based on what VMware has announced it seems more like they are taking the traditional defensive approach I would expected Microsoft to have taken in the past.  I am not faulting VMware for this and I am sure they are making the best decisions regarding the technology that they feel is best for their vision of the company.  Keep in mind that they have recently purchased Air-Watch and I believe that coupled with the fact that their parent company EMC (for now) is a storage company I believe they are planning to compete with AWS and Microsoft in the DaaS (Desktop as a Service) space.

I don’t think VMware is ready to compete with Microsoft in the DaaS space, they don’t have the same configmgr tools as Microsoft, they don’t own the operating system but they are getting there so it will be an interesting battle over the next decade.

Comparing Cloud Compute Services

Comparing Cloud Compute Services.

Jason Read at CloudHarmony does a great job sorting through all of the different cloud computer offerings by vendors and then compares their performance in a like-to-like benchmark.  This is no small task and most reports I have read comparing cloud compute do not do a good enough job of comparing similar services when conducting their performance tests.  You can obtain a copy of the full report from here which is 100+ pages long.

Below are some the test results along with my own comments as well.

Compute Service Provider 
Web Server ComparisonSmall Web ServerMedium Web ServerLarge Web Server
Amazon EC2 (Instance Types Explained)c3.large + t2.mediumc3.xlargec3.2xlarge
DigitalOcean (Types Explained)4 GB / 2 Cores8 GB / 4 Cores16 GB / 8 Cores
Google Compute Engine (Types Explained)n1-highcpu-2n1-highcpu-4n1-highcpu-8
Microsoft Azure (Tiers Explained)Medium (A2)Large (A3)Extra Large (A4)
Rackspace (Types Explained)Performance 1 2GBPerformance 1 4GBPerformance 1 8GB
SoftLayer (Types Explained)2 GB / 2 Cores4 GB / 4 Cores8 GB / 8 Cores
Database Server ComparisonSmall Database ServerMedium Database ServerLarge Database Server
Amazon EC2c3.xlargec3.2xlargec3.4xlarge
DigitalOcean8 GB / 4 Cores16 GB / 8 Cores48 GB / 16 Cores
Google Compute Enginen1-standard-4n1-standard-8n1-standard-16
Microsoft AzureLarge (A3)Extra Large (A4)A9
RackspacePerformance 2 15GBPerformance 2 30GBPerformance 2 60GB
SoftLayer8 GB / 4 Cores16 GB / 8 Cores32 GB / 16 Cores

Test Results

CPU Performance Results

In the web server test Amazon EC2 was a little better than the rest of the competition.  And in the database server test Rackspace was slightly better until the testing of large database servers where Azure’s new A9 server won out.

Also included in this test was CPU variability.  In these multi-tenant, shared resource environments the performance over time can be a risk to a customers if that is the case this test should be taken into consideration as well as the other variable tests included in the report.  For this test the lower the score the better, ideally you want the same performance over the life of the service.

In both tests Amazon had the best overall score across all server types.  The changing CPU types as testing across different server types should be considered when looking at these two scores as well.

Disk Performance Testing

In these tests Amazon EC2 and Rackspace were consistently faster and more reliable.  Since they are SSD based storage they should be faster and more consistent than the other services.  DigitalOcean is also SSD based but their performance was not on par with the other SSD based services and also had the highest rate of variability.  SoftLayer is not SSD based but their overall disk performance and consistency were very good.  This could be from using SSD caching but no matter how they are doing it the performance speaks for itself.  Microsoft Azure and Google do not offer SSD storage which is reflected in their testing.

 Web Server Tests

 

Memory Performance

In these test they conduct them only on the database servers and because of Azure’s older hardware based on AMD CPU and MOBO they did not perform well until the large database server test where they are using the newer Intel Sandy Bridge based platform.  Amazon and Google both perform well through all testing and outperformed the others.  Newer hardware is always going to win in these types of tests and that is reflected here.

External and Internal Network Performance

Network testing is always subjective and by testing cloud service providers networking throughput it just adds to the complexity of the configuration as some add additional ways to improve performance through different setups.  Amazon, Google and Rackspace seem to provide higher throughput then Microsoft Azure, DigitalOcean and Softlayer.  Also throughput by some vendors is limited depending on the size of the compute instance your purchase.

They also cover the value of each provider in their report which ultimately should be the deciding factor in choosing which cloud computing provider to use for your solution. After all there is no need to overspend on a service if you can accomplish everything you need with a cheaper solution.

You can download the full report here.