Benefits of Tiered Memory Systems

Learn about tiered memory in a VMware Tanzu environment.

VMware Tanzu is a popular container platform—and VMware runs its own containerized applications on Tanzu. Like its customers that use Tanzu, VMware’s IT department faces data center challenges—tight IT budgets, memory-hungry modern workloads, and outdated hardware. VMware recently collaborated with Intel to determine the viability of upgrading hardware to consolidate servers and use tiered memory to provide Tanzu’s containerized workloads with more memory than the existing legacy hardware could support.

Intel® Optane™ persistent memory (PMem) is unique because it has characteristics of both memory and storage. In the default Memory Mode configuration, Intel Optane PMem does not require any software application changes and is transparent to end users. With tiered memory, a small amount of DRAM serves as a cache for the hottest data and is not seen by the containers or the OS as part of system memory. Main system memory consists of cost-effective Intel Optane PMem modules, which have the same form factor as a DRAM DIMM and can be installed into the same physical DIMM connectors on the memory bus. For most systems, on each memory channel, the DRAM DIMMs plug into the first DIMM slot (slot 0), and the Intel Optane PMem DIMMs into the second slot (slot 1).

Following best practices for right-sizing tiered memory systems, VMware data center architects monitored real-world, production, containerized workloads running on Tanzu to understand memory and CPU utilization. The metrics gathered for the legacy server environment indicated that VMware’s Tanzu deployment was a good fit for a tiered memory system with Intel Optane PMem. Tiered memory enabled VMware to replace 27 legacy blade servers with nine newer 1U servers equipped with 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. As a result, per-server memory capacity increased from 384 GB to 4 TB, while lowering memory costs by up to 33%.

Using Intel Optane PMem with upgraded Intel® hardware running VMware Tanzu provides the following benefits:
* Server consolidation. IT departments can run their containers on fewer servers, decreasing data center footprint, reducing infrastructure complexity, and increasing efficiency.
* Vast increases in system memory. Memory capacity can be increased far beyond what is physically or budgetarily possible with DRAM.
* More compute power per square foot. Upgrading to Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors with more memory channels and enhanced per-core performance (compared to previous-generation processors) can support compute-hungry containers.
* Lower CapEx. Tiered memory systems can reduce memory costs ($/GB).

In summary, VMware’s deployment of tiered memory for their production Tanzu environment proves that Intel Optane PMem enables massive server consolidation—reducing the number of servers by as much as 66%—and provides vast amounts of memory for VMware Tanzu containers at an affordable $/GB. Fewer servers with more memory results in more budget and space for additional scaling as VMware’s business grows. VMware’s customers can gain similar benefits by exploring the memory and CPU usage of their Tanzu environments and putting tiered memory to work in their data centers.