NetWare and Xen

Here is something I didn't really know about in virtualized NetWare:

Guidelines for using NSS in a virtual environment

Towards the bottom of this document, you get this:

Configuring Write Barrier Behavior for NetWare in a Guest Environment

Write barriers are needed for controlling I/O behavior when writing to SATA and ATA/IDE devices and disk images via the Xen I/O drivers from a guest NetWare server. This is not an issue when NetWare is handling the I/O directly on a physical server.

The XenBlk Barriers parameter for the SET command controls the behavior of XenBlk Disk I/O when NetWare is running in a virtual environment. The setting appears in the Disk category when you issue the SET command in the NetWare server console.

Valid settings for the XenBlk Barriers parameter are integer values from 0 (turn off write barriers) to 255, with a default value of 16. A non-zero value specifies the depth of the driver queue, and also controls how often a write barrier is inserted into the I/O stream. A value of 0 turns off XenBlk Barriers.

A value of 0 (no barriers) is the best setting to use when the virtual disks assigned to the guest server’s virtual machine are based on physical SCSI, Fibre Channel, or iSCSI disks (or partitions on those physical disk types) on the host server. In this configuration, disk I/O is handled so that data is not exposed to corruption in the event of power failure or host crash, so the XenBlk Barriers are not needed. If the write barriers are set to zero, disk I/O performance is noticeably improved.

Other disk types such as SATA and ATA/IDE can leave disk I/O exposed to corruption in the event of power failure or a host crash, and should use a non-zero setting for the XenBlk Barriers parameter. Non-zero settings should also be used for XenBlk Barriers when writing to Xen LVM-backed disk images and Xen file-backed disk images, regardless of the physical disk type used to store the disk images.

Nice stuff there! The "xenblk barriers" can also have an impact on the performance of your virtualized NetWare server. If your I/O stream runs the server out of cache, performance can really suffer if barriers are non-zero. If it fits in cache, the server can reorder the I/O stream to the disks to the point that you don't notice the performance hit.

So, keep in mind where your disk files are! If you're using one huge XFS partition and hosting all the disks for your VM-NW systems on that, then you'll need barriers. If you're presenting a SAN LUN directly to the VM, then you'll need to "SET XENBLK BARRIERS = 0", as they're set to 16 by default. This'll give you better performance.