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How VMware vSphere APIs for I/O Filtering works, how to set it up, & why you need it

  • September 7, 2018
  • 11 min read
Cloud and Virtualization Architect. Kevin focuses on VMware technologies and has vast expertise in cloud solutions, virtualization, storage, networking, and IT infrastructure administration.
Cloud and Virtualization Architect. Kevin focuses on VMware technologies and has vast expertise in cloud solutions, virtualization, storage, networking, and IT infrastructure administration.

Introduction

A couple of days ago, I decided to re-distribute VM resource shares. I, basically, wanted several VMs to get some more resource without compromising their latency. For that purpose, I played around with Storage I/O Control parameters a bit. And, you know, I decided to look at things more globally. Actually, here’s how I decided to take a deeper dive into I/O filtering. In today’s article, I’m going to tell you about the VMware vSphere APIs for I/O Filtering (VAIO) framework providing the direct access to the to the VM I/O stream. I shed light on how to enable those filters, how they work, and why you need them.

What I/O filters are and how they work

Introduced in vSphere 6.0 U1, VAIO filtering allows users to intercept and manipulate virtual machine I/O regardless of the underlying storage topology. The feature is an alternative to the unsupported kernel-level methods used before to access open-ended data services. The framework utilizes VAIO filter driver installed on VMware ESXi hosts as the vSphere Installation Bundle package. In this way, you do not need any additional software to add filters. You can enable I/O Filtering in a virtual machine itself while creating or cloning it, or you can just apply filters to the already existing VMs. If the VM has several disks, you can apply multiple I/O filters to it.

Both synchronous and asynchronous replication modes can be used with I/O filter. Note that there’s a small thing about synchronous replication: it induces additional loads to the disk. In this way, disk latency may be slightly higher than if you were using asynchronous replication.

Here’s how I/O Filtering works:

I/O Filtering

With I/O Filtering enabled, all I/O requests are transmitted through three layers (they are named “worlds” in most of VMware documents):

  1. User World – here, I/O filters are implemented
  2. Kernel world – after implementation in the user world, I/O filter gets processed in the kernel word
  3. Physical device – once settings are applied, I/O reaches its destination – physical device

The I/O path with an I/O filter enabled looks like as I described in the scheme above:

  1. VM sends the request to the vSCSI
  2. I/O filter goes to the vSCSI backend
  3. Afterward, the request goes to the file system layer
  4. Next, the request goes to the file device layer
  5. VAIO framework sends the request back to the I/O filter
  6. Eventually, I/O filter lets the I/O request to reach the physical device

Creating and configuring I/O Filter

In this article, I set up VM Storage Policies in vSphere Web Client 6.7.0.

In order to apply I/O Filter to the virtual machine, create a VM storage policy in the Policies and Profiles vCenter menu.

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Here are the parameters I used for the policy creation.

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Once you click Finish, you can find the recently added policy on the VM Storage Policies list.

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Now, you can change VM storage policy to IO Filtering:

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While creating a VM new storage policy, on the Policy Structure step, you can set up two storage policies: VM Encryption and Storage I/O Control. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Encryption

As it comes from the policy name, VM Encryption allows encrypting a particular VM on the fly. This VM storage policy allows using third-party software to encrypt and decrypt data streams from the VM that has the I/O filter enabled on it. Encryption occurs in the User World, so all data is sent across the wire being already encrypted. Looks pretty secure, doesn’t it?

This VM storage policy allows using third-party software to encrypt and decrypt data streams from the VM that has the I/O filter enabled on it. Encryption occurs in the User World, so all data is sent across the wire being already encrypted. Looks pretty secure, doesn’t it?

Note that there’s the small thing about vSphere Virtual Machine Encryption: data cannot be deduplicated or compressed. This may be a kinda of a pain in all-flash environments where both deduplication and compression are used for space saving. Also, VMware warns against changing the bundled VM Encryption sample storage policy. Instead, you should clone the policy and edit the clone.

Storage I/O Control

Storage I/O Control (SIOC) is an I/O queue-throttling mechanism that prevents any VM from monopolizing the datastore by leveling out all I/O requests that datastore receives. Note that it is disabled by default, so the administrator has to enable it manually on each datastore. Once SIOC enabled, ESXi host starts monitoring the latency. If device latency hits the threshold, the datastore is considered congested, and VMs are provided I/O resources proportional to their shares.

This feature is a must-have for the large environments where it is vital to ensure that all VMs can get the fair share of the resource without compromising the latency. SIOC ensures that your mission-critical VMs performance is not affected by other virtual machines.

Conclusion

In this article, I took a closer look at VMware vSphere APIs for I/O Filtering. In vSAN environments, VM Storage Policies provides a wide range of settings and features. For instance, you can enable deduplication, fault tolerance, and force provisioning. Well, there are still many things to tell about I/O filtering. Here, you can find more about the VAIO framework: https://storagehub.vmware.com/t/vsphere-storage/vmware-vsphere-apis-for-i-o-filtering-vaio/.

Hey! Found Kevin’s article helpful? Looking to deploy a new, easy-to-manage, and cost-effective hyperconverged infrastructure?
Alex Bykovskyi
Alex Bykovskyi StarWind Virtual HCI Appliance Product Manager
Well, we can help you with this one! Creating a hyperconverged environment is a breeze with StarWind Virtual HCI Appliance (VHCA). It’s a complete hyperconverged infrastructure solution that combines hypervisor (vSphere, Hyper-V, Proxmox, or our custom version of KVM), software-defined storage (StarWind VSAN), and streamlined management tools. Interested in diving deeper into VHCA’s capabilities and features? Secure your personalized StarWind Virtual HCI Appliance demo today!